My name is Matilde, and I have been working for a short time as a guide for the tours and trips that Valdichiana Living arranges in the Tuscan countryside. To be specific, such packages have Val di Chiana Senese as their sole protagonist: a strip of land in southern Tuscany, a forgotten place, which has recently gained more and more importance in the wide array of tourist destinations.
Let’s go step by step. What is the reason why Val di Chiana Senese is getting so many points in the eyes of travelers? The answer is simple, and yet predictable. In the age of globalization, tourists are increasingly searching for truth and authenticity, in the hope of loosing themselves within the truthfulness of Tuscany, even if only for a few days. And if we think about it that way, Val di Chiana has to offer all its genuineness: here, the socio-economic fabric is still connected with peasant agriculture, rituals, bowls game, coquettes looking out the windows, handmade pici, duck sauce that perfumes the air on Sundays, political meetings in the square, a way of speaking that is a bit coarse, and yet is a pure expression of the true “chianino” people.
If truth be told, Val di Chiana is made up of villages where time has stopped, it is pici with meat sauce (or with aglione sauce), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the Goose Festival, the Donkey Race and the Bravio delle Botti… but above all, Val di Chiana is a strip of Tuscany, which still has a peasant soul: the sincere, direct, irreverent, playful, and welcoming soul, which only Tuscan people get.
And that is why I want to tell you the experience I enjoyed during the last tour I was on.
I had been entrusted with the task of accompanying two wealthy American ladies throughout their stay here in Valdichiana Senese, supporting them and helping them get in touch with the place. In fact, the whole office of Valdichiana Living was entirely focused on their arrival, since we had arranged everything to provide the customers with a top-quality service.
So far, nothing strange. The ladies land in Florence, and get to their luxury residence; the tour starts, and we make sure everything runs smoothly, so as to arrive at the last day, certainly sweaty, but absolutely delighted.
So, we come to the last experience included in our stay: the search for truffles.
At 6:30 pm, we arrive to Palazzone, which is a hamlet of San Casciano dei Bagni: a place immersed in the green, where Val di Chiana starts losing its features, leaving space to Umbria, which surrounds it all around. The owner of the farm welcomes us with great enthusiasm, and here we go with the truffle hunt experience, jauntily and proudly accomplished by a fantastic dog, specially trained for that. At the moment I do not know the name, but I can assure you that within half an hour it managed to find four black truffles.
At this point, it’s 7:15 pm, and the walk in the woods ends to leave room for the second part of the experience: the tasting, which includes bruschetta topped with oil and truffle, and truffle omelet.
The farmer takes us to the “tasting room”, he opens the door, et voilà: we enter the kitchen of his house. Now, put yourselves in my shoes, i.e. those of a young woman who has just started working (this was my first assignment), accompanying two wealthy American women around Tuscany, trying to make everything work, she’s successful, she’s happy… oops! The last two hours of the last day you find yourself in the family kitchen of a Tuscan farm in the middle of nowhere, at dinner time, when soup is served (yes indeed, real Tuscan people, to lead long and healthy life, eat soup every evening, even if outside it’s 86°F).
At that moment, I would have rushed through the woods, I would have wanted my mom to reassure me that everything would be fine, especially when I saw the dismay in the eyes of the two US guests, who were certainly asking themselves where they were. Yes, because it was not enough to be at the farmer’s house during the sacred meal at the end of the day. On top of that, here comes the 97-year-old granny, who coming from the nook and holding an odd posture, carefully warns us that she feels the dead hanging over her.
There have been ten seconds during which I thought: “Here we are, my career (not even started) is already over.”
However, the end was absurd, and yet wonderful: granny adores our driver, and starts telling him about her youth. She pulls the historic photos with her husband out from under the pillow of the armchair, and tells of when she had to wait for him four years ‘cause he was a war fighter, the efforts to grow up her family and children in the post-war period, when Italy had to be rebuilt completely. Meanwhile, I translate everything, word by word, and I see that the sight of my clients range from perplexity to emotion, involvement, and finally up to joy, seeing the whole family coming back from the countryside and meeting up at sunset after the fatigue of the day.
Then, I understand that I will not be stoned, on the contrary, the idea I had from my office was great. The rich American ladies were not looking for luxury, perfection, and impeccability; they were looking for real Tuscany, and they had got it right under their eyes.
What we saw that evening was the truest and most sincere Val di Chiana: the farmer who returns and eats early, young and old people together, women and men with children, the elderly people to enrich the scene with their stories, as an immeasurable heritage of yesteryear.
The day after this experience, my “clients” had departed, but before leaving they thanked me because the work done by my agency was impeccable, in particular I was told that we had been brilliant in understanding what they wanted, namely, living like Tuscan people for a week.
I can say that from this experience I have certainly learnt a couple of important things: first of all, we tend to think that tourists always looks for a standard product, whereas when they choose a destination like Val di Chiana, the aim is thinking outside the box, to live a real experience. Secondly, I am incredibly lucky to have been born here, in the deep south of Tuscany: on the one hand, the valley of Clanis, on the other one, Val d’Orcia, in the background, the Lake Trasimeno, but above all, in the deepest of its heart, a peasant authenticity, which only true Val di Chiana people still preserve today.