Podere Il Casale, Pienza, Italy 2016

On one of our drives from Montepulciano, we discovered an organic farm that gives farm tours, sells their products to the public, has cooking classes, and serves lunch and dinner. Podere Il Casale is located just a few minutes outside of Pienza, down a gravel country road. You drive up a hill and park, and when you see the vista from their hilltop farm, you are floored. It is an amazing panoramic view across the Val d’Orcia (valley) towards Monte Amiata, an ancient volcano that rises to 1738 meters tall. The ancient road to Rome, Cassia, winds across the valley and past Monte Amiata. http://podereilcasale.com/en/

img_4773Sandra and Ulisse, both from Switzerland, are the driving force and founders of the organic farm, which began in 1991. They produce sheep and goat cheese, olive oil, pasta, sugo, pesto and spreads, wine and honey. We stopped by during the day to check it out, and then made reservations for dinner and farm tour on the next evening. img_4775

On our farm tour, Sandra showed us their animals – they make cheese from the goats and sheep’s milk.

She showed us their cheese-making facility and gave an overview of the process. Some of the cheese rounds are stored in tubs with the grape hulls to make “drunken” cheese, some have walnut leaves wrapped around them, and they use other additions as well. The mold on the cheese rounds is rinsed, and they continue to age from a soft mild fresh cheese to a harder, richer flavor of the aged cheese.

It was time for our dinner reservation, so we drifted back to their panoramic outdoor dining area for our sunset meal and their house red wine.

And it was delicious!

After dinner we selected a few of their wines to enjoy over the next few days. Their farm store has a great assortment of their products, and they also sell boxed wine. We highly recommend a visit to Il Podere Casale if you are in the area. Check out their website for more information!

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Italy 2016 ~ Agriturismo Villa Mazzi, Montepulciano

We had visited Italy the last three years in the fall, and always missed seeing the sunflower fields in bloom. After researching airfare in July, we found fairly reasonable rates and decided to go back to spend time in Tuscany and Rome. We like the area around Montepulciano, so began looking for an apartment. We liked the view of Agriturismo Villa Mazzi and emailed an inquiry. They had an opening for a one-bedroom apartment available, so after looking around a bit more, decided to go ahead and book it. They do not have a swimming pool, but that wasn’t important to us. They do have an amazing view and it was very convenient to town. http://www.villamazzi.it/en/

The farm shop and reception is open to the public, and they sell Villa Mazzi wine, along with a few other local choices, Loredana’s jams, preserves and bruschetta spreads, honey, olive oil, cheeses, meats, pasta and more.

The two farmhouses have several apartments, and each have a nice private patio.

The view across the valley was amazing and changed every day. IMG_6819IMG_6601IMG_6602I loved all the flowers and antique farm accents around Villa Mazzi

Our first afternoon, we heard bells ringing and started looking around for the source. I was delighted to spot a flock of sheep and their shepherd moving around the valley! I had sheep growing up, so this was so nostalgic for me. Each morning they were in one field above us, and they moved around until late afternoon, like clockwork, when they poured across the valley in front of us. These are Sardinia milk sheep, and the family a few farms down produces their famous Pecorino sheep cheese. Loredana sells it in her shop or you can go and buy it direct from Cugusi family farm where they offer a “picnic” with a view. http://www.caseificiocugusi.it/index.php/it/

Loredana makes jams and preserves from their farm fruits.

Their honeybees

Leo and cat

More beauty…

IMG_6016IMG_6202IMG_6011IMG_6045Breakfast with a view…

Our last afternoon was stormy, but the sun came out long enough for a rainbow to arch over Montepulciano.

What a gorgeous place! We would definitely return to this slice of heaven in Tuscany! The beauty, warm hospitality, amazing food and wine have kept us returning to Italy year after year.

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TN – Red River Farm Spring Barn Sale 2016

One of our Busy Bee Trader magazine spring advertisers was the Red River Farm Spring Barn Sale in Robertson County, Tennessee. This is my home county, so I drove up to check out the farm and show. Located between Springfield and Cross Plains in the Milldale community, this is a beautiful drive through the countryside. The farm offers seasonal produce¬† and peaches, as well as renting the farm facilities for special events. They’ll have a fall barn sale in November, so be sure and like them on FAcebook to keep up with them. http://www.redriverfarmstn.com/


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Country Living Fair Nashville 2016

In their second year at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon, Tenn., the Country Living Fair was again a success! Here’s snapshots from the 2016 show and thanks to Amy Bowers Bryan for helping me snap pictures at the show! We set up a table next to the hospitality cabin and gave out our April issues of the Busy Bee Trader with the Country Living Fair on the cover. See you next year!



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Mexico April 2016 ~ Bird Watching and a day along Tulum Beach

When we awoke in Puerta Zama (the first condos inside Aldea Zama) and opened the balcony door, I heard birds calling all around in the jungle. I love watching the birds, so grabbed my camera and took off for a walk. Not sure what they are but saw little parrots, Baltimore oriole nests hanging like little baskets from the trees, black and blue jay type birds, and some noisy Mexican wild turkey looking guys that make lots of noise!

Deep in the Aldea Zama development is a plastic pyramid little park.

We hadn’t driven down the Tulum Beach Road towards Punta Allen in several years, so thought we’d drive down to the bridge in Sian Ka’an.

We stopped off on the way to make afternoon massage appointments at Maya Tulum Spa. You pick your treatment and choose from the available therapists at the time you would like and pre-pay for your treatment. We have been here several times and always enjoyed it. We did stop off at a few other places to check out their prices and treatment offerings but came back to Maya Tulum Spa as they were more reasonable.  http://mayatulum.com/

We checked out the Azulik Maya Spa but they were more expensive and we preferred to go back to Maya Tulum Spa. At Azulik, you enter through a crazy stick walkway that works to hide the mangrove type area.

While we wait for massage time, we packed our backpacks and beach gear and headed down to Ziggy’s Beach Club on the Tulum Beach for lunch and some beach time. If you eat or have cocktails you can hang out on their beach. They have nice bathroom facilities, hammocks, some styrofoam beds and outdoor showers you can use. http://www.ziggybeachtulum.com/