Tag Archives: Tuscany

Italy travelogue, part XXIII

A pretty perfect final day–hot, sunny and breezy. After my workout  and a big, gorgeous peach, I do a little packing, a little organizing. Then BW,  Kat and I go of to La Foce with its big beautiful villa and gardens, its olive  groves, and its smallish–we’re told–olive oil business. It’s a nice drive,  fairly close, with Kat competently behind the wheel.
We don’t even get lost!
At a big archway leading to a courtyard there’s a sign, in Italian  and English. For olive oil tasting hit bell hard. LOL. There’s a big bell and a  hammer/striker. BW does the honors, and it tolls very, very loudly. 
We see people–kids. This part of the estate is also a kind of  B&B with several apartments for guests. Looks like a lovely place to stay. A  Brit couple manages it, and the woman answers the gong.
We wait briefly for her husband, and he takes us around, into a  good-sized basement area and the olive pressing equipment. A couple big, shiny  tankish things, a few big shiny vats. Since I tell him I do want to know, he  explains how it’s all done, from harvesting on Old Soul’s day with tools that  look like hands to the pressing machine that makes what he calls green pudding,  then the filtering, separating the slurry from the oil. The slurry, after a year  as it’s initially too strong–goes back into the soul as compost. Nothing’s  wasted.
They get about one bottle from each tree, which explains why they  have a thousand or so.
The oil never sees the light of day after going in the presser  until the can or bottle is opened.
We sample the four different oils they make–and a fifth that’s a  special blend of the four. Tiny little plastic cups, and you just toss the oil  back like a shot of tequila. The first is strong and peppery. I like it! Each  has a slightly different flavor, so we pick our favorites and buy some to take  home.
I ask him how long he’s lived here, expecting him to say years. 13  months only. They came for three months, as temporary managers during a  transition, loved it and talked the owner into keeping them on.

The grounds, the buildings, the view? I can understand why they  wanted to stay on.
Back to our own villa. Kat and Jason are going on a last  adventure–another castle we can see high on a hill. I boil up some rigatoni and  toss it in some of Antonella’s wonderful red sauce. BW polishes off the last of  the risotto. A pretty, quiet last lunch looking out over the  hills.
Some reading, a little more packing, some walking to take in all  the views again.
Antonella’s here, fixing dinner. We requested some of our  favorites–a hard choice–for our ‘last supper’. I enjoy some conversation with  her, have some wine, hang out with my gang. We take a fun, trick photo–a  panarama. Jason at the camera, the rest of us posing on the west side of the  lawn looking out. As he pans away, we run  behind him, then plop down in  the chairs BW’s arranged, and are in the photo again on the other side. 
Our last sunset is beautiful, soft reds spreading.
Dinner is another marvel.
Asia comes, and as we’ve expressed interest, bring her two  dogs–both hounds she’s rescued. The first she’s had about a year–a little  thing, sweet as they come who was, she tells us, abandoned as too often hunting  dogs are in the area. Very sick and starving when Asia found her. The bigger  dog, so, so skinny, she found only last week. She takes her to the vet every day  for treatment as she has kidney issues right now. Such a sweet face, and so  gentle and calm. She’s already gained two kilos under Asia’s  care.

I liked Asia right away, but like her even more for her open and  generous heart.
We follow tradition and have a last drink with Asia and  Antonella–we’ll miss them!
Off to bed just as the moon rises over the trees to the north  east.
This morning, it’s finish packing, a final breakfast, then off  to the airport for the long trip home.
We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect two-week holiday, from  the bustle of art-washed Florence, to the absolute glory of the Tuscan  countryside.

Italy travelogue, part XXII

My gang returned from adventures in climbing. Many, many steep  steps it’s reported to reach the castle in Sarteano. The castle will be a  THOUSAND years old next year. A thousand. Years. Old. One of the Borgias sacked  it because, after all, Borgias.
They had lunch in the same place we stopped on our drive in. I  missed the pizza–and the old men playing cards, both of which I’d have enjoyed.  But apparently I also missed the ripped and gorgeous Italian studs doing road  work shirtless. BW was driving so no pictures–and Kat confessed she was mostly  just ogling and drooling. LOL.
Writing will have to be my righteous reward. Also the reading in  the shade of the big trees, and the unexpected little nap there.
And a lovely, lovely evening, with our traditional watching the sun  set, then the big, fat moon rise. More and more time between these events as the  week goes on, and the days grow shorter.
On a little walk before dinner I saw the biggest jackrabbit I’ve  ever encountered. For a second I thought it must be a very small deer. But no, a  very big wild hare!
This morning is beautiful. I just leaned out the window of my  little ‘office’ to lovely temperatures, a slight breeze. The big sprinkler’s  going down below shooting out mists of water with hardly a sound. The  countryside is quiet and still.
I have to pick this morning’s workout and get ready for our last  day.

Italy travelogue, part XXI

Another spectacular sunset last night, and a breath-taking moon  rising in the east. As pretty a night as anyone could ask for. And another  lovely meal out on the patio.
Earlier I heard pheasants calling. It’s a sound I haven’t heard in  years as the ones I used to see around home are gone. We heard some other bird  while having dinner–a night bird, but nobody could identify the  sound.
A good, strong yoga practice this morning. After I joined BW, and  had a pink grapefruit for breakfast. Delish.
The others have gone off exploring–the castle in Sarteano, I  believe is the goal. I opted to stay back and write. A nice chunk done here in  the quiet.
Now I think I’ll forage in the fabulous kitchen for a little lunch,  and eat outside, read a book. I think I’ll have a glass of wine with  that!
Warmer today, and less breezy–a beautiful afternoon for eating,  drinking and reading.

Italy travelogue, part XX

More on the glory of sunsets. We had more clouds so it’s all golds,  and the patchwork of light on the fields and hills. Then the sun sneaks through  the clouds to make that ball and punch of red. Reds and golds and purples  everywhere. So beautiful.
It’s cool and breezy so we eat in the kitchen. It’s seafood night,  and fun to be in there while the cooking’s going on.
And a couple games of Bananagrams after dinner, then  Zzzzzzz.
Still coolish and very breezy in the morning so I do my workout  indoors. My publisher hopes for a cover shot for The Collection here. Actual  makeup! I think we may have hit on a shot that works, with those incredible  hills behind me.
Many leftovers, so Kat and I play in the kitchen for lunch. I find  fresh basil, parsley, tomatoes in the garden. She makes a batter for the  leftover calamari to fry it up. Leftover meatballs, slices of salami and cheese,  and the lovely salad Lucia made this morning.
It’s so much fun to play in this kitchen, slice and mince and stir,  then eat out on the patio in the sunlight. We did have to ask Lucia how to turn  on the stove as it defeated even our own Kat-gyver. But we did in most of the  leftovers, and had a good time doing it.
I think I might take a walk, enjoy the sunshine. Tomorrow I’ll  carve out some writing time.

