Travel: ITALY

Travel Italy 2016: Winery Tour & Lunch at Poggio Antico, Montalcino

We were in the mood for a winery visit and lunch, so after searching the internet for wineries open on Sunday (which is limited), we chose Poggio Antico in Montalcino. They are open daily 10-6 including holidays, and prefer appointments for tours and tastings and reservations for dining. I’m so glad we decided on them, as it was one of the best meals during our two-week stay, and their wines are amazing! Looking back at our photos makes me want to book a trip back today!

The drive from Montepulciano to Montalcino is breath-takingly awesome, no matter what season you visit. This was in July, and they were harvesting hay – tractors crawling across the hills cutting, raking and rolling round bales.

As you go up the hill into Montalcino, be sure and stop at the bd Enoteca to check out all the area wine selections. We’ve learned this is a great store to stock up on a wide variety of wines and liquors. To reach Poggio Antico, we went past the town of Montalcino and into the countryside. See some of my previous posts on Montalcino from other visits.

Poggio Antico is a 500-acre estate that has vineyards, olive groves and beautiful vistas. Visit their website to learn more at: http://www.poggioantico.com/

The vineyards are electric fenced to keep the wild hogs out.

The restaurant is the first building you come to, and to get to the cantina, walk past it and into the courtyard behind. The back terrace of the restaurant looks out over the countryside.

We were able to join a tour of the cellars that had just started, and made reservations for our tasting and lunch afterwards. You can tell by all of the framed awards on the wall that their wines are highly acclaimed!

Time to taste… and what great tastes!

After our wine sampling, it was time for lunch on the terrace. This was one of our most expensive meals, but it was well worth it! We chose a bottle of their Rosso di Montalcino and started ordering food.

Their menu selections were more interesting than any we had tried in Tuscany, and each dish that arrived was delicious! What a perfect afternoon!

Everyone was out dining on the terrace, but indoor dining is also available.

 Back into the dusty car to meander back to Montepulciano and Villa Mazzi.

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Travel Italy 2016: Asciano

We decided on a drive through the Tuscan countryside to Asciano, where I had read it was market day. We arrived and there was no market, so we walked around, refreshed ourselves with gelato, and plotted our next destination, which ended up being Montalcino. We had eaten lunch at Bar Herve in Asciano on a previous trip and they were good, but we weren’t ready for lunch yet.

Next up, Montalcino!

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Travel Italy 2016 ~ Bagni San Fillippo, Fosso Bianco Thermal Baths

We had been told about free thermal baths by fellow travelers staying at Villa Mazzi, so set off one afternoon to check it out. At the foot of Monte Amiata, the hot springs pour out of the ground and there are pools, little water falls and cool formations to hang out by. The ground is very rough along the stream, so wear sturdy shoes and take a towel, drinks, snacks and change of clothes.

http://www.bagnisanfilippo.eu/Bagni_San_FIlippo_English/Bagni_San_Filippo.html

Here’s a great blog on Fosso Bianco with more info:

http://www.mapitout-tuscany.com/2012/03/tuscan-hot-springs-fosso-bianco-in.html

Some snapshots along the way home to Villa Mazzi…

So exciting – Chingale!! Wild hogs!

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Travel Italy, Montechiello 2016

 Our hostess at Villa Mazzi in Montepulciano recommended we visit the ancient village of Montechiello a short drive away, so we set off through the countryside to explore. The scenery is amazing, and the just-baled hay made for even more picturesque photo ops. The ancient village of Montechiello is 850-1,000 years old, and perched atop a hill, the view towards Monte Amiata is awesome. We parked at the bottom of the hill in the free parking lot, and walked the path up to the main gate. Here’s a link to the history and good visitor information on Montechiello: http://www.seeyouintuscany.com/tuscany_travel_guide/siena_area/monticchiello/monticchiello.html

It’s a small village, so it doesn’t take long to explore. They have a few restaurants, a museum, churches, some retail shops, and an outdoor art exhibit above the hill. There were cool wire people figures scattered about the village.

We walked around the outside perimeter of the village walls, where there are gardens and amazing views. The lavender was abuzz with honeybees and butterflies.

Just inside the gate is a highly recommended restaurant, Osteria La Porta. It was mid-morning, so too early for lunch. Another day we visited they were closed, so be sure and check their hours. http://www.osterialaporta.it/en/

There was an interesting art exhibit in an olive grove above the village, and I was drawn toward a crumbling tower. Hot and hungry, we made out way back through the village to the gate, where a little cafe was open just outside. Gelato seemed like a refreshing choice, so we admired the view as we ate it.

Cool wire figures were atop the main entrance gate.

We returned to Montepulciano a different way, making a loop through the countryside. We passed bikers and hikers trekking along the dusty gravel road.

And that was our visit to Montechiello!

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Travel Italy 2016, Chiusi & National Etruscan Museum

We decided to go check out the Chiusi Lake area on yet another beautiful day from our base at Villa Mazzi in Montepulciano. We passed vineyards and sunflower fields along the way, and the farmers were combining wheat and rolling hay. img_6626img_6630We stumbled upon Etruscan tombs as we were driving to the lake and stopped to see them.

The lake was absolutely flat, quiet, hot and deserted so we didn’t linger. img_6634

We arrived in Chiusi and the first thing I spotted was the National Etruscan Museum. I had read about the Etruscans but didn’t really know about their culture, so wanted to learn more. Their culture lasted from the 8th Century BC to the 3rd and 2nd BC. After touring the museum, we were astounded at how advanced their culture was! I encourage all visitors in the area to tour this museum.

http://www.prolocochiusi.it/en/

http://www.prolocochiusi.it/en/museo-nazionale-etrusco-e-tombe/

Their sculpture, pottery, and jewelry were amazing!

img_6773We wandered around the town for a bit, and then circled back to a restaurant just down the street from the museum for lunch that had outdoor seating.

We arrived at Osteria Etrusca just as they opened for lunch. Our steak and potato entree and pizza with house red wine were delicious, and after lunch we headed home for a nap. http://www.osteriaetrusca.it/

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Travel Italy, Caseificio Cugusi, Pecorino Cheese, Montepulciano 2016

While staying at Villa Mazzi just outside of Montepulciano, we loved seeing and hearing the flock of sheep that moved from pasture to pasture as the day passed. They had an accompanying shepherd, and their sheep bells would ring melodiously like a gentle song. They were the neighbor’s flock that makes the famous pecorino sheep cheese, and their farm shop is a delight to visit.

They are a “direct sales” farm, where you can stop in and purchase their products. The Cugusi’s offer a “picnic” special where you can fill up a picnic basket with their cheese and other local products including jams, honey, wine, beer, etc., and then enjoy the magnificent sweeping views from their dining tables towards Montepulciano and the surrounding countryside. This is an awesome view at sunset! Take a cooler if you want some of their fresh cheese or yogurt, which was delicious. Here’s a link to their website: http://www.caseificiocugusi.it/index.php/en/

The farm is located at the end of a gravel access road just past Agriturismo Villa Mazzi on the road between Montepulciano and Pienza.

So many tastes and flavors to sample and eat… We purchased several, and had the ones we wanted to take back to the U.S. vacuum sealed so they would pass customs. I loved their fresh-made yogurt, adding a bit of local honey and jam to it each morning for breakfast.

The picnic views are amazing with the town of Montepulciano perched on the opposite hill from the farm.

Our yummy pecorino purchases… img_6108###

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Travel Italy, Montefollonico, July 2016

While staying in Montepulciano, we ventured out on driving excursions to visit the small villages in the area. Montefollonico is a picturesque hilltop village located across the valley and a rustic hiking trail connects the towns for trekkers.

Note I said “rustic trail,” and I’m not sure of the distance and details, so do your research. The trail head starts just below the church on the edge of the hill and there is a sign and map.

We walked around the small village and only saw a few people. Cleanly swept with flowers everywhere, it looks like a movie set.

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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…