Day One – In less than 12 hours, you can be in Italy!
It amazing to know you can be in Italy in 12 hours. And boy, were we energized when we arrived at the Florence airport! Our flights went flawlessly, and our good luck continued once we got into our rental car, as the driving instructions I printed out from Google Maps took us right to the small family winery, Il Santo, where we have “our” apartment in Greve, with nary a wrong turn. It was only a 30 minute drive.
Our host, Allesandro, has become a good friend, and he works hard to assure that his guests have a great time here. He even came up with an American coffee maker when we asked for it (Italians drink espresso, in small quantities). We bring our own coffee and filters because we prefer American coffee. We also always recommend that you rent a car if you want to really explore Tuscany. There is very little public transportation available here.
After unpacking, we drove down the hill to the village and enjoyed cups of gelato at Gelateria Da Lorenza. You’ll get the best gelato of your life here in Italy, something we discovered on our first visit 10 years ago. Next we visited the small supermarket COOP, purchased a few groceries, and came back and enjoyed a glass of wine with fruit and cheese, just enough to tide us over for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the town square, Magiando Magiando.
This is our fifth trip to Tuscany and we’ve visited Greve every time. We really feel at home here. What do we love about Il Santo? Well, the stunning view of the surrounding hillsides of olive trees and grape vines, the outside table where we eat many of our meals, the comfortable apartment with a full kitchen/dining room downstairs and a lovely bedroom loft, the many historic hillside towns within a 60 minute drive, the Saturday market when many vendors come to the square selling everything from hardware and clothing to amazing pork sandwiches, several favorite restaurants in Greve and surrounding towns, the wonderful hikes we enjoy up, down, and across the hills, the historic churches and amazing art, the small shops (wine in one, pasta in another, fruits and vegetables nearby) and oh, this is only a partial list.
Standing outside our apartment at Il Santo, every view looks like a work of art. We’re surrounded by hillsides of olive trees and grape vines, blossoming flowers and small shrubs full of lemons. We look around, choose a road on a nearby hillside, drive there, and walk, usually for an hour or two. Some of our favorite walks start right from our apartment. The slow pace of life here keeps us coming back. Shops close for a few hours every afternoon, and dinners don’t begin until 7:30 pm and can last for 2 or 3 hours. Sure, you can eat sooner and faster, but why would you want to?
We did go to dinner the first night a little early, anxious to get back to the apartment and catch up on sleep. We sat outside at Magiando, in the village square, with a nice breeze blowing, and enjoyed people watching while we ate. My all-time favorite pasta was on the menu, pappardelle with wild boar sauce, and it was soooo good. We generally order the house wine. It’s always good and inexpensive. Linda had spaghetti. We raced through dinner in 90 minutes. Well, that’s racing by Italian dinner standards.
While I’ve tried to speak Italian, it doesn’t work so well with a Maine accent, but Linda is pretty good in Italian. I do try. In Italy, they don’t bring your check until you ask for it, saying “Il conto, per favore.” That means “Please bring our check.” When we were ready, I motioned to our server, and as she approached the table, I stumbled on “conte,” and simply pointed at Linda, who got out the whole phrase. Even the server laughed. But I’m not sure I got an A for effort.
Day Two – Hillside hikes, the swimming pool, and a leisurely lunch
We caught up on our sleep and didn’t get around to eating breakfast on our second day at Il Santo in Greve until almost 9 am. That’s when Linda discovered that the two items she asked me to pick out in the supermarket yesterday were not quite what she wanted.
I thought I’d purchased orange juice because the container had a big orange on it, but it turned out to be red orange, carrot, and lemon juice. Linda kindly pointed out that, in addition to the orange on the carton, there was a carrot, and at the top, the word carrota. Luckily, the juice was delicious. But not so much the yogurt.
I thought I’d chosen strawberry (the container was pink, after all) and vanilla (blue container). Instead, I’d purchased plain unsweetened yogurt, one low fat and one full fat. And not at all tasty. We did eat some, with cherries. But I don’t think Linda will be giving me more shopping assignments at the supermarket! Or at least, she’ll be double checking my selections.
We hiked the road up the steep hill behind Il Santo after breakfast, encountering a couple with two sons from Oregon on their first trip to Italy. We were delighted to give them a few restaurant and other recommendations. Then we headed to the village square for lunch.
