It’s one of those moments that every traveler dreads. Our waiter looks at us in shock. You can feel the collective sense of embarrassment at our table – we’re sure that we’ve just committed one of those “ugly American” cultural faux-pas in the middle of the Tuscany region in Italy.
For the Love of Florentine Steaks
Our supposed sin: asking whether we can have the famous Tuscan dish, Bistecca alla Fiorentina, instead of the one on the set menu, Cinghiale (wild boar stew). We’ll pay if it costs more, someone offers, knowing how pricey this steak is, but this makes our waiter look even more upset.
Luckily, this isn’t just any waiter. He happens to be the proprietor of the restaurant and has also become a good friend in the past few months, as well.
“Antonio, would it be possible to. . .” I ask in Italian, before he cuts me off.
“Of course, of course,” he says in his charmingly musical English. “Anything for Duvine, whatever you want, we make.”
“We’ll pay,” the voice offers again, but Antonio smiles.
“No pay,” he assures us, and hurries back to the kitchen to let the chef know about the change of plan.
We haven’t broken some unwritten rule by asking for Florentine-style steaks. In fact, it is Antonio who feels slightly embarrassed. As a restaurant owner in the picturesque Italian hill town of Montalcino, his standing in the community depends on his reputation for providing a great dining experience – and not for making money.
His reputation is obviously very good as some of our guides saw five-time Tour de France winner Eddie Merckx dining here earlier in the season.
The Heart of Tuscany
Antonio was concerned that we are not satisfied with the meal – and that’s the heart of Tuscany, that there is still a real and authentic quality to the people in this region.
From the shops of the leather craftsmen in Pienza, to the winery of our friend Innocenti, who lovingly produces delicious Vin Santo using age-old processes, Duvine guests in Tuscany are continually amazed at this commitment to producing a superior product. Dinner with Antonio at Re di Macchia is no exception. This dinner is included in the trip along with three others and Antonio doesn’t want to hear anyone talk about money. He just wants everyone to have a fantastic meal.
When he returns with the antipasti, (individual caprese salads) the table is still buzzing about this illuminating moment of cross-cultural misunderstanding.
Our American mindset is so governed by seeing transactions strictly in terms of dollars, says one woman, but here they do business in “respect.”
Get the Real Tuscan Experience with Duvine
It’s a beautiful way of life, very human, very personal. That’s what makes Duvine special.
Unlike some companies, Duvine’s guides generally stay in a specific region. As a result I know all the roads in Tuscany like the back of my hand. On every tour, I greet everyone from the bell hops to the winemakers, restaurateurs and villa owners by their first names. We are all friends and these personal relationships are priceless, because our guests get unique access to fortress battlements, restaurant kitchens and private gardens.
At Duvine, we bring this Italian emphasis on quality and personal relationships to every aspect of our tours. Our groups are small, often ranging between 8-12 guests. This gives us the opportunity to really get to know everyone and sit at one table where we can truly host our dinners.
It also makes it possible for our guests to ignore the maps and route instructions entirely while riding as we are waiting at every turn to make sure everyone knows the way. You will never see a confused group of Duvine bikers poring over a map, fixing their own flat tires or riding five miles out of the way uphill.
Like Antonio, we love to see our guests having a great time and would do nearly anything if we thought it could make the trip more memorable.
At the end of the season when I go to say goodbye to Antonio, I ask if I can buy one of my favourite bottles of Brunello from him (it’s a small producer, and I haven’t been able to find it anywhere else). He winks, hurries down to cellar and returns with the bottle, pressing it into my arms. I try to get out my wallet, but he backs away.
I should have known.
For more information on Duvine Adventures, please visit: www.duvine.com .
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