Our short stay in Chianti in Tuscany was a chance to catch up with friends – some Italian locals and some Kiwi’s on tour. For three days all we seemed to do was eat and drink and tour the small villages of Chianti.
The base for our stay was the delightful Relais Vignale in Radda in Chianti. Spread across a number of traditional tuscan buildings, this hotel is a great way to enjoy a break without being limited to the “Saturday to Saturday” villa booking cycle. The service is excellent – in fact the manager Serena went out of her way to help us when our booking was affected by our overly long stay in Hong Kong.
We met up with friends from New Zealand who were staying just up the road and our good local friends Olga and Dani. Meals were had and stories relayed.
As always when in Chianti, the surprises were off the beaten track – the small village restaurant we stopped at for lunch and the gallery where the artist told us the story behind the small print we fell in love with and bought.
But after a shortened stay we packed up our rental car with our already expanding suitcases, farewelled friends, and headed north to Camogli for a week by the sea.
Getting around Italy by high speed train is easy and relaxing. We have regularly used it between Rome, Florence and Naples in the past and this trip is no exception.
The one thing we haven’t done before is try out Trenitalia’s premium class. This is half a carriage of luxury seating – 8 seats in all – right at the front of the train. It costs a bit more but comes with a meal service, a cabin crew member to look after you and your luggage and more legroom than you could want. There is even a conference room in the carriage if a quick meeting is needed en route.
On this leg of our journey from Rome to Florence we treated ourselves and booked seats 2A and 2B.
Rental cars are commodities. You get handed a set of keys, jump in and drive. It was only when we returned to our rental in Radda later in the day that we realised we had no idea what make or model it was.
It’s one of these – thank heaven for remote unlocking.
Last Friday we visited our dear friends Dani and Olga at their home for dinner. We had not seen their new house before or the delightful hamlet it is part of. As the sun set, we took some photographs that go some way to capturing the beauty of the area.
The meal was absolutely superb and the company delightful. Grazie mille Dani and Olga.
One of the things we love to do on holiday is cook. Dishes that makes use of local ingredients can’t be beaten and when we spent a few days in a villa, the apron comes out.
When it was time to cook at Il Diaccino we assembled the ingredients for a Carbonara and Jean went to work. Local fresh Pici pasta and pancetta, fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese, black pepper, egg and a little cooking.
Thursday last week we visited Siena. It was a week before the Palio and the clay track had been laid over the cobbles in the Campo and the tiered seating was in place around the edge of the Campo.
At 3pm, when we arrived, the businesses around the Campo were shut as the Palio track was being watered – a daily ritual in the week leading up to the Palio. This threw our plans of a quiet drink in the Campo into disarray.
So instead we visited Jean’s favourite clothes shop and helped boost the Siena economy – just as we had done in Rome a week before.
Shopping done, we returned to the Campo. The track watering was complete and the bars and restaurants in the Campo had the “all clear” to lay out tables and chairs on the clay track. Normal transmission had resumed.
We wiled away the evening with drinks and a very good pasta dinner at Al Mangia bar before heading back to Diaccino.
The torre in Siena – 400 steps to the top
Watering the track as part of the Palio preparation
Last week in Chianti we were lucky enough to dine in style at Osteria Il Papavero in the hills above Gaiole in Chianti.
We visited Il Papavero with our friends Dani and Olga two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the food, wine and company and when we discussed a dinner venue this time there was no doubt – it was Il Papavero again.
This is not a restaurant that gets “passing trade” as it is located in the hamlet of Barbischio – high in the hills above Gaiole in Chianti. The views are expansive and on a warm summers night there is seating inside and out.
It helps that Dani and Olga are regular customers so we were greeted like locals. We discovered that following our last visit we had become part of Tuscan legend as one of our party (you know who you are Jean) was the only person who has ever ordered one of Papavero’s steaks “ben cotta” – well done. Two years after that, it was still remembered.
Despite this we were allowed in and enjoyed a great night.
The wonderful thing about Papavero is that their menu is supplemented by as many special dishes again, all produced using local produce that is seasonally available. So last night we had everything from anchovies and pesto through to Calamari shaped pasta with pork and olives. All washed down with fine wine and finished with a local digestivo.
