Tuscany is famous for its food and wine. Big cities like Florence and Siena see thousands of tourists daily. But the real Tuscany lies south of the mayhem, along winding roads carved between rock, or cut through forests of marine pine trees.
As I drove down a narrow road in the middle of nowhere, I noticed how dry everything was. It hadn’t rained in months here and the pastures were no longer green, but shades of gold. Not to say that it wasn’t still beautiful, but something was off. We arrived in Montalcino and greeted my friend Susanna Padelletti. Not only has her family been making Brunello for centuries, but she now owns and runs two restaurants and two B&B’s in the center of Montalcino- a very busy woman. We met her son in their restaurant, Al Giullare, and ordered something to eat; pecorino cheese and pear flan as an appetizer and sliced carpaccio with grated parmigiana and truffle oil as a main. Of course, it was all washed down with a bottle of the 2004 vintage Brunello. Tired, my friend and I went to bed in their B&B, Il Rifugio. The next morning we woke up early to make stops in some of the local towns. Montepulciano (home to the famous Vino Nobile), Pienza and San Quirico d’Orcia, all medieval villages on top of hills enclosed in brick walls. After tons of pictures and some shopping we headed back to Montalcino for dinner. This time we went to the other restaurant, Osteria d’Altri Tempi, located inside the second B&B Residenza Palazzo Saloni. Susannna was behind the grill since her chef was off for the day and she whipped us up a fabulous dinner of stewed cinghiale (wild boar) and pici caccia n’ pepe (pici pasta with pecorino cheese and grated pepper). The Brunello this time was from ’98 and the maturity of the wine opened nicely and paired perfectly with the boar. We chatted over some slices of cheese with honey and jam and left stuffed, to go upstairs to our room. After breakfast we said our goodbyes and hit the road for the coast.
Castiglione di Pescaia, is a fort city with a castle up on top of the hill. It sits regally, watching out over the sea and the people swimming at its beaches. The water here is clear and clean, the sand fine grained and light colored. It was feragosto, the Italian summer holiday, and it seemed as if everyone in Italy was at the beach and in the center of town for dinner and gelato. I can’t say we ate too well, but on our stroll we did pass a lovely restaurant called Posto Pubblico and ordered a glass of wine. We headed back to our hotel, so as to wake up early to check out the beach Cala Violina. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it in time and by 10am the beach was full. Luckily, we decided to pass by again at 4 pm and we parked outside. After a 20 minute walk up and downhill, we arrived at the cove. Famous for the noise the wind makes as it passes through the rocks, the beach was intimate, even with a hundred people in its waters. That night we went on recommendation to an agriturismo called Le Grazie to eat. We shared fried sardines, a pasta with baby octopus in a red sauce and mixed grill of fish for a main course. With the sea so close, the fish was obviously fresh. I can’t say the same for the wine. The Maremma, this area of Tuscany, makes some really great reds and whites, but the restaurant offered us a Falenghina, a white from Naples! We finished with dessert and went back home. The next morning we left to head inland, to Saturnia, famous for its hot springs. The waterfall of Saturnia is a sight to be seen. Over the centuries, the sulphurous water, which comes from an underground hot spot, has carved out the rock, forming little pools of thermal water perfect for sitting and relaxing in. The cascades pour out, leaving behind pebbles of calcium and mud rich in minerals. It is something to be seen at least once in your lifetime and enjoyed even on a cold winter’s day. We dried off and left for our next destination, Pitigliano.
We drove through Scansano before arriving at our destination and thought we should try and find a small vineyard that produces Morellino. I curbed to the side when I saw a sign that said Bio Wine and pulled up to a cozy countryside home. Il Troscione is owned by a woman named Fiorella, who moved from Milan five years ago to get away from the craziness of a big city. She now has an hectare of vines plus another three of tomatoes, olive and fruit trees and other various vegetables. We tried her Sangiovese (next year it will become Morellino DOC) wine and even with 14% alcohol, it was fresh, cherry fruity and lovely to drink. She also has a white, an Ansonica, which was mineral, round and full bodied. An interesting choice for this region.
Continuing on, the hills became flat and we wondered where Pitigliano was. All of a sudden, the road dipped and I drove downhill into a valley, within which, rose the great city. Set on top of a tall mountain made of tufo, or lavic rock, you would never expect to find something so spectacular. We found our agriturismo just outside the town and settled in. As dusk began to fall, we drove up the mountain and parked in the center. We walked around admiring the breathtaking views and took pictures of the carved ornament on building walls. A cute and inviting restaurant in one of the main squares, is where we settled for dinner. Hostria il Ceccottino, we found out later, is the best restaurant in Pitigliano. They use as much local produce as possible and offer refined dishes and great service. I ordered the acquacotta, a typical plate in Maremma, paired with a glass of Morellino and glazed lamb chops in white wine and sage for my main course with a glass of Chianti. Both were exquisite, perfectly cooked and seasoned. During the meal we began speaking to two women from Rome who were sitting near us. Now both retired, one had bought a second home in Pitigliano and comes often to relax. The owner’s wife sat with us after the shift was over and offered all of us a glass of white wine. The night was cool and fresh and we were in the hands of an amazing group of women. It was our last night in Tuscany and we couldn’t have asked for it to end in a more perfect situation. Getting up the next morning was hard and a bit sad, but knowing that in only five hours I could return to my beloved Tuscany made the trip home a bit easier.