What a truly wonderful week it has been! Katie and I arrived in Florence early Monday morning, just in time to catch the sunrise over the Arno. We found our hotel, which turned out to be a medieval tower in the center of the city, close to the Duomo–awesome! We dropped off our bags, got some breakfast, and then climbed to the top of the Duomo for spectacular views of the city. Wow, did I miss living there–it really is beautiful.
After spending the whole morning just walking around, we rested our legs at an outdoor cafe, where we had excellent fresh pasta and two Tuscan specialties: ribollita and fava beans. A full day of walking around after a not-so-restful night train with not-so-comfortable sleeping quarters meant that an afternoon nap was in order too!
Recharged, we struck out for the evening. First things first, we stopped by Art Bar for caprioska alla fragola (strawberry). We were informed, however, that peaches were in season, so we ordered caprioska alla pesca instead. Then we were informed that it was happy hour and drinks were half price–so we ordered the caprioska alla fragola as well! After all that fresh fruit, it was natural for us to want more so we headed to Salamanca for sangria and tapas. We then called it a night after a long, wonderful day in bella firenze.
Tuesday morning began with a visit to the Accademia to pay our respects to David. We then trekked up to Villa La Pietra, where I lived nine (Yikes!) years ago. The villa grounds were largely unchanged (as they had been for six or seven centuries!) and brought back a flood of memories. The villas from the 1500s, where I ate, slept, and took classes . . . the fig trees, olive groves, and vineyards, where I took long walks and contemplated what I wanted to do with my life . . . the rolling hills where I ran incline sprint workouts . . . 🙂 What a sublime place to spend several months of my life!
Tuesday afternoon we rented a car and drove to San Gimignano, which was as charming as I remember. We arrived there late enough that most of the bussed-in tourists were gone so we just walked around the entire town, analyzing menus to see what spoke to us. We finally settled on a little cafe in the square of the duomo, where we enjoyed some great pasta dishes and lots of Baroque violin from a street musician.
We then moved to a wine bar near our hotel. I remember San Gimignano’s local wine, Vernaccia, as a simple, crisp, delightful white wine and, yes, it still is. However, at the wine bar we tasted several oak-aged riservas which were downright stupendous! Kudos to the local vintners for experimenting with some modern vinification techniques; these riservas could go toe-to-toe with some of California’s best chardonnays–and for a fraction of the cost.
A description of our evening would be incomplete without mentioning the amazing gelato at Gelateria della Piazza. During our stay of less than 24 hours we visited the place thrice (It was maybe 20 meters from our hotel.) and savored its award-winning awesomeness. I wish I could remember all of the flavors we tried but here are a few: Vernaccia, violet, lavender, saffron, black cherry, raspberry & rosemary. So good!
Wednesday morning we beat the crowds to climb the Torre Grossa and take in the breathtaking views of Tuscan countryside. It was at this location that, nine years prior–almost to the day, I first looked out over Tuscany. I had seen pictures and paintings before but nothing could ever do justice to the beautiful patchwork tapestry of rolling green hills. There must be one hundred different shades of green in any given Tuscan landscape, each more beautiful than the next. I love Paris in the springtime but oh how I love Tuscany in September!
Wednesday afternoon we spent in Siena, walking around and sampling the local cuisine. The highlight was definitely the risotto at lunch. It was prepared tableside inside a huge wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The heat from the rice melts the inner layer of cheese as it’s being mixed up and creates flavorful, gooey goodness.
For the next two days we resided at Villa Casabianca, another great find by Katie. In the middle of the Tuscan countryside, this complex of villas and suites was peaceful, serene, and absolutely beautiful. We were shown to our suite, “Suite della Musica,” where sparkling white wine awaited us. We sipped it while strolling the grounds and listening to Mozart’s Requiem in D. Dinner followed and we were very, very happy campers.
Thursday was dedicated to tasting Brunello di Montalcino. We began at Livio Sassetti’s Pertimali estate. Livio’s son showed us around the vineyards, explained their winemaking philosophy, and then showed us how they carried it out in their viticulture and vinification. Generations of passion for great wine came through in his explanations–and in the tasting that followed! This family loves its wine and I strongly recommend it.
We then visited Valdicava and dined at Boccondivino, both of which I covered in my post about my June visit. As in June we visited Castello Banfi, but this time Katie and I toured the winemaking operations. Banfi was the first winery in the world to be certified “green,” which is a pretty cool distinction. They also use funky oak/steel hybrid fermenters, which I don’t really get. However, there’s no arguing with the end result; they make a damn fine Brunello.
After days and days of rich restaurant food, we stopped by a supermarket and assembled a picnic dinner of cheese, bread, and grilled vegetables. Of course we supplemented it with Castello Banfi 1998 Brunello di Montalcino Poggio al’Oro Riserva, which was gorgeous: rich and complex with undulating layers of taste and texture. First you were hit by the black cherry then along came the vanilla. After that the tannins were very smooth and the finish lasted forever. I like!
Friday we departed the villa after a lazy morning and wound our way through Chianti. We stopped for lunch at Castello di Brolio, where Barone Ricasoli “invented” Chianti centuries ago. We walked around the castle grounds and then stopped at the cantina for lunch.
Although our flight back to Switzerland was later that night, we managed to squeeze in some additional Chianti time. First we stopped by Greve in Chianti, where the annual Chianti Harvest Festival was just beginning. Scores of vintners were present in booths waiting to show you their wines and olive oils. The cost of admission bought you a Chianti glass, which you could then use to walk around the booths and taste. The glass came with a convenient necklace attached to it so that you wouldn’t break it when you were too bombed to hold it any longer.
A short drive from the town center was the winery estate of my former professor, Count Niccolo Capponi. He is a descendant of the Florentine Capponi family and a fine historian. His brother runs the wine operations at Conti Capponi but Niccolo was able to sneak us down into the cellar for some barrel tasting. We caught up, reminisced about the Fall of 2000, and drank good wine–what a pleasant evening!
Finally Katie and I turned in the rental and hopped our flight to Geneva. Tomorrow we fly to Houston so that I can begin work on my new startup. Our grand Tuscan adventure is over, but oh what a week it was!
Pics are available in my facebook album.