When it comes to traveling, I have a thing for authenticity. Yes, I know it's a huge buzzword these days but it's not a new concept (sorry, Millenials). The idea of authentic travel has been brewing for well over a decade when I began working in Virginia developing and promoting tourism. I've never been a fan of manufactured tourism - the kind that doesn't relate to an area's culture and feels out of context for a place. But there's no doubt that travelers today are looking for a deeper, more meaningful connection to the places they visit when they travel. They want to experience a place from a locals point of view, eating what they eat where they eat it, trying on for size the things they do every day. Boring and routine to locals perhaps, but it's the most gratifying experience for a traveler.
Through the wonders of social media, I “met” Arianna of Km Zero Tours last year and immediately felt a kindred spirit in her and her philosophy of slow, authentic travel - the very mission behind the tour company she runs with her partner Alessio. So I was beyond excited when they invited us to visit them in Chianti to learn more of what slow travel is all about.
We had already been in Italy for a few weeks - strolling, hiking, eating, climbing, and shopping the beautiful cities of Bologna and Florence - and we were excited to slow our pace for the next few days. Arianna met us with a big smile at our Florence Airbnb and we walked a few blocks to where Alessio waited with their van - and we were off. The conversation between us was immediately comfortable. Now out of the Florence traffic and on the road to Tuscany, my husband and I exchanged glances, and knew this was going to be so much fun. It just felt right.
Arianna laid out the itinerary for our time together. She seemed excited for us to experience all they’d planned and gave us some initial insight into Km Zero Tours. They've been organizing these tours for the past 5 years sharing Tuscany with travelers searching for a more genuine experience. We headed to the Chianti region for our first visit, a cashmere goat farm that is the largest producer of cashmere wool in Europe. We’d be taking a guided tour of the farm with Nora, the owner and former veterinarian in this area for 25 years. She greeted us and I liked her immediately when I caught the remnants of her New York accent, and we headed off to meet her goats.
A short walk past a small yard with some fruit trees and there they were, about 30 or so beautiful goats in the pasture wrapped up in cashmere. All of them looked up momentarily to stare at us, but never once stopped chewing. We learned all about Nora's early beginnings in Chianti, her start as the first female veterinarian in the region, and how her passion for goats grew from owning a few to her current operation that reaches countries around the world.
We played with the female goats in the pasture and checking out the males in another, then walked down to her lovely home overlooking the countryside for an amazing Tuscan lunch. Nora had restored and converted the property's original hay barn into her home, which inside is rustic and cozy. The original house with a pool now accommodates overnight guests. Next we checked out the gift shop and her work space which handles the business of selling wool and the goats themselves around the world.
After lunch we headed to Macinello, our farmstay for the next several days. What a lovely place! Surrounded by olive trees and vineyards, this beautifully restored villa is a picture perfect postcard of Tuscany that now welcomes travelers as an agriturismo, or farm stay. And the view from our room over the vineyards and olive groves was to die for.
That afternoon we drove through the small town of Mercatale in Val di Pesa on our way to meet our guide, Beppe, for an afternoon picnic and hike through the vineyards. It was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. We hiked along the Tignanello vineyards of the famous Antinori estate and Beppe talked about the soil and the vines. The sun was setting by the time we reached our destination on the far side of the hill, and he brought out a perfect little picnic from his backpack complete with wine that took the edge off our growing hunger. Dinner was waiting for us at Macinello so we headed back, where Massimo was preparing to grill his famous Bistecca Fiorentina for us all tonight!
The next morning we were heading to Maremma, a lesser-visited and more rustic part of Tuscany, to visit Tenuta di Paganico, an agricultural and livestock breeding estate. Originally purchased in the 1920s by a Tuscan family, the farm is now owned by a vegetarian oddly enough, who believes in a productive, sustainable, organically influenced livestock farm.
The farm raises three breeds of cattle - Maremmana, Chianina, believed to be one of the oldest breeds in existence, and Limousin, a huge heavily muscled French breed.
They also raise Cinta Senese, the black and white Tuscan pigs. Although each has its own unique characteristics, all are known for the high quality of their meat especially here where they are raised organically. Throughout our travels in this part of Italy the all-pervasive philosophy “You are what you eat” was never more apparent than here.
