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I Love This Place: Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany—it’s so otherworldly it’s hard to know where to begin. Where to begin? It’s where I’ve gone twice on a writer’s retreat, hosted by my literary agent.

The following are my thoughts after my first visit, when Kyle was able to come with me. (This trip was also not as frugal as most our travels tend to be.)

I love sharing the practicality of family travel—the what to bring, where to go, how to budget sort-of stuff. I want to rouse you to take your kids out the front door in a very real, earthy, attainable way. I want my words to paint accurately the beauty and variety of the world, and to keep it as accessible as possible. The last thing I’d want is for you to read a post and think, “Well, that’s great for them, but I’m stuck here folding laundry and going to Costco.” I’d love it if my words help convert your travel goals into reality; a lovely marriage of art and science sort-of content, I think. This sort of stuff gets me up in the morning.

tuscany italy

So therefore: Tuscany. Where to begin? It’s completely fair to make plain that this wasn’t actually a family trip, as most escapades on this blog will be. Kyle and I went on a writer’s retreat hosted by my literary agent, a collective ten of us, all writers or married to one. (This trip was also not as frugal as most our travels tend to be.)

But after ten days in one of God’s great kisses on earth, I can happily say it’s entirely possible to bring children to Tuscany, and we hope to do just that next spring.

Other than two days bookended by Florence, our home base was the tiny hamlet of Castelmuzio, nestled near Pienza and Siena. The town averages a population of 210 residents, and other than a couple restaurants, a grocery co-op, a chapel, and a playground, its hillside is stacked with residential homes. Homes originally built in the 13th century, of course.

tuscany castelmuziano

Let’s just cut to the chase here: every stereotype of Tuscany exists for a reason. It was almost frustrating that every photo looked like an Olan Mills portrait, what with its ubiquitous background. The air lingered with jasmine and cypress, a sweetness I’ve yet to find elsewhere. Meals start at 7:30 p.m. and end at 10:00, minimum, with one course at a time brought in thoughtful cadence. The wine is the best in the world.

tuscany wine

This is why it’s so hard to accurately write about Tuscany: it all sounds so cheesy. After you read this, put on some Louis Armstrong and a striped shirt, go for a ride in your Vespa, and sip coffee out of a tiny cup. That’s how it feels to write about it.

Before I get all angsty about this, though, perhaps it’s best if I simply start this off with a short list of why I loved Tuscany (and really, Italian culture).

Beauty matters.

Celebrating the beautiful isn’t extra, an afterthought, the icing on the cake. It is the cake. I never saw a shop that wasn’t thoughtfully displayed, down to the candy bars. Nothing in this part of Tuscany (the entire area is a UNESCO heritage site) was modernized or updated beyond simple convenience or safety. Even the topography was a conscious blend of cultivated farmland and wild.

tuscany grocery store

Kyle took a watercolor class because he could. Because they have that available. Church bells still ring every hour on the hour, and I have a suspicion it’s simply because they’re beautiful. Food was presented as art.

tuscany yogurt

It’s also really, really quiet, save for the kids playing and riding bikes at 11 p.m.

Slow matters.

There are frequent benches that face the landscape, purely to enjoy the view. Stores typically close in the heat of the afternoon, even though they could make money—but then you couldn’t rest and linger in the warm breeze. Meals take hours because they’re delicious and should be savored.

I saw more bikes than cars.

tuscany bikes

tuscany bikes

florence bike

One afternoon, Kyle and I stopped by a nondescript coffee shop for a quick caffeine hit (this was in Florence, not Tuscany, but it speaks of the same cultural appreciation). While we chatted for a few minutes, several people came and went, most of whom were there to do the same thing as us. Rent a table, talk for a bit.

But there were a few men, blue-collared laborers, it seemed, who were there for to-go cups. Except here’s how it looked: the men ordered cappuccinos, and they stood at the bar and shot the breeze with the barista while they hurried the contents of their ceramic cups and saucers. They stayed. And when their coffee was finished, they left with a hearty grazie.

No to-go cups. (No Starbucks either, incidentally—Italy remains one of the few modern countries that won’t allow the chain.)

The food

I’ve been asked more than any other question, “What was your favorite food?” And I think I’ve landed on a tomato. One afternoon we visited an organic farm, and they fed us a literal farm-to-table meal overlooking their fields (it was as lovely as it sounds). Family-style, they presented platters of vegetables and cheeses and pastas, accompanied by shot glass-sized sips of asparagus soup, followed by panna cotta for dessert. And my favorite bit was this one tomato slice, roasted in salt and pepper and drizzled with balsamic vinegar so succulent it tasted like candy.

tuscany farm to table

My second favorite was a grapefruit gelato purchased on a corner and received gladly in a paper cup. I had a come to Jesus moment. I lost my salvation and found it again.

tuscany cheese

tuscany pastry

Not once did I eat anything I didn’t like, and most significantly, for me—my body happily digested everything. No problems with gluten, dairy, legumes, or even small bits of sugar. I even lost a bit of weight, and I ate a ton. Since I’ve returned to the States, my body is waging war with anything I’m ingesting. (More on this in another post, but let’s just say our American food system, from seed to table, is obviously messed up.)

The coffee

As I already mentioned, the coffee culture involves sitting at wood-scratched tables and sipping palm-sized macchiatos. Enjoyed all throughout the day, there’s no guzzling a half-pint chalice of fuel; it’s enjoyed the way it was meant: slowly, and with friends. And damn, is it good stuff.

tuscany macchiatos

Here are a few links, along with a short playlist to enjoy while you read, if that’s your thing. I didn’t actually listen to this music while we were there, but it paints the ambience of Tuscany fairly well, I think. (Yes, there’s some clichéd music on the playlist, but that’s okay with me.)

My friend Seth was on the trip, too—here’s his most recent post about his experience. It is literally accurate.

Reading Time:

5 minutes





  1. Katie

    I soaked up every word of this. And when I got to the part about the tomato, I started weeping. Ahhhh Italy, you undo me.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      It undoes me, too, Katie. What is it about Italy? Gah.

  2. Ann Kroeker

    Grazie per la festa di parole! I confess it is a little hard to read this and not salivate not only for the feast of friends and sights and food, but also for the whole idea of it–a writer’s retreat in Italy–and yet I’m happy for you to have the opportunity, that your agent could see what fruit would come of it.

    May this continue to burst with goodness for your website, for your other writings, for your relationships, for your entire writing life.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thank you so much, Ann. Yes, I’m forever grateful for an agent that has such a heart for her writers thriving and pouring out creativity out of a place of fullness. It’s an honor I don’t take lightly.

  3. Bethany Bassett

    I know this wasn’t an easy post to write, but you did a lovely job with it — particularly acknowledging the complicated emotions of enjoying such an unreal place. I often struggle with writing about Italy for the sane reasons. I’m glad you posted this though, and it inspires me to give this place a little more writerly TLC (maybe with your Tuscany playlist in the background?). It’s a culture well worth celebrating!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Bethany! Meeting you on the streets of Italy was one of my highlights. XO

  4. joanna

    Want to go so bad it kills me. I would like to go and stay awhile. Discover my roots.

  5. Hillary

    We traveled to Italy in May with our two young daughters. Your post takes me back! How I love the culture, the “lingering” most of all. Would move there in a heartbeat if we can figure out a way!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      They linger well, don’t they?

  6. Seth

    This post is literally spot on. What a beautiful time with such beautiful people.

    • Tsh Oxenreider


  7. Joy Cherrick

    I’m so thrilled that you are sharing your heart and experiences traveling! Thank you!
    Your IG pics were such an inspiration as I was folding laundry and battling this hot AZ summer!
    For some reason, just knowing that there are adventures to be had, a goal to save for and that folks really do live slow lives- here and now is encouraging!
    I’ve already had some fruitful discussions with my husband about our family’s goals just from seeing your trip via IG!
    Keep ’em coming!!!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thank you, Joy! And thanks for being such a faithful reader/follower. It’s a pleasure. XO

  8. Jane

    Have you ever seen the film “Much Ado About Nothing” (the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson version) – ever since watching that film I have wanted to go to Tuscany and your IG pics totally reminded me of that film! LOVE that you have set up this travel blog!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes! Love that movie.

  9. Maggie

    Beautiful post! It’s funny that you mentioned how the food affects you there vs in the US. I’ve been gluten free for the last few months. However, I’m not allergic to wheat so I made an exception when we travelled to France last month. My tummy did just fine there with the croissants and quiche and breads. However, when I ate gluten back home, I was a total painful mess.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Same here. Not an allergy, per se, I just feel crummy when I eat gluten in the States. Not so, however, in Europe. Grr.

