Travel: ITALY

Travel Italy 2016 ~ Pienza, Spedaletto & Lunch at La Terrazza in Bagno Vignoni

Our lunch destination for the day was La Terraza in Bagno Vignoni, which was a new route for us. From Villa Mazzi in Montepulciano, our first stop was at the Ceramiche Sbarluzzi Pienza, which we had driven by several times but hadn’t stopped. I drooled over all of their terracotta and inside were gorgeous hand painted creations.

We love the little town of Pienza, home to the famous Pecorino cheese, and fabulous views across the countryside. There are usually artists set up along the streets, and I was in search of a Tuscan sunflower picture so we stopped off to see who was set up. See previous posts from trips to Pienza.

The artist of the day was Mirta Ellena Contini with her fabulous watercolors! She features local scenery, and does amazingly detailed work. I found my perfect sunflower watercolor, along with a lovely scene featuring poppies and some sweet bookmarks.

Here are my two watercolors I bought from Mirta, and framed in antique frames when I got home.

We made one more stop in Pienza at the Monaci Remo olive oil store to pick up a can of their local oil.

From Pienza, we drove towards Bagno Vignoni, and the scenery was so mesmerizing with the wheat and hay being rolled and square baled and piled in the fields. Of course I was snapping away with my camera as we went… so many old ancient abandoned farmhouses dot the countryside, awaiting their revival.

After making a turn, we spotted a really cool castle and business that appeared to be open to the public. It was the Spedaletto Castle, and the business was Mulino Val d’Orcia, where they make pasta and flour from their grains. We got to see the pasta being made, and were told about the history and process. They have been organic since 1992, and use the traditional stone milling process to grind the grains. Of course we bought a variety of their products!

Next door the castle beckoned, and we discovered it is an agriturismo, which means you can stay there! What a cool and beautiful place this was! We would definitely stay at the Agriturismo Castello di Spedaletto if we were in the area again!

Just lovely! So we’re starving now and lunch is our next stop… We arrived in Bagno Vignoni, checked out the view and hot springs area before walking into town.

La Terrazza is located next to the famous hot springs pool that is the central feature of Bagno Vignoni. You can’t swim in it today, but there are free hot springs open to the public available at the Parco dei Mulini. La Terraza was recommended by our hostess at Villa Mazzi, who had just been there a few days before for a birthday party. Here’s a walk around the village…

Time to eat! Here’s the view from their terrace. You can also dine inside. Find them on Facebook at Ristorante Enoteca la Terrazza di Bagno VignoniIMG_7212

Excellent food, service and presentation! Another lovely meal in Tuscany!


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Travel Italy 2016 ~ San Quirico D’Orcia

Located just a short distance from Montepulciano is the small town of San Quirico D”Orcia, and it’s worth a quick stop to walk through and see it. They have several lovely shops that feature local linens, quality bath and body products, gifts and home decor. I bought several of the tea towels with Tuscan farm scenes and sunflowers.


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Travel Italy 2016 – Montalcino & Lunch at Fattoria dei Barbi

Here’s a walk around Montalcino, home of the famous Brunello wine!

I loved this shop, Sartoria Principe, with amazing handmade ladies clothing and accessories. Here’s a great website with a feature about the store and Montalcino:

Next up, lunch at Fattoria dei Barbi just a few minutes away from town…We started with a wine tasting before moving to the outdoor patio for lunch.

Look at this lovely presentation! Good wine, good food…

Time to journey back to Montepulciano and Villa Mazzi for a nap! But first, a stop on the way back through Montalcino at our favorite liquor store, bd Enoteca, for a few bottles.

The winding way home… Don’t expect to get anywhere fast in Tuscany!

Back to our lovely view of Montepulciano from Villa Mazzi to unwind!


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Travel Italy 2016: Market day at Castiglione del Lago & wine tasting at Avignonesi

Our destination today was to Castiglione del Lago for market day, and it was in full swing when we arrived. Located about 15 minutes below Cortona in the Umbria region, this unique town is located on Lake Trasimeno, and one of our favorite small towns to visit. On market day you’ll find all sorts of things for sale from household goods to food products to plants.

The shops have a wide assortment of attractively packaged food products, olive wood items, linens, and more. This is a great place to buy things to take home, and they are generous with tasting samples. All of the shop keepers are so friendly! There are several ceramic shops that feature their locally painted ceramics that are very high quality, and several little art galleries.

The Fortress of the Lion completed in 1247 overlooks the lake, and you can walk the ramparts. The Palazzo della Corgna houses a gallery and museum and there are gorgeous frescoes throughout the building. I love the ancient olive grove outside the fort. See my previous posts on Castiglione del Lago for more info and photos of the museum and fort.

 We departed town in search of sunflowers, and found several fields in full bloom just below Cortona. FINALLY, I got to see the sunflowers in bloom in Tuscany!!!



Next up, a visit and wine tasting just a few minutes away at Avignonesi winery in the village of Valiano. They are an organic winery, and have the most awesome estate with a circular spoked vineyard that is so cool! They are known for their organic wines and their vin santo. They offer wine-paired lunch and brunch, cooking classes, hot air balloon tours, and how about their “Wine & Gourmet Ferarri” Tour?? We didn’t know about that – Wally would have wanted to do it!

The aerial picture of the estate on their website will make you want to plan your visit immediately! Here’s their website to learn more about them:

Here’s some snapshots around Avignonesi:

Time to get a sample…

You can sit inside or go outside on their patio, which we chose to do. Salute! Very tasty!

Now a few snapshots on the drive back to Villa Mazzi, and its time to relax and drink some more wine…

Our spoils from today…



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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:

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.

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

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:

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.