Vineyards & Tuscan chow
My beau and I are planning a trip to Tuscany and Florence. We will be spending time all over Tuscany; Chianti, Sienna, etc. We would love to know about your favorite vineyards, markets and restaurants, and cooking classes. We are also looking to do an agriturismo stay at a farm or vineyard so if you can recommend one that would be wonderful :)
I can enthusiastically recommend the Villa Cilnia outside of Arezzo as a delightful agriturismo stay. The hotel is set within the vineyard and the smell of fresh rosemary perfumes the air from the plants that edge the long driveway and around the buildings.
Luigi and Orietta run the place with graciousness and attention to detail. Orietta is a phenomenal baker and jam maker; you'll enjoy her creations every morning at the breakfast buffet. The honey and all the jams are made on the premises.Each day's offerings are better than the day before.
The rooms have been created in the farm buildings and each one is different and idiosynchratic. A couple are accessed up a narrow stone spiral staircase. Some have steeply sloping ceilings. Whatever the shape, the place is immaculately clean.
One special treat is the swimming pool overlooking the vineyard. The view is sublime.
Orietta speaks no English, but we managed with pantomime and my limited Italian.Luigi, speaks excellent English to smooth the check in, but he is more occupied with the winery than the day-to-day functioning of the hotel. URL: http://www.villacilnia.com
The town of Arezzo is fascinating. If you're lucky, you'll time your visit to co-incide with the twice-a-year jousts. It's location is great if you're driving or doing everything by train. It's an easy drive from the exit on the 1-A and it's on the main train line. Cortona, Pienza, Montalcino, and Montepulciano are all short drives away in Tuscany. Ditto for Perugia, and the towns on the Piero della Francesco trail in Umbria.
If you're interested, I can supply information about restaurants in Arezzo since I don't believe Villa Cilina serves dinner. At any rate, we always ate dinner in town.
Montepulciano is dotted with tasting rooms, although our favorite, Redi was outside the pedestrian portion of town. We loved Redi's Vino Nobile di Montepulicano Briareo and their Vin Santo.
re: Love to Eat
Disclaimer: This review is based on my 2005 trip. Hopefully, someone will be able to provide an more current review of the places I've mentioned. (I did a quick search and turned up positive comments about Logge Vasari and Cantuccio from 2007. No recent comments -- good, bad, or indifferent -- on the other restaurants.)
Ristorante Logge Vasari is my favorite restaurant in Arezzo. I’ve eaten at least one meal there on each of my annual trips between 2000 and 2005. The restaurant prepares both Tuscan classics and innovative dishes equally well. In August, you’ll eat outdoors at the tables on the logge. This will be a big advantage with children in case the children get restless and want to walk around. They’ll simply step off the logge and be able to walk around the Piazza Grande, still in sight of the restaurant. For Mom’s and Dad’s needs, the floodlit buildings around the Piazza are simply gorgeous and romantic.
There are quite a number of restaurants along the logge, including Lancia d’Oro run by the brother of the owner of Logge Vasari. I’ve eaten at Lancia d’Oro twice and enjoyed both dinners. However, I’ve gotten attached to Logge Vasari. Besides, they pretend to remember me each time.
Il Cantuccio is long-standing trattoria serving home-style cooking. Their butter and sage sauce -- I ate it over ravioli -- sets the standard for this sauce. From my lone dinner there, the wild boar ragu was amazing. I’ve eaten many lunches. And it’s always the same lunch: the aforementioned ravioli and carpaccio of veal with arugula and parmesan. My husband shares the ravioli, but he orders the same preparation with breasola instead of veal. This is an indoors-only restaurant. (Location: Via Madonna del Prato -- south of the Via Roma)
Trattoria la Vigna: The food and the show combine to make this a nice experience. The show comes from the fact that the raw food is arrayed on a wooden table in front of a cook who stands before a huge open fireplace. The cook slices the veggies, steak, sausage, etc. and, then, grills them in a huge wood-fired fireplace. We enjoyed a platter of grilled fresh porcini mushrooms along with a second platter of grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. The star of the meal was our Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Incidentally, the Italian word for rare is al sangue -- the best way to show off the Chianina beef. (Location: Via Spinello -- south of the Via Roma)
Gastronomia il Cervo: In 2005, this was the new kid on the block. It is a combination take-out and eat-in store. For those eating in, customers place an order downstairs and proceed upstairs to the dozen or so table distributed between two rooms. A waitress brings the food to your table. It’s not quite a Tavalo Caldo since some of the pastas get prepared to order while others have been prepared in advance. At our lunch experience there, everything looked so appealing that we ordered too much food. Happily, the taste lived up to the visual promise so the large quantities of left-over food reflected our too-big eyes and not a commentary on the taste. (Location: Via Cavour just beyond the western edge of Piazza San Francesco)
Caffe dei Constanti: I’ve lingered over coffee or hot chocolate at the outdoor tables many times. If you’ve watched the movie LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, there was a scene shot at this café -- among the many other scenes shot in Arezzo. There’s a large photograph of the scene on display outside the restaurant. (Piazza San Francesco)
I'm happy to report that the gelato situation in Arezzo is excellent. Il Paradiso (in Piazza Guido Monaco) and Il Gelato (Via Madonna del Prato) serve fabulous gelato. I think pinolata at Il Gelato beats anything Florence or Rome has to offer!