      • Niecey

        I am so frustrated with our food! UGH UGH UGH!!!! I cannot even find the (socially acceptable!) words to describe how angry it makes me that our food makes us so sick!!!

  10. Frances Isola

    Hi Tsh! I met you at your meet up in San Francisco this spring. I just love following along on your adventures via your blogs, thank you so much for sharing and inspiring. I spent a semester in college in Rome and spent some time in Tuscany. Your IG’s and this post bring back so many wonderful memories. The beauty of Italy takes my breath away. I love your line “one of God’s great kisses on earth.” Lovely.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thank you! And yes, I remember meeting you, Frances. Thanks again for coming. XO

  11. Sharon Holbrook

    Oh, this is lovely! If this is any taste of your writing about the rest of your travels, I’m packing my bags now for my own circumnavigation of the globe.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      High five! Lots more of this to come.

  12. Sarah Belcher

    This blog is becoming an online version of my cozy little corner where I curl up with a book and a cup of tea. Thank you for dreaming it into existence!! But I also want it to be my gateway to making my travel hopes a reality, so I am definitely looking forward to the practical how-tos as well; how to travel on the cheap, ideas for saving and budgeting for travel, and especially how to make sure to avoid the tourism and go for the experience. I have long since had the dream of taking my family on a year-long round-the-world trip, but don’t quite know how that will come about when at least one of us is working in a regular job. I still think there will be a way to make it work eventually, but for now I am happy to just plan my dreams (and occasionally manage to just get out of the house with my new baby and her two older sisters.)

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You’ve perfectly described what I want this space to be, Sarah. Thanks for your kindness. XO

  13. Heather wood

    This remindede so much of my experience in Assisi! Slowing down in the Italian countryside is so all around good for a person. Thanks for putting it so well!

  14. Breanne

    Italy (and Tuscany in particular) is one place that I dream about visiting and often wonder if it’s as lovely as it seems. With this post and your IG pictures, it seems as if it is.

    And now I want to move my family there. =)

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      It’s lovelier than it seems. 🙂

  15. Devi

    Tsh, we visited Tuscany as a family last year – easily my favourite holiday ever in my whole life. We went with our almost-2-year-old and I was 33 weeks pregnant (so had to not walk in the small hilly towns so much). Italy is a fabulous place to take kids – I think Italians are more patient with kid issues than most places in Europe, there’s lots of spaces for them to run around in and of course the gelato (our son’s first taste of ice cream was Italian gelato). Tomatoes were my favourite thing as well, we went in April when even the tomatoes at the supermarket were perfectly ripe, succulent, sweet and delicious. I’ll be looking forward to hearing how you “do” Italy with more than one kid and for a longer stretch of time.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I cannot WAIT to take my kids there. I do love the kid-friendliness of Mediterranean cultures (Turkey is very kid-friendly, too).

  16. Annie Barnett

    I know I’ve said this already, but I’ve loved seeing & reading little glimpses of Tuscany through your instagram feed & here too. Makes me so excited to follow along on your trip next year.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Annie!

  17. Emily @EncouragedOverCoffee

    We were blessed to live in Sicily for three years (military) and we only had the time to drive through Tuscany! Ugh. We have been to Venice though. Your pictures bring back fond memories and wishes for return.

  18. Erica

    Goodness. Such goodness. I have had a love affair with Italy since the fourth grade after completing a report of the country’s food, history, and art. Your pictures and this post have reignited that fire to visit. This place, it moves me. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • Erica

      Just some additional feedback:
      1) love the spoitfy playlist
      2) love the links, particularly where you stayed. I hope you’ll continue to post such things as it is very beneficial for a dreamer to see the nuts and bolts of the trip.

  19. Alissa

    I echo what everyone has said, but also wanted to add:
    Thanks for embedding the map!
    What a treat for me to pan around on my computer and just catch a whiff of where you were. Geography nerd? Maybe.

  20. Leslie Greene

    Oh Tsh, I feel like you are revealing a well-kept secret!!! My mother and I stayed at Agriturismo Cretaiole outside of Pienza (one of the Moricciani’s other accommodations) in 2006 and Isabella and her family were so amazing and hospitable. We also went to Sandra’s farm, the Abbey for the Gregorian chants and Sant’Anna for an amazing dinner. This is truly a magical place.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh, how cool! Then you know. 😉

  21. Kamille Scellick

    I felt my heart calming down while reading. Does it make you think–maybe this is how God intended it? To savor to not rush. Being mindful of the beauty of life right in front of us. I wonder if it takes being in a place like Tuscany to see it. And since can’t all live there–how to keep living a life of savoring in the beauty in our own space. With our family moving to this farmhouse I keep wondering about how I can give this gift of country life not just for my family; but, for others to receive.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yep, I absolutely do. Been mulling over this nearly nonstop since we’ve returned, in fact. Good stuff, Kamille…

  22. gayle bellomy

    Yes! My favorite thing was being able to pick a really ripe apricot off a tree and wipe the juicy sweetness off my chin with the back of my hand. 😉 It is TOTALLY worth it to not have cable, mow my own grass, work in our veggie garden in the Houston heat, and launder my husband’s shirts in exchange for the pleasure of going to amazing places. This is going to be my favorite blog ever!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yep, it’s an exchange. And it’s worth it to us, too. XO

  23. Nicole

    I recently became an AOS reader (after reading Blue Bike). I’ve been really affirmed by your commitment to travel as a family value. The desire to know and experience other cultures and places was not something I grew up with. So when we took our 2 & 4 year olds with us on our first trip to Europe last spring, I knew it would be changing the trajectory of their lives. I just didn’t know that I could call this desire to teach them about people and places and their Creator through travel a “value” in our family. So I thank you for that! I really, really do.

    Tonight, we begin our second international trip with them. And while I am with you when you say that travel with kids isn’t scary (seriously, even before I read your book, I was telling people , “just try it, you’ll never know unless you try!”), I am slightly afraid of this one because it is 24 hours on a train – that’s the same as flying to Europe from the west coast and back! But, hey, I’ll never know unless I try! And as my friend so wonderfully hash tagged, it will be either #adventureordisaster…or maybe both!

    So here’s to travel and family -either #adventureordisaster! Thanks for sharing your life to bless mine!

  24. Ingrid Owens

    I love this post – and your photos are spot on. It brings me straight back to my trip there a few years back. Me and the hubs went there when we got engaged . I was living back home in Ireland at the time and we headed off on a last minute flight for like 150 euros each and car hire – no accommodation – so we brought a tent just in case 🙂 We ended up renting this beautiful apartment in San Gimignano for next to nothing and stayed for 2 weeks leaving every day when the bus loads of tourists came through the arch, to explore the area and returning in the evening to drink wine and eat – oh the memories. Just shared this post with hubs and we’ve decided to head back in a few years with the kids – Thanks for your inspiration Tsh 🙂

  25. LoriSF

    These photos are ridiculous! And the words brought me to tears. I have been all around Europe – twice – and yet have not been to Italy. I must go now!

  26. Kelly

    I’m so glad you started this wonderful blog. I am a huge fan of your other blog and your books. My husband and I love to travel… we’ve been to 11 countries together in the last 9 years. We just had our first baby in January and we are amazed that somehow he has not been on a plane yet! While I do fear the unknown of traveling with a baby, I know that I won’t be able to go more than a year or two without the “bug” hitting me. So it’s nice to know it can (and should) be done!

  27. Leigh Ann

    I found this blog through Shutterbean.

    We were in Tuscany a little over two weeks ago… it was just as you describe and reading this makes me want to go back as soon as possible! The tomato was my favorite food in Italy also… nothing like it in the world! We also ate at il Casale… I recognized the view in your pictures! The food was wonderful there… Some of the best we had in Italy.

    Thanks for the look back at Tuscany… and I’m going to put your blog on my bookmark list!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Hi Leigh! Yeah, Il Casale was home of that delectable tomato. 🙂

      And thanks! Glad to have you here as a reader.

  28. Catherine

    Tuscany is next on my list, and it looks and sounds at least as wonderful as I’ve imagined! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and beautiful pictures.
    Will any of this content be available to Pin on Pinterest (or am I just missing a link)? I’d love to save your posts!
    Thank you!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks for the reminder to add a pin-it plugin to the site, but you can add anything to Pinterest. I personally pin via a bookmarklet I use for my web browser—it adds a pin button to the top of the browser, and clicking on that allows me to pin whatever page I’m on. Just FYI.

