Monday, June 04, 2007

A week in Tuscany - Part 1

Florence, Italy

flickr photo link: <Tuscany, May-Jun 07>
25 May 07 FR9908 DUB/PSA 2005/2350
02 Jun 07 FR9907 PSA/DUB 1730/1915
A week in Tuscany - Part 1... (this is a pretty long blog entry, our longest story so far). You'll need to allow a few minutes for this one!
Crusty Italian bread toasted with Chianti extra virgin olive oil, topped with fresh local asparagus and fried eggs with runny yolks... Washing up seems a pleasure after a breakfast like that. This was our first “farmhouse” meal at La Cassucia 1 (€605/week), our fantastic villa situated on the winding road between Radda and Lecchi in Chianti, Tuscany. The 2 bedroom villa had it's own olive grove, and as we found out, a wild pig that came around at night to root out yummy things in the ground. Yes, the Vogue stories and movies are right. From the excellent local produce & wines (the tomatoes and basil really taste better than home, wherever your home is), to the incredible places to visit (or just hang out at the villa), there’s a lot to write about this week.
Before we start, I want to thank Clare for buying me the Jack Wolf lightweight rain jacket with hood, substantially discounted at approx. €26 at the outdoor clothing store in Dundalk (a few weeks back). Living & travelling in Europe has proven to us time after time that weather here will always bring the unexpected, so whilst we’d expected 25c-30c for our week in Italy (from the forecasts), in fact we had day after day of quite cool and rainy conditions. The same thing happened in Madrid over Easter too. We just wish that Brisbane could have a couple of weeks of this weather!
Friday Night... I guess we should have realised about the impending weather as we pitched through a series of storms across France on our 2 ½ hour Ryanair flight from Dublin to Pisa (€125 return), but we landed ok and were soon into our Hertz Rental Car (about €230 plus upgrade). I happily upgraded this to a 5 door Alfa Romeo 147 (Turbo Diesel), which hugged the mountain roads in Tuscany very nicely. Our hotel in Pisa, Accademia Palace Hotel (€95) was a little difficult to find after midnight, but mainly because we didn't know the roads and didn't have a clear map. I think we actually drove very close to it in the process of being lost, but we found it in the end and it turned out to be quite comfortable and had a good breakfast included.
Saturday means Chianti... We drove off towards Chianti following our AA road map - best purchase we made before leaving Ireland. And we (well, Clare), got a local map from the hotel reception of how to get from the hotel to the main Pi-Fi highway - Pisa to Florence. We drove through the LA style outer suburbs of Pisa (flat and boring) towards the hills of Chianti. We drove through towns like Poggibonsi, until we got to Castellina in Chianti. Chianti being a wine producing region of central Tuscany that epitomises what everyone thinks is the image of "Tuscany". We got there at about 11.30am and Clare realised there was a farmers market and we should buy some fresh food before the shops shut for the weekend. No 24 hour trading here - it's all Slow Food and the better for it. What we found were:
- Farmer’s stalls with fresh asparagus and zucchinis with flowers still attached.
- Roast chickens, pig, & wonderful salamis.
- Artichokes and fennel growing wild in over grown orchards of peach and apricots.
- Red poppies by the roadsides.
- Luscious coconut and hazelnut gelati.
We drove on to Radda in Chianti (a 16th Century hilltop town), parked the car and had a lunch of rocket with walnuts & goats cheese with glasses of the local red & white wine. At 4pm we arrived at the villa and met the caretaker who spoke absolutely no English, and we spoke no Italian, but we got the message about all aspects of the villa - except the rubbish collection system (never quite understood that one!) So our images from that day were:
- Cool green forests (behind the villa).
- Hillsides full of olive groves, vineyards (in front of the villa).
- Blooming highly scented roses among the vines.
- Rosemary, almonds and sage in the garden.
- Geraniums in terracotta boxes on every window sill.
- Crusty bread and olive oil (from the market).
- Blue butterflies landing on pink pastel wild flowers.
- Cuckoos (calling in the afternoons).
- Green lizards sunning on the terrace (we don’t see many lizards in Ireland, but we had at least 5 species in our Wavell Heights backyard).
- Pecorino cheese grated over the eggs and asparagus (for Sunday breakfast - copied the Vogue cover exactly!)
- Wild boars rooting around amongst the olive groves (well that was a few nights later in the rain).