We walked all around, checking out menus, and then selected Caffe Lepanto, always busy, with good food ranging from creative bruchettas topped with interesting ingredients to our favorite pastas. I chose taglietelle with wild boar sauce (OK, I’m in a rut – I did order a similar dish last night – but this is my all-time favorite and I could eat it every day). Hey, maybe I will!
In most restaurants, you’ll be served a basket of bread and olive oil for dipping. We always enjoy that and made it a tradition at home too. As temperatures reached into the upper 80s, we opted for cold beer. I misunderstood Linda and ordered a small draft for her and a large draft for me. Hers turned out to be about 1/3 the size of mine. She was not happy! Later, I ordered a second large draft and shared it with her. Alls well that ends well.
Linda enjoyed lasagna. It was very cheesy and delicious. We ate outside (more people watching), and lingered a while. Then it was time to explore. We stopped at the Information office to purchase a new map of the Greve area, then checked on all of our favorite shops. And we were delighted to discover our favorite wine shop, Enoteca la Chianti.
Last night we’d gone by its location at the end of the square and were astonished and disappointed to find the shop closed and the inside being totally torn apart. This is a really good wine shop and we were so happy to find it had only relocated. We celebrated by purchasing a bottle of Rosso from our favorite Italian winery, Avignonesi.
We visited Avignonesi several years ago. It’s between Montelpuchianno and Cortona, maintains many types of ancient grape varieties, and makes delicious wine. It’s also expensive, if and when you can find it in the United States. Here in Italy, it’s a real bargain.
Finally, we got in the car and returned to the apartment to spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool. The water is cold, the view is stunning, and we read, napped, and relaxed. About 4 pm, I went inside and brought out glasses of wine.
And then I started writing this column!
Day Three – We discover a hidden gem of a winery
Best breakfast view ever – from the window of the kitchen/dining room in our apartment. Still a nice cool breeze, so we lingered, ate breakfast late, and drove up and through Montefiorallo to the parking lot on the other side of the village, for a short hike along a dirt road with gorgeous views, then returned and drove further up the road, parked, and hiked about 2 miles on a gravel road. We love to hike these hillside roads, through farms, with gorgeous villas and amazing views. Eventually we could see the mountains to the north.
Returning to our car, we drove initially up a very curvy paved road, then on a rough gravel road to La Catinetta di Rignano, a restaurant we enjoyed years ago, and have decided to return for lunch sometime this visit. Then we backtracked and headed to Panzano. Part way there, a right turn indicated that the small village on Montini was just a kilometer away, so we took that road. We love to explore here and there are many side roads offering those opportunities. This road was very rough and narrow, but we ended up descending into a gorgeous valley with a beautiful winery, Villa Cafaggio.
As I was turning around in their parking lot, Linda suggested we check it out, so we did. Great suggestion! This was a highlight of our day. A lovely young lady, Veronica, greeted us in English, showed us around, and then sat us down to sample some of their wines. She speaks English very well and was very informative. We learned a lot and enjoyed all of the wines, liking those made with sangiovese. Their chianti classico is 100% sangiovese and is aged in barrels for one year. Their Chianti Classico Reserva is 100% sangiovese and aged in barrels for 18 months. We especially loved the Reserva. It’s very smooth.
We were surprised to learn they also grow their own grapes to create a Merlot, something we think of as French. And they also import grapes from France to create their own Cabernet Savignon.
As I picked out a bottle of both the Chianti Classico and the Reserva, Linda was talking to Veronica about their olive oils, and before I knew it, Linda was taste testing their oil, oohing and ahhing. And she added two bottles of olive oil to our purchase which totaled 42 euros.
So a morning walk and random ride resulted in a fantastic experience, plus some awesome wine and olive oil. And that’s just one more reason we love Italy!
Day Four – It’s all about the pasta
The Pasta Man’s shop is open! Closed since we arrived, we’d been somewhat impatiently but eagerly awaiting today. Linda loves to stop by after he opens at 10 am and pick out fresh pasta and sauce for lunch or dinner that day.
Domenico Zito’s shop is called Pasta D’Autore and is located at 14 Via C. Battisti in the village of Greve where we are staying for 11 days. We discovered Domenico on one of our first trips here, and in 2013 were devastated when we stopped by and the shop was boarded up and closed. But an inquiry at the Information office in the village square told us that he’d simply moved, and we bulleted right over to his new location for the day’s pasta and sauce.
Domenico cuts his pasta to order – and that’s as fresh as you can get it! Linda ordered tagliatelle today along with his fresh sauce and we’re having that for dinner.
