Fonteverde Thermal Spa in San Casciano Dei Bagni

What a lovely way to spend our last day in Tuscany…relaxing!  Today we visited the award-winning Fonteverde Thermal Spa.  Fonteverde was once a renaissance palace for the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici.  Now it is a resort which overlooks the Val d’Orcia.  It is set atop a natural hot springs.  Visitors may enjoy the main pool, pay a premium to try additional pools of different temperatures, or select from a variety of treatments.

Most of our group paid extra to pick from a variety of pools, while a few of us hung out in the lower pool.  All pools had waterfalls and fountains which could be used to massage the body.  We arrived early and had most of the peaceful atmosphere to ourselves.

After our visit to the hot springs, we stopped in the nearby town, San Casciano Dei Bagni which owes its existence to the hot springs.  The village which offers lovely views of the countryside is also home to an excellent restaurant, Daniela.  We enjoyed the wonderful weather as we dined on the patio.  Our first course, a saccottino, was superb.  I can’t imagine the number of calories I consumed after digging into this crispy bag filled with potatoes, cheese, and ham and placed in a bowl of cream.  The presentation was fantastic!  Daniela served us a large salad with chicken for the second course…this was a welcome change from the normal foods.  Finally, we spooned pistachio and chocolate gelato into our mouths for dessert.  A diet is coming soon!

After our decadent lunch, we wandered around the small town.  A few ladies spotted some antique jewelry they liked through the window of a store that was closed, but a quick phone call summoned the owner to town within twenty minutes!  While they purchased their wares, a few of us checked out the church, Oratorio di Sant’Antonio and weaved through the back streets.  I love seeing the old walls, doors, windows, flower pots, and light posts.  What a nice day!  ETB



Tastings in Tuscany!

all we do is EAT in Italy

Well, it’s diet time…For American’s I think Tuscany translates to indulgent dining.  And when we weren’t savoring three course meals, we were tasting truffles, olive oil, cheese, and wine!

Truffle Tasting

Truffles…YUM!  I LOVE them, so I was very excited to visit Doriana, a truffle expert in the region.  Doriana, who has a store full of everything truffle, including sliced, diced, spread and mixed with other vegetables, buys her truffles by the pound from regional farmers who bring them to her store.

The farmers use dogs, generally mutts who have a good nose to hunt for these treasures which can be found a few inches or a foot underground during the spring and the fall.  The white truffles are more rare than the black truffles as they only grow in October.  While the farmers are always out searching with their dogs which can be worth thousands of dollars, many times the best time to find the truffles are during a full moon!

Doriana greeted our group of ten graciously.  A table was already set with plates of breads with a variety of spreads including plain truffles, truffles with asparagus, and truffles with olives just to name a few.  We learned which spreads or sauces would taste best with pasta or topped on a ribeye.  Of course, in typical Italian fashion, we washed down our nibbles with wine and expresso!

At the end of the tasting, none of left empty handed.  We all had a few jars of rich, tasty truffles to savor back in the States.

Olive Oil Tasting

It’s amazing how inexpensive olive oil is in Italy!  Too bad Rita didn’t ship, or our group of ten may have bought her out of the varietal olive oil gift pack.

Generally, olive oil is made with a blend of different olives; black, green and red.  Rita had an idea to make varietal olive oil in order to taste the flavor of each type of olive. She planted her olive trees fifteen years ago, and is the only one our tour guide knows of who produces both a blend and varietal olive oil.

We got to enjoy the afternoon at Rita’s operation.  We wandered through her olive groves, picked perfectly ripe figs right off the trees to eat with our picnic lunch, and admired the lovely views while also learning about her olive oil endeavor.

Cheese Tasting

Our sheep farm visit was very interesting!  Sheep in Italian in pecora, as such today were learned how to make pecorino cheese.

The sheep farmer we visited owns 1,000 sheep.  There are two seasons…breeding season and milking season.  The milking season lasts for five months.  Each female sheep produces a 1/2 liter of milk twice day.

To make the cheese, a 100 liter vat is filled with milk that is mixed with enzymes, bacteria, and any flavor like truffle or pepper.  The mixture is squirted into baskets which are placed on a tray which is moved into a warming storage room where the cheese ferments.  After about twelve hours, the cheese is moved to a cold storage room to stop the fermenting process.

The following day, the aging process begins.  The cheese may be aged for months or over a year.  Some of it is packed in walnut leaves or grasses to add different flavors.

After learning about the process, we were invited into a tasting room where we tried a fresh cheese, eight different aged cheeses, and ricotta mixed with sugar for dessert. Most of us ended up liking a six month old aged cheese.  It was quite a tasty and fun lunch!

Wine Tasting

Cantina Murogrosso was just a quarter mile down the road from our villa, so we walked to the winery for a lovely tasting with Paola, the sommelier but also an assistant to our tour guide.

The grapes were just harvested (early due to the drought), and we arrived just in time to see them working with the giant tanks of grape juice, soon to be wine!  The winery is expecting a good year.  With the drought, the grapes weren’t plentiful, but the quality of the grape was excellent.