There are quite a few near San Gimingnano and I always love Borgo Grondaie in Siena. Fave restaurants in San Gim - al Vecchia Mura (the terrace has stunning views of the Tuscan countryside); more into Chianti-shire Volpaia has delicious wines, lovely views and rude-ish staff; Castello di Brolio near Gaiole - delicious wines and the Barone Ricasoli did a lot of work at the end of the 19th century to establish the Chianti Classico DOCG; Badia e Passignano also very good, Fonterutoli near Castellina excellent and a nice restaurant in the grounds, Antico Torre in Castellina is very good for dinner and their is a restaurant near Panzano which is in the middle of a vineyard. The Osteria Rendola (or something similar) is a very good restaurant between Arezzo and Siena. In Siena itself Papei, il Torre cannot be missed and are ridiculously reasonable. I hope this helps.
I would do a thorough search on this board for all the cities you think you might visit. There have been many, many prior posts here that will be helpful for you.
You might also want to pick up a copy of "Touring in Wine Country: Tuscany." It is a very complete guide to the vineyards & wineries in the region.
Lucca is one of my favorite cities in Tuscany. It is a little off the beaten tourist path, but is a charming place. Drive north up the Serchio River valley to see a part of Tuscany that is REALLY off the beaten path.
A big enthusiastic "yes" to Castello di Verrazzano! We were there two years ago to take the winery tour and eat the staggeringly delicious lunch. The grounds of the castello are beautiful; the winery tour is informative. But the best is yet to come. If you're reading the internet description of the lunch and you're inclined to think it is an exaggeration -- don't. They serve course after course of fantastic food accompanied by a parade of increasingly good wines. You could sign up only for the tour and a tasting, but resist that. First of all, they pour so generously, that I wouldn't dare get into a car without some food -- and time -- to accompany the wine tasting. Second, you'd miss the lovely food.
And just to make everything very, very easy. The purchase counter is in a corner of the lunch room.
Sorry. Can't help you with the staying part.
Incidentally, our meal at the Castello di Verrazzano was the inspiration for a food gift we brought home. When you're seated at the table, you'll notice a medium-sized bowl filled with mixed herbs and red pepper flakes. When the pasta course is served, you'll be encouraged to sprinkle some of this herb mixture over your pasta. The result was so delicious that we decided to bring packets of this mixture home both for ourselves and others.
If the mixture was available for sale at the Castello, I don't recall. At any rate, we waited until Arezzo, our last stop on that trip, to buy the packets: a hot version for our son and regular for everyone else.
We also bought jars of mixed herbs from a street vendor in another of the tiny hill towns. (Sorry, I can't remember which town beyond the fact that it was en route from Verrazzano to San Gimignano.) The herbs were so fresh and wonderful that they retained their fragrance and flavor long after I would have imagined.
While my husband brother & sister in law toured all of Italy last summer, we went on a trafalgar tour, they surprised our group with a lunch in Tuscany at a ruin (Rappalanno) an old castle, they had turned into a 5 star hotel, they served us lunch on the patio overlooking Tuscany(under the Tuscan sun was filmed near there) it was family run, Father, Mother, 2 sons, a Grandmother, who made the bread, deserts, they made there own olive oil, we had wonderful sandwiches, eggplant parmegian , it was outstanding, you must ask about it and make sure to see it.
I just returned from a two week trip to Italy. Most of our time was spent in Tuscany. Although we did spend a few days in Cinque Terre and Rome.
For your time in Tuscany I would suggest:
-Grappolo Blu in Montalcino - we had a great lunch there
-Pasticceria Mariuccia - this bakery in Montalcino was my favorite part of the trip.
-Vivolo Gelato in Florence
-SoloCiccia - This restaurant in Panzano is run by Dario, a butcher who cooks an array of selections. This was the best meal we had. The meal was predominantly meat, though veggies were served.
-Badia a Coltibuono - They offer a tour of their garden, abbey and wine facilities. We were lucky enough to experience this on a warm sunny day. We also ate lunch at their restaurant, which is also on the grounds.
We did attempt to do the Castello di Verrazzano wine tour. They were all booked up. (Lunch and the tour.) If we had more time we would have gone back.