Dolce Vita

Half an hour out of Siena, in the South Siena region, lies Tocchi, a tiny four-house village. It is home to a castle, one restaurant that may or may not be closed down, and a greater population of geese than people. The sun bakes the earth, the horses swat flies and look disinterested in fawning tourists (of which there are few) and every hour or so, a car trundles down the dusty main street. Not much happens in sleepy Tocchi and that’s what makes it so endearing and, after the whirl and wonder of the bigger Italian cities, such a blessed relief.

We were nearly four months into a non-stop rollercoaster around-the-world-trip when everything came to a standstill in Siena. It had to. We needed to slow down for a while. By the time we reached Tocchi, we had already travelled through the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Spain and parts of Italy. And, as brilliant and intoxicating as non-stop, worldwide frolicking is, you get tired – tired of trains and planes, airports and busses, and of brushes with less than hygienic accommodation. By the time the little car carrying the three of us, and 80kg of luggage rolled to a stop, at the end of a long and dusty road, we were ready to just stop and smell the roses for a while. Or the sunflowers, which blanket vast areas of the Tuscan landscape in yellow and green.

The farm house was what dreams, novels and movies are made of. A rough tiled floor, lemon walls and a sun filled kitchen. It had the prerequisite bay windows (for sitting and reading in, of course) loft bed and a big scrubbed pine table, around which we gathered to sample our attempts at Italian cooking. Emphasis on the word attempts. It also came with a pet dog, Mose, a pet horse, Mari Lou and a coop of chickens to which we fed our scraps every morning. There are few things more romantic than prancing about in a coloured sundress, throwing the scraps of your hearty cooking to clucking hens.

Of course, Italians love their food and the Tuscans (proud inhabitants of the 5th largest region in Italy) are no different. They’re known for their simple and hearty take on cooking, no drizzling of jus over a seared coin of salmon fillet, in sight. One of the main specialties this region is known for is game such as rabbit and hedgehog, which we didn’t sample (namely because none of us were game enough ourselves, to go and catch a hedgehog). We were, however, treated to the culinary delights of a local, something our tastebuds will always remember. On our first night in Tocchi, Costanza, who rented out the little farm house in which we stayed (www.craigslist.com) cooked the weary travellers dinner. In a kitchen that overlooked miles of rolling khaki paddocks dotted with horses and snow white geese living, as everything seems to do in Tocchi, in harmony, we shared an antipasto course of eggplant and zucchini with goats cheese, a primo of pasta in olive oil and sea salt with fresh vegetables (from the vegetable garden)  and for dolce, a platter of rockmelon. Later that night, stuffed and unable to move, there was a knock on the door as we prepared for bed. Costanza with a little basket of breakfast things, complete with a cloth covered jam jar. Of course.

Getting into the town centre from Tocchi involved comical scenes of three brightly dressed travellers waiting roadside, in the middle of nowhere for a bus that could very well decide not to turn up. And, when it did, we invariably didn’t know how to purchase or validate a ticket (depending on where you are, that system changes) and so the ride in was tense as we waited for a conductor to jump aboard at the next, usually deserted, stop. Siena itself is, after the big cities of Italy, wonderfully quiet and quaint and probably sick of people writing books about being beneath its sun. Quaint cobbled streets hide cafes and seem to wind on forever. We happened to be there for Palio, a traditional medieval horse race Siena is famous for, and so the town was bustling with a competitive energy and festooned with each Contrade’s flag. When not getting swept up in the infectious crowds, we gorged on garlicky pizza and café lattes in between doing our week’s grocery shopping and soaking up that famous Tuscan sun.

And so, for a week, we whiled away the days lazing about with Mose, trialling Italian recipes but never quite succeeding with the nonchalance Costanza did, and once or twice venturing into the tiny, silent centre of Tocchi. There were no people in sight, save for those peering out from behind their curtains, and we were mainly the subject of many an inquisitive glare from the bustling geese. We were in the middle of a long, hot Mediterranean summer and beneath the oh so famous Tuscan sun, to boot. And, it has ot be said, had I spent any more time under its literature-beloved rays, I can guarantee I could have bashed out yet another saccharine novel. You just can’t help it. Tuscany casts a spell that lingers long after you leave it.