After wandering through the vineyard, we made it to the tasting room.  We tasted two whites, a rosé, and two reds with breads, cheese, and meats.  Paola advised us to save the rich cheese for the rich red wine.  We also learned that it is important to hold the stem of the wine glass as not only do our hands warm the wine, but the oils from our hands can transfer through glass which can change the flavor of the wine.  She is not a fan of stemless wine ware!

In addition, the rich red wine needed to breathe for at least two hours!  I really enjoyed the full-bodied red wine that included the same type grapes and blend of a Brunello though it could not bear the name as the vineyard did not fall in the specific region.

Cantina Murogrosso is small winery and produces only about 8,000 bottles a year. They hand pick all their grapes which means humans are choosing the best grapes and pruning them before they are placed in the bucket.  Large wineries which use machines, mix together all the grapes, mold, bugs and more!  By hand picking the grapes, they don’t have to add as many chemicals to kill all the bugs, bacteria, and mold either.  In addition, since they don’t commercially ship to the USA, they aren’t subject to all the sulfite requirements.  As such, I could drink a whole glass without getting a headache.  What a fun evening!



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Cycling to Sinalunga, Italy…Rewarded with a Pizza Party!

Before we arrived in Italy, Heidi and I requested bikes because we had always heard of amazing bike tours in Tuscany. After driving around for a day on the narrow and busy roads, we had second thoughts about riding them and had considered different plans for the day but forgot to tell Gianluca.

Gianluca has gone out of his way to give us suggestions and get us what we have needed at all times, so we felt at least obligated to ride down the street and back. We told the family we’d be back in 5 minutes and told Gianluca we were going to Betolle. “That’s only 700 meters”, he responded.

So we strapped on our helmets. Lunch boxes were attached to the handle bars held spares tubes, air cartridges, and tire irons. We were set for our adventure, with the first stop being the grocery store for Heidi’s much needed Diet Coke. Of course, we couldn’t find it…a common occurrence. We rode up and down the hills around the three streets and finally settled for water which turned out to be a smart purchase on this warm, sunny day.

From Betolle, we intended on riding to Sinalunga, however, we missed the turn and pedaled down the hill on a busy road. Most drivers were friendly, though one passenger yelled “boo” out the window which was quite a startle. Still in one piece, we decided to pull off the road and map out a different route back to the house.

We turned through a neighborhood and then on to a back country road. Within minutes we were riding along what appeared to be a gravel driveway, but it just kept going. We passed by fields, gated houses, a few signs we didn’t understand, vineyards, roses, and poppies as we admired towns perched on the hills in the distance. As we pedaled along, suddenly a DHL truck was coming toward us, ah…there was an exit!

It returned us back to the busy road only a few hundred meters from Betolle. Sometimes mistakes are the best! We had so much fun riding through the country side. From Betolle, and after an hour or so of riding, we thought we’d return to the house, but we missed the turn just as we were heading down another hill, this time in the direction of Sinalunga, so we just kept going. The hills proved challenging as we pedaled as hard as possible. We stopped for more water from the public fountain in Guazzino before riding a few more miles and crossing bridge where we could see Sinalunga perched on a giant hill in the distance! Just the sight of the town on the hill ended our desire and attempt to visit it. The grades for some of the town roads were like mountain passes.

We turned right through the round-about and looked for another way home that might not require us to climb the hill we just road down as Heidi astutely noticed, “There is not a shoulder where I can walk the bike up the hill.” We were headed toward the A1, the main highway with a 130 km speed limit.

“Perhaps it has a side road,” Heidi said to me.

“Would you want to ride on the side road to LBJ?” I responded.

Miraculously, there was another two lane road to follow (Heidi is an excellent navigator), but we certainly didn’t avoid any hills. We rode past old houses, grazing horses, and eventually topped out with a lovely view of Sinalunga.

Two and a half hours later though probably only 10 miles, it was well past lunch-time, so we stopped at the meat market picked up Salami, cheese, bread, soda, water, and a bottle of wine for only 13 Euro! We were proud of our ordering skills…knowing no Italian, we survived.

Lunch by the beautiful pool back at the house, Il Casale del Marchese, was in order. The rectangular pool was flanked by trees and flower gardens with a spectacular bath area. On one end stood the pizza oven and the other end a huge cabana with pool chairs, a ping pong table and a foosball table. We snacked on our tasty purchases as we shaded our arms, legs, and face which were null of sunscreen during the whole ride while worked on tanning our midsection.

Happy hour time soon rolled around and the rest of the family joined us after a day in Cortona. We moved from the pool chairs to the shaded table and chairs by the enormous pizza oven. Gianluca and his mom made us at least ten pizzas with sausage, ham, tomato, olive, mushroom, artichoke, arugula and more. The final one was Nutella! The wine poured all night while Clarke played the guitar which Gianluca secured from a friend. What a great way to spend our last night in Tuscany!

We’ll do some more exploring tomorrow before finding our way to Cinque Terre…ETB



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