When I woke this morning, Linda was already outside enjoying a cup of coffee and excited by all the birds she’d seen. She was still trying to identify some of them, but it was the first time this trip we’d been able to see that many species. It isn’t that we’re not surrounded by birds. It’s that they sit deep in the foliage and are impossible to see.
Among those we identified this morning was a European redstart with a white head and lots of orange, and a Molodious Warbler. The latter was a first for us, always exciting. The Red Start was the second bird we’ve seen here that is the same species of bird we see in our Mount Vernon yard, but with different coloring. Our Red Starts look much different than the ones here.
On our first trip to Italy ten years ago, we spied a brilliant yellow bird with a bright red head along the waterway in the Greve, and raced back to our apartment to look it up. It was a European Goldfinch! Our goldfinches don’t have red heads. It was gorgeous.
Today is a special food day – ok, every day in Italy is a special food day – but this one was special because we drove 30 minutes to Volpaia to dine at our favorite restaurant, La Bottega. Yes, this is our favorite restaurant in all of Italy. We discovered La Bottega on our second visit to Greve and have been enjoying amazing meals there ever since, at very reasonable (some would say low) prices.
The first time we came here, we drove overland on very rough gravel roads, then discovered a much easier route – winding, as most roads are here, but paved all the way. I’ve gotten so I love driving in Italy – but it took a bit of experience. I’ve dented all but one of the cars we’ve rented here, mostly because the parking spaces are tiny and I keep backing into things. But I’m getting better. At least, we’ll find out when this trip is over!
The experience here begins with the stunning scenery on the 5 kilometer drive up the hill. When you get to the ancient town of Volpaia, you will be stunned a second time. We have always eaten on the terrace, under shade trees, with a view of the hills and valleys that surround you. I love this description from their brochure.
“Daddy Oriano produces salami and vegetables. Mother Gina will surprise you with her homemade pasta and her ribollita and other exquisite recipes. Carla, the eldest daughter, loves suggesting dishes of the best Chianti tradition, passed down from generation to generation. Authentic flavors are the secret of this restaurant (with) a license released 300 years ago.
“Living simple moments in full consciousness means to render them unforgettable,” says the Oriano family. And Linda and I agree. We’ve lived many simple moments here, all of them unforgettable.
Our unforgettable experience this visit included grilled aubergina (eggplant) with mint. With our first taste, we both said, “Wow!” This eggplant had garlic slices and mint leaves on top, and was drenched in a garlic olive oil. We have never had anything like this. And here’s the really good news: Linda says she’ll make it at home! We’re also going to pass this on to Tom and Roccell at Calzolaio in Wilton, our favorite Maine Italian restaurant, hoping they will add it to their menu.
For the third day in a row, I had a primi of pasta with wild boar sauce. This presentation included a delicious porcini mushroom sauce. Many restaurants present this with a minimum of meat, but La Bottega includes lots of small chunks of wild boar. It’s my very favorite presentation of my very favorite Italian dish. Linda loved her primi of ravioli in sage butter. And she’s wondering if I am ever going to order anything but the peppardelle with wild boar sauce.
We always order the house wine in Italian restaurants. It’s cheap and very good. I suggested a litre, but Linda exclaimed, “That’s more than a quart!” Too much wine for lunch I guess! Or maybe she was thinking about the winding roads on the return to Greve.
We ordered a half litre and it was a perfect amount for lunch. Portions are large here, but we had shared the appetizer and agreed we could also share a dessert. Linda had seen one go by that looked really good, so she ordered it: panacotta with fruit topping. It was delicious – so delicious I asked if I could lick the plate when we were done. You can guess what Linda said. But when she went to the bathroom, I did lick the plate, and when she returned to the table, she didn’t notice!
Day Five – A hike in the hills and our best dinner yet
M.S. Michele is the tallest spot in this area and it’s a favorite place for our hikes and picnics. The ancient church is humbling and the surrounding forests offer amazing views and leisurely hikes. We especially enjoy hiking here (well, it’s walking really, not hiking), when the temperatures get up into the 80s, and that’s where they went today with predictions of hotter days ahead.
We took a trail we hadn’t hiked before and discovered even more wonderful picnic spots with outdoor grills and picnic tables. Lots of birds too, and we were pleased to identify a Stonechat. Got back to our apartment at Il Santo about 1:30 pm and had lunch outside in a shaded spot overlooking the valley toward Panzano, our dinner destination.
