Thursday, October 15th, 2015
I started my day with a tour of the property where we are staying. My friends have been effusive about the wonderful owners and the production. I can certainly agree that the place is lovely! Our arrangements include a two-bedroom apartment where my friends are staying – with two baths and a large kitchen that also serves as the dining room and the living room. Outside their door and up the stairs is our apartment. One large room under the eaves, with a bathroom, big bed, dining area and the most novel little kitchen inside an armoire! It is all very charmingly decorated (rustic, country) and it feels extraordinarily welcoming.
Each morning a large picnic basket appears outside our door filled with yogurt, pastries, cheeses, breads and cold cuts. Pitchers of hot coffee and milk fit inside, too. It’s like open a present on Christmas morning – what better way to start a day!
The other notable feature of the place is the gazebo where we lounge with wine in the evenings and coffee in the mornings. The view is wonderful. If you even wanted a Tuscan relaxation spot – this one would fit the bill to a T.
Our tourist-ing got off to a slow start, a morning that dawned overcast and crummy turned into a decently partly cloudy day. After a couple of relaxing cups of coffee on the terrace, we headed for the town of Montepulciano.
On the outskirts of the town we discovered this huge church – rather forlornly sitting in a grassy space, with just a muddy track to the door. A walk around the building showed that the entrance currently in use was not the front door. Despite it’s size and former grandeur it appeared to belong to a congregation that had fallen on leaner times (for some centuries) and now its history was something to be endured or best forgotten.
Our first stop there, atop a steep climb up from the parking lot, and then a couple of stories back down the stairs: The Caffé Poliziano for a cappuccino with a view.
The restaurant opens onto the “Corso” a long street that goes from one end or town to the other, with two other names for its two branches. There were little shops lining both sides and almost no traffic (a few buses perhaps), so we could stroll and window shop as we went along. We made a stop in the copper shop, Rinomate Rameria Mazzetti – a shiny, place that sold the wares of a real coppersmith, whose actual workshop was a bit further along the way. The store was open and the studio closed, so we made the right decision and shopped on the spot.
As we neared the end of the Corso, the road turned sharply up. Signs pointed us to the Duomo and the Piazza Grande. An interesting and impressive space, in the early afternoon we were almost the only ones in the piazza. Our view of the unfinished façade of the Duomo was blocked by a big white truck, and the Duomo itself was closed for repairs. The rest of the façade was ringed with magnificent palazzi, and tucked into a corner we found an old fountain crested with the lions and the shield of the Medicis – rulers here when the town was under the domination of Florence.
It wasn’t even 50 yards down the street leading out of the Piazza Grande that we found the Cantine de’ Ricci (also called the Cantine del Redi) a famous wine maker with its cellars underground in an ancient Etruscan cave. Slinking through the semi-darkness with mammoth wine casks towering over us, we descended deeper and deeper until we arrived at a black cave with a well and niches cut into the sides…we speculated … but our explanations were never verified by our reading. A mystery that remains to be solved.
Our archaeological explorations gave way to a much more modern phenomenon – that of wine tasting!
By now, we were hungry (and a little unsteady from wine on an empty stomach) so we stop for sandwiches. A little overlook proved a good place for our impromptu picnic, and then we were on our way home for a rest before dinner.
Rather than rest, I used the free time to walk around the property again. The farm grows grapes and olives and I enjoyed exploring. It was nearing sunset, so I also got some shots of the sky.
Dinner was in Pienza, in a very popular place, called Latte di Luna. The food was simple but very good and we topped our meal with Vin Santo and biscottis,and orange ice cream given to us by the proprietor, who seemed to have taken a shine to my butchered Italian.
Back at the farmhouse, we toasted Gerry for his 60th and laughed until bedtime!
Friday, October 16th, 2015
Our 2015 Fall European Trip was winding inexorably to an end, and I was resisting, but there also lurked my new philosophy that goes something like this: “If you don’t go home, you cannot look forward to coming back!” (Profound, isn’t it?)
This would be our last full day in Europe for this trip, and it would not even afford us a full day in Tuscany, as we needed to get to Fiumicino that evening for an overnight stay and an early morning flight from Rome to Barcelona to catch our transatlantic leg at noon on Saturday. So, never idle, we got up and going (without sacrificing coffee in the gazebo) to see one more town before heading southward.