Italy travelogue, part XIX

Photos by Bruce Wilder


Storms last night, big booming thunder. BW reports the storm rolled  back a second time, but I slept through that one.
Fresh and coolish this morning, and pretty perfect for yoga  outdoors.
They’re working in the vineyard again, and the gardeners are here.  BW saw one braiding together a huge sting of onions, which Antonella brought in.  She made break this morning, and the aroma of it perfumed the  kitchen.
I gave her an old family recipe for bread pudding–and exchange for  the pesto. I hope she has fun with it.
We’re having seafood tonight–fresh catch this  morning.
We headed out very late morning to Pienza, a good size village  about 25 minutes away. Lovely, lovely drive through the hills, the vineyards,  the fields–we finally saw a deer, and white, white cows.
Parking is challenging, but we finally found a spot, and walk into  town. The pope at the time designed it so the main street curves at both ends  and looks longer. What it is, is charming. Full of little shops,archways and  narrow alleyways, old buildings, an old church and a pretty and smallish  Duomo.
We find sneakers for Jason–nice ones, and I spotted a scarf I had  to have for myself. Kat sees canny bottles where you put oil and vinegar in  together, but they stay separate. And in the same interesting little hardware  type store, I find wonderful wooden spoons. I’m a big fan of wooden spoons, and  these are lovely–and a wooden ladle! I love it. I end up with a big handful of  spoons.
Lots of dogs here, mostly tiny dogs who are hardly like dogs at  all. Interesting street sculptures, a nice bustle of people. I find a pretty  shirt–two layers that can be worn together or not–one size. The clerk says the  one size is no problem for me, but a problem for her. LOL. And a very cool dress  for Kat.
And it’s seriously breezy. Much, much cooler today, and I’m glad I  grabbed a little jacket. The light’s quieter with some clouds, and not so  intense, so the greens of the fields and trees are softer, too. I wish I’d seen  it all in the rain.
We walk out to an overlook–breathtaking views of the hills, the  trees. And onto lunch where I had a salad with chunks of apples and oranges.  There’s the cutest baby at the table beside ours. His mother’s trying to feed  him, but he keeps grinning, laughing, turning his head away to look at  us.
Of course we laugh with him. Mama’s very good natured about  it. 
More walking, and a trip into the Duomo. So pretty, with lots of  light and a hushed air.
It’s gelato next! I got a mix of vanilla and chocolate that brings  tears to the eyes. Just gorgeous–though Jason touted his peach gelato as  exceptional.
We obey a sign that says: Try the sheep’s cheese. It’s pretty  great. I don’t buy it–a little hard to take home, but I do buy a container–as  does Kat–of dried chili peppers. They have some olive oil here steeped with  them, and it’s great. I can do that at home.
Back to the car, and Kat takes a turn at the wheel. The GPS is  confused, or we are, as they’ve closed off part of a road. After some  round-abouting we follow the lead of another car that just went around the  pylons. And we realize they were there because they’d just painted the  crosswalk, so it’s all good.
Round the hills again, and perfect directions this time. A pretty,  easy drive.
And we’re home again where the wind’s kicking up big time. We dump  our stuff and mostly settle into the little living area on the main floor. 
We’ll probably eat in the big kitchen tonight–as we did for  breakfast. A bit too brisk and windy for the patio. I’m wonder what Asia–who’s  cooking tonight–will make out of the local fish.

Italy travelogue, part XVIII

Pilates, I discover, is more challenging to do on soft, cushy,  bumpy grass than yoga. But I got it done. As our Kat is under the weather today,  the gang just hangs out.
The lemon and garlic infusion tea Lucia made seemed to help–as did  a solid day of rest.
I got a nice chunk of writing done, despite the distraction of the  view. Also saw people working in the vineyard today–and the big, odd tractor  that goes over the rows. I’ve yet to see any of the deer or wild boars that  we’re told wander hereabouts–but I’m hoping I will.
Lucia makes us an amazing salad to leave for our lunch–as we have  leftovers–and picks it all straight out of the garden. That fresh, fresh  lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers. I try some of the red pepper olive oil on  mine–a good and delicious bite.
Read, wander, take a nap(!) Naps are so out of my routine I wake up  thinking it’s morning. Nice that it was only afternoon, and there’s more time to  plop down in the shade and read some more–and now with a glass of wine. 
Before I know it, it’s time for another amazing sunset. Tonight as  there are more clouds (rain’s coming) it’s even more spectacular. The  overlayment of clouds is burnished gold above the red ball of the sinking sun,  and the horizon is brilliantly layers in pink and red streaks. The light gets  softer, softer, the colors more intense and luminous. Then the sun sets but  leaves what looks lake a simmering fire over the peak of the distant hill. It  just holds there, and holds, keeping the big cloud over it all shimmering gold  on its underbelly.
On the other side of the sky, the moon’s nearly full. As it rises,  it hazes with the clouds that may bring a storm tonight.
Then it’s time for dinner. God, I’m so spoiled now, I want  Antoinella to come live with me, and cook every day. Potato and carrot soup with  sage, then a pasta, then meatballs and chicory right out of the garden. Followed  by some amazing sort of whipped cream with chunks of chocolate.
I can’t eat all of any of it, but that’s not the cook’s fault. It’s  all just wonderful. And the wine we had tonight is made from grapes we can see  just down from the front of the villa.
We secure everything that’s under the awning, in case we get that  storm. If I had the energy–and it wasn’t totally, country dark, I’d go out and  walk a few miles just to work off that meal.
Must do a serious work-out in the morning!
But tonight, it’s relaxing with the sound of busy cicadas, and  nothing else.

Italy travelogue, part XVII

Photos by Bruce Wilder
Photos by Bruce Wilder — Top row Pitti Palace, last four at the villa.
Glorious, perfect day of doing pretty much nothing.
I did my yoga outside–a little tricky with balancing poses on a  mat over bumpy grass, but worth it. I’m going to try pilates out there  today.
After yoga, breakfast on the patio, So, so nice. BW wanted poached  eggs, so Kat and I watch her make them–very much as my mother used to. Hard  boiling water–but she adds some vinegar and salt, stirring, stirring when the  water gets to that fast boil. Then crack the eggs right in the water, boil them  fast for a couple minutes. She scoops them out and onto a thick kitchen towel.  Serves them on toast for BW. They were beautiful.
Our shower here has the biggest rain head I’ve ever seen, and was  indeed like showering in the rain.
I took my book and walked back to the pool, sat and read–moved  into the shade, read some more. Spent a lot of time just looking up, then around  at the sun-washed hills and fields.
Walked back for lunch. Amazing gnocci with pesto and a leafy green  salad with grilled chicken. The lettuce was so green and fresh I expected it to  shatter like glass. Antoinetta gave me the recipe for the pesto. I must try this  at home as I grow so much basil.
More reading in the shade, with doves cooing somewhere in the  trees.
The four of us finally stirred ourselves enough to walk up to the  bocci area above the pool and play. Much fun, even though we’re fairly pitiful.  Still, some pretty good throws/rolls here and there–both accidentally and on  purpose. I’d already walked across the little dirt road for a closer look at the  vineyard, but we all crossed over on our return. Big clusters of grapes–still  need ripening, but both Kat and I sampled one. Deliciously tart.
We had Concord grapes growing over our little flat-roofed garage  when I was a kid. I remember so well sitting up there eating them in the summer.  And the grape jelly my mother would make from them if we left her  enough.
And a closer look at the two front gardens. Red, red tomatoes,  purple eggplant, green and red peppers. Something that may be kale but is bigger  than I’ve seen before. I spy some purple verbena that looks as if it’s growing  right out of the stone wall.
Back for dinner. I ask Lucia what the little tree is right outside  the kitchen with the fruit that doesn’t quite look like pears, not quite like  figs.
Pomegranate! I’ve never seen them on a tree before. They’re very  young, fussy and fasctinating.
Asia tells us that tonight we’ll be able to see the ISS near the  Big Dipper at about 10:25. We gather out on the chairs on the lawn–with a  laptop that shows its progress. It’s over the US, over the Atlantic, over  Greenland and so on. The sky’s so big, the world here so quiet, with the only  lights the few scattered over the vast shadowed landscape from houses or  villages.
And we spot it right away, track the little, fast-moving light up  and through the Dipper, overhead. Then it dims and vanishes like a candle  snuffed out.
That is our dinner and a show for the evening!
Today the others are going out to explore a nearby village. I’m  staying back to bask and to write. Maybe read some more, maybe take a walk.  Plenty of left-overs if I want to make lunch. And Antoinetta will be back to  make dinner.

