arthisto December 15th, 2011
Abbey and Monastery, Sant Antimo , Tuscany
Almost everywhere you look in Tuscany, the view is like a backdrop, and this time, we were the movie. Spending five days in September, wandering the quiet back alleys of Sorano, moved by Gregorian Chants in this ancient abbey, and sleeping each night in a castle, we did feel as though we were in a movie. For those five days, we really “lived” in Tuscany. We woke each morning and made our own lattes in the kitchen of our castle apartment. I can smell that hot espresso bubbling right now. Add to that the hot milk and some sugar, and it’s going to be another good day.
We drove up, down, and around those pretty hills, lunched in some great new finds, and visited La Foce, again. Jim and I have found that we cannot get near La Foce without stopping in to just be there. La Foce is a gracious villa that supported several farms in the heart of Tuscany, and ended up right in the center of the World War II fighting. If the walls could talk. The story of La Foce, and all that happened there, both sad and heroic, is in a slim book entitled, War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944, by Iris Origo. Signore and Signora Origo owned and lived in the villa during this time—a first hand account, to be sure. Now, the villa has apartments to book and produces some delicious olive oil, which I have in my pantry. Seems sort of extravagant that we do our olive oil shopping in Italy, but we do.
Our anchor in Tuscany is Castello di Proceno. Such a precious place owned by a wonderful couple that we love. Built in the 11th century, acquired by the ancestors of the current owners in the 15th century, the castle is decorated not just with antiques but with Etruscan antiquities, unearthed on the property, dating back to 700 BC.
Up on a rocky spur, this castle fortress has defended the tiny town of Proceno for centuries. Located just up the hill from what for hundreds of years was the main road from Florence to Rome, and from the Catholic pilgrimage route from Germany to Rome, the Americans and Germans also occupied Castello di Proceno in turn, during World War II. The art and history in this place lives, which is why Jim and I return year after year, and this castle is the perfect place for Art History Alive guests to stay.
No trip to Tuscany would be complete without lunch at the outrageous Osteria Acquacheta in Montepulciano. No vegetarians allowed! