It’s 8:30 am and already 26 degrees. I’m swimming in an azure pool, which reflects the brilliant, unbroken blue sky. Before me stretches a vista of Tuscan countryside, dotted with terracotta-roofed farmhouses and bordered by mountains; behind me is the shaded eating area where, last night, we feasted on local food and wine. Its at this moment that I decide I will never tell anybody about this place, for fear of it becoming crowded with holiday goers.
The problem is that, when something is so utterly lovely, it deserves - nay, it demands - to be talked about. Whether it’s a delicious meal or a brilliant film, I find the enjoyment of a special experience is always multiplied when shared. And so, here I am writing about Il Canto del Maggio, the dreamy Tuscan B&B and restaurant where I spent just a few days in June.
Il Canto del Maggio could calm the wanderlust of even the most eager traveller. One arrives and immediately resolves to stay in this one location forever.
Book one of Il Canto del Maggio’s shuttered apartments, which run along a steep, cobbled path in a picturesque hamlet.
Guests receive a cheery welcome from Simona and her little dog Bice - one of several pets who make up what Simona affectionally calls her ‘zoo’. Together, Simona and Bice show us to our apartment, La Castellana, which is set over two floors and has self-catering facilities. Although the apartment is (thankfully) cool and dark, the bright walls and rustic decorations lend it a cosy, colourful feel. The huge log burner would make it even more snug on a cold winter’s evening, but in the heat of early summer we are grateful for the air conditioning.
Just down the cobbled path from the apartments lies the restaurant and terrace, where breakfast is served (more on that breakfast later...). Return back up the path to find the swimming pool. Swim here in the morning and you might be joined by two tiny, but brave, ducklings, whilst in the evening, swallows swoop overhead. To the fore of the pool, there is a sweeping view of the Tuscan countryside. To the right, there are vine-shaded sun loungers; to the left, the kitchen garden presided over by Simona’s father, Mauro, from which guests are free to pick vegetables. Observed from every new angle, this place gets more and more picturesque.
Il Canto del Maggio isn’t only a set of tranquil rooms with a picturesque pool - it is also a fantastic restaurant. Indeed, many guests travel here primarily for its reputation of fantastic food.
Those who, like me, believe that the best days begin at breakfast, will not be disappointed. The morning meal is served al fresco on the terrace, where greenery sprawls overhead and on every side. The breakfast table buckles with homemade cakes, tarts and pastries, as well as cereals, yogurt, fruit and cheese. If you’re lucky, there might be leftover pudding from the previous night. My favourites include a crisp, buttery crostata filled with cherry jam, a barely-sweet dark chocolate cake concealing globes of apricot, and a gentle yogurt cake flecked with fruit and chocolate.
If you think you need never eat again after breakfast, the smells that begin wafting from the wood-fired oven in the afternoon will persuade your stomach otherwise. Dinner begins at 8 with an aperitivo at the restaurant or, in summer, by the pool. Starters are served buffet style, including tarts, salads, breads, cheeses and charcuterie. The primi piatti is pasta, delicate but daringly al dente, dressed with vegetables from the garden and soft cheese; a secondi of roasted meats pleases the carnivores, but we slow down to save room for dessert. And what desserts! There is a very fine tiramisu, panna cotta, and cherry and almond crumble. Best of all, there is a dark chocolate cake with serious squidge, its dizzying richness steadied by the sharp-sweet spike from an accompanying compote.
Unsurprisingly, we are rarely inclined to leave Il Canto del Maggio, but we find a good gelato shop, Cassia Vetus, in nearby Terranuova Bracciolini. Just around the corner, we pick up a quarter-wheel of cheese reserved for us by Simona after we praised it at dinnertime. If visiting towns further afield, we follow her recommendations for eating out. We also pick vegetables from the kitchen garden and make use of our self-catering facilities. When the unfailingly generous Simona discovers that we are cooking pasta with courgettes, she brings us a pot of her father’s pesto. The pesto tastes of sunshine - it’s proof that a few, fresh ingredients (and lots of good olive oil) produce the best flavour.
Siena, Florence, Pisa and Bologna are all close to Il Canto del Maggio. Their proximity means it is possible to make day trips, or you could spend a few days in the city before heading to this secluded countryside B&B to rest and recover. Il Canto del Maggio is also a great base for smaller Tuscan towns and cities that lack tourist crowds, but remain abundant in the rich history, architecture and art of this region.
Start a day trip at Loro Ciuffenna, a medieval town of two halves where coloured houses rise up from both sides of a deep ravine. We wander across the Roman bridge, visit an old mill and pick up sun-saturated tomatoes and peaches at the market. Next, head on to the almost implausibly quaint village of Borro, where you will find artisan shops and an excellent vineyard that offers wine tasting. Drive on to seductive Arezzo in time for lunch at a restaurant on one of the streets running off the spectacular Piazza Grande. After lunch, we dive from the hot afternoon into the cool, shaded buildings of the Centro Storico, where churches, towers and aristocratic houses tumble down steep streets.
To escape the crowds altogether, head up the winding roads that lead from Il Canto del Maggio into the mountains. Here, spend a morning hiking the network of paths connecting the little towns that grow out of the hillside. Signposts are rare and often faded, so if you have somewhere you need to be, then take a good map or a guide. I was quite content to wander out and back along the same path, with no destination in mind. We began and ended in pretty Poggio di Loro, where stone houses and archways are dressed with flowerpots and painted shutters.
While I was charmed by these towns and villages, I found nowhere as enchanting as Il Canto del Maggio. It is the perfect, tranquil base to return to after a day of sight-seeing, but if you roll out of bed each morning and never manage to leave, I couldn’t blame you. This is a B&B that brings wanderlust firmly to a standstill.