In BBC2’s Second Chance Summer: Tuscany, ten strangers, all at crossroads in their lives, move to Italy to live communally and run a farm.
Predictably, harvesting grapes and managing a B&B turns out to be hard work, but it hasn’t dampened everybody’s enthusiasm for their bucolic new home. Since filming ended last November, Gavin and Andy have invested in an olive grove, Rob has started a wine business and Tracy is planning to teach out there.
‘It’s like Wales in the sun’
Tracy, 50, teacher
When we first arrived, I said, ‘Tuscany is like Wales in the sun’, and the English people in the group all laughed. Then when my son came over, the first thing he said to me was: ‘It’s like Wales in the sun.’ It has the same mountainous landscape but with amazing weather: in November I was still wearing a T-shirt, but because autumn isn’t too hot I could go on lovely walks. If you’re looking for a good climate, good food, good wine, fantastic views and the most helpful people I’ve ever come across, it’s the perfect place to live. It’s unbelievable how laid-back everybody is – you become laid-back without even noticing it.
My Tuscan tip: The natural hot springs are not to be missed. The springs at Petriolo, Bagno Vignoni, Bagno San Filippo and Saturnia are all free and bath temperature.
‘Everywhere you look there’s history’
Gavin, 56, chef
It’s a good place for a touring holiday. We were there to experience country life but we also had the opportunity to visit Siena, Florence and Pisa, which are so full of history – everywhere you look there are incredibly old buildings, statues and paintings. From where we were in Castel del Piano, Siena was less than an hour away, Florence and Pisa were two hours away, Rome three. So it’s not like you have to travel extraordinary distances to see an awful lot, and all the scenery in between is absolutely stunning: the winding country roads, the rolling hills, the olive groves and vineyards. There’s something unique and beautiful about the light in Tuscany as well.
My Tuscan tip: Try your hand at agriturismo, where you get to work on a farm and pick grapes or olives. You can do it for a week, weekend or just the day. It’s a great way to meet local people.
Radio Times Travel: Florence & Tuscany, 7 nights from £849pp
‘I love the aperitivos’
Rob, 38, hotel manager
Some of the guys on the show struggled with the Mediterranean lifestyle, but I love it. Everything stops for lunch, which lasts an hour, maybe two, and there’s always a small glass of local wine. They have a proverb: ‘good wine makes good blood’, meaning it’s healthy. Another lovely thing they do is aperitivo: you go to a local bar for a glass of prosecco or white wine and they have nibbles on the bar. You have a drink and a little nibble, catch up with friends and then go home for dinner. I also love the idiosyncratic festivals. We went to a big wine festival in Cinigiano, where all the local producers open their cellars for one day a year after the grape harvest and have a knees-up. And in Arcidosso there was a chestnut festival – the party was still going at three in the morning.
My Tuscan tip: Go on a day trip to Punta Ala, which is a beautiful peninsula on the west coast. It is a place the British haven’t found so nobody speaks English, but the beaches are stunning. There are yoga retreats and sublime mountain bike trails, too.
‘You don’t need fancy restaurants’
Andy, 54, retired detective
Tuscan food is excellent and locals take great pride in sharing and showing off their produce, which is grown on the doorstep. What’s on the menu will depend on what’s in season. You don’t have to look for fancy restaurants; you’ll find good places in the middle of nowhere. In our nearest village, Monticello Amiata, all the locals eat at the campsite because it has an excellent restaurant. And it’s not all pasta. I recommend the wild boar, which they tend to have in stews in southern Tuscany and roast in the north. As for Italian table manners, I learnt you should never use a knife for your first course because it should be soft enough to eat with just a fork.
My Tuscan tip: Leave your fast-paced life and strict agenda behind. Take your time, linger in the bars and cafés, open your eyes and ears. Take in the rustic beauty of everything: the colours, the scenery. Tuscany is the best place
to relax. It fills your senses and revitalises you.
Second Chance Summer is on Wednesdays on BBC2 at 9pm
Radio Times Travel holidays
Florence & Tuscany, 7 nights from £849pp. Stay in central Florence and the enchanting medieval town of Volterra in three-star superior and four-star hotels with breakfast and four dinners. Guided tour of Florence, pearl of the Renaissance. Visit to the Uffizi, one of the finest art galleries in the world. Sample exquisite wines at a typical Cantina in Tuscany. Visit to Pisa, home of the leaning tower. Visit to San Gimignano, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. Guided tour of Siena, one of the finest medieval cities. Click here for more details and to book
Lake Garda, 7 nights from £299pp. Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, has captivated visitors for over a century with its spectacular scenery – clear blue waters fringed by towering mountains and groves of olives and citrus. Explore its colourful, stylish resorts and historic lakeside towns, and enjoy all that this beautiful region has to offer. Click here for more details and to book