Think Like a Tuscan: 3 Tips to Bring Tuscany Home

Tuscany dwellers inspired envy and expat aspirations around the world long before Frances Mayes restored her first fixer-upper. It’s easy to understand why the landscape, language and culinary culture leave Italophiles lusting after the lifestyle. But Tuscany is much more than the clichéd vineyard views, terracotta color schemes and cypress trees. The Tuscan lifestyle is about mentality more than anything else. So if you’re hoping to make daily life a little more dolce, keep these key points in mind. You can think like a Tuscan, no matter where you are.

A farm in Maremma, Tuscany / Photo Alexandra Korey

A farm in Maremma, Tuscany / Photo Alexandra Korey

Keep it simple

Though this mantra may sound a bit broad, it’s a cornerstone of Tuscan thinking, particularly when it comes to cuisine. Forget fussy sauces and ornate garnishes: many of Tuscany’s trademark dishes are classic staples of cucina povera, originating in peasant households where only simple, inexpensive items were available. Move away from that American tendency to toss tons of ingredients together. When you try too hard to take in too many flavors, your taste buds go dull. Spotlight one special staple or unusual addition, or mix ingredients in thoughtful combinations that will complement rather than overwhelm each other.

Your standard Tuscan breadbasket is the perfect metaphor for this philosophy. Every year, Tuscany tourists are surprised at how “plain” the bread seems after cutting their teeth on buttery baguettes and bottomless garlic breadsticks back home. But the bread here is kept simple and unpretentious because Tuscan prosciutto crudo, its perfect companion, is so potent and savory, cured with sea salt and herbs. Now why would you ever want the bread to steal the spotlight?

Savor and separate the seasons

Just picked peppers in a wheelbarrow / Photo Alexandra Korey

Just picked peppers in a wheelbarrow / Photo Alexandra Korey

The changing of the seasons is a sacred ritual throughout Italy, and Tuscany is no exception. The fabled cambio di stagione is that critical moment brought on not by the weather, but by the country’s collective, intuitive understanding that it is time to switch out wardrobes, replacing winter apparel with summer standards.

Not naturally blessed with the keen seasonal senses of Tuscan grandmothers? Never fear. In Tuscany, it isn’t just the clothes that keep the winters, summers and shoulder seasons sharply delineated. The region is rich in seasonal festivals and traditions, celebrating everything from family or food to medieval history or hunting. White truffles are front and center in autumn, for example, while winter boasts Christmas and Epiphany festivities before Carnival celebrations kick off. The first days of the colder months also mark the beginning of hunting season, so regional specialties like pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar pasta) are fresher and tastier.

Sure, that all sounds ideal, you may be thinking—but what does it have to do with you if you’re not in Tuscany? It’s surprisingly easy to work this seasonal way of thinking into your everyday life. Be mindful of where your food comes from: look for restaurants that switch up their menus as the months pass, and aim to buy fresh, season-appropriate fruits, veggies and meats from your local farmer’s market. Many towns and cities across the US also offer community-supported agriculture initiatives: don’t be that naïve and anti-green shopper who picks up chemical-laden supermarket strawberries at Christmastime.

Beyond food, you can also decorate and dress to fit the time of year you’re in. Find excuses to celebrate each month, whether you’re marking a family milestone, toasting to a new tradition or organizing a themed weekend with friends. And in the true spirit of Tuscan living, when the scorching summer arrives, get out of town! Make weekend beach or countryside escapes a permanent part of your hot-weather ritual, even if you’re just heading a few miles up the road.

Be loyal to what’s local

Observant travelers who have spent more than a day or two in the Tuscan capital know that the bulk of Florence’s artisan culture lives on in its “Left Bank,” or the Oltrarno neighborhood, a far cry from the hectic Renaissance rodeo on the other side of town. It’s managed to survive only because of a small group’s commitment to preserving tradition, supporting artistic ambitions and setting high standards for quality and craftsmanship. Imagine if the city became little more than chain stores and skip-the-line ticket booths. You may not live in the cradle of the Renaissance, but your home base undoubtedly has offerings that make it distinct—and those are worth investing in.

Be intentional about supporting artists and small business owners. When it’s time to liven up your wardrobe or redecorate your house, avoid the temptation to save a few bucks here and there by buying from mega-retailers, and instead look for something handmade. No doubt the person behind the creation will have a great story to give you, and the one-of-a-kind item could become a family heirloom, a treasured memento or a meaningful conversation piece with anyone you encounter.

Above all, adopting a truly Tuscan mentality means taking time to treasure life’s little pleasures. Be aware of your own sensations and take time to process them, whether you’re watching a sunset, warming up a (terracotta) bowl of soup, or simply walking around the block. In no time, you’ll be living like a native.

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