Italian Sideways 2006 – Day 7
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|Should you be interested in spending time at the Buccelletti's Casali in Val di Chio, be sure to contact them well in advance as their villas and apartments are snapped up quickly. For more information visit the official web site.|
Later, Bruce, Jan, John and I drive to town, park at bottom of the hill and climb the upward road, which opens onto medieval alleys and takes us to the main square, were we have a bite, more than a real brunch, to take us to dinner that, we suspect, will be abundant.
In the early afternoon Lidia and Roberta pick us up and take us on a mini tour of their sprawling estate.
First we drive to Gaggioleta, an ancient hamlet originally built by the Etruscans which the Buccelletti are restoring into an eight-apartment complex with swimming pool. The houses are surrounded by olive trees, the air is clean and aromatic, and the view of the Val di Chio soothing. Before leaving we drink fresh spring water from the village fountain.
Next we visit Villa San Martino, a former shepherd home and stable tastefully restored into a secluded hamlet which has become a tourist favorite among the various offerings. From the compound, the view of the valley is even more dramatic than from the other vintage points and the peace is complete here, as the two buildings that make up the Villa are surrounded only by vineyards and olive trees.
We then drive toward the valley and visit the vineyards from which the new Merigge wine is made, before heading back to the reception center, where we are joined by Bartolomeo, Lidia and Roberta take care of a group of four Danish tourists who have just just arrived and officially open the agriturismo season, with all the casali already reserved until the end of October.
Next Lidia and Bartolomeo take us on a guided visit of Castiglion Fiorentino, where we climb the only tower left of the about 30 that once rose toward the sky in Medieval times, before Arezzo took over and dismantled all but one, to highlight their newly-acquired ruling superiority. Oscar winner 'Life is Beautiful', by Italian actor-director Roberto Benigni, was filmed partly here and partly in Cortona, our evening's destination.
We drive to historic Cortona at dusk and meet there with Roberta and Cesare. The medieval town, which was a favorite and usual vacation spot for former French president Francois Mitterand, is a perfect example of well-kept, lived-inn Italian historic places. In addition to 'Life is Beautiful', Cortona played movie set for the 'Under the Tuscan Sun' a recent Hollywood production starring Diane Lane.
We go for dinner at Osteria del Teatro, an amazing restaurant run by a young, creative local rising star chef.
The opening is a plate of mixed hors d'oeuvres which, again, would normally constitute a dinner in itself. Washed down by a good local Montepulciano wine, the antipasto is followed by gnoccheti di patate (potato dumpling pasta) and sampling of two different types of tortelli (stuffed pasta). The wines served with the primi piatti are Nobile di Montepulciano 'Asinone' and Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno 2003, which was awarded fifth place on Wine Spectator's best 100 world wines, 2005. At our table the preference goes to the Asinone, followed by the Montepulciano and Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno 2003, which comes in third. Another proof, if needed, that guides and reviews should be taken as loose suggestions, rather than as definitive judgments.
We all decide to skip what would be the main dish or the 'secondo' which might be a 'bistecca alla fiorentina' (beef steak Florentine-style) and jump to the desserts, which include gelato with traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena, home made pistachio cassata, mascarpone cake, baked pear glazed with melted chocolate among many more choices. We thought that was it until our young chef showed up with an immense cutting board piled high with some 15 different types of artisanal chocolate including pistachio, pepper, white chocolate, dark chocolate, caramel, peppermint, and Brigit's favorite, rose chocolate. He then proceeded to slice off several chunks of the requested offerings until we could stand no more.
We call it a night sipping an aged, pungently aromatic, smoked 1919 Angostura Rum, before hugging and kissing our generous hosts good bye.