Italy travelogue, part XV

Getting all our luggage in the car proved a puzzle, but one  eventually solved. The two bellmen worked together, with us, and were so proud  once we got everything in for our trip into the Tuscan  countryside.
The car guy programmed the GPS with our coordinates, and we had  printed directions.
We got lost anyway.
But boy, what beauty. Once you navigate out of the city–easier  than navigating into the city, the world starts to open up. Pretty villages with  narrow winding streets, yes, but then the hills that roll and rise. Dusky green,  rows of tidy vineyards, olive groves–and further out the acres of sunflowers,  so gorgeous and cheerful.
We drive and drive–turns out the car guy didn’t click the deal  that allows toll roads, but we finally ignore the polite, female Brit voice of  the GPS and merge with the Autostrada. She’s obviously annoyed and shut off and  ignores us.
We make much better time, and try to follow the directions. It  seems we’ve making strides, and stop for lunch in the big–and still  charming–town of Satreano. I think that was it. Snag a couple of tables in a  little pizzeria.
Fabulous food! I got a simple green salad, but the balsamic was  amazing–and fries on the side that were wonderful. BW’s sausage pizza was  beautiful, and though I don’t generally like it, I had a skinny slice, and  MMMMMM!!.
We walk around a bit, then get back in the car–restart the GPS.  Follow her directions.
The hills are so beautiful–dusty greens, deep greens, intense  golds, rich browns. We turn on a steep gravel road as directed–and we’re  supposed to turn on a steep gravel road.
We pass a farm, lots of equipment outside, a very dilapidated  house, but she says keep going, so we do. Then in what’s essentially the middle  of a field she claims we’ve reached our destination.
God, I hope not!
Turns out, after some fiddling, the longitude and latitude were  entered incorrectly back in Florence. We’re close, but have no real idea what to  do.
Kat comes to the rescure. I still have no earthly idea how she took  the printed directions–we have two copies, with different coordinates–figured  it out, and wound us back–to the town where we stopped for lunch, and on  through. More roads, more glorious hills, but it’s been awhile now, and I’m  pretty nervous. Plus I’m completely out of my depth.
But she’s confident, tells us what to look for, where to turn. And  lo and behold, we find the road, the gate, and our lovely, lovely villa where  Asia the manager is waiting.
It’s unbelievably beautiful. The views everywhere of the hills, the  colors, the sky. And the gardens of the villa–tomatoes red on the  vine,  bushes of rosemary, roses, trees, vineyards.
It’s rustic, but also boasts WiFi, comfortable rooms, gorgeous  baths and bedrooms that open up on those breathtaking views.
She takes us through, the common rooms, the bedrooms to choose  from. We both pick the first floor–above the main. Ours has an enormous and  beautiful tub, and a separate shower, a pretty bed. I’m using the third bedroom  up here as a little office, and looking out now at the hills, the vineyards, the  olive trees.
The kitchen! We have a cook who’ll come in every day if we want to  make us food. It’s HUGE, and fun, and rustically gorgeous. I want to play in it.  And think I’ll go down and watch her cook and get tips.
Beautifully terraced with those views everywhere, and the light so  brilliant and gorgeous. It’s unreal.
There’s a pool–one of those infinity deals–you walk up the hill,  among the trees, and there it is–dark blue water–with a patio above–and an  ice machine and fridge so you can have drinks. Even a little kitchen if you want  to cook there.
We enjoyed an hour or so just winding down up there.
I could stay here a month. Working with the views outside the  window, taking some time to walk the gardens, snag a plum from a  tree.
It’s in the middle of nowhere–Asia’s term–and just exactly right.  So beautifully quiet.
There are villages to explore, restaurants and shopping not that  far away–but I don’t know if anything can get me to move away from right  here.
I could just sit and look for days.