Posts Tagged With: Tuscany

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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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.

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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Italy 2015 ~ Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore & Asciano, Tuscany

We decided to take the girls to the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore to see the fantastic frescoes in their Great Cloister, and do some wine and grappa sampling at the monastery’s wine cellar. The cloister paintings were begun by Luca Signorelli in 1495 and completed by Antonio Bazzi, known as il Sodoma, in 1505.

The Abbey also has a gift shop where they sell their homeopathic remedies, gifts and souvenirs. In their wine cellar they sell wines and grappa and olive oil and grains that they produce. Learn more about their history and famous frescoes at their website:

We left our little hamlet on a beautiful morning for the short drive…






IMG_0033As you near the Abbey the landscape is cratered and very dramatic. This is the Crete Senesi area.







IMG_0055Out of respect, they ask you to cover bare arms and chest with a black shawl they provide.

IMG_0057Denise models her shawl style

IMG_0060Entering the Great Cloister…







IMG_0206We overheard a tour leader telling about the paintings – These skimpily dressed ladies were prostitutes!























IMG_0047Upstairs they have a library and book restoration area. Sadly they were closed when we were visiting.



IMG_0042Down the hill beneath one of the buildings is the wine cellar. We really liked their wines last time and they were just as good this year. We bought a sampling of wine and grappa to enjoy later.





IMG_0064Loaded with purchases, it was time for the hike up the hill to the parking area.

IMG_0212Along the way I noticed honeybees in a tree next to the road.


Monica, Wally and Denise at the Abbey entrance.

IMG_0219Next stop – lunch! The small town of Asciano is just minutes away, and that was our choice for lunch. This is a charming little town with few people. We stepped into the church and did a quick tour of town.









IMG_0087We chose one of the outdoor cafes and had salad and sandwiches.









IMG_0732We journeyed through the countryside for a while…and figured out quickly that the black and red arrow meant a one lane bridge ahead and the red arrow side better use caution!



IMG_0236A flock of sheep in the distance lured us closer

IMG_0235We were charmed to see a shepherd sitting on the hill watching his flock.


IMG_0246Always that one black sheep…and this flock had a few!


IMG_0243We arrived back in time to our village to fix snacks and wine and head to the top of the hill for our evening poolside sunset rendezvous.





IMG_0725Our sunset front row seating…  IMG_0177

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IMG_0053Buona notte!

Up next, wine tasting at Montalcino and a family-style Italian dinner just down the road.


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Italy 2015 ~ Lucignanello Bandini, Tuscany

We awoke to a beautiful morning to explore our hilltop medieval village located about 20 minutes north of Montepulciano and five minutes to the small town of San Giovanni d’Asso. The infinity pool is perched on the very top of the hill and is surrounded by comfortable chaise lounges, chairs, olive trees, flowers and herbs. Monica and I took photos throughout the week, so you can get the feel of this amazing place.

Here’s the link to their website for those of you that might want more information: IMG_9994

IMG_9995You arrive in the little hilltop village and check in at the office, located just under the archway on the left.


IMG_0058   Entry to the office and lounge areaIMG_0527









IMG_0400The village store and kitty. The store offers fresh coffee, snacks, fresh produce, wine and liquor, local cheeses, meats, assortment of toiletries and things you might need and more.



IMG_0059The village crier…



IMG_0192The village sign gives the history…


IMG_9997And the pool! It must be heavenly in the summer. It was a bit too chilly for us to swim or sunbathe.



Monica’s morning cup of David.






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We loved the harvest table that has a panoramic view across the Tuscan countryside. IMG_0231

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Our apartment was formerly a farm tenant home and located just below the pool. The spiral staircase leads up to the pool and dining terraces.


IMG_0172Here’s a peek inside our 2-bedroom, 2-level apartment, Casa Amedeo. It was fully furnished with everything you could have needed from kitchen items to books and even firewood for the fireplace. The living room is quite comfortable and we spent lots of time around the kitchen table.

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Downstairs was another comfortable lounge area




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The view from the terrace by the poolIMG_0185

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San Gimignano and Volterra, Italy

One beautiful morning we decided to take a longer day trip and plotted our course east to San Gimignano, the ancient Tuscan city renowned for their towers. Today, 13 towers remain of the original 72 that once crowded the hilltop. Tourists flock to this scenic city, and the main areas are busy and crowded, but you can still find quiet spots to wander on the back alleys.

You can learn more about the history of the city and their present day lodging, shops, restaurants and events at their website:

We parked below the main gate at a grocery store where the tour buses park, and walked up the hill to the main gate, shown here. There is a public restroom at the parking lot (just so you know).

IMG_4080Inside the main gate …

IMG_4082Shops featuring traditional Tuscan wares line the streets, along with restaurants, gelato shops, food stores and various merchants.


