Last Day In Italy

I can’t believe it’s our last day in Italy. The past two weeks have gone by so quickly,I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in writing about everything we’ve been doing. Partly because we’ve been so busy, but also because the internet service is a bit irregular, and uploading photos and charging my iPad takes forever. Some of the posts will have to wait until we get back, but here are a few of the things we’ve done since arriving in Italy:

– We spent a day with a great driver and guide, Gilberto, who picked us up at 9:00 one morning and spent the next 8 hours showing us areas in Florence, Greve, Panzano, Castello Monterinaldi – a beautiful winery for a  tasting and tour, Montefioralle, and then a final stop in Radda. Not only did we see much of Chianti, but Gilberto also shared history about the area and great local information. The day was arranged for us by Riccardo at Suiteretreats.com.

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– I also asked Riccardo if he could suggest a cooking class for Chris, Matt and me to learn a little bit about the regional cooking. He did and it was amazing. Our class with Eleorna was held at Villa Monteoriolo, her family home and olive grove on a hilltop in Chianti outside of Florence. We cooked a traditional Tuscan meal, toured the property and had dinner in the Villa. That special experience deserves it’s own post or two.

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– One day we drove to Siena and spent several hours wandering through the beautiful old city. We all agreed it’s one of our favorite places. It was a bit rainy, but nothing could spoil the charm of the historic buildings, piazza, churches and shops.

– The next day we drove to Deruta in Umbria. I had read about Deruta as one of the places that has continuously made painted ceramics and pottery since Etruscan times. That fact together with a recent visit to the Getty Museum in LA and seeing original pottery from Deruta, made me determined to do a little pottery shopping. I wasn’t disappointed. Not only were there over 300 pottery shops in the area, Deruta is also a beautiful village built on a hill. It is about 30 minutes from Assisi, which we also visited the same day. Assisi was crowded but also peaceful and calm. It’s another place I’ll write more about in the future.

– Altogether we visited Florence 4 times. It was a short train ride from Figline and something we could do at the last minute if nothing else was planned. We visited historic sites, museums, night lights, had  leisurely lunches,  shopped in the markets, and sometimes just sat and did some people watching. Florence is fantastic.

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– One night we used the wood oven here at Villa il Castellaccio to make pizza. I was the pizza maker and Chris was the baker. We all agreed it was the best pizza we ever made. Another rainy day I baked shortbread cookies (easy since it only takes 4 ingredients, which we had on hand) and I perfected my Cappaccino making skills with nightly Cappaccino – a relaxing end to each day.

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– Other villages we visited included Dudda, Castellina in Chianti, Impruenta and Greve a few more times. Figline is our go to village for grocery shopping and Lucolena is just up the hill. And then there’s Pont-agli-Stolli that we drive through – between old buildings on a narrow windy road – on the way to Figline. They have what we call the “boys club”.  Everyday around 4:00 a group of older gentlemen sit in lawn chairs on a patio, smoking, drinking beer and watching the cars go by. I’d love to know what they’re taking about.

– Dining out is very leisurely no matter what the meal. Turning over tables doesn’t seem to exist and you’re never rushed. I think you could stay for the entire evening and never be pressed to leave. We found you have to ask for the check, otherwise you may be sitting at your table forever.

– Our grocery store is Lidl and it seems like we stop there every other day for something. I think I’m a regular now. The cashier no longer asks for my documents (passport) when I pay by credit card, and I’m greeted with Ciao! Donna Rae. The only other people who have used my middle name are my dad (when I was in trouble), in the south (Where I think they love to use middle names).

– We’ve been doing a lot of driving around the countryside, and yes Italian drivers can be a bit crazy. They drive fast, take chances when passing, motorcycles drive by their own rules, tailgating is a sport (following close at any speed) and as in the rest of Europe, stay out of the left lane on the freeway unless you’re passing. At roundabouts just go for it, otherwise you’ll sit there forever. And, at all times carry a GPS and set it to where you’re staying as home. Our trusty Garmin has not failed us yet. And if you’re driving in Italy rent a small car – streets are narrow and parking places are tiny. Make sure it’s a diesel – GREAT fuel mileage.

Tomorrow we head to Chamonix for two days in the Alps.  In the mean time we’re spending the last day packing, relaxing, going out for a late lunch in Greve and making our last cappuccino.

Ciao!

 

Galleria dell’ Accademia

This afternoon we took the train into Florence to visit the Galleria dell’ Accademia, an art museum that is home to Michelangelo’s sculpture the David. Even though we had reserved tickets for 1:00 p.m. we had to wait in line for about half an hour. This was minor though compared to the ticket line that stretched the length of the block and around the corner.

