Trip Start Jun 02, 2008
56Trip End Dec 08, 2008
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We spent the past week at an agriturismo in Tuscany. For those wondering what that is, an agriturismo is a unique arrangement in Italy to help promote small, local farmers. The way it works is farmers can open up rooms on their farm to tourists to make additional income as long as the farm is their primary source of income. This allows farms to remain that may have closed due to low profits and tourists a chance to see life on a working farm. Our agriturismo was called Cretaiole and is just outside the picturesque town of Pienza. From day one we knew we were in for something special. We arrived (that story will come at the end) to the idyllic Tuscan house where we had a charming room and began meeting the other Americans (yes, all Americans) staying for the week as well. We were given a packet of information including all the events for each day of our stay. Since it would take hours and a lot of writing/reading, we'll just go over a few of the highlights of the week. FYI: the BEST part was how we spent the majority of our time: doing nothing at all but sitting in the yard, drinking some vino and gazing at the Val d'Orcia views.
The family that runs the agriturismo also has a farm closer to town and some land that has a hermitage on it. We spent a morning with Isabella touring the hermitage which is waiting for further excavation and seeing the ancient history of the area first hand. Then we went to the farm to see the animals and taste some of the farm products (wine, cheese and "the porks"). Isabella is a fantastic storyteller who made the experience really personal and touching. We felt such pride in the farm and the family who have had a difficult history. If you want to know more about that, ask.
We spent an afternoon in the town of Pienza. Lunch was had at a small trattoria which served the best soup ever! We walked around the hilly, walled, Renaissance town and spent a little money in the shops. It was a cloudy and chilly day but the rain stayed away and it was a great time.
One of the products the family produces is olive oil so one night we had a little olive oil tasting. It turns out there is a lot to learn about olive oil and, just like wine, they have different tastes and qualities. We didn't do the best at the taste test but I think we're better prepared to buy good quality oil when we get back to the states. The tasting was a ton of fun.
That same night was a special dinner prepared by a local woman who cooks a mean wild boar (that her husband hunted). We were stuffed to the gills with antipasti, zuppa, wild boar (not me, just C) with creamed spinach, and cookies. Of course, this was complemented with lots of wine.Everyone at Cretaiole was there so we all got to chat the night away and have a great time.
Early one morning just as the sun was rising we bundled up to take a walk of the valley below. Gary, an American expat who has been living in Pienza since August, took us on a hike around the Val d'Orcia (the name of the valley). It was beautiful to see the sun rising and the morning fog burning off over the hills and homes of the valley. There are way too many photos of this currently being uploaded. Prepare to be jealous.
That evening, we had a cooking class to learn to make the local pasta, Pici. Isabella patiently taught us to make a flour bowl, add eggs and water, mix to the right consistency and roll properly into the shape of spaghetti. (There are pictures of this too.) We all tried our hand at it (to varying degrees of success) and the results were cooked up for a fantastic meal. Unfortunately, since we were all asked to bring a dish to pass, plus the pasta, plus some meat and cheese from the family plus dessert, plus LOTS and LOTS of wine, vin santo and grappa, we all overindulged and paid the price. It was well worth the agony.
Some of our fellow guests had cars and were gracious enough to take us to another hill town for a day trip. We spent a day in the pouring rain in Montecino. The town was a little bigger then Pienza and had a fortress to seek shelter in from the rain. We also had another fantastic zuppa lunch. Mostly we walked around and when the rain became too much, we found shelter wherever available (especially nice in a cafe with warm coffee drinks).
Two lovely guests staying at Cretaiole invited us to dinner in their room for our last night. We dined on antipastos, insaltas and two pasta dishes as the first was too spicy for any of us to eat. We enjoyed cookies for dessert and Luciano (the patriarch of the farm) joined us for more grappa at the end. It was a lovely evening with a lovely couple who were also nice enough to drive us to the train station the next morning.
Speaking of trains, our travel to this paradise was less then heavenly. When we left the town near Assisi, we were a little unsure of our route. We knew we needed to take the train to another town and make a connection there to one to Siena and then bus from there to Pienza and then taxi from the town to the farm. We boarded the morning train and arrived in Torentolla just in time to find out the trains were going on strike until 9:30 that evening (yeah, it was planned and strikes are apparently common in Italy). There was one train going to Florence that afternoon but we had no idea how to get from Florence to Pienza so we sat with the other stranded travelers and tried to figure out what to do. The idea came to rent a car with a group of us but they were out of cars due to the strike so we would have to taxi to another town and pay 350 euros. Instead we thought about a group of 5 of us sharing a taxi to Siena but the taxis were backed up, again due to the strike, and none were big enough for the group. So in the end, C and I ended us sharing a taxi with another couple who had to get to Rome for a flight that evening. We paid the cost from there to Pienza and the poor couple had to pay 300 euros for the trip to Rome. I won't say what we paid for our part- it's not important. What is important is that it was the best traveling day we've had as far as our attitudes. I have never been more relaxed and laid back. Go figure!
We had an easier travel day to Siena where we are now. Photos are being uploaded but there are SO many, they may come in batches. Check back in a couple of days to see the ones that missed this upload. But we are back on-line and should have regular access for a while.