My friends are here armed with a Rick Steve’s Guide to Italy. Not a guide book I have used before, it is very complete and full of suggestions and information – some suggestions, like mentioning the book in the wine cellars yesterday got us “food” with our wine tasting (food = crackers). Still! Free is free. And the Rick Steve’s recommended that we go to see a town called Radicofani, and so we did!
And a long the way, we stopped in Monticchiello, as the men had had a memorable cappuccino (or was it the barista?) in a place called Osteria La Porta two days earlier. We arrived just as it was opening for the day, and decided that it was still too cold to sit outside. We made ourselves at home inside, surrounded by shelves of excellent wines and tasty foods to take home, and did indeed enjoy a delicious cuppa, served by a friendly barista. A short walk around the town revealed yet another charming Tuscan village, and the drive to Radicofani, provided ample opportunities for yet more landscape photos.
The major sight in Radicofani [By the way, we had no idea how to pronounce this. Is it Ra-di-co-FA-ni?] is the castle, the hill fortress that looms over the town. It is perched up high, and has commanding views. It was very windy up there and, as a result, cold on a late October day. One of the upper floors of the castle houses an interesting exhibit that talks about its history and transformations through the centuries. Unfortunately there are several discordant notes: The location of what we took to be the “old” museum space blocks one of the most picturesque view of the castle. And that building is ugly! You can climb up and around the castle, but beware – Italy is not the US and the safety precautions we are used to, like railings, are not always present!
Naturally, food was never far from our minds, so we set off to find the recommended restaurant in Radicofani, a place called La Grotta. Everyone in town knew where the place was, and we were a little on the late side for lunch, but we weren’t overly impressed. The plates were enormous, so there was no question of leaving hungry, but after two weeks of exceptional food, this one was just okay. After lunch, we walked off the fullness by meandering around the town, and then it was time for Gerry and me to leave for Rome. Saying goodbye was hard – how we would have loved to have stayed longer, but this meeting up with friends was serendipitous to begin with: We just happened to be in Italy at the same time and got to take advantage!
Our drive to Fiumicino (we are going to the town where the airport is located rather than to Rome itself) was long and uneventful. It might have been shorter is we had followed the Google Map itinerary, but Gerry was anxious to drive on the autostrada, and getting there took us a bit out of the way. Had I been paying more attention to the real map (the paper one I prefer) I would have noticed that we were going to pick up a different autostrada along the coast. Live and learn.
We arrived in Fiumicino after dark, at about 8 pm, and decided to drop the rental car off at the airport first. That was easy enough. Then we had to find the shared transportation to our hotel in town. We found it – but we were jammed in with I don’t know how many other people and their luggage. Fortunately our hotel was the first drop off.
We were staying is a boutique hotel (now there is a term that can mean just about anything!) called Seccy Hotel . It was nice enough and our room, though very small, was clean and utilitarian. I was disappointed, because it was described as much nicer on the booking site. The concierge/desk manager wouldn’t recommend a place to eat but did recommend what we should eat (fish), since Fiumicino is right on the coast and technically a fishing village. We wandered in and out of a few places. Without a reservation at peak hours on a Friday night, many places could not accommodate us. We did finally settle on Il Borgo de Stefano, set back away from the main road. It must have been pretty new, judging by the hustle of the maitre d’/ owner (?). We got a prie fixe dinner with lots of courses and lots of variety of fish, and enjoyed every bite!
The following morning we were up really early, at the airport and on our way to Barcelona at 7:00am.
And that’s it! A great trip, heavy on the food and wine. Can’t wait to do it again!
As my parting gift to you, I am reposting the link to the Next Step Walking Tours. I do not think that theirs is the type of tour you would take if you have never been to Italy, but rather is the perfect excuse to go again! You will not see the big sights (remember we just brushed the surface of the Basilica of St. Francis) but you will see the area in a deeper way. You will walk through the small towns, see the big picture from wonderful vantage points, wave to local people, eat in their restaurants and sleep in their bed and breakfasts. You will browse their shops and savor their food. Like a sightseeing tour, you will walk. Unlike a sightseeing tour, you will relax. At a walking pace, you can enjoy everything around you, the place, the food, the locals, and especially your fellow walkers. So here’s the link again. Tell Dave and Donna you read about it in JetsyTravels!