The perfect trip: Tuscany
Where to Eat
The décor may be basic at Osteria Porta al Cassero - marble-topped tables, a stone floor, white walls - but the class of the food is unmistakable. Al Cassero celebrates classic Tuscan cooking - pici con le briciolie (home-made spaghetti with breadcrumbs), panzanella (tomato and bread salad) and scottiglia de cinghiale con fagioli all'uccelleto (wild boar stew with beans) - all produced to a high standard. It also has a wide range of top-class Brunello and Rosso wines (00 39 0577 847196; via Ricasoli, 32, Montalcino).
Where to stay
Set amid woods, olive groves and vineyards, Agriturismo Le Ragnaie, a farmhouse and winery, has elegant, comfortable rooms and apartments. Guests can hire bikes to explore the countryside, take part in wine-tasting sessions, tour the estate's wine cellar and enjoy traditional dishes at the restaurant - washed down with a glass or two of local wine, of course (£76; 00 39 0577 848639; leragnaie.com; Loc. Le Ragnaie, 53024 Montalcino).
Talamone and the Maremma: Best for the coast
With wild cattle and cowboys, pine forests and beautiful beaches as fine as golden salt, marshland and maquis, the Maremma is where Tuscany slides gracefully into the sea. It runs from Orbetello in the south to Livorno in the north - 93 miles of everything anyone wants to do with, by, under or on water. And just north of Orbetello, on the southern corner of the Parco Regionale della Maremma, is the small, beguiling port of Talamone.
It may not have the wild cattle or the cowboys, or the glitz and glamour of Orbetello, but in many ways Talamone is the whole of the Maremma writ small; a compact old fishing village hunched around a couple of piazzas with a sea wall guarding the ocean side. The harbour is packed with expensive pleasure craft but, says Massimo Palombarini, a local barman turned fisherman and windsurfing instructor, 'There are six boats still going out to catch the fish you get round here: sea bass, grey mullet, black bream. And three of the boats you can hire, to go to visit parts of the Maremma coast that you can't reach any other way. Or to dive or to fish. Whatever you like.'
He also explains why Il Golfo di Talamone is one of the best places in the whole of Italy for windsurfing. 'It's because the prevailing wind is from the west and when it blows, it gets channelled either side of that hill.' He gestures to the plump curve of a crest behind the port, 'and that directs it just perfectly onto the gulf.'
The same hill also marks the beginning of the Monti dell'Uccellina, a pine-forested part of the Parco Regionale della Maremma. It's criss-crossed with paths that lead through the spicy maquis, that distinctive Mediterranean mixture of bay, ilex and wild rosemary that cloaks the crest of the hill running parallel to the coast.
Looking back on this trip, I can't help but conclude that the genius of Tuscany is to have adjusted to the demands of the modern world without losing the beauty and richness of its past. Its hilltop towns and villages seem to have been modelled for visual perfection, but they function perfectly for the 21st-century traveller. Inside them lie some of Man's greatest artistic achievements. Around them lie some of Italy's most lovely countryside. Tuscany is a place to lose yourself not just for one weekend, but for a lifetime of them.
Parco Regionale della Maremma has a visitor centre in Alberese (parco-maremma.it; open 15 June-14 September).
Where to eat
Ristorante Da Flavia overlooks the harbour of Talamone. Most of the dishes are based on fresh fish and the wine list is impressive. Meals cost around £33 (00 39 0564 887091; Piazza IV Novembre 1, Talamone; closed Mondays in July-August).
Where to stay
Villa Bengodi, a 19th-century family house, overlooks the sea and is just outside Talamone. Set in 32 hectares of its own estate, it has large, comfortable rooms. Bed and breakfast only, but the homemade jams are worth the price of board on their own (from £80; 00 39 335 420334; villabengodi.it; Via Bengodi, 2-Loc. Fonteblanda, 58010 Orbetello).