After settling in and unpacking, we ended up getting a giant pizza from Radda and sat in our kitchen and had dinner.
Sunday means San Gimignano... The next day (after the above mentioned breakfast) we drove off to collect Chris & Shay from the bus in Siena. We circumnavigated the town at least twice looking for the central bus station, and eventually realised much of the town was cordoned off due to an impending local soccer match (the home team arrived by coach with police escorts and horns blazing). By this point, torrential rain was coming down, the first of many downpours that week. Clare eventually collected them from the Café Antico, and we set out for some sightseeing. San Gimignano - a brief history lesson:
- Saved from Attila the Hun in 1199.
- Wiped out by the plague in 1348.
- Still has frescos of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive then beheaded in Palazzo Comunale.
- Now in 2007 a major Tuscan tourist town famous for its 72 towers - well, less than that now, but still pretty damned interesting.
The "Siena" storm hit with hail, thunder and lightening cracking over the soaring terracotta towers. Joe decided to peruse the organic wine stores below the tower (Pinacoteca Torre) while Chris, Shay and Clare ventured upwards. About a quarter of the way up Clare remembered that she didn't like heights, a bit late as she'd paid her 5 Euros! With Chris’s help, Clare got all the way up until the stairs turned into a wooden ladder. Chris took some shots with the camera and Clare noticed that birds were nesting in the holes that had been used for firing arrows. Other memories from that day were:
- Cats asleep in doorways (yes of course Clare took pics).
- Torture museums (Joe has to explain that one).
- Lot of tourists and car parks!
Later on in Radda, we stumbled onto a local wine festival held in the underground catacombs. Clare, Chris & Shay had a solid session tasting the wines of the Chianti Classico "Black Rooster" producers (Joe was driving). Too much red wine, stumble, stopped for pizza, stumble, etc, etc...
Monday means Monte... Today we went to 3 historic hilltop towns that started with Monte...
Monte No. 1: Montalcino
We arrived as the town was just awaking from seista to sun showers and sudden downpours that were to characterise the day. Black clad ladies of the village were sitting in the sun and there were very few tourists. This was a village built below a 14th century Fortezza (fortress) - complete with turrets watching over the hills and dales of the Orcia valley below. Between the turrets there were holes designed for the throwing of boiling oil on those below. A bit scary - heights & rotting floor boards wise - but the view was spectacular; undulating wheat fields and pencil pines leading to ancient villas from Roman times straight out of the movie "Gladiator" (one of Clare's Russell favourites!) Wonderful gelati, as usual (I think we tried the gelati in most towns we visited!)
Monte No. 2: Monticchiello
A small hilltop walled village, windswept and blustered by showers (ok, it was a downpour!) So we took shelter in the village church with soaring vaulted ceilings and partially restored frescos. Joe did some Gregorian chants, not bad. We walked around, in the rain, then gave up with rainbows arching over the fields of wheat. Really one of Clare's best photos of the trip. Back to the car.
Monte No. 3: Montepulciano
A stunning small town of 14,000 people built upon a small volcanic ridge. It was originally an Etruscan fort with still intact burial chambers under the wine bars - sounds like the underground city of Edinburgh but less haunted!!! We missed seeing these, but did watch the ever increasing showers rolling in, from the windows of Caffe Poliziano (1868). The caffe fredo (iced coffee) and 4 types of chocolate cannoli were to die for (total about €15). The renaissance architecture was built by the Florence Medici's in the 1400’s and the gothic structures were from the previous Siena based administration, such as the 13th century gothic Palazzo Comunale on the Piazza Grande at the towns highest point. Just before another very heavy downpour, we scored the last table at Osteria dell’Acquacheta, whose specialty was 2 kg ribs of beef t-bone, just seared in a wood fired oven. No we didn't have it, nor did anyone anyone at our table (but the gnocchi and other Italian foods were bloody good!) American tourists came in from the rain looking for tables and were told to come back in an hour. Satisfied, we walked back to the car in the pouring rain and drove back to Chianti along deserted motorways.
Photo Link: <Tuscany photos>
... Continued in Part 2...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.