Tracy Louis Hyde has led our Tuscany Untour on the ground near Montalcino for a couple years now. She loves her work with us and is eager to share her region. She took some time to share some thoughts about her work and her love for Tuscany.
Tell us a little bit about your professional background. What drew you to working with Untours?
I met some Untourists in Monticiano, Siena, when I co-owned the wine bar in the village. I liked the concept of independent travel, but with back-up. I have always enjoyed working with people. I spent several years working with American tourists on cruise ships, and then I moved into international real estate work. When I heard from a friend that Untours was hiring, I jumped at the chance.
Why do you think Tuscany captures the American imagination?
The area of the Tuscany Untour is still very authentic. Our Untourists here get to see small villages and medieval towns that are very much off the beaten track, maybe places that you would never come across on your own. Even our Tuscany Untour event is in an incredible Benedictine Abbey, full of original frescoes from the 15th century. The abbey isn’t a tourist trap, it is a real working monastery that you just wouldn’t get to see and experience otherwise. Our guests seem to enjoy being a part of the local communities of Buonconvento and Montalcino, living their day to day lives as the locals do, shopping at the markets and eating home cooked food.
What surprises American visitors about Tuscany?
I think visitors are surprised at how much there is to see and do in the area. They are in a very central position. An hour can take you to the small fishing villages along the coast, or to Florence or Cortona, and a shorter drive takes you to Siena, Montepulciano, Volterra, or Pienza, The number of small villages within 20 minutes drive is incredible, all with lots to see and do, or you can just soak up the atmosphere and do very little!
What are your favorite things to see and do in Tuscany?
When I arrived in Tuscany from England 28 years ago, I left my heart in Siena. It must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Just to spend the day there shopping, walking around, having a coffee in a bar. As I worked in the wine business for 15 years, I enjoy wine tasting and visiting the wineries. Of course Montalcino and Montepulciano are full of wineries, but there are also small wineries, with great unknown wines.
What is your favorite town and why?
Definitely Siena. I have become a Palio enthusiast! I have been to more than 30 races. I love Siena at Palio time when the city is in festa. It’s just one enormous event. Eating in the parishes, going to the cathedral and not forgetting the Palio intrigue: Who will get the best horse? Who will get the best jockey? Which parish wants to win the Palio the most?
What are your favorite day trips in the area?
I enjoy going down to the coast if I feel like a relaxing day out, buy I also enjoy the hustle and bustle of a day in Cortona or Florence. A day out in San Gimignano is never a disappointment!
What is our favorite thing to eat in the region?
I think this depends on the time of year. In Italy we tend to eat what is in season and what is good at a particular time of year. The tomatoes are fantastic in Italy; they taste like tomatoes should. A good pasta with tomato sauce is unbeatable. Simple and tasty. I like the thick bean and vegetable soup from this region, ribollita (which means re-boiled). The pici are also very good; fresh pasta, rolled by hand, they are like big, fat spaghetti…great with garlic and tomato sauce or cheese and pepper.
Why is Montalcino a good base for exploring Tuscany?
Montalcino is a fortress city, surrounded by stunning countryside. It is the birthplace of the world famous Brunello wine. All the surrounding territory is dedicated to wine or oil production. The towns and villages near Montalcino are also very interesting. It is a stone’s throw from Buonconvento, San Giovanni D’Asso (which is famous for its truffles), Montisi, Pienza, Murlo, and Montepulciano. It is a beautiful and very culturally rich area.
What are the benefits of staying on a farm?
You get to take in the atmosphere of a working farm, which is really interesting. To see the grape picking at that time of year and to visit their wine cellars. The people are also so warm and friendly. The buildings are just beautiful, with their beamed ceilings and stone and brick. Just full of history.
What is your favorite part of working with Untours?
I love meeting my Untourists. They are a great bunch, a mix of all professions. We have had some great times together, swapping stories and getting to know each other. I am really looking forward to this season and my next groups of new and repeat visitors. Bring it on!
Meet Tracy and explore the hill towns, cities, culture, and farm life of Tuscany on a Tuscany Untour. She will help you appreciate the region’s food and wine and people . She will also help you navigate the practical parts of visiting and parking in her favorite cities, like Siena.