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.
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.
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
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.