Sunday, June 2, 2013

Under the Tuscan Sun Part 2

After spending part one of our Tuscany trip in Florence, part two of our trip was relaxing in the beautiful Tuscan countryside!  First, we had to get out of the city, which was no easy feat!  Kyle said that driving there was worse than driving in London on the wrong side of the road!  First you have tons of narrow, medieval one way streets, crazy drivers, scooters whipping in and out of traffic, pedestrians, bikers, confusing signs, confusing GPS…Kyle needed some R and R after that! 


We were staying in a villa in the Chianti region, just a bit south of Florence.  We couldn’t check in until 2, so we went to the small town of Greve in Chianti for lunch first.  It was a gorgeous, sunny Saturday morning.  The flower market was set up in the town square, which was so picturesque.  We had a great lunch of pasta and local Chianti on a terrace overlooking the town square. 








On a hill just outside of Greve is a little jewel of a town called Montefioralle.  It’s a little fortified village on a hill less than a kilometer away, but it felt like we were worlds away from the bustling market in Greve.  We only saw a few other people while we were wandering through the tiny little streets.  Everywhere we looked was a postcard view. 







Our villa was not far from Greve, called Villa Il Leccio.  It was absolutely fabulous!  The Villa has been in their family for nine generations.  It's located on a vineyard where they make their own wine and olive oil.  The shared spaces of the villa are like stepping back in time with stone walls covered in frescoes, huge old fireplaces, and antique furniture.  The lush gardens around the property overlook the rolling hills dotted with vineyards.  Every morning they had a beautiful spread of homemade baked goods, cheese, jam, yogurt, and coffee.  I highly recommend this place and would go back in a heartbeat!



Mmmmm, breakfast!










We spent that afternoon and evening enjoying the sun in the garden with a bottle of their white wine.  That evening we walked to the tiny nearby town for dinner.  Dinner was so good!  We had antipasti of proscuitto and crostini with pâté.  We also shared tortellini with mushrooms and braised beef.    I absolutely love Tuscan food.  It’s fresh, simply prepared, rustic, unpretentious and so delicious!


We had some wine tasting planned for our second day in Tuscany.  The weather was a bit gloomy, but it really wasn’t too bad.  A lot of the wineries in Tuscany have historic “castles” up on top of hills that are also hotels.  A lot of the wineries have their tasting rooms separate from the castle, but you can tour or walk around the grounds of the castle.  We visited two wineries like this.  The first we visited was CastelloVicchiomaggio and the second was Verrazzano.  Being in the Chianti region, both of them had some really wonderful Chianti, as well as some of their own red blends known as Super Tuscans.  It’s a good thing we had our car so that we could do some purchasing! 





We stopped in the small hill town of Panzano for lunch.  We ate more wonderful food for lunch.  We had fried polenta with ragu as our antipasti.  Kyle had ricotta and zucchini risotto for his main dish, and I had pasta with cinghiale sauce.  Cinghiale, or wild boar, is a Tuscan specialty.  It’s really good and has a lot of flavor.  It kind of reminds me of beefy pork, if that makes any sense!


Great little find for lunch!
The family at our villa makes dinner a couple nights a week for their guests.  We took them up on that offer, and I’m so glad that we did!  You know that Kyle and I love food and trying the regional dishes from all of the places we visit.  We both agreed that this was probably the best dinner we’ve ever had.  We don’t say that lightly!  Everything about it was amazing!  We were seated in a private room that was an old kitchen.  We had a bottle of the house made red wine.  Kyle took I-Phone pics of all of the food, so see the captions for what we ate!  I think my quote of the night was, “It’s as if I’ve never tasted pork before!”  The villa sold a recipe book of their family favorites, so I’ll get to try my hand at it and see if I can remake some of the magic!  We were so stuffed at the end, but it was so worth it!




Goat cheese baked in tomatoes and white wine


Penne with ragu
Grilled pork chop with  greens and balsamic dressing

Chicken braised in Chianti, artichokes, and roasted potatoes

Panna cotta with strawberries and fruit compote
Limoncello and espresso
Our last day in Tuscany was our Tuscan town tour day.  We first headed to the walled medieval hill town of San Gimignano, which I fell in love with when I was there in college.  The town dates back to the Etruscan times in the third century BC, but the town that you can see today is mostly very well preserved medieval architecture.  The town has an amazing skyline of towers, which were people’s homes.  We enjoyed strolling the streets, enjoying the atmosphere and the views.  They’re also known for a white wine called Vernaccia from an ancient variety of grape, so of course we had to add some of that to our collection!








Our next stop was another medieval walled hill town called Monteriggioni.  This town is entirely surrounded by a wall with evenly spaced towers.  It’s much smaller, and not as well known as San Gimignano.  We walked around the little town, in disbelief that people actually live there.  What a picture perfect little town!




Our final stop of our Tuscan town tour was Siena.  It is a pretty good size town.  We found a parking spot easily enough, but right as we pulled in it started to pour.  We waited it out in the car for about 15 minutes and then made our way to the city center when it lightened up.  We first saw the Basilica of San Domenico, which houses the relics of St. Catherine, a saint from Siena that is one of two patron saints from Italy, along with St. Francis.  She lived during the 1300s.  We stayed in the basilica for a little while, waiting for the second round of heavy rain to pass.  We then headed through the narrow medieval streets, had a nice lunch, and went to see the impressive Siena Cathedral, which was built between 1215 and 1263.  The interior of the Cathedral is really impressive and unique. 






Probably the most well known site in Siena is the Piazza del Campo.  It’s the historic center of Siena, and it’s said to be one of the most impressive medieval town squares in Europe.  It’s a huge shell shape and the ground is laid with brick, making it very different from any that we’ve seen. 




We didn’t stay long in Siena because of the weather, but we still made time to get gelato before heading out.  That evening we had a wonderful last dinner in Tuscany in the town near our villa.  We had prosciutto, crostini with pâté, ravioli, roast chicken with white beans, and biscotti with desert wine.  A very nice finish to our trip!


We had a long drive back the next day, made even longer by hitting Zurich at rush hour.  Even after visiting someplace as beautiful as Tuscany, we were still impressed by the beauty of spring in Germany as we drove back.  I can’t imagine that grass could be any greener!


Life in Tuscany is definitely la dolce vita.  I am hoping that we’ll be able to make it back at least a time or two.  I think it has to be number one or two on my list of favorite places.  What a blessing to be able to experience such wonderful places!


Ciao!

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