Allesandro, our host at Il Santo, has never steered us wrong on restaurants (or anything else), so when he recommended Pantinetta Sassolini in Panzano (about a 15 minute drive), we quickly asked him to make a reservation for us at 7 pm. We are moving, each day, closer to eating like the Italians, who often begin dinner at 8 pm or later. Well, Sassolini doesn’t even open until 7:15 pm, so we took that as our reservation!
One other American couple arrived just after us, but the restaurant didn’t really fill up until 8:30 and guests were still arriving when we left at 9:30. While the staff at many Italian restaurants are serious about their work, rather than friendly to their guests, at Sassolini everyone was smiling, friendly, eager to make our dinner special. And they did.
When we arrived, the staff was enjoying pizza and wine at the back table on the deck, and when we spoke to the host about it, he laughed and joked, “Everything is meat, meat, meat. On our day off, we eat pizza!”
We sat outside on an enclosed deck, with a tree, vines, and flowers all around us, and covers over every table to shield the hot sun. It was really very comfortable as well as elegant with cloth napkins and table coverings. I tried hard not to spill any wine on them!
The food is exceptional, especially given the low prices. We enjoyed a half litre of the House rosso for just 6 euro. We often share our meals here, and we began with an appetizer of Bruschetta, toasted bread topped with oil and chopped tomatoes. It was soooo good.
We have been disappointed with Gnocchi in many restaurants, particularly in the states, so we rarely order it, but we gave it a try, figuring it would be a good test of the chef’s skills, and he hit a home run. Served in tomato sauce with a rocket salad and pecorino cheese (for just 9 euros), the Gnocchi was perfection on a plate, probably the best we’ve ever had.
Having shared the first two dishes, we were able, for the first time this trip, to order a Secondi: Chicken with herbs and green olives (only 10.5 euros). It was very good and a generous portion. But the real highlight was the Contorni (side dish) of baked veggies (4 euros). Wow, were they delicious!
Going for the gold now, we ordered dessert. We didn’t recognize it on the menu, but our server said “it’s like panna cotta,” so we ordered it. It was yummy, covered with peaches.
We sat for a while, enjoying the evening, the setting, languishing in the luxury of another awesome dinner, and grateful for our many blessings. When I finally told the server, “Il Conto, per favore” (check please), she smiled and quickly delivered it. It was only 47 euros, for one of the best meals we’ve ever had in Italy.
Day Six – Market Day in Greve Square
On our first trip here, we were in an apartment above the square in the village of Greve and had slept late after an all-night flight. When I opened the drapes, I was astonished to see the square filled with vendors. It was market day!
We’ve tried to make sure we are here on a Saturday, every time we come to Greve, because market day is a real treat. Vendors are set up all over the square selling everything from shoes and clothes to hardware and tablecloths to fresh vegetables and fruit.
Linda purchased lots of fruit and vegetables and at 11 am we took the 15 minute walk back up the hill to our apartment to leave them there. We were changing apartments today and our new one wasn’t ready yet, but it didn’t matter because we planned to hike back to the square for lunch.
A market highlight for us is the food truck, Market Rosticceria Porchetta, offering the world’s best pork sandwiches, lots of grilled meats, and plenty of sides including deep fried olives and French fries. The pork is plenty fresh, not surprising since they slice it off a whole pig that is draped over the far side of the truck!
We always have the pork sandwiches but this time Linda also suggested the French fries. I was skeptical. I didn’t come all the way to Italy to eat French fries, but I acquiesced and we ordered them. Without doubt, they were the best French fries I’ve ever eaten. We walked to a nearby square toting a bag with two cold beers, sat on a bench in the shade, and had a delightful lunch.
Another delightful dinner, thanks to Allessandro, who described Osteria Panzanelle in Lucarelli perfectly: great food, nice people, low prices. A 20 minute drive from our apartment in Greve, you would drive right by this place if you weren’t specifically looking for it. There is a sign, high on a tall building as you enter the small town of Lucarelli, but even though we were looking for it, we missed it on the first pass.
Fortunately, it takes less than 60 seconds to drive through the entire town, so we knew we’d missed it and backtracked and there it was, just opening for dinner at 7:30 pm. We were the first guests and had our choice of sitting out on the veranda or inside, and we chose inside because the dining room is elegant.
