Tuscany 

I was lucky to be able to take off a week of work to travel with my friends. Time for a girls trip! We flew out of Geneva on Monday morning (17 October 2016) with a destination of the Tuscan wine country of Montepulciano. We flew in to Florence, picked up a rental car (which thank goodness fit the luggage of four girls!) and drove 2 hours south to Tuscany.

Transportation: As I mentioned above, we rented a car since we were headed into the countryside of Tuscany and we wanted the flexibility of our own wheels. I was the driver since I felt the most comfortable with the European roads (despite never driving in Switzerland 🙂 . Just random but a couple of funny driving experiences. The roads were nice and the signage was good but two cases:

1) While leaving Florence we arrive at two stop signs. So … I did what any normal person would do and I stopped. In both cases I got a very angry person halt behind me and the second time the person behind me went around me as I stopped. What the heck!

2) While driving the highways we passed through several construction zones that went down to a single lane with speed limits of 40 KMPH (versus the 90 or 110 KMPH it normally was). I went that lower speed but I was clearly the only one because I had a LONG line of people behind me and when the lanes opened up they honked and glared at me. Sorry for following the rules???

We mentioned this to our wine tour and he just laughed and shook his head at the notion that I followed these signs. He said they were “up to interpretation.” I have NO idea what that is supposed to mean but he was very entertained that I obeyed the signs. I definitely did not make the other drivers on the road happy but oh well – I followed the posted rules!

Accommodation: We stayed in the Agriturismo le Caggiole right outside Montepulciano. An agriturismo is a typical type of accommodation in this region of Italy and is a family-run farm-stay where the owner offers a selection of rooms and/or apartments. They offer a variety of levels of services, but we chose ours because they were willing to cook us a home made meal. We stayed for two nights from Monday through Wednesday in a little house that had a single room and an apartment that fit the four of us. The farm had an olive grove with views across a little valley of vineyards and other farms. It was quaint, quiet and beautiful!

Our building at the agriturismo. The right side was the single bed room, on the left was the apartment with a fully operational kitchen, couch and dining table. It was perfect for the four of us to hang out at the end of the day and sip on our wine we just bought from a Tuscan vineyard 🙂
Jenny on the terrace of our agriturismo, overlooking the olive grove and the little valley below us.
The weather was a bit cloudy and grey but it was still good visibility and so bucolic.
Eats: Monday night: Pasta Making class at Podere Il Casale. Maddy heard about this place from a colleague who visited recently and it did NOT disappoint. The owners are Swiss German and opened the farm 20+ years ago to operate a fully organic farm. We took a class that involved making three different types of pasta by hand. The kitchen staff made all the sauces and served us a full dinner at the end of the class. It was incredible. See the rest of the details and pictures below in my Activities section. The hospitality of this place was amazing and the food was delicious. I highly recommend this experience or at least visiting them for a meal and to take in the incredible view from their property.

Tuesday night: Dinner at the agriturismo, in their farm house. This was so amazing. They do their best to offer a home made, family experience so that you understand true Tuscan cooking and hospitality. We had a first course of a bruschetta trio, followed by pappardelle (homemade fresh pasta) with house-made Tuscan ragù (with Chianina Beef and Cinta Senese pork); followed by a roasted guinea fowl; a dessert of chocolate mousse and all accompanied by their own aged red wine – harvest 2009. We had dinner with two other agriturismo guests, which turned out to be a couple around our age from Seattle. It was such a good time and amazing food and wine! Best of all we could finish the meal and walk to our beds 🙂

The guinea fowl
The bruschetta trio. The one on the right was just olive oil and salt. OMG their olive oil here is to-die-for.
Activities:
Monday we drove south from the airport in Florence to our agriturismo in Montepulciano, which is about a 2 hour drive. We needed to be at our cooking class by 5:30 PM, so there was not time to do anything else. On Monday evening, as I mentioned above, we took a cooking class. This place was absolutely amazing!

View from the cooking school terrase
Starting off with a little wine before cooking class

We started off by making three different types of pasta dough: one for pici (a local Tuscan pasta that is a thicker looking spaghetti), egg pasta dough, and third dough for gnocchi made with fresh farm-made ricotta. Making the dough was HARD work and took quite a lot of arm strength, something I did not appreciate until now. While the dough rose we got to have a tour of their dairy where they make cheese! The farm raises sheep, goats and pigs. Their cheeses are mostly ricotta but also some blue cheeses and chèvre.

 

The dairy where they make cheese. The tubs on the left have fresh ricotta made from sheep’s milk that same day!
The owner’s “cheese bank” where they age cheeses for varying numbers of months (or years). At a varying frequency they will wash the wheels of cheese to wipe away mold and give them a salt water bath. You can see the mold growing on some in the picture on the second shelf from the top.
Maddy and Emily making the pici – which looks like fat spaghetti. In the back is Pierro, our class instructor.
Our ravioli, with a pumpkin and ricotta filling
A plate of house-made cheese

Our pasta from the class accompanied by sauces made by the kitchen staff

Tuesday: Wine tour with Tuscany Tours by Golden Travel. We visited four wineries:Casanova di Neri in Montalcino, Poliziano in Montepulciano, Poggio Rubino in Montalcino, and Villa Le Prata in Montalcino and also a couple tasting rooms in Montepulciano. They all offered wines of the region, which are red Sangiovese and included Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. We learned so much about the wines of the region including their ranking by the appellation control, the varietals, how long they are aged in the bottle and barrel and such things. I am so happy to have gone as now I feel like I can really pick a good Tuscan wine out on a menu. And – the wine is delicious!
 

Casanova di Neri
Casanova di Neri
Walking through the streets of Montalcino
 

Walking through Montalcino
img_3347
Walking around Montalcino, Maddy, me and Jenny
 

The entrance to the vineyard Villa le Prata
The vineyards of Villa Le Prata
At Poggio Rubino
View from Poggio Rubino
View from Montepulciano

Montalcino
The winery and vineyards at Villa Le Prata. This winery was having a terrible problem with wild boars. We could see the track marks all over the place and the poor wine maker was explaining how the boars have very good taste in grapes as they eat the most valuable grapes. They are investing in putting up fences but it sounds like it’s a tough time for all the grape farmers in the region. In addition, their chestnut trees in the region have caught some sort of sickness and are dying. She sounded positive but it’s interesting to hear about the issues these people face in their industry. Hopefully they get through without too much damage.
A typical bread salad, from our lunch at Poggio Rubino.
Down in the historic underground wine cellars of Cantine Storiche De’Ricci
 

My wine spoils to take home to Switzerland 🙂
And that’s it! We packed up the car on Wednesday morning to head north to Florence for the second part of our Italian adventure. Our car was packed to the brim with four girls, 23 bottles of Tuscan red wines and lots of luggage. It was such a wonderful time exploring this region of Italy and all in the company of some of my best friends!

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