Tuscany trip report

Old Oct 13th, 2002, 09:20 AM
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Tuscany trip report

Just got back from 2 weeks in Tuscany, 9/21-10/6/02. We spent almost the entire time in rural rentals. I highly recommend www.slowtrav.com to anyone interested in this type of vacation. They have great information, including agency & property recommendations & reviews.
We spent our first week near Pienza at a farmhouse called Podere La Fonte. We rented it through Rentvillas (where it's called Salviano). It was a very nice house, but pretty isolated. Pienza wasn't as interesting as I expected based on the post. Since it was so close we visited several times. Cute & medieval, but not overly interesting. They're deservedly famous for pecorino cheese - it's fabulous & everywhere, so a must-try. Our best meal in Pienza was at La Cuccina di Fiorella, just off the main street that goes thru the historic center.
Buonconvento was a small town nearby that didn't have much of interest in terms of tourist attractions, but a cute little old town & a couple good restaurants. Da Ricardo is kind of at the far end of the old street from the main piazza. Great food & delicious house wine at $3.60/bottle! I Poggioli was in the newer part of town (near train station) so never totally full. Great salads & desserts (panna cotta was the best in italy).
Another must-try is Brunello di Montalcino for wine lovers. Montalcino is a lovely old hill town. There's a very nice enoteca in the fortress with lots of atmosphere, and another called Osticcio just off the main square that had great views, great wine (including flights) & nice snacks. We had a fabulous meal at Osteria di Porta al Cassero, right down from the fortress. Homemade soups & pastas were the best we had anywhere.
If you're serious about shopping for ceramics, gotta go to Deruta (in Umbria). It's only a little over an hour from Pienza, & a nice drive past Lago Trasimeno. There are tons of shops. For the most part individual artisans are up in the old town & manufacturers are down on the road in from the highway. BUT my favorite place (Cama) was in that area & is an artisan family. I thought they had they best quality, with prices still very reasonable.
Lago Trasimeno is very pretty. Castellina del Lago is a nice town from which to enjoy the view.
Montepulciano is another nice hilltown.
This rental is also very near Mt. Oliveto Maggiore Abbey. It has a beautiful series of frescoes on the life of St. Benedict, and you can buy wines, oil & herbal products made by the monks.
We loved the day we spent on Mt. Amiata, the highest mountain in Tuscany at almost 4000 ft. At the top there are a few hikes. We had an amazing meal at Silene, in Pescina. Lots of menu items feature mushrooms (which were in season), & everything was fabulous.
More to come in next post.
Old Oct 13th, 2002, 09:35 AM
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We spent our 2nd week in the Chianti region, just outside of Castellina in Chianti, at Collelungo. It was highly recommended on the slow travel website & very nice. It's a working farm with the rental apartments set among the vineyards & olive groves.
Castellina is a lovely village with many restaurants & several cute shops. We didn't hit on a great restaurant here, but did have great pizza at a litttle take-away place right off the main intersection. Also at the same corner was the best gelato (my opinion) we had anywhere in Tuscany - it's called Antica Delizia. 1 nice thing about staying here is that it wasn't quite as isolated. We could actually walk to Castellina (about 1/2 hour through the vineyards & woods), & were just 10 minutes from the A1.
I LOVED Siena. Spent a whole day & evening there, & didn't even go into the Duomo. It was very comfortable & relaxed, but still had alot going on. There's a museum complex Santa Maria della Scalla, right across the street from the Duomo. It was founded as a foundling hospital. The Sienans apparently had a pretty progressive attitude toward socialism & medicine. This place took in orphans & raised them, educated them, even paid their dowry. The hospital end of it was quite modern, espousing such radical ideas as washing before surgery (this was the 12th century?). There are some gorgeous frescoes about life in Siena & in the hospital. They have also opened an archeology museum within this complex, in which you literally go down beneath the city to see exhibits of artifacts - it was very cool. We ate at a cute little place right off the Campo, just behind the tower. It was called Trattoria La Torre. Very small, maybe 8 tables. The guy comes over & tells you what they have for each course. Homemade pastas were great, as was the osso buco. Very friendly & reasonably priced.
I won't be popular for this, but was nonplussed in San Gimignano. It's beautiful, for sure. But it was SO overrun with tourists. We didn't get there until 4pm, and thought we'd kill time looking around until restaurants opened. Just couldn't find enough to do to keep us interested until after dark. The shops were kitchier than most, & more expensive.
Old Oct 13th, 2002, 09:50 AM
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Of course the big thing to do in Chianti is visit the wineries. But be aware that most don't just have tasting rooms which are staffed to be open all the time waiting for visitors to show up. You have to make appointments in most cases.
Our last few days were in Florence. Do NOT try to go to the Uffizzi without reservations. If you go to the Academia at the end of the day, you might be lucky (when we got there at 4 there were no lines). I decided those were the 2 must-see museums, & wasn't disappointed. Going through the rooms of the Uffizzi only takes a couple hours, and really is like taking a semester of art history. It really brought the renaissance to life for me. Botticelli is my favorite. The Academia is really fairly lame, with the exception of David, and that's what everyone is there to see. He's absolutely stunning, my favorite piece of art anywhere.
In Florence we stayed at a B&B called Relais Grand Tour that I found somewhere on the web. They have just 3 rooms there, which were very nice. All had private bath, rennovated very nicely. It's 2 minutes from San Lorenzo market, 5 minutes from the train station, right by the University.
My favorite meals in Florence: Da Fagioli, on Corso dei Tintori (sort of between Uffizzi & Santa Croce) was a small family-run trattoria. Mom's cooking with Dad's help, & the 2 sons wait tables. Vegetable soup was great. We asked him to make an entree recommendation, & weren't disappointed. They have both beef & pork roast, slow-roasted on a spit if I understood correctly. It was delicious!
Nabucco was a bar just on the corner from our B&B (Via 27 Aprile). They had awesome capuccino & nice pastries very cheap. Great selection of wine & drinks (this IS the college neighborhood). On Saturday night, our last in Italy, they had this awesome buffet, free if you bought a $5-8 glass of wine (OK, you can get cheaper wine but not with all that food). Pizzas, salads, vegetables, seafood salad, all very nice. It was a fun way to spend our last evening (we of course had more than 1 glass of wine).
I bought leather at the Santa Croce leather school. There were cheaper prices elsewhere, but not that much cheaper & not the same quality & fit.
By the way, many thanks to Dean & others, who had so many GREAT recommendations. We did stop by Casa Lecchia, had some great wine, & Francesco says HI!
Old Oct 15th, 2002, 01:32 PM
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Thanks for the great report, Monica. We also stayed at Colle Lungo and loved it. We're already planning our next trip so appreciate your restaurant recommendations.
Old Oct 15th, 2002, 11:32 PM
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Just a few corrections, Siennese not Sienans, and the Monte Amiata is absolutely not the highest mountain of Tuscany, if ever the highest in the province of Siena. In Castellina in Chianti is one of the best rated restaurants of Italy, the Albergaccio owned bt Francesco (its after the gelateria that you mentioned in direction S.Donato)
Old Oct 22nd, 2002, 06:43 AM
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The latter isn't really a correction, as I did not have the opportunity to eat there. I did hear good things about the restaurant, and about Gallopapa. We didn't eat in neither place.
Old Oct 22nd, 2002, 06:51 AM
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