We started our Italian adventure in the the olive orchards of Sicily, then hit the lemon groves of Sorrento and we are now in the middle of the incredible Tuscan countryside. It is absolutely beautiful! It is like a postcard. Each time I look out at the vineyards that dot the countryside, I can’t believe it. The drive in our big rig was not without problems, Dave lost a hub cab dodging scooters in Sorrento. He wasn’t worried though-he kept saying he was fully insured. A little excitement and some laughs can make a long drive that much easier.
We are staying in the middle of nowhere, so it seems, at an abbey that is from the 10th century – Badio a Coltobuano. Our family friend, Joe Mullen, stayed here a couple years ago. We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was as we drove up the long drive. The abbey sits perched on a hill and overlooking the valley below. It was a big facility, but at the same time quaint and charming.
Our 4 bedroom apartment was just what we needed with a huge fireplace we used almost every night. The girls were in heaven with space to run around and explore – too bad it was too cold to use the pool. But we spent out afternoons playing patanque with Papa and CC and lived like a local.
Our time here has been quiet, for the most part – we are traveling with 3 girls who might be at the end of their travel time. Meltdowns are coming more frequently – Papa and CC are seeing them for who they truly are. Let’s hope we are still invited over for dinner once we get home. Mom did want to start the Italian Sunday dinner idea, so I hope they don’t back out on the plan. Once a week might be moved to once a month.
Badia has an amazing wine cellar, which we toured and did a tasting. The oldest bottles were from World War II!
The nearest town to the abbey is Gaiole – about 10 minutes away. This is one of those Italian villages with one main street, a couple of shops, and a market – most close about 12:45 each day and don’t reopen until 4:30. Dave is still unsure of what they do during that time. He keeps saying don’t they realize rent is a fixed cost? Plus, they are closed on Sundays. So, we are in the middle of nowhere 🙂 The locals seem to always have time to sit and chat with friends somewhere along the street – seems like a good life. The area is on the L’ Eroica bike trail, so there were many bikers all along the winding streets of Chianti as well as visiting the towns. The way to enjoy Chianti is driving from town to town. This wasn’t always that exciting for the girls, so a couple of times Dave stayed behind with them and relaxed at Badia. This is a win win for those of you who think Dave may be missing out – the girls get to relax and he gets to study Japanese.
One of the towns I was looking forward to seeing again was Siena. Mom, Dad and Claire made the trek with me – with Dad at the wheel of our big rig winding through the beautiful countryside. Parking was not so pretty, but we managed. Once Claire had her gelato – a clearly messy one at that – we wandered the streets.
Siena was bigger than I remember, but what I really wanted to see again was the Duomo. I so distinctly remember this from years ago and I was not disappointed. The striped walls, which look black and white, but we learned from Claire are really green and white, make this unlike any other church I have seen. The ceiling, the floor, everything was so beautiful. Claire said it was her favorite church she had seen along with La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. We ate lunch at a restaurant on Piazza del Campo where everyone was lazing in the sunshine.
The other town we ventured to was San Gimigniano – a 13th century walled medieval town. This time it was just mom, dad and me and none of us had ever visited this village before. It sits up on a hill and you can see if from afar due to the towers that stick up into the sky. There used to be 70 towers years ago, but now only 14 remain. We really enjoyed this town and walked it all. We went to the Duomo, much smaller than Siena with amazing frescoes. The town was quaint with different plazas where everyone sits to enjoy gelato or coffee, both locals and tourists alike. The views from the wall were amazing – as is every view of this countryside.
To keep the girls interested, we toured a couple of different castles nearby – Castello di Brolio and Castello di Meleto. Who wouldn’t love to see a real castle? Broilo Castle dates back to the middle ages and has been in the Ricasoli family for 32 generations. We got a great tour of the keep, which had the families old guns, helmets, crossbows and spears on display which we all found really interesting. You could also see where the castle had survived some shots from Allied troops who were trying to get rid of occupying Nazis. Crazy.
Castello de Meleto was another castle in our area that we toured. We were able see more of the actual castle than in Brolio. This one had more frescoes on the walls, but the best part was the private theatre that is still in use today. The backdrops were original and you could see the crawlspace the actors had to use in order to get on stage. The family had their own small private box above their guests and would even enter at a separate entrance. A really unique and surprising area to see in a castle.
We wine tasted at both castles, but I really enjoyed the wines at Castello di Meleto. We actually went twice and ended up trying all the wines they offered. They have a really nice tasting room and knowledgeable staff. For someone who has never loved a chianti, I now have some great Italian wines that I do like.
We cooked at home some great pasta dishes and enjoyed the wine we purchased on our tours. A good fire and some cards are a nice way to spend the evenings.
And we once again did a cooking class. This one was held right where we were staying at Badia. The kitchen was original – even the giant marble sink was the one used by the monks so long ago. This was our fourth cooking class of the trip and I am expecting big things from these girls when we get home. This class we learned how to make fresh pasta, raviolis and focaccia bread. We are hoping to bring some of this to Sunday dinners if we can. Not easy work – it might take all day to get dinner done, so not sure if it will happen. Sunday is also golf day for mom and dad, not sure they’re ready to give it up 🙂 The girls got pretty good at the raviolis and even tried their hand at tortellinis. The meal was amazing with the Badia wines to taste alongside. A great day of cooking once again!
It was time to leave the peacefulness of Badia and the Tuscan Countryside. We packed up the big rig for our last drive to Lucca.
Next stop: Lucca