Travels in Tuscany

Sadly we are back now, but what a fantastic time we had whilst we were staying in Tuscany. We have been going to a place called Zampugna (Fig 1) www.leregge.com just outside of Montefollonica, between Pienza and Montepulciano, for several years; it is bliss, so quiet and tranquil, such a refuge from the pressures of everyday life.

 

As usual, we started the holiday saying this would be the last year at Zampugna, and by the end of our time there we were planning our return next year. This was because both Jan and I agreed this had been the best holiday we have ever had in Tuscany.

  Figure 1

 

During our journey back we thought about this and decided it was because we had driven down to Tuscany, and therefore we totally 'owned' the holiday; even the drive down and back became part of the holiday.

We usually fly to Pisa then hire a car, this time we took our own car and drove all the way. We broke the journey at Basel staying overnight in the delightful Hotel Spalendor.

Basel is a lovely town (Fig 2 & 3); we have vowed to return at some time. It was good to sit and relax, have a couple of drinks in the hotel garden (fig 4), before going out to do some shopping. We had a delicious meal of Veal Stew in the evening at the "Zum Tell" restaurant www.ZumTell.ch .

Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4

Next day, we set off to cross over the Alps via the Gotthard Pass; unfortunately there was a hold up on the motorway, so we exited the motorway and crossed over the Alps using the old road which drives over the top of the mountain range. This route still had snow on it, so it was quite spectacular and Jan loved it (Fig 5 & 6).

 

We went through a village with a very large statue of William Tell (it could have been Altdorf), unfortunately we did not have time to stop and check it out. Another time perhaps?

 

Figure 5

 

Figure 6

 

We were lucky with our drive down to Tuscany once we crossed over into Italy, there were no traffic problems and we eventually arrived at Zampugna in the early evening, just in time to unpack and go our for an evening meal at Montefollonico.

During our stay we visited some wonderful places, starting with Cortona. The town was having a medieval festival the first week of our holiday, we had planned to be there for the 'flag throwing'; unfortunately we missed that by one day, but other events were taking place including a crossbow competition (Fig 7).

  Figure 7

 

We visited the Museum (Fig 8 & 9); not being a history major, I hadn't appreciated how fantastic the Etruscans were as a culture (Fig 10 & 11). The Museum is worth a visit, the jewellery and pottery from 500 BC is just amazing.

Figure 8 Figure 9 Figure 10 Figure 11

 

Our lunch was at the outstanding Il Falconier restaurant, www.ilfalconiere.it. It is a Michelin starred establishment and is fine dining at its best (Fig 12,13, & 14). They make their own wine, which tastes divine; also their own Olive Oil is delicious, the owner Silvia Baracchi runs a cookery school and a wellness centre. The overall experience was so amazing we booked for the following Saturday evening and arranged to collect 6 bottles of their delicious 2011 Merlot along with 3 bottles of Olive Oil. We also bought some of Frances Mayes 'Tuscan Sun' wine whilst we were in Cortona, I have to say, it's a good wine with a rich colour, bouquet and taste.

Figure 12 Figure 13 Figure 14

 

This set the bar for the rest of the holiday; it became one long round of fine dining, fabulous food and terrific wine in too many places to mention, but I will try to list one or two notable ones for you:

Ristorante/Braceria "AD" Via Nationale, 10 (Vicolo chiuso) Cortona, just down a little side street off the main road, the place had been open for just one week, I had some lovely Tuscan Sausages, Jan had Veal steak, the food was lovely and the staff terrific.

Cantine Medicee, Via Gracciano Nel Corso 82. Montepulciano. www.ristorantepulcino.com/en-medicee.aspx It is a wine cellar, sells their own olive oil and local meats/cheeses but upstairs there is a restaurant – it is very popular especially on Sunday – great staff, I had sausages (again) which were nice, Jan had Chicken which was too dry, but the wine was good and they didn't charge us for the mains.

Ristorante Albergo Guastini, Pitigliano www.albergoguastini.it We can recommend the Pigeon and the Pork Chop cooked in Sage, staff were friendly and we could sit outside in their covered area for all it was raining.

Tenuta Santo Pietro, Pienza, this restaurant is on the road between Montepulciano and Pienza we have passed by this place for years, what a shame, we were missing out on some wonderful food, wine and Olive Oil. We had a memorable meal here, I probably had one of the finest steaks I have ever had, simply fried in Butter covered with Pecorino and Rocket, lovely. Like most estates it seems round this area, they have their own wine and Olive Oil – we brought some back, it's delicious.

La Grotta Ristorante, Montepulciano. www.lagrottamontepulciano.it Next to the Domo, we saved this restaurant as a special treat on our last night – it is fine dining, but fabulous value – we can recommend everything on the menu and the staff are very friendly too.

We didn't just eat, drink and buy wine and olive oil to bring home; honestly, we did visit some lovely places too.

We love just wandering round the old narrow streets, designed for horses and accommodating modern cars such as the iconic Fiat 500 (Fig 15); once or twice our big SUV just made it through, but we usually just parked and walked.

   Figure 15

 

We always go into Pienza, it's our local shopping spot and such a lovely place to just walk round, enjoy the views and there is one restaurant I always have to visit, their Pork and Beans dish is superb.

Montepulciano, of course, like Pienza, is local and has some good shops along with a supermarket and restaurants.

San Quirico d'Orcia. Again a lovely walled citadel and it has become a tradition now for me to go and get my hair cut and have a cutthroat razor shave at the local barbers, I don't know if they remember me, but I am a regular, albeit once a year; good restaurants too, in one, you can sit outside under the Wisteria, the tree must be a 100 years old.

   San Quirico d’Orcia

 

We went to Castelmuzio this year, a tiny town we can see from our apartment but we have never visited, I think I 'tweeted' what a fabulous little place it is, lovely streets, magnificent views, a bar and a church and lots of civic pride (Fig 16 & 17); plus we saw a Pine Martin.

Figure 16 Figure 17

 

Cortona, of course I have mentioned, terrific town with lovely views, but as with all of these walled cities, you need good lungs and stout leg muscles, however the town square and main street is quite level and they do have an escalator from the lower car parks.

Pitigliano, is a must see town (Fig 18, 19 & 20), just to wander around the streets, visit the church, check out the views, great restaurants, good museum and one or two Artisan potters. It is not the usual touristy stuff; we got two large bowls and 4 coffee cups whilst we were there.

Figure 18 Figure 19 Figure 20

 

Sorano, ok, worth a photo or two, but found it difficult to park so didn't stay (Fig 21 & 22).

Figure 21 Figure 22

 

Saturnia, (as recommended by Frances Mayes) Sulphur spar, we visited the waterfall, didn't take pictures because we intended to return, but didn't make it back – something to do next year.

We also spent more time getting to know Riccardo the owner of the holiday apartments. He is a great guy, just developing the business along with growing grapes and olives but his family have owned the land way back into the 1500s. He is a very attentive, helpful and friendly person hence it feels like we are almost part of the family.

During one evening, because the apartments and Villa were booked for a Wedding taking place on the weekend we departed, Riccardo and Santino, one of his farmers, fired up the Pizza oven for a practice run so we all had Pizza courtesy of them both (Fig 23) . Jan helped out too (Fig 24) they were delicious, all home made by Santino.

Figure 23 Figure 24 Pizza oven

 

Santino was a very interesting man, he described himself as being passionate about living off the land and in a traditional way, he makes his own Wine (Fig 25), Grappa, Vin Santo, he grows his own vegetables, makes his own sausages (Fig 26) – is this starting to sound familiar?

Figure 25 Figure 26 Figure 27

 

What with all of that visiting, lying by the pool, eating and drinking, walking through the countryside collecting Walnuts and Cherries (see Blog), it's amazing I had enough energy to drive back up through the Mont Blanc Tunnel (Fig 27) and travel back to England with an overnight stay at Macon in France.

I have to say, one of the surprise successes of the holiday was my Napkin clip (Fig 28) – 2 weeks in Italy and not a drop of Ragu on a shirt, marvellous; everyone admired it, when not in use, it just looks like a pendant.

   Figure 28

 

Have I made you want to visit yet? You should, it's an amazing part of the world, so tranquil; the people are lovely, the ambiance and lifestyle is to be experienced plus there is so much history and culture. Thank you Italy, see you next year - Grazie Italia, arrivederci al prossimo anno.

 

Sunrise at Zampugna Some of our purchases