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Long weekend

22 Feb
The Presidents’ Day long weekend gave us an opportunity to celebrate: my birthday and Valentine’s Day, not the presidents. In Oregon we almost always went to the coast for a few days this time of year. Last year we spent 5 days celebrating in Rome as tourists. This year we had a weekend at an agriturismo in mind, and the opportunity to stock up on wine from a favorite cantina we visited last July. How lucky are we to be able to say “We’re going to Toscana for the weekend”?
Toscana in winter is not for the faint of heart. It is chilly: 32-34 degrees Fahrenheit overnight and maybe high 40s at the highest during the day. (OK, I know the U.S. is in a deep freezer right now and 40 sounds pretty balmy, but that is considered cold here. And we are considerably less acclimated to cold than our Minnesota and North Dakota roots would indicate.) There are no sunflowers, and vineyards are bare, but also there are no crowds, driving is easy, and wineries and restaurants are welcoming.
Last April we bought a stay at Agriturismo Poggio Etrusco at an auction. As readers of this blog are aware, we are on-the-go a lot as I try to burn up all of my paid vacation time before I retire. So it was winter before we found time in the schedule for this trip. 

 

One of the downsides of a trip to Toscana is that we have to rent a car and I have to drive. Ric is the navigator and manages the GPS, a bitch voice named Bonnie. She drives me mad with her repetitious, annoying flat mechanical voice. And she’s not always right, so we have to have maps as well to double-check her directions. For example, I have no idea how we ended up on a dirt road coming home from one day trip when our outbound portion was all paved. I think Bonnie found a “short cut” to entertain herself. HOWEVER, without Bonnie we would have much more trouble navigating and we have learned to always take her along. We have also learned when to turn her off so we don’t end up in a ZTL.
The upside to renting a car is we have a method to transport massive quantities of wine and olive oil. Our Fiat 500L was luckily big enough to handle the purchases. If we had bought anymore we’d have needed a van. We whiled away the weekend at wineries, visited an abbey we have planned on seeing since our first trip here in 2010, ate too much, and got to know the Montepulciano area better.
The Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore is a magnificent and off-the-beaten-track place to visit, at least in winter.  It was begun in 1320, which in itself is hard to grasp, and also houses priceless frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries. One wanders down a forest path to visit this very peaceful place. It was fun to be the only visitors wandering around on our own. The monks make wine, olive oil, herbal remedies, honey, and soaps. An affable young man named Luca was manning the cantina and entertained us with stories and history. An enjoyable aspect to off-season visits is the availability of people like Luca who have time to chat when visitors are not lined up 6 deep. 

 

One does have to plan meals around restaurant openings especially in the off season. On Friday we arrived at our destination, Poggio Etrusco, a farm that produces olive oil and wine, after 2:00 PM and were directed to try to find something to eat in the town of Montepulciano as there was nothing open in the little hamlet near the farm. On the way to Montepulciano at almost 3:00 PM, we saw a place that in retrospect I can only describe as a Tuscan Tourist Roadside Attraction. Almost like Camp 18 in Oregon. The quality of the food was fine, but sale of products was clearly uppermost in the minds of the staff and owner. You are caused to walk through their retail space on the way to the cavernous dining room; there’s a push toward the €20-€30 bottles of wine (not at lunch, thank you); and walking back through the retail area to pay, there are all kinds of inviting products practically throwing themselves off the shelves at you. That said, it was the only game in – or out – of town and there were Italians eating there too. If we had waited until we got up into Montepulciano we’d have ended up eating cheese, sausage, and oranges standing on a street corner in the cold.
Cavernous Ristorante Pulcino - not my picture but from their website. I wish I had photographed the outside for you!
Cavernous Ristorante Pulcino – not my picture but from their website. I wish I had photographed the outside for you!
We ate some meals at some old favorite places (Grappolo Blu in Montalcino) and also discovered some new ones like Tre Stelle in Sant’Albino. We also enjoyed the luxury of hanging about the farm, entertained by cats, dogs, and chickens, nibbling on pecorino from Pienza, sipping wine provided by our host, eating the aforementioned oranges, in front of a lovely fire in a massive fireplace.  I will say for those who seek a non-touristy experience, winter in Toscana will provide that. As long as you aren’t forced into Ristorante Pulcino. And bring your flannel pajamas.
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6 Responses to “Long weekend”

  1. Linda February 23, 2015 at 11:23 #

    Enjoyed experiencing your agriturismo trip greatly through your writing.”Living” for a week in Cortona, traveling to other hill towns found us always seemingly lost and seldom returned the same way.At least one can see Cortona in the distance you just head that way! Even though it was cold and you did not get to enjoy sitting out doors, the fact that it was not high tourist season was a plus for all the reasons you posted.I have only visited once in late May and cannot imagine it during the summer months! The other times have been more early spring and fall.Getting to be able to chat with local people deepens our enjoyment and memories of places,especially in Italy. I will look forward to your next post!

    Like

    • gooddayrome February 23, 2015 at 18:37 #

      Thank you for stopping by Linda! We did go to Tuscany last summer and also found it tranquil: but nice enough to sit outdoors! From teh wineries I understand fall is “the worst” season as so many travelers head there for the vendemmia. But we may be among them this fall. we shall see…. Alla prossima!

      Like

  2. Anita February 23, 2015 at 02:12 #

    Sounds like a very relaxing weekend.

    Like

    • gooddayrome February 23, 2015 at 04:16 #

      It was, except for having to drive. We really take our time when we travel now, nd don;t try to do EVERYTHING. We have the attitude that we will be back….

      Like

  3. Chloe February 22, 2015 at 19:57 #

    I can feel the cold you describe. The first time that I ever saw Tuscany and also Rome, it was under 6 inches of snow. Beautiful but frigid. If you ever get into Umbria, which I actually prefer to Tuscany, may I recommend the agriturismo Titignano. It is in a beautiful location and the food is superb. You do need a car, but there is so much to see in the area that it is worth renting one. Titignano, besides good food, also has a pool, if you are there in the summer and their prices are very inexpensive. Well worth going off the beaten track to visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome February 22, 2015 at 20:00 #

      Hi Chloe. We went to Umbria in December one year and LOVED it. We have not made it back yet but God-willing we will soon. So many places in Italy. One could travel 100% of the time. Thanks for the agriturismo tip!

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