We’re on a good streak now. This was our second restaurant in a row where the staff was very helpful and friendly. Because it was so inexpensive (6 euro), we ordered a full litre of the house rosso – and that turned out to be a mistake because, as Linda explained, that’s more than a quart. We did not drink it all, primarily because I had to drive back to our apartment. But the wine was really good – so good that I poured some of it on my bread, instead of olive oil. When Lin gasped, I tried to pretend it was not a mistake!
We shared a primi of Stracci di Pesticcia, short noodles with mushrooms and pork (8 euros), and a secondi of Parmigianadi melanzao, eggplant parm (12 euro), with a side of insulate misto (salad, 2.50). We are loving the fresh tomatoes here.
Both dishes were very good and the portions were large. They actually divided our dishes for us because we were sharing them, very thoughtful on their part, although it somewhat diminished my photos. If you are looking at the photo, please understand that you are seeing a half portion. The primi’s meat-based sauce was wonderful, something we’d never had before.
By the time we finished eating, 9:30 pm, the restaurant was packed and included many families with young children. This is another place where local people eat, although there were tourists here too. You can tell those of us who are tourists, because we’re always taking photographs! But Linda and I will not need photos to remember Osteria Panzanelle.
Day 7 – Road Trip!
Well, we’d been here for nearly a week and hadn’t ventured more than 25 minutes away, so it was time for a road trip. Of course, our version of a road trip was a 45 minute drive to Montereggioni, a small historic walled town where we once rented a beautiful apartment.
First stop was Castellini, one of our favorite nearby towns, where we witnessed a wedding with the bride and groom exiting the church and getting showered with confetti – some of which exploded out of small packets. Took some great photos of that.
We’d intended to lunch at our favorite restaurant there, Antica Trattoria La Torre, but with a pasta dinner ahead, we opted for pizza and beer on this very hot day. Il Fondaccio Dai Dottori has indoor and outdoor seating, and we enjoyed sitting outside shaded from the hot sun by an umbrella. Service was friendly (we’re on a streak now!), and the thin-crust pizzas were large and delicious. The cold beer really hit the spot too. We’d had an early morning walk, up above Montefioralle, to a lovely secluded pond high on a hill, and we were famished by lunch time.
A 15 minute drive south brought us to Montereggioni, where you park outside the walls and hike up the hill and into the town. We reminisced about our stay here, took lots of photos, and walked the ancient walls before enjoying delicious gelatos. Got back to Il Santo about 4:30 pm, jumped in the pool to cool off, and relaxed.
Linda made an awesome pasta dinner with a fresh salad. The “Pasta Man” provided the pasta and meat sauce and it was as good as any we’ve enjoyed in restaurants here.
Day 8 – 8 Boar Babies
Just after we went to bed last night, we heard something scratching at the earth outside our windows. Pulling the curtain and pointing the flashlight out onto the lawn, we were astonished to see 8 baby wild boars! Two adults stood by in the shadows. We watched the little ones for a while. They are very cute, brown with light stripes. One was scratching his back, then his bottom, on the edge of the flat stone that surrounds the flower garden. When an ambulance dashed by, lights flashing and horns blowing, the mothers rounded up the youngsters and dashed up the driveway. Exciting!
Today we are enjoying a lazy morning on the shaded deck. Lin looked up at just the right time to spot a Hoopoe flying by. I immediately emailed Bob Duschene, our favorite Maine birding guide, who has been to Italy twice hoping to see a Hoopoe, without luck. It’s our favorite Italian bird.
One of the delights of trips here today is the availability of WIFI. Ten years ago it was very difficult to communicate with family and friends at home, but now, we use email. I can even read my Kennebec Journal every morning online. Two years ago Linda was serving as executor of her brother’s estate and actually closed on the sale of his house while we were in Greve, doing it all online. Amazing!
We also see many people using their fancy phones, but we’re not there – at least not yet. We may need to step it up, though, because I am particularly impressed with the GPS system where someone talks you through every turn in your journey. I missed a turn yesterday and drove a ways in the wrong direction before realizing my mistake. Blame it on the scenery, because it is very distracting!
Years ago we had a wonderful lunch at La Cantinetta di Rignana, but the ride up through the hills was so difficult we never went back. Today, I actually enjoy driving those roads. So back we went and it was just as good – actually even better – than we remembered.
They have one table in the middle of the outside deck that is in a private sheltered enclave, further forward than all the other tables. It is beautiful. We have a framed photo of Linda sitting here in our earlier visit, and its one of our all-time favorite photos of Italy.