IMG_4084Some of their famous towers…

IMG_4087One of the main piazzas…



IMG_4093Here’s a nice panorama of a popular area…

IMG_5563The well in the center of the piazza is a good resting spot to enjoy your gelato and rest your feet.




IMG_4102It was a bit early for lunch and we were hungry, so we decided to do as everyone else seemed to be doing and have a gelato appetizer. The Gelateria Dondoli seemed to be doing a brisk business so we lined up to wait our turn.



IMG_4106So many choices…






IMG_4119We wandered out to the panoramic overlook with our gelato and there were several artists set up, along with a harpist setting a heavenly mood.



IMG_4123Back out on the main streets, there are many art galleries featuring beautiful Tuscany.

IMG_4125We had seen enough for us, so decided to leave the tourist zone and head to our next destination, Volterra. Leaving the main city gate…

IMG_4126We wound our way through the countryside, continuing east, and along the way would catch glimpses of Gimignano and other small hilltop villages.






IMG_4137We had traveled several miles and passed a prison when we saw this view of San Gimignano and stopped for a parting shot.

IMG_4138The countryside nearing Volterra



IMG_4149There is a pull-out next to this big circle so you can stop and take your photo inside the circle with the vast countryside in the background.

IMG_4155We had climbed up, up, up on narrow ridges, finally reaching Volterra.

IMG_4159We found a parking spot along the road below the walled fortress walls, and then walked, up, up,up many stairs to reach the entrance.


IMG_4164Inside the city gates of Volterra, it was quiet with only a few tourists in sight.



IMG_4170Volterra is a town of artisans – their are renowned for their carved alabaster and also had art galleries, craft shops, handmade jewelry, a weaving shop that I loved,  and more.




I was enchanted with the architectural details of this building – especially the iron griffins.





IMG_4179Visit the Alabaster Museum if you are interested in seeing their art from start to finish

IMG_4183Statue in the park by the Alabaster Museum

IMG_4184Our gelato had worn off by now and we were hungry again, so we chose the restaurant with open air seating by the park and museum.

IMG_4188Please let me eat my pizza.

IMG_4189A nice local wine, pizza and wild boar pasta did the trick


IMG_4194I loved the pepper store’s sign for pepper temperatures.




IMG_4205Guidebooks had mentioned the city hall as a good place to go for a good view of the countryside from their tower. When you go inside there is nothing to guide you to the second floor where they sell tickets to several of the town museums and their tower viewing.



IMG_4211What an intricate doorway!


IMG_4214I loved this owl sign


IMG_4217These austere and plain buildings hide a wealth of beauty inside.




IMG_4223Crests of local families on the city hall



IMG_4228I love the street musicians in Italy – they create such an inviting atmosphere as you wander about their city.

IMG_4232Inside city hall



IMG_4235We were tired and ready to go home. This was a nice view on our way out.



IMG_4242That’s it for today!

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Pienza, Italy, Home to Pecorino Cheese

blog banner Siena lastOur last destination in Tuscany for the trip was Pienza, perched high atop a hill and home to delicious pecorino (sheep) cheese. I had tried to navigate us to this little town a few days before and we ended up in Siena, so I was happy we finally spied the town sign ahead. Here is a view of town as you drive up from below. Sadly, rain was moving in as you can see from the gray clouds.

Pienza from below

We found a parking spot outside the town gate and inquired where the public restrooms were before exploring.

Pienza entrance gate

You just never know what kind of toilet you’ll find in Europe, but this was our first “hole in the ground” type! I was glad I had learned early on when traveling to take my own Kleenex packets for backup “TP”.

Pienza public toilet

With that taken care of, we were ready to wander Pienza and see what this Tuscan town had to offer. The first shop we came to had lovely ceramics displays out front.

Pienza ceramics display

Pienza lemon ceramics

We wandered up the street towards the piazza…

Pienza mail street, bell tower

This lovely church resides on the piazza…

Pienza church and sitting sculpture

Pienza piazza big church

Next to it was this horse statue and this darling boy was having his photo taken…

Pienza boy on horse sculptureJust down the alley beyond the horse statue is a fabulous panoramic view of the countryside…

Pienza vert vineyard to valley view

Pienza view of countryside

We were hungry so headed back up to the piazza to look for a restaurant.

Pienza Wally, view to valley

Pienza mail street, bell tower

Pienza piazza & bell tower

Pienza Wally, clock tower

Under the arches of the above building was this interesting “compressed” statue..

Pienza horse & riders statueIt was starting to sprinkle, so we backtracked a few alleys where I had seen a restaurant sign… This lovely plump terracotta lady was hanging out in the little piazza next to the Trattoria da Fiorella.

Pienza plump lady sculpture

We dodged in the door, along with several other couples seeking shelter and food, and got the last table next to the door. Another couple sat down next to us and after overhearing each other talking “American”, introduced ourselves. They were from Napa Valley, Calif., and had a vineyard, and we enjoyed chatting over lunch about farming, food, wine and travel. (Sorry, no food pictures this time – we were enjoying ourselves too much and forgot).

Pienza Trattoria da Fiorella

After lunch the rain had stopped, and we were full and relaxed from the house red wine so began strolling through town. There were many shops filled with their local pecorino cheeses, wines and olive oils. I really like the semi-soft mild pecorino cheese.

Pienza Enoteca window, sign

Pienza pecorina and wine display

Pienza pecorino cheese, oils

Pienza sheep on barrel display

Pienza church with arched windows

There is an overlook sidewalk around the edge of the town that must be a favorite gathering area for the locals. What views!

Pienza view wall, bell tower, laundry

Pienza view over red tile roof

When we looked down, this was the car line-up.

Pienza car lineup

This is a smaller town, so doesn’t take long to explore their alleyways inside the gate. We worked our way back towards the entry gate and pointed the car towards “home” at La Mucchia Casa Vacanze for our last night.

Pienza vert street, tower view

Time to pack up from our week in Tuscany and venture south to Massa La Brense and the Amalfi Coast for a week. Stay tuned for our week in southern Italy!

Bye Bye Tuscany… We’ll be back!


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Castiglione Del Lago, Italy

We awoke to a beautiful day and decided to explore nearby Castiglione del Lago, just a 10-minute drive from Camucia and Cortona. We left our vacation rental, La Mucchia Casa Vacanze, below, and snapped a few shots along the way…

La Mucchia Casa Vacanze road view, blue skyCamucia and Cortona below

Cortona and corn fieldFog along the hills

Cortona fog along mountain, corn fieldArriving at Castiglione del Lago’s gate to the town overlooking Lake Trasimeno – there is public parking right outside the gate. Learn more about the history at:

 Castiglione del Lago town gate

Some signs around town give some history…Castiglione del Lago info sign

Castiglione del Lago historyThe main piazza…

Castiglione piazza fountain vert view

Castiglione piazza bell tower

Jamie fattoria, Castiglione

Castiglione del Lago piazza and fountain

Castiglione del Lago fountain & gate to lakeChecking out the Ristorante Monna Lisa on the piazza. Their menu looks good, but we have a bit until they open so we’re off to explore the town.Castiglione Wally Monna Lisa menu

Castiglione del Lago Wally, Monna Lisa board Castiglione del Lago Hotel Miralago

The shops in these little Italian towns do such a good job of enticing you to check out their wares with them arranged attractively outside the shops.

Castiglione del Lago enoteca, church, ball

Castiglione del Lago dried goods

Castiglione del Lago dried mushrooms

Castiglione del Lago church & sky

Castiglione del Lago Maddalena church sign

These little figures caught my eye up on a second story window ledge…Love them!

Castiglione del Lago ledge figures

Castiglione del Lago main street view

Love the rooster weather vane and the red tile roofs

Castiglione del Lago red roof & rooster vane

Castiglione del Lago Jamie on wall 2

Castiglione del Lago saint over door arch

Castiglione del Lago church saint & door

There are several ceramics and pottery artists in town. The red poppy table was lovely.

Castiglione del Lago ceramics, poppy table

Castiglione del Lago ceramic plaques on wall

Castiglione del Lago ceramics, wheat plates

Inside I met the kind proprietor and he showed me around the shop. I just wish he had spoken English so I could have understood more about their wares.

Castiglione del Lago ceramic shop owner

Castiglione del Lago ceramic shopAround the corner was another shop, and Stefania, was also in residence. She does exceptionally fine painting.

Castiglione del Lago Ceramics, Stefanie

Castiglione del Lago ceramic, grape platter

Castiglione del Lago ceramic grape urn

Castiglione del Lago ceramics spoon restsAnd look – she’s the creator of the little ledge figures! Her red and yellow pieces were bright and cheery, but as with most of the ceramics and pottery, pricey!

Castiglione del Lago yellow & red ceramics, ledge figures

Castiglione del Lago red & yellow ceramic, jester

Castiglione del Lago red & yellow ceramics

Castiglione del Lago Jamie and monument

We next wandered towards the Fortress to go for a tour… The huge ancient olive trees drew me like a bee to honey…

Castiglione del Lago ancient olives, fortress

Wow! These were the biggest olive trees we saw the entire trip in Italy. How amazing that they live with those gnarled hollow trunks and still are producing abundant olive harvests!

Castiglione del Lago ancient olive trunk

Castiglione del Lago olives clsup

Castiglione del Lago ancient olive orchard, blue sky

Castiglione del Lago ancient olive groveSo after walking through the olive grove, we realized we had to back track and go through the Palazzo della Corgna building to start the tour of the Fortress.

Castiglione del Lago street light, fortressEnter here for the tour of the Palazzo and Fortress…     Castiglione del Lago Palazzo della Corgna exterior

Castiglione del Lago Municipo signInside the frescos on the ceilings and walls are FABULOUS! I had to sneak a sampling of just a few so you wouldn’t miss out. They also have a nice display of Etruscan finds, furniture and more.

Castiglione del Lago Palazzo della Corgna ceiling fresco

Castiglione del Lago Palazzo della Corgna vert room

Castiglione Palazzo della Corgna ceiling hori

Castiglione Palazzo della Corgna ceiling nude womenYou exit from the Palazzo to the entry of the single-file fortress covered walkway. I bet children, especially boys would love this tour!

Castiglione del Lago fortress covered walkway vertHere we go..

Castiglione del Lago Wally fortress walk entrance

Castiglione del Lago fortress interior walkway

Castiglione del Lago fortress walk, wally

Castiglione del Lago fortess walk opening to olive

Castiglione del Lago fortress walk open to lake

They must hold community productions in this outdoor amphitheater area. What an amazing venue! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to watch a play or concert with that view?   Castiglione del Lago Fortress theaterHere are some views from the tower tops and some panoramas I did with my phone…

Castiglione del Lago fortress walls view pano

Castiglione del Lago lake and wall top

Castiglione del Lago Lake Trasimeno, fortress

Castiglione del Lago Fortress, olives, sky

Castiglione del Lago Lake Trasimeno  Castiglione del Lago pano wall top, sky

Castiglione del Lago pano, lakes to wall

Castiglione del Lago Wally on walk   Castiglione del Lago tower and wallTo one side of Castiglione del Lago is Tuscany, and in the other direction, Umbria

Castiglione del Lago red tile rooftops of town

Castiglione del Lago Lake Trasimeno, fortress

Castiglione del Lago Lake TrasimenoDone with our fortress tour, we wandered back down a different street towards the piazza and lunch at Ristorante Monna Lisa.

Castiglione del Lago Ristorante La Cantina

Castiglione del Lago peach and stone bldg

Castiglione del Lago pasta sign

Castiglione del Lago Jamie corner bldg

Castiglione del Lago carved bldg, shop

Castiglione del Lago javelina & cheeseWe were still a bit early for lunch so we decided to do a little shopping at the corner store. The friendly sales girl had given us lots of samples earlier, along with a coupon for a discount on purchases.

Castiglione del Lago salesgirl in shopWe chose one of the small-handled cutting boards made of olive. Olive wood is VERY hard and heavy, so small was all we could take to pack.

Castiglione del Lago olive boards & bowls

Castiglione del Lago olive boards

Castiglione del Lago pasta and olive board They had lots of pasta, herbs and spices…Castiglione del Lago dried herbsLocal varieties of honey and jams, which we picked out a few for the moms…

Castiglione del Lago honeyShe tried to sell us on their “speciality” male pasta – but we passed.

Castiglione del Lago shop girl, pastaLocal wine, flavorings and olives…

Castiglione del Lago shop wines and jamsCheese – please! We got a few chunks of cheese and some wild boar salami for our appetizer supplies.

Castiglione del Lago cheese rounds 1

The shopkeeper was very nice and they packed it all up for us and held it until after our  lunch.

Castiglione del Lago shopkeeperSpeaking of lunch – it’s time! Castiglione Monna Lisa entrance topWe picked a table outside so we could people watch.

Castiglione del Lago Monna Lisa outside table, wallyWe heard a bunch of giggling and then lots of cracking and explosions!! I whirled around to capture the local children setting off fireworks!

Castiglione del Lago firecracker kidsNow what to eat…

Castiglione del Lago Monna Lisa menuWine of course, and some brushetta with local specialty toppings to start

Castiglione del Lago Monna Lisa, Wally Brushetta

Castiglione del Lago Monna Lisa bruschetta

Jamie bruschetta

The sky had been getting cloudy and after getting started on our brushetta, it started to rain. We moved inside, along with other diners flocking inward, and the dining room filled up all at once! Luckily we had already placed our order and gotten our wine, so we were ahead of the crowd! The Monna Lisa had several seafood and local fish from the lake on the menu. I can’t remember what my seafood entree was called, but it was clean-plate delicious! Not a drop left!

Castiglione del Lago Monna Lisa Jamie's entree

Wally chose a local Lake Trasimeno whole fish and it was tasty too. Castiglione del Lago Monna Lisa Wally's fish sideSo full and relaxed it was back to La Mucchia Casa Vacanze…

La Mucchia Casa Vacanze gate view, blue skyHere’s a back view – the pool was covered for winter but would be a very nice place to hang out when warm.