Tuscans think nothing of these two little words: ‘little hill.’ “Oh, the shortcut is just up a little pathway,” the receptionist says nonchalantly. Halfway through the death valley climb laden with loose pebbles and craggy roots, a dozen near-twisted ankles, we assume we must have taken the wrong path. “Oh, yes, it’s a little rough,” was the verification we received when we inched our way back down sans fatalities. So when we learned that cars were not allowed to drive up the hill to the highly reputable ristorante in Fiesole, La Reggia Degli Etruschi, we were a tad apprehensive.
Rest assured, the climb is made of flat slabs of stone. All it takes is a little willpower and steady breathing. Our hamstrings are feeling it halfway up, but we are in good company, and judging by the insouciant locals at our sides, this kind of climb is as quotidian in Tuscany as strolling through Soho in New York. Fiesole, is, after all, a hill town. When we arrive at the charming restaurant overlooking the surrounding hills, the outdoor terrace lined with greenery and candles, we are just in time for sunset. The sky is ombre in shades of pink and purple, and the green treetops of the countryside grow even more saturated in color.
We are greeted by the warmest Tuscan in the region. Leonardo takes Italian hospitality to a new level; it seems as if he has been waiting for us for months, that we have finally arrived, and how pleased he is that we made it and how wonderful it is to see us and how thankful he is that we are dining with him on this most exquisite September evening. We opt for a table a fuori overlooking the vista so that we can take advantage of the dreamy landscape, the fresh country air, and the entertainment garnered by people-watching. Lovers stroll by the restaurant en route to the top of the hill; they sit on the stone wall overlooking all of Fiesole and are in no rush to head back down.
We watch a mix of locals and visitors arrive at La Reggia. Leonardo’s heart seems to break when he has to gently turn away anyone without a reservation. His trattoria is clearly one of the best in the area; and judging by the amount of Tuscans dining there that night, including a family sitting next to us who have brought Leonardo an overdue gift and news of their bambini, his success is due to more than his panoramic view and inherent charm. We suspect it must be the food too. Leonardo joins his hands in a pleading gesture and asks if he can please bring us something special from the kitchen? Certo, Leonardo, certo. While we wait, we take note of the colorful, mismatched glassware and plates, most definitely made by a local Tuscan artist. The oranges, greens, and blues reflect the warm-colored buildings of Fiesole, the verdant treetops, and the painterly sky.
A typical Tuscan aperitif arrives: juicy moon-shaped melon, prosciutto, mini bruschetta classica with fresh tomatoes, and spicy Tuscan berries. Afterwards, we feast on simply dressed dishes such as Tuscan beans mixed in local olive oil, a lovely green salad, grilled eggplant and zucchini, and the most addicting pasta dish. I was full on verdure (and still full from previous days of Italian food), but I could not get enough of Leonardo’s hand cut pasta with zucchini, saffron, and sedano. I soon felt as though I would have to be rolled down the hill. Alas, at the end of the evening, Leonardo arranged for his friend to drive us back to our hotel in Fiesole. His is the only car allowed on the pedestrian-only road, and with this most accommodating gesture, we truly felt like Leonardo’s most honored, and well-fed, guests. La Reggia degli Etruschi is not to be missed on any Tuscan trip, just try not to wear heels.