Today I took that photo of Linda again and then she took a photo of me. We ordered a bottle of the house wine, Rignano Rosso (12 euros), and began our feast with a primi of Pappardelle @ Cinghiale (10 euros) – yes, my fourth for this dish, but Linda’s first, because we shared it. We also had an Insalata verde o mista (5 euros – a salad) with our primi. Salads are generally served in Italy at the end of a meal, and you have to ask for it to be served earlier. We often do.
This was the best pasta with wild boar sauce I’ve had this trip – and no, I didn’t connect it to those darling baby wild boars we saw last night! There were large chunks of meat with the sauce, the first time I’ve encountered that in this dish. And they were delicious.
We shared the primi because we wanted to have a secondi. We ordered Galletto rusponte (14 euros) – chicken grilled over a wood fire – and roasted potatoes (5 euros). Best potatoes ever, salty with a nice crust but soft inside, and very tasty chicken. When we were nearly finished eating, half of the potatoes remained, so I asked if we’d be bringing them back to the apartment. Linda said no, so I ate all the rest of them!
I can’t begin to describe the setting, the view from our table, sitting there mesmerized by the beauty. Even the hummingbird moths in the blossoms of the flowers surrounding our table were beautiful. After two hours, we were pleased to find we’d only spent 54 euros, a bargain for a meal of this quality. Before we left to walk down the hill into the valley below, we made a reservation for lunch on Thursday, same time, same table!
Days 9, 10, 11 – Slowing Down
OK, now we’re settling in here. We’re on our second round of visits to our favorite restaurants. We’re eating dinner as late as 9 pm, just like real Italians. We’re taking our morning walks earlier, because temperatures are reaching into the middle and upper 90s. Our shaded deck, and the nearby pool, have become our sanctuary.
For the record, on Day 9 we ate all our meals on the deck outside our apartment. On Day 10 we returned to our favorite restaurant, La Bottega in Volpaia, for another fabulous feast. On Day 11, we took our friends Rocko and Robyn Graziano of Readfield, Maine, to La Cantinetta di Rignana.
Did I tell you that Rocko and Robyn arrived here a few days ago? Linda and I helped them plan their trip, and we are delighted that they are having such a great time. They remind us of ourselves on our first two trips to Tuscany. They want to see it all!
One day, they drove for three hours to see Castellini, St. Gimignano and Volterra, and then returned to dine in a nearby town. When they asked what we’d done, well, that was the day we stayed right here!
One day they drove to Sicily for market day there. However, the next day, they joined us for a three hour lunch at La Cantinetta di Rignana. Yes, we got them to slow down!
But this morning, as we prepared to move on for a three-day visit to Arezzo, they were off on a major all-day trip to three cities in southern Tuscany. And I have to tell you, with the temperature exceeding 100 degrees today, they are a whole lot more ambitious than we are!
After our first two trips to Tuscany, we’d seen most of the walled hill towns on our list, the magnificent churches, the touristy cities, the markets and more, and we began to relax. Italy is all about relaxing now, for us. And we love to explore the small gravel roads all over the province of Chianti. I don’t think we’ll ever get to all of them.
Day 12 Arezzo
It’s always a sad day when we leave Il Santo, but we enjoyed a long visit with Allesandro this morning and talked about everything from his plans for the apartments to his family, as well as our plans to return.
We like to visit at least one other part of Tuscany on these trips to Italy and had tried, at the last minute, to book a trip to Cinque Terra, recommended by several friends, but we couldn’t even find a hotel room at that late date. So we decided to return to B&B Poggio del Drago, about 15 minutes outside of Arezzo in eastern Tuscany.
We stayed here two years ago and loved it. And we also loved the less-touristy less-visited eastern part of Tuscany. On that trip, our host, Emmanuel Conti, at the B&B recommended a small family restaurant in Arezzo, and we ate there twice. We also drove up into the high mountains and forests to visit the sacred monastery at La Verna. And we visited the amazing walled city of Anghiari.
This time, we took the slower roads from Greve to Arezzo instead of the busy A1 and arrived at 12:30 pm, pleased to find that our room was ready. We drove up the road a couple of miles for a good lunch at a small restaurant, Roxy Bar in Ponticino. This was the hottest day so far and the cool pool was wonderful.
