Town and country. There’s been conflict between the two from time immemorial. Even as Rome rose up to dominate the Mediterranean world and grow to a city of a million people, poets lamented the destruction of the countryside and its simpler way of life. Urban and rural are often pitted against each other, but they’ve always relied on each other. The cramped bustle of the city, the art, architecture, the culture, they’re all offset and fed by the bounty and sprawl of the countryside. The best of everything from the surrounding countryside gathers in the city to reach a larger audience, be it produce or talent, and the city takes that input from all over and hones it into something new, something great. When you’re traveling, a great way to gain a well-rounded sense of a place is to spend time in the city and the country surrounding it. These are a few of the best places in the world to do that.
The contado was of vital importance to Renaissance Florence, with the rolling hills of Tuscany supplying the city with agricultural goods, including the wines and olive oil the region remains famous for. The signature bistecca alla fiorentina owes its existence to the fertile grazing areas for livestock, and any dish featuring wild boar owes a debt to the woodlands of Tuscany. The Medici and other Florentine nobles had estates in the countryside they retired to regularly, especially in the hotter months. More recently, the Uffizi museum has scattered its collection throughout dozens of places in Tuscany to combat overtourism and boost small local economies. No visit to Florence is complete without a venture to the countryside.
Cape Town/Cape Winelands
A couple hours outside the city are the Cape Winelands, full of gorgeous scenery with a mountainous backdrop, ripe produce and of course excellent wines. They’re a year-round destination, though at their best in the Southern Hemisphere’s late summer and autumn. You’ll also find craft beers and a wonderful farm-to-table food scene. Despite wine being the main attraction, the rustic atmosphere provides tons of children’s activities, including Butterfly World and an alpaca farm. The city itself is an urban oasis on the water, surrounded by unique plant life and wildlife in the shadows and on the slopes of Table Mountain.
Admittedly, we’re stretching the definition of surrounding countryside here, as Buenos Aires lies on the mouth of the Rio de la Plata on the eastern end of Argentina, while Mendoza is a plane ride away near the Chilean border in the west. But, you’ll thank us as you’re enjoying steak with a robust Malbec and being regaled by campfire stories of the gauchos with the Andes in the background. In Buenos Aires, explore the tony Recoleta neighborhood, full of cultural spaces and historic monuments, including the Recoleta Cemetery, resting place of Argentina’s elites. Recoleta is where the tango took hold and transformed Argentinian high society, and many of the most famous tango songs reference the neighborhood.
New York City/Hudson Valley
Extending 150 miles from the northern tip of Manhattan up to Albany, the Hudson Valley is designated a national heritage area. It’s the oldest wine region in the U.S., and its landscapes inspired the Hudson River School art movement of the mid-1800s. Today, the region is a farm-to-table haven, with agritourism, vineyards and craft breweries in abundance. The art scene remains top-notch. The area is so verdant and abundant that you’ll quickly forget how close you are to the concrete jungle of the Big Apple. It’s a most welcome companion to the city that never sleeps.