Tuscany is marvelous in all seasons. I’ve been here in the springtime, when the fields are a vivid AstroTurf-green and everything’s draped in explosively purple wisteria. And I’ve been here in late September and October, after the hot summer sun has scorched everything to a uniform brown — revealing the rugged contours of the landscape.
But one of my favorite visits was off-season, in late November — when I came to the Val d’Orcia with my wife’s family for a Tuscan Thanksgiving celebration. (Of course, Tuscans don’t normally celebrate Thanksgiving — but Isabella, who runs the Cretaiole agriturismo, quite rightly figured it was a great time to invite Americans to Tuscany for an off-season break…and she made sure we got the requisite turkey on Turkey Day.)
While not quite “tropical,” Italy has a warmer climate than much of Europe. When Germany and England are in parkas and snow boots, Italians are in sweaters and windbreakers. Even better, Tuscany — so jammed with visitors from April through October — is far less crowded off-season. It becomes possible to be spontaneous. You can simply drop into restaurants or museums that have long lines or require reservations in peak season.
During our late-November visit, the air was crisp but not cold, and the sun — when it emerged — was quick to warm us. Thanks to a fuzzy-green crop of winter wheat, the landscape was, to my surprise, more colorful than it is in October. And seasonal flavors that are only available at this time of year — plump orange persimmons, luxuriously roasted chestnuts — were explosively delicious.
The days were short, but the evenings were cozy. At Creataiole, our apartments had fireplaces and a generous woodpile that we could help ourselves to. And Luciano’s powerful grappa was a surefire way to warm up on a cold evening.
By the time we left Tuscany — during the first few days of December — holiday decorations were beginning to pop up in some of the towns: tasteful twinkle lights, Christmas trees trimmed with restraint, and rustic wooden kiosks just setting up for Christmas craft and food markets.
Europe’s popular sights and areas — like Tuscany — are increasingly, unpleasantly crowded. If you’re someone who’s reluctant to visit a place where you’ll feel like one of the herd, off-season travel is a smart alternative.
Read my full report on my Thanksgiving in Tuscany — including many tips on off-season travel in general.
Heading to Tuscany? I share a dozen of my favorite Tuscan experiences here.
Our new Best of Tuscany in 12 Days Tour — which begins in 2020 — incorporates many vivid experiences in Italy’s heartland. We have departures as early as April and as late as October, allowing you to avoid the heat and crowds of peak season.
Or, to do it on your own, you’ll find all of the details you need in our Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook.