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 where to eat and shop in Colle Val d’Elsa.
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. You can read the full guide in our newsletter here.
Inside this guide you will find:
- Over 20 suggestions on where to eat in Colle Val d’Elsa, including breakfast cafes, pizzerias, and restaurants.
- More than 5 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.
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! You can subscribe here and download the full guide here.
To entice you, here you can find a selection of 5 of our favourite places where to eat in Colle Val d’Elsa plus one where to shop for your groceries
Where to eat in Colle Val d’Elsa
Trattoria Bel Mi’ Colle
Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 56, 53034 Colle di Val D’Elsa (SI)
Tel. +39 0577 922837
Fresh, local, seasonal ingredients are the protagonists of the cuisine of chef Gabriele Borgianni in this trattoria that is probably our favourite in Colle di Val d’Elsa. Beef tongue and stuffed chicken neck are my go-to choice when it comes to appetizers. Outstanding the cheese selection.
Località S. Marziale, 16/a/interno 3, 53034 Colle di Val D’Elsa (SI)
The bakery is positioned in a very unassuming location, in the industrial area of San Marziale, but I assure you that you will be surprised at the first taste of their products. It is difficult to place Forno Pellegrino in one category because here you can buy good, wholesome sourdough bread baked in a wood-fired oven and made with flours from local ancient grains, Italian croissants, cakes and cookies, their extra virgin olive oil and liquors, jams and marmalades, fresh pasta to cook at home, as well as pizzas and focaccias as fluffy as clouds to eaten by the slice or to take away. On Saturday nights they are open until 10 p.m. for their Neapolitan-style farmhouse pizzas.
Via Fratelli Bandiera, 67 Gracciano, Colle di Val d’Elsa (SI)
This family-run gelato shop in Gracciano is popular with all ages, beloved by locals and an unexpected treat for tourists. Among their twenty-something flavours, the pine nut will always be my favourite.
Caffè Santa Caterina
Piazza Santa Caterina, 2/4, 53034 Colle di Val D’Elsa
Tel. +39 0577 922451
Located in Piazza Santa Caterina in the Medieval town, its outdoor tables are shaded under tall leafy lime trees with a panoramic view over the hills. This little café is a perfect spot for an aperitivo or for an easy thin-crusted pizza. The little square is lively, and the place is loved by locals, old and young.
Wine and olive oil tastings at Tenuta di Mensanello
Loc. Mensanello, 34 Colle di Val d’Elsa (SI)
Tel +39 0577 971080
The history of Tenuta di Mensanello dates back rather a long while, with numerous estate buildings noted in the Leopold-era land registry of 1765. For current owner Neri Roncucci and family, it’s a story that starts in the first half of the 20th century, when grandfather Alessandro and grandmother Ada managed this farm in the heart of the Sienese Chianti. Tenuta di Mensanello is not a fancy agriturismo in Tuscany, it’s a real working farm. You can read more about Mensanello in this old post where we chatted with Neri, the owner of the Tenuta.
Originally the farm was a noted producer of Chianina cattle and all associated types of cultivation, but that enterprise ended in the 1980s. In the 90s, Tenuta di Mensanello was one of the first farms to propose an agro-tourism business, offering lodgings to tourists and visitors. Today, in addition to tourism-based activities, the estate is also an extra virgin olive oil mill, a craft microbrewery, and a wine cellar. Visit the estate to discover more about the world of Tuscan farming, and to taste their IGT and DOCG wines, their extra virgin olive oil pressed on-site, and their farm-produced beer. Beer lovers will find the Mensanello IPA a revelation. They have also a ristorante agricolo. This is where we got married and where we organized Livia’s Baptism, so we might be biased, but the panoramic view on the surrounding hills, the friendly staff and the good honest food can convince anyone.
Where to shop in Colle Val d’Elsa
La Bottega di Sant’Ulivieri
Via Gracco del Secco, 35 Colle di Val d’Elsa (SI)
A little grocery shop in the old town of Colle Val D’Elsa, or Colle Alta (High Colle), as we call it. Sant’Ulivieri farm is located between Colle Val D’Elsa and San Gimignano, and you can find their best seasonal produce in their shop in Colle Val D’Elsa. Along with their fruit and vegetables, here you can also purchase their beans, chickpeas and lentils, their extra virgin olive oil, wine, preserves and jams, cooked vegetables, local biodynamic cheese, the outstanding bread and focaccia from Forno Pellegrino, and artisanal pasta. If you’re in an apartment in the old town, here you can buy everything you need to cook yourself delicious meals.