It’s easy to fall in love in Tuscany. After a day of travelling through bucolic scenery and the soft Mediterranean light, inhaling the warm fragrances of wild herbs and the cool muskiness of wine cellars, the best is yet to come: a romantic dinner in an idyllic restaurant. While generally, Tuscans aren’t particular about décor or details like candlelight—they focus like a laser beam on the quality of food—there are some places with unforgettable views or deep-sigh interiors, that make meals and evenings even more special.
While the quality of food is paramount (two of the ones I’ve chosen have Michelin stars and the others are not far off) and the ambience vital, I tried to pick places where, once you leave, smiling and starry-eyed, you can engage in a romantic stroll by the light of the Tuscan moon.
There can be no complete list, for such is the beauty of Tuscany, but if you're seeking an unforgettable evening for two, these restaurants are an excellent starting point. From Florence to small towns like Sant’Angello in Colle, you can enjoy amazing sunset views or an intimate dinner in a converted farmhouse, an enchanting villa, or a castle accompanied by delicious Tuscan meals. If you're fortunate enough to be in Tuscany during the summer months, you can dine on outdoor terraces and gardens on a balmy night under the stars.
Il Pellicano (Porto Ercole)
Near the romantic fishing village of Porto Ercole, in one of the world’s most striking locations, is Il Pellicano. As only an Italian can, chef Sebestiano Lombardi has been fascinated by la cucina from childhood. Having worked alongside world-famous chefs, he received the prized Michelin Star himself in 2011. His meals blend traditional and creative fare, focusing on the very best fish, meat, and produce. The tables are set on a terrace perched between gardens and the sea, with the sound of the Mediterranean murmuring below you. If your love doesn’t bloom here, check your pulse; you might have expired.
Trattoria Il Leccio (Sant’Angelo in Colle)
My favorite small medieval hill town, among the vineyards of one of the worlds’ greatest wines Brunello, this tiny, circular, little-visited jewel has the most amazing views from east to west. Lit by sunlight or moonlight, the great volcano, the valley below, and the hills beyond must be seen. The sunsets are the best, so plan your dinner around it, while tasting some of the finest local Brunello in the adjoining wine bar. The restaurant of a dozen tables is quaint and loved, with walls of stone, and an ancient, charming wine cellar. From spring until fall, with the tables outside in the town’s postage stamp-sized piazza, the moon rising, and the church bell ringing the hours above you, it all seems like an overdone opera set. Except it isn’t. It’s real.
The food prepared by the father and son team of Gianfranco and Lucca, is always super fresh and traditional with small elegant twists. The plate of appetizers is a must, as are the handmade ravioli with baby sage and handmade pinci with black cabbage, bacon, and tomatoes. And the torta della nonna doused with reduced wild berry sauce and a bit of wine is perfect.
A post-dinner walk around the town’s walls will complete an evening you won’t forget.
Villa Bordoni, Greve in Chianti
Some call it “a little piece of paradise.” We stayed there this fall and I must say it’s pretty close. A half hour north of Siena or forty minutes south of Florence, the restaurant (also a boutique hotel with a dozen rooms) is in an old villa high in the castle-strewn hills of the renowned town of Greve. Surrounded by silence and sumptuous gardens, it makes for an idyllic al fresco dinner. The food is Tuscan with innovations, but always scrupulously seasonal and excellent. I loved the smoked aubergines with burrata cheese and truffle shavings, the gnocchi with basil pesto and king prawns, and the pork wrapped in bacon served with a sauce of artichokes and zucchini. The wine cellar, carved into the rock below, has over 200 very well selected labels from the region and the world.
An after dinner grappa or cognac in one of the secluded arbors in the hillside will beguile even the most romantic.
Oreade - Monteverdi (near the town of Sarteano)
You want romance? I give you romance. Oreade is a restaurant named after the mythological mountain nymphs. The setting is truly another world, another time. In the most beautiful part of Tuscany, picture an isolated, miniscule mountaintop with a 12th-century castle and hamlet (population: 11) called Castiglioncello del Trinoro. The views are breathtaking, the silence deafening. Among the dozen stone houses is an eight-table restaurant in an ancient wine cellar carved out of the mountain. The décor is minimalist yet sophisticated. In summer, you can dine outside under a pergola.
Chef Giancarla Bodoni’s cooking is superb based on farm-to-table freshness, intelligence, and imagination. The crispy octopus with bean-pure lemon and paprika emulsion, followed by venison ravioli in porcini sauce, followed by slow-braised wild boar ribs over celery root pure with crispy spinach, accompanied by a fine wine chosen from a meticulously chosen wine list of the region, will prepare you for a romantic moonlight stroll. And your monastically elegant room will be just steps away. You’ll fall madly in love with life.
Il Palagio Ristorante (Florence)
It’s no easy task creating a romantic restaurant in a city, but Il Palagio manages very well. Attached to the Four Season’s Hotel comprised of an old palazzo and a small convent, all is immersed in lush botanical gardens. The Michelin-starred restaurant with chef Vito Mollica conducting, champions authentic yet imaginative cuisine with super fresh ingredients and a creative seasonal menu, including milk-fed lamb and just out of the water seafood. His cavaletti pasta cacio e pepe with red prawns and marinated baby squid, was chosen by Italy’s revered Guida Espresso as the 2013 dish of the year. Whether you dine in the garden or the unobtrusively elegant indoor room filled with flowers, (a Florentine point of pride) you will feel spoiled. The service is comfortably relaxed, allowing time to savor between courses. Might be best to try the chef’s tasting menu (makes life simple so you can concentrate on your amore).