I’ve wanted to see the David since studying art history as a freshman in college, and reading and rereading The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel about the life of Michelangelo. The sculpture was larger than I expected and was amazing.

The museum, while quite small, has other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings. There’s also a collection of sculptures in plaster by 19th-century artists, which were fascinating.

Note: click on a photo to enlarge and open a slideshow.

 

Montefioralle

We’ve been visiting several of the beautiful hill towns in Chianti, but the one that is the most memorable is Montefioralle. We arrived there after driving up a long winding hill and parked in a beautiful shaded area at the base of the wall that surrounds the tiny village.

Montefioralle is nestled in the heart of the Chianti region on a hilltop facing the Greve valley. The views are ones you dream about – vineyards, olive groves and cypress trees. Narrow stone streets climb through the village, surrounded by ancient stone houses, beautiful old doors with a golden patina, and cascading flowers in window boxes. It feels magical – a step back in time where you only hear birds and the wind rustling leaves.

The village and castle of Montefioralle were an important stronghold during the wars between Florence and Siena – which we have heard quite a bit about since arriving. A house in the circular main street is the birth-place of Amerigo Vespucci. The doorway is identified by the wasp (“vespa”) and V of the Vespucci family. As a bit of history, America is named after Amerigo Vespucci. He was an explorer and the first person to recognize North and South America as distinct continents.

As you walk through Montefioralle it’s so quiet and deserted you have the feeling no one lives here, and then you come upon a small For Sale sign – 50 sq meter/one room, terrace, basement. Needs work – no price. You can own a little bit of heaven. But for what price? I think it could be worth looking into.

Note: click on photos to enlarge and open a slideshow.

 

 

 

Welcome to Villa il Castellaccio

Welcome to Villa il Castellaccio located near Lucolena, Figline and Greve in Chianti, Tuscany. This is home for our two weeks in Italy. We arrived on June 7, and loved it from the minute we drove down the long meandering gravel lane to the villa.

Villa il Castellaccio is an agriturismo with one large villa (sleeps up to 12) four apartments, gardens and swimming pools. There’s also a barbecue area and wood burning pizza oven – which we tried out the other night. It’s in a beautiful rural area surrounded by peaceful vineyards and olive groves. The property is a farm that has been in this family for several generations and currently produces olive oil and wine. The owner, Leonardo, is warm and welcoming, ready to answer questions and help plan activities.

We’re about 20 minutes from Florence by train, from the station in nearby Figline – where we also do our grocery shopping. Driving to Florence takes 45 minutes to an hour depending on the route – back roads vs. freeway. We’ve done both and love the back road route.

This is a great location for visiting all of the little towns in Chianti – Greve, Castellina, Radda, Panzano and Montefioralle are just a few that we’ve visited. All are beautiful, quaint, charming and special in their own way. The vineyards and wineries in the surrounding hills seem to be around every curve and down cypress lined lanes.

The origins of Castellaccio go back to Etruscan times. The gravel lane running through the property is Roman and overlooking the main pool is an ancient 11th Century church, now a private home. Up on the hilltop above us is an ancient chestnut grove, where we’re told you can find the ruins of the original Castle, “Castel d’Azzo”, destroyed in the 14th Century in a battle between the Guelfs and Ghibellines. We hope to do a little exploring to see if we can find it.

So how did I find Villa il Castellaccio? By pure luck after spending hours on the internet looking at villas and agriturismos. After spending a week here I think I was very, very lucky.

Note: click on photos to enlarge for slideshow.

Night Lights of Florence

Last night we drove into Florence to watch the sunset and see the city lights. We parked at the Piazzale Michelangelo, a square on a hill above the Arno River, overlooking Florence. As the sun began to set, we watched the sky fade, the hills beyond the city darken, and the twinkling lights surrounding the Duomo and towers appear. The square is a large parking area with a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David, vendors and a promenade to walk along and view the skyline. Across from the square is La Loggia, a restaurant, originally intended as a Michelangelo museum.

By day the views of the Duomo, Palazzo  Della Uffizi and skyline are breathtaking. At night they are stunning.

Note: click on photos to enlarge for slideshow.

Killing Time On a Rainy Afternoon

This morning we went to the Saturday market in Greve’s square and could hear thunder rumbling while we picked up fresh fruit, vegetables and whatever looked good to add to pizzas we’re making for dinner tonight. The rain held out until we were back to our apartment, but it’s been one cloud burst after another. Since I had some time to kill, I decided to work on black and white photos. These are a few from Florence, Castellina in Chianti, and the area around the farm where we are staying.