‘Vacations & Holidays’ Category

The Great Italian Adventure: Another Breathtaking Tuscan Town, No Big Deal.

Posted on June 21st, 2012 by Tonia 1 Comment

Another day-trip away from Montepulciano: We found ourselves at the top of another small mountain, in another gorgeous little town, saying to ourselves again, “Is this real or are we in a movie set?”

Tuscany has a surreal feeling to it. Maybe it’s because you can look out from your perch on a Medieval castle wall and see for miles and miles; the atmospheric perspective giving the rolling vineyards and poppy fields a dream-like quality and the perfect puffy clouds hovering neatly, as if they were painted there. Or maybe because the pictures we’d seen of this place many times just don’t do the real thing justice. You go there thinking you know what to expect, and then your brain explodes.

Anyway, here we were looking out at the incredible view in disbelief and wonder. And then a little sun-shower started up and a rainbow appeared in the hills. And I could have cried, it was so over-the-top beautiful.

Yes, that is a photo {taken on my dad’s iPhone} not a painting!

Lunch that day was at a little Trattoria that was well reviewed and didn’t disappoint. I had to take a photo of the pork that my mom ordered because I want to attempt it here at home. Apricots, blanched almonds, and a balsamic and honey reduction…Good Lord it was tasty!

I ordered pasta for almost every meal. I couldn’t get enough of it. Fresh handmade pasta is so incredibley tender, chewy and flavorful compared to the dried stuff…In fact, we haven’t eaten any dried pasta since returning home {it would be such a let-down, now that we know what we’re missing with the fresh stuff.} I’m more motivated than ever to perfect my pasta-making technique so that we never have to go back to boxed pasta!

Arugula + radicchio + tomatoes + olive oil + balsamic= the perfect spring salad. Mike was in heaven…he looooves arugula and it was in season while we were there.

My cute parents…full of good food and happy.

Can we talk about gelato for a sec? WHY IS IT SO MUCH BETTER THAN REGULAR ICE CREAM? Early on in the trip, Mike announced unapologetically, “I think I’m just going to get gelato whenever I feel like it.” Ok! Count me in on that plan. And so we did.

There are other parts of the trip worth sharing as well…like the 6km hike we took on dusty farm roads, winding through vineyards and ancient olive groves, or the awesome butcher shop we stopped at in Panzano in Chianti where we ate our hearts’ delight of thick slices of salami on fresh bread. But really, we’d be here for weeks if I tried to tell you everything.

Thanks for coming along on my little virtual tour! I hope you get a chance to get to Italy and see all of this for yourself someday- as good as it looks in photos, it’s 1000 times more awesome in real life. Buonasera!

The End.

The Great Italian Adventure: Florence & Siena

Posted on June 20th, 2012 by Tonia 4 Comments

The Duomo in Siena.

We got out of the country and into the big city twice- once to Florence and once to Siena. Both cities are magnificent and historic {we’re talking thousands of years of history…not hundreds like in the States. Doesn’t it blow your mind a little to think in terms of thousands of years?} and we could have spent far more than one day in each and still would have only scratched the surface.

As it was, we were able to hit up most of the major landmarks in both cities, as well as walk through a couple museums. The Uffizi in Florence was pretty awesome {Michaelangelo and Leonardo!}. Nothing really compares to the Duomo in Siena, though. We spent hours walking around inside it marveling at the floors, ceilings, murals and carvings. It blows your mind.

The view from the center of the Duomo, looking up.

The striped pillars in the Duomo are made from stacked white and black marble blocks.

Pink marble is used in the floors and the exterior of the Duomo as an accent to the dominant black and white color scheme. It glows in the late afternoon sun.

Here I am, attempting to show the scale of this building…but it’s hugeness just can’t be properly captured in pictures. You have to go there!

The main town square in Siena. We sat here and had cappuccinos to start the day…they were six euros a piece {about $8}. I think we were paying for the view more than anything else. It was worth it.

Florence’s Duomo is incredible as well. The thing takes up something like five city blocks. It’s even more enormous than Siena’s. Siena and Florence were always competing. Each city tried to have the biggest and most beautiful architecture. Siena was winning, but the plague hit the city and killed a huge number of people. Florence seized the opportunity and invaded Siena, damaging some of Siena’s buildings.

Florence’s Duomo is so enormous, we couldn’t get a picture of more than just a part of one of its walls!

The view from the top of the Duomo in Florence.

To be continued…

The Great Italian Adventure: I Might Run Away to an Agriturismo…

Posted on June 19th, 2012 by Tonia No Comments

From Montepulciano, we would use our rental cars to take day trips all over Tuscany. One of my favorite trips was to a gorgeous farm/b&b {agriturismo} called Fattoria Poggio Alloro. There, the Fioroni family makes wine, honey, olive oil, cheese, and beef products on 300 acres of breathtaking farmland just outside of one of Tuscany’s most historic towns, San Gimignano.

On their patio overlooking swirling wheat fields and the neat rows of vineyard, we were treated to the best meal we had the whole trip. Everything they served came from their land. The meat sauce on the pasta was made from their beef cattle. The biscotti was still warm from the oven. We were in heaven.

Sipping after-dinner Vin Santo…We felt very fancy. :)

After lunch, Sarah Fioroni took us on a tour of the farm. We met the cows, saw the beautiful gardens {THEIR TOMATO PLANTS! It’s unfair how well everything grows there. I’m actually upset about it.}, and wandered open-mouthed through their state-of-the-art wine cellar.

If I were to recommend one place in Tuscany to not miss…it would be this place. Especially if you’re excited by things like busy bee hives, baby farm animals frolicking about, and really excellent food.

To be continued…

The Great Italian Adventure: Montepulciano, Our Home Away From Home

Posted on June 17th, 2012 by Tonia No Comments

One of the perks of staying in a villa instead of a hotel was that we had a full kitchen to work with. Lunch is the main meal of the day in Italy, so we usually ate it out at a restaurant and then would make ourselves breakfast and dinner at the villa.

The markets had beautiful produce, meats, and cheeses available. A simple salad- whipped up hastily on tired feet at the end of a long day of walking- was a beautiful masterpiece, simply because of the quality of the tomatoes and lettuce.

It was so nice to have a home to come back to each night, and a comfy place to putz around in each morning. We would gear up for the day by sipping espresso and nibbling biscotti next to the fireplace {although, when you’re used to two or more big mugs of American coffee every morning, one little dinky espresso just ain’t gonna cut it. We took to drinking four or five espressos every day!}

Montepulciano is an incredible little town. Since it was our “home base”, we became very familiar with it. It was really fun to hit up some of our favorite restaurants and shops more than once and have the owners recognize us and treat us like regulars. It’s those little things that make a strange place feel more like home.

There is an incredible third-generation coppersmith in Montepulciano named Cesar. He creates the most beautiful copper cookware I have ever seen, and is quite the character. He gave us a complete tour of his workshop and kept us laughing for over an hour. We bought several pots from him and had them shipped home. Can’t *wait* to use them! I feel like anything I make in them will taste delicious because the pots harbor the magic of Italy in their shiny walls. If you ever make it to this town, don’t miss out on a visit to Cesar!

To be continued…