That afternoon was spent at Pacina, a small organic winery estate that's located just outside the designated geography known as Chianti, so the wine they produce is known as Chianti Colli Senesi. Their home here was first built as a convent around 900AD and today Giovanna and her husband own the property that's been in her family for six generations. This area of Chianti is known for its wine and olive oil making, but they do things a little differently at Pacina. The wine they produce is entirely organic to ensure the highest quality possible. And most impressive to me was how connected they are with the land they farm and love. Such a beautiful place and people, and we were truly moved.
We enjoyed dinner out that night with Arianna and Alessio at their favorite organic cafe in Mercatale, where we chatted about travel, and life. I was getting to know Italy on a deeper level thanks to the people we were meeting and the work they were doing to preserve traditions, particularly when it came to food and wine. And I felt like we'd made friends, and were seeing Italy through their eyes.
Our visit to Giorgio's woodworking shop the next morning was intriguing from the start. A happy guy with a big smile, he greeted us at his studio in the Tuscan hills, and we watched him as he worked on the lathe. Giorgio uses many different woods - olive, ash, maple, oak, and walnut and cherry from wood farms to make his amazing creations. From utilitarian wood bowls, platters, and cutting boards, to large scale commissioned pieces for local churches and companies, his creations are works of art and crafted straight from the heart. Amazing!
Back into the van with Arianna and Alessio and we were off to Podere Erica, a beautifully restored farmhouse and organic winery located halfway between Florence and Siena. The scenery here is classic Tuscany, meticulously groomed vineyards and groves of olive trees. This estate grows Muscat, Canaiolo, and Sangiovese grapes for their exquisite wines using biodynamic methods which replenish and restore the soil, keeping the growing process more in concert with nature. It goes beyond organic to actually revitalizing the soil. After seeing their production process, we sat down with the owner Jan and Marco their winemaker for a delicious lunch in their tasting room.
At the end of the day, we visited our last producer back in the creative heart of Florence, at the bottega of Dimitri Villoresi, a passionate and skilled leather craftsman. Stepping into Dimitri's workshop was like stepping back in time. The open front door invited friends to say hello as they passed by, while inside he quietly worked with customers to choose the right color leather for their bags. We watched as he worked on several pieces, chatting with him about the Florentine traditions to which he clings so tightly.
Day after day, with each new producer we met and experiences we had, the same theme kept recurring. One which has resonated with me my entire life. All of them embodied the spirit of handcrafted. Whether they produced wine, leather goods, meat, cashmere wool, or handcrafted wood, all were deeply rooted in their belief of producing authentic, sustainable, and high quality goods.
It made our hearts really happy to see food and winemakers letting nature determine the course of their production, protecting and sustaining the ecosystem, and being good stewards of the land. And craftsmen and artisans who hold tightly to old tools and traditions for producing works of art. The time we spent with Arianna and Alessio reinforced the part of me that values authenticity. That local flavor you can't get anywhere else but there at the source. And the more local it is, the better the experience will be.
That's the mantra of Km Zero Tours. The name itself refers to zero kilometers between the producer and you. They're redefining what it means to see Italy by introducing visitors to the local community and the producers who make it all come alive. And when you buy local and experience local, the reward is a more enriching kind of travel that benefits everyone. For the visitor who wants to experience Tuscany in a real and authentic way, at a pace that's relaxed, we can't recommend them enough. We could not have seen it the way we did without them. Their introduction was everything, and their philosophy of “slow travel” makes every place you visit a place you want to stay longer and get to know. Grazie mille Arianna e Alessio. Bravissimo!!
We were guests of KmZeroTours during our stay in Tuscany, and we appreciate their introduction to these producers. As always, all opinions are our own based on our actual experience.
IF YOU GO
We so enjoyed our time with KmZeroTours, and thank Arianna and Alessio for sharing their love of Italy with us. They live and work in Chianti, and organize slow-travel, local, producer-oriented tours throughout Tuscany that are specially curated to what interests you. We had a great experience with them!
Contact them at Km Zero Tours or email Arianna@KmZeroTours.com.
Have you done a slow travel tour? We'd love to hear about it!