In the evening, we returned to that favorite restaurant in Arezzo, Antic Osteria l’Agamia, for dinner. This is what you might call a “Hole in the Wall,” although there is another dining room upstairs. But we love the downstairs crowded room where we get a good look at all the dishes coming out of the kitchen. The staff is friendly, even though they are very busy.
We enjoyed a bottle of their house chianti (just 5 euro). They actually store it in big bottles next door, and pour it into bottles without labels for their restaurant guests. With the house wine, rather than wine glasses, you get a tiny glass for wine and a bit larger glass for water. “I like wine,” exclaimed Linda. “There’s no way I am going to use the smaller glass for wine!” And she didn’t, nor did I.
I had Pappardelle with wild boar sauce (ok, my sixth time for this dish). Linda is having difficulty understanding how I could fly all the way to Italy to have the same pasta dish every day, plus a large cup of Gelato. If you ever get a chance to try pasta with wild boar sauce and Italian gelato, you may want to join my exclusive club.
Linda enjoyed Pappardelle with mushrooms. We also shared a salad. When I asked our server for the bill, he simply said, “25.” And I was happy to give him the 25 euros. We had a nice exchange with the lady who owns the restaurant with her husband, as we exited, because she speaks a bit of English. We just let her know that we love her restaurant and have now eaten there three times. And we will certainly be back.
Days 13 and 14 We head to the mountains to escape the heat
It’s Saturday and the temperature for the next 3 days will top 100 degrees, so we decided to head to the mountain forests. Every morning at B&B Poggio del Drago begins with a gorgeous table of breakfast food, shared by all the guests. We love communal meals like this because we get to know other guests. Here this weekend are tourists from England, the Netherlands, and Germany. Most speak English, but our host, Emanuele Cioni, does not. So one of the guests interprets our remarks and questions for Manuel. Very helpful!
After a one hour drive, we arrived at Camaldoli, a monastery with a stunningly beautiful church – probably the most beautiful church we’ve ever visited – in the midst of a huge national forest, where the shade and a nice breeze was cool and refreshing. We hiked for more than an hour, then returned to the monastery and village where four restaurants offer outside shaded seating. We lingered, enjoyed lunch, then visited the church a second time before heading back to our B&B for pool time.
About 8 pm we headed in to Arezzo. We didn’t realize it but Saturday night is a big event there. Some major roads were closed to traffic to allow diners from adjacent restaurants to eat in the streets, enjoying live music. The restaurant we had chosen was packed, so we tried our second choice, a pizza place, and they had no table for us either. You could hardly walk down the streets, they were so crowded with people.
So we returned to our favorite restaurant, Osteria l’Agania, where the lady owner recognized and welcomed us. We were amazingly lucky to get a table there. We enjoyed another wonderful dinner, sharing each course, and again spent only 25 euro. We were dining at 10 pm when it occurred to us that we are now fully on Italian time.
After breakfast on Sunday, we drove to a magnificent monastery at Chiusi La Verna, again high in the mountains and surrounded by the national forest. We’d visited here two years ago and loved it. The monastery is very large and includes a beautiful church and many private areas for worship and reflection. We brought a picnic which we enjoyed at a cool spot in the forest, then sat for about an hour reading.
Before we left the monastery, I decided to do something special. My Mom was our church organist and choir director and a very religious person. She was born and raised in Lubec, Maine, and I carry a rock from West Quoddy Head Light, where my great grandfather was the keeper for 34 years, to remember Mom and that beautiful place.
Knowing Mom would have loved the monastery and church here, I placed my Lubec rock inside an opening in the ancient rock wall – so a small piece of Mom will be there forever.
That night we tried a restaurant recommended by Manual about 20 minutes from the B&B, Osteria Dei Vignaioli. As Linda examined her menu, she opened it to me and said, “Someone had a bad spill.” She was looking at a photo of wine being poured down the page into a wine glass!
The eggplant casserole with mozzarella cheese and fresh truffles was amazing, and the primi of Gnocchi sprinkled with parmesan cheese and baked in an oven with taleggio cheese and truffle cream was, we both agreed, the best gnocchi dish we’ve ever had. “It’s macaroni and cheese for foodies,” declared Linda. No wonder I loved it!
Our favorite Italian bird, the Hoopoe, flew by us as we exited the driveway of our B&B, perhaps wishing us a safe trip home. We arrived at the Florence airport with nary a scratch on the car, a significant victory for me. The 23 hour trip home was exhausting, although the wine and wonderful food on Swiss Air was helpful. And we spent some of the trip home talking about our next trip to Tuscany!