Sandy and I had been connected for a while, a few years, I think. “Meeting” via social media, as one does these days.
Sandy is the person behind Global Wanderings. Her specialities are photography and creating unique travel experiences, hosting retreats in Italy and other parts of the world. I hope to work together in the future. I think her unique style of retreats, delving deeper into Italian culture would be the perfect compliment to my Small Group Tours.
I don’t remember precisely how we connected. But how we met doesn’t matter. We did. And on my first solo trip to Italy last year we finally had the chance to meet in person.
We didn’t stop talking. It was like having a conversation with a longtime friend. The connection became even more surprising once I got home, but more about that later.
Sandy and I finally met face to face in Piazza della Repubblica in Florence, outside Paszkowski on a Saturday morning, where she treated me to an authentic Italian coffee experience. Fabulous!
Sandy was hosting a retreat in Tuscany, so when I decided to spend three weeks in Italy, including Florence, around that time, we were keen to meet finally. She suggested a trip to the Arezzo Christmas Markets and an afternoon trip to San Miniato to attend the Truffle Festival.
Of course, I jumped at the chance. Opportunities like that don’t come around every day.
As travellers, visiting a new destination often sparks a compulsion to visit the “must see” places, that if we don’t, we are missing out on an essential part of that location.
I don’t believe that’s true. I knew that, but I was feeling overwhelmed from travelling on my own for the first time and was caving under the pressure of what I should see. It was Sandy who convinced me to go back to travelling my way, not to follow someone else’s itinerary.
I would prefer to experience a local event any day, over visiting another church or museum. Rather than feeling like a tourist, standing on the outside looking in, you get to be an attendee just like the locals.
With that in mind, I was keen to see what San Miniato’s Truffle Festival was all about.
San Miniato is located in Tuscany, halfway between Florence and Pisa. It is a 40-minute train ride from Florence making it a perfect day trip.
A medieval town, San Miniato was important because of its unique position set on top of three hills that made it a prime vantage point. It was also located on the main route connecting Rome to France.
Aside from being a lovely historic town to explore, the area around San Miniato is famous for white truffles.
White Truffle Festival – La Sagra del Tartufo Bianco
The San Miniato White Truffle Festival is held every year on the last three weekends in November. You can find the details here.
I hadn’t been to a food festival in Italy before. The only experience I had to draw on was the food festivals I have attended in Australia.
I was expecting truffles, and I was not disappointed.
What I didn’t expect was everything else. The parades, the sheer number and variety of food stalls and the quality of the food tastings. Although I was in Italy so I don’t know why I was so surprised!
We arrived at the train station and waited for the free shuttle bus to come. We arrived at the festival mid-afternoon.
Entry was free which was unexpected. The food festivals I have attended required an entry ticket, and they were not cheap to purchase.
Can you believe that with all the truffles available, I failed to take one photo of a truffle? My pictures for the entire afternoon and evening are lacking.
In my defence, most of the time I was tasting as much food as I could. I don’t think I was cramming food into my mouth at a ridiculous rate, but I fear that is precisely what I was doing.
You can’t taste the food, drink wine AND take photos too.
Food & Wine Tastings
As well as the countless truffle stalls and exhibitors, there were a lot of other delicacies to taste and buy. There were a mind-boggling variety of cheeses, salamis and numerous other foods, some I recognised, many I did not.
It was hard to know where to start.
Each sample I tasted, every bite I took had me rolling my eyes and swooning. Oh, the cheeses, soft and creamy cheese, hard cheeses, and my favourite, blue cheeses. I have never seen such an array, and it would not have been physically possible to try them all.
We made our way to the wine tasting tent, taking a break from wandering around the food stalls. But wait! There was more food.
Because you should never taste wine without having something to eat!
For that pleasure, I chose beef tartare. Yum!
Can you tell how much I was enjoying myself?
The scent of truffles clung to the air. It teased and tantalised and it was one of the only times that I was sorry I had taken carry on luggage for the trip. Otherwise, my suitcase would have been filled with truffle products.
We stopped at times to watch parades, witness a glorious sunset and enjoy San Miniato after nightfall.
We found chocolate truffles to satisfy a sweet craving and freshly roasted chestnuts to snack on while we wandered the town, ending the evening with a glass of wine and a rest before heading back to the bus and then a train back to Florence.
It was one of the best experiences I have had in Italy.
Italy in Autumn
For those of you who cringe at the thought of cold weather, I know you find it hard to travel during the colder months. But I implore you to give it a go.
Autumn in Italy means brilliant colours, fewer crowds and harvest time for olives, chestnuts, mushrooms and truffles.
Italians eat what is in season and celebrate their harvests with festivals. If you are a foodie, then this is a must. Don’t worry about the cold. Rug up.
There is nothing as tantalising as the warmth of a woollen scarf wrapped cosily around your neck, and your cheeks tingling from the cold air. Just drink more red wine!
You won’t be sorry. The experience will far outweigh feeling a little cold.
San Miniato is a 40-minute train ride from Florence. Upon arrival at San Miniato-Fucecchio station, catch a local bus to take you to the historical part of town, the hilltop. Unless you are feeling fit of course, but it is a steep walk and one I would not like to attempt.
If you are driving, exit the SGC Firenze-Pisa-Livorno (or FI-PI-LI) at San Miniato and then follow the signs to San Miniato in Alto, the historical part of the town. You will find paid parking at the top of the hill.
Sandy and I had agreed to try and catch up over Christmas when she would be in Australia, our schedules permitting. As it turned out, I went to visit her in the Southern Highlands where she was staying with her mum.
In a town I lived in once, and where my parents had lived for years in their retirement.
As I followed her directions, I arrived at my parent’s old apartment.
Her mum lived in the same apartment as my parents.
How ironic that you meet someone online, on the other side of the world, meet face to face in Florence, to then meet again in a tiny town in Australia at the very apartment your parents lived in?
Life is full of surprises.
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