While we are away in Italy our girls are being looked after by our dear friend Vicki who has moved in for 4 weeks. We receive regular updates and photos showing how much they are missing us. Or possibly not missing us …
Bella lining up for a tummy rub – friends know all about this look
Wine buffs will know we are staying in the Chianti Classico wine region. Within a few kilometres of our local town, Gaiole in Chianti, there are over a dozen producers ranging from the very large to the very small.
On Sunday night these local wine makers, together with the restaurants of Gaiole in Chianti got together and held a wine and food festival in Gaiole – Calici di Stelle. Loosely translated that means “Glasses of Stars”. For sampling were some fine Chianti Classico wines along with a range of other wines they produce.
Our dear friend Olga was assisting with the Ciona winery stand (our villa Diaccino is on the Ciona estate) and invited us along.
It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday evening. Starting at 8pm and running to midnight the event was a chance for locals (and visitors like us) to sample the local wines and try the local food. More than that, it was clearly a chance for families and friends to spend time together and catch up.
We got to sample some very fine wines as well as chat with the wine makers. Dinner was in the form of beautiful Gnocchi, roast pork and various accompaniments.
We had a great time but sadly the jet lag kicked in around 9:30pm so we had to leave early.
Locals sampling the local vintage
Jean wandering through Gaiole looking for another wine stand
After a long day travelling from Rome north to Tuscany we arrived at Il Diaccino, our place in Chianti for the next week. The villa is beautiful, set among olive trees and vineyards and overlooking the valley. The towers of Siena can be seen on the horizon – just a reminder of where we are.
The terrace is an ideal place to sit and watch the changing view – from the blue haze of morning to the pink sunset of the evening. It is kept cool in the unseasonably warm weather we have experienced by the breeze coming up the valley.
The villa is so comfortable – like moving into someone’s home – and it’s a chance to unpack and settle for a week. Within 24 hours we had managed to catch too much sun by the pool so we will be sitting in the shade for the next day or so.
We are half a world away from home and enjoying the hospitality and heat of Rome.
Our flight was largely uneventful until an unscheduled two hour delay on the tarmac at Hong Kong due to “congestion over South China” – whatever that meant.
We found out it meant that our 11 hour flight from Hong Kong to Rome stretched out to 15 hours – 2 hours on the ground and an extra 2 hours in the air as we flew a course well north of the usual route.
Rome greeted us with a 40 degree day which even the locals said was “molto caldo” – too hot.
Rehydrating in Piazza Barberini, Rome
We spent the day walking – in the shade, keeping fluid intakes up and shopping. Jean is the proud owner of a new handbag called Louis IV which I’m sure will feature in a future blog post.
All this before the jet lag kicked in and we were asleep around 7pm. We were wide awake again at 4am so for the first time in living memory the Mowday’s will be the first in the breakfast room at Hotel Barocco this morning.
Today we travel north to Tuscany and start our week staying in Chianti – still in temperatures that will top out at 40 degrees. Not that we are, in any way, complaining.
We are less than 12 hours away from starting our trip to Italy and there seems to be numerous things still to do and very little time to do them in. We have an early start tomorrow to make sure we catch the flight to Auckland and then on to Hong Kong and Rome.
It is amazing how the amount, size and weight of the technology we take has decreased over the years. The bulky and heavy laptop of 4 years ago is now a MacBook Air weighing next to nothing. The TomTom GPS is left at home as our phones do the same job, and apart from our phones, a bluetooth speaker, noise cancelling headphones for the plane trip and some cables, that’s it.
We have signed up for Vodafone New Zealand’s excellent $5 a day roaming product to avoid any shock roaming charges. Spark have still not matched this product and instead offer a confusion of call rates, text costs, data rates, caps and excess charges for various parts of the world – including Italy.
Our lightweight suitcases (full sized cases that weight barely 3Kgs each) are packed and well underweight. Passports are in order and tickets issued.
It’s a cold, rainy, miserable night in Wellington. Rome is sunny and hot – we are ready to go.