  29. Catherine McCord

    New to your site, but won’t be for long. We too just came back from weeks in Umbria and Tuscany and our family is in love as well. What a joy traveling with kids and seeing the world through their eyes. I applaud you!

  30. shelsy

    I love this. I wish I could experience this kind of lifestyle. Have you tried to implement some of their slow living practices at home since you’ve been back? I would love to see a post (or a series!) about ways we can live slowly and savor the beauty here in our dead-sprint culture.

  31. Cecilie Astrid Hjortsbjerg

    Thank you for this post Tsh. I’ve been following for a while but never commented. This makes me look even more forward to my family’s trip to Tuscany in a couple of weeks. I’ve been to the Gardalake and to Sicily but it’s my first time going to Tuscany. I’ll have to listen to your playlist to get into the right Tuscany-mood!
    Greetings from a Danish follower.

  32. Desiree Fawn

    I officially need to visit Tuscany. No way around it now!

  33. Nicole

    Love this new beautiful site and am so excited to read and hear about your families travels!

  34. Dana

    Lovely words. I couldn’t agree more that it is extremely challenging to describe Tuscany without sound cliche, but I think you’ve done a fine job of capturing the essence of the region in this post. There is no place like it, but this holds true for all regions of Italy. I hope you are able to explore more.
    PS. Florence is in the region of Tuscany. Too much Tuscan sun? LOL.

  35. Emanuela

    Glad you liked Italy Tsh, our country is full of contradictions and there must be odd things if you look at us from far away. But I could not live in another place. I am italian and following your blog since at least four years. I will follow you also here and i look forward to reading about your BigTrip.
    I live in Modena which is also a UNESCO site and hometown of Luciano Pavarotti and Ferrari cars… Besides parmesan cheese and other amazing food.. Italy is a very nice place and I hope also your kids will enjoy it.

  36. kelly libby

    i love the playlist!!!

  37. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    Ooh, I am so excited about this site! Loved reading about Tuscany. You made me more excited about the tomatoes in my garden :).
    Our family just got back from a 2 1/2 week road trip through Canada and Maine (with our 2 and 4 year olds and baby on the way). I got a lot of blank stares beforehand when I told people our plans, but I’m so glad we went. I doubt I’d get as many blank stares on this site ;).

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  40. Amy | Girl Goes To Italy

    I think you said it perfectly. I’m just catching up after several weeks of hosting family here in Italy. Meals for guests are so simple in the summer-most of the local ingredients are so fresh they shine with little or no prep on our part. (The processed foods are simpler here too-my box of Barilla pasta has two ingredients listed, how many on yours?)
    You are right that this country is a great place to travel with children. Young or old, male or female, Italians cherish children. Our daughter is never at the table long when we eat out-it is almost a guarantee that a member of the wait staff or another customer will steal her away. A great place to be with young children.

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  53. Dana at Happy Little Lovelies

    Oh Tsh. I know you wrote this awhile back but I’m all kinds of emotional reading it now. Not just because it’s been a dream of mine to go there for over a decade, but because you’re describing something so other than what I live now. I feel a little like a dried up, hurried, over stimulated American peeking into lush beauty in its purest form with all the permission in the world to be slow and drink it in. Thanks for that. And your coffee shop experience took me back to my Batista days working in an little independent shop with an Italian restaurant next door. The cook had just moved here from Naples, Italy and would come in for his espresso several times a shift. Instead of leaving, he was my only customer who would stand at the bar, sipping and watching me work while telling me stories of his country and the different ways we approach life. I remember him saying, “Here, you work hard to make money but never have time to live. There, we make just enough to live and enjoy life.”

  54. Pat Musick

    This is a beautiful blog. I am a fellow Tuscan traveler and have written a book (haven’t we all?) about that special place that is quite unique. Have you ever fallen in love with a 15th century genius? You can follow my love affair with Piero della Francesca in my story “The Piero Affair…with side trips.”. We met in old musty churches, but between breath taking encounters I made side trips to some of the great, as well as not so famous sites of Tuscany. The book is all about love. Love of Piero, but also food, wine, art, countryside, villages and the people.
    I think you will like it.
    Pat Musick

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