Foodie Guide: Colle di Val D'Elsa and its surroundings
An (always evolving) list of the best places in Colle di Val d'Elsa to eat, shop from local artisans, producers and farmers, and other activities.
This newsletter is a reader-supported publication. We’re trying to keep things as free as possible, but if you enjoy what I write and want access to exclusive weekly recipes, and if you are at a point in your life to support our newsletter, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. Thank you!
I have so many memories of my hometown, Colle di Val d’Elsa: my first trip to the market with friends, the first time going to the movies without grown-ups, the first time I bought a Mickey Mouse comic with my allowance, taking the bus home and feeling so independent, and all my experiences on up through high school.
Since I was born, I’ve been living just a few kilometres from Colle, in the country house where my father and grandmother were born.
Val d’Elsa is nestled right in the heart of Tuscany, halfway between the provinces of Florence and Siena, traversed by the ancient pilgrim route Via Francigena that once wound through the hills left of the Elsa river.
Unknown to many and certainly less popular with tourists than Monteriggioni, San Gimignano and the Chianti area, Val d’Elsa is dearer to me, with its lovely farmed countryside between Casole and Sovicille, the woods close to my home and the vine- and olive tree-covered hills around Certaldo.
The cuisine of Val d’Elsa wholly reflects its location between Siena and Florence. Olive oil, unsalted bread, cured meats, eggs, small farm animals, cheese, fruit and vegetables are but some of the fundamental components of our cuisine. This is the land of my grandmother and her recipes, the cuisine I was raised on and later fell so in love with I made it my passion and my profession.
Every town in the region has its market day, once weekly or more frequently. Tuesday is market day in Poggibonsi, in Certaldo it’s on Wednesday as it is in the neighbourhood I visit for classes, Gracciano, in San Gimignano and Castellina Scalo the market is on Thursday, and in Colle di Val d’Elsa it’s on Friday morning. Growing up here, you learn the market location almost like a nursery rhyme. They help you to get your bearings and understand how a usually quiet town can suddenly transform into a lively meeting place, one that draws all who live in the surrounding countryside.
Colle di Val d’Elsa, my hometown, is an underrated medieval town, still unknown to many tourists and even to many of the locals.
It has a privileged position: one hour from Florence, half an hour from Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra, with little gems worth discovering. Preparing this guide, seeing the list growing place after place, I realized how rich the culinary offer is.
If you attend one of our cooking classes, or if you want to spend a couple of days, or even a week, in a local agriturismo, Tommaso and I have jotted down a list of our favourite places for you.
Initially, I was torn about whether to share this guide or not. I like how Colle di Val d’Elsa feels still authentic, sometimes sleepy, probably unprepared for mass tourism, imperfect and rough at times. I love to randomly bump into friends from elementary school or high school, and exchange tips on newfound pizzerias or farms selling their vegetables.
There’s still room to grow, to perfect hospitality, to work on events and fairs that are still missing in this area, to build a network of your producers, chefs, artisans, farmers and shop owners to improve the experience not only for tourists but first and foremost of us, who live here all year long.
So Tommaso and I decided to work on this list to continuously remind ourselves that we are part of the tourist system of Colle di Val d’Elsa, and it’s also our responsibility to help you appreciate a town off the beaten path and to show you another way of travelling.
This guide is the first in a series of articles about tourism here in Tuscany and Italy, how it will necessarily have to change, and what we can do to imagine a new way of experiencing these areas, as tourists, as locals, and as actors of this system.
This foodie guide took us months of work—pleasurable work, I must confess!—so we designed it for our Letters from Tuscany subscribers. Thank you for your support!
Inside this guide you will find:
Over 20 suggestions for eating, including breakfast cafes, pizzerias, and restaurants.
More than 6 suggestions for buying typical products, shopping for groceries, or buying a nice souvenir of your stay in the area.
Many suggestions for activities to do while staying in the Elsa Valley, from tastings to hikes.
1 downloadable and printable PDF with the complete guide, so you can carry it with you at all times
Please consider this guide a continuously growing list. We still have more than 20 places that we have marked that we want to try (again or for the first time).
We make a commitment to update this list periodically.
In the meantime, on our blog julskitchen.com you can find some "mini-guides" (like Florence, Siena and San Gimignano) we have written in the past years about other places in Tuscany.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial