Friday was our last full day in Chianti. We pulled out of the driveway on Saturday morning, Melisa and I teary, Magnolia looking glum. Jasper, true to form, turned bright eyes to the next stop on the Italian Riviera, and the promise of that “Cars 2” ice cream he was (still) hoping for at the hotel.
Big field trips marked the second week of our stay. While New York was suffering through a close to 100-degree heat wave, temperatures in Tuscany dipped from the 90′s to the mid-70′s. We missed the hot, dry days, (and tried to remember how much we’d long for cool weather the second we got home), and took the opportunity to do a bit more exploring.
Cortona charmed us. It’s a bit larger than the other hill towns we visited, but generally, everything seemed more local (less tourist-y), and more lively. This was a bit surprising as we were there, in part, to fulfill a wish of Melisa’s to see Bramasole.
You might remember that Bramasole is writer Frances Mayes’s home, made famous in Under the Tuscan Sun. It’s pretty gorgeous. And we were far from the only tourists seeking it out. Still, somehow Cortona got to us, and we’d go back in a flash.
We traveled to Pisa, our longest journey from Chianti (about 1 1/2 hours), to see the leaning tower. Folks, it’s really leaning.
We were in luck; the tower has just been reinforced and cleaned, so it looks like a skinny lopsided wedding cake. Unfortunately, kids under 8 cannot climb to the top, so we did our viewing from below.
Florence, despite being only 1/2 an hour away from us, was a late addition to the agenda. We had planned on visiting Rome, but it was too complicated (and far, and expensive) from our outpost in Castellina. So we “settled” for Firenze, which in the end charmed us into spending two days exploring the red-roofed streets. We succumbed to an impulse we always resist in New York: the pull of the horse-drawn carriage. It was completely fun (if expensive); a lovely way to see the city.
The Meriva zipped in and out of the busy Florentine streets, batting off the velos and motorcycles that buzz like flies on the road. We stopped at the overlook on the way out of town and took pictures of the Duomo, the Campanile, everything. And of course, there was gelato.
Our last day in Italy was also our best day. Melisa chose Siena, a city we had already visited and loved, for our destination. The day was bright and clear, and warm, and we wandered in and out of shops and up and down winding streets, into the Campo. The find was Antica Pizzicheria, where we stopped to order sandwiches, and were seduced by Antonio De Miccoli, the butcher and proprietor of the shop.
By seduced I mean with cheese, and wine (and Antonio’s big personality); first a bold Tuscan white, then a light, dry Vernaccia, and finally, a delicious Brunello. The wine kept coming, along with a board teeming with cheeses, bread, then cured tomatoes, delicious olive oil to taste, pastes (parsley, pestos, hot pepper, eggplant). More and more. Plus conversation. We were in heaven.
What were the kids doing, you may ask? Running in and out of the little shop and taking bits of cheese and bread. Playing hide and seek among the velos outside. Happy.
We left sated, poorer, and very very glad to have pushed aside the soft red strings that passed as a doorway and asked if they could make us a panini.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the best way: sleepy and poolside, under the bright sun.
Could it get any better? It could. Date night! Mimma & Franco, our hosts, agreed to watch the kids so Melisa and I could have one night out for dinner. We chose Osteria Le Panzanelle in nearby Lucarelli. What a place. The meal started with prosecco and ended with panna cotta, the highlight being (besides the company) an amazing Spaghetti di Pesticcia (house-made spaghetti with mushrooms and pork sausage). What was in it? I wish I knew. I think I tasted a bit of cinnamon. It was heaven.
In short, we loved our trip here. Specifically:
Waking up and looking out over the Italian countryside.
Our incredible view from the terrace. Our hosts. The drive from San Donato to Castellina, all rolling hills and mountaintops.
The food. Walking through the sleepy villages.
Stepping up to a counter and saying Buon Giorno.
The kids had a slightly different take. They loved: gelato everyday, pool everyday. They loved having two children about their age at the house to play with for two weeks, hide and seek in the yard and in the cities we visited, the tree swing on the terrace below, making flags with new friends, and running amok.
They loved (as did we) the Australian family who was at the big house up the hill our first week, also on a month-long holiday, hanging out at the pool with us. The three older kids raced in the pool, and fetched coins from the bottom, and were universally kind and sweet to our two little ones.
Jas & Nola loved castles, and ramparts of the small hill towns. They loved the carriage ride we took through Florence.
Il Campo in Siena. They loved the campaniles, the tunnel in Castellina. The playground in Radda. Carousels. They loved having the mommies around all day. Pasta almost every meal. Mud baths.
Jasper loved the lizards scurrying around our house, helping shop at the Coop (the local grocery store) and the iPad. Magnolia the swing, the butterflies (that flit in one window and out a door all day) and her power-bikini.
Here’s one barometer of happiness: the kids probably got bathed 3 times. Remember they were in the pool everyday. We just shined it on, and they certainly weren’t going to argue.
Italy, we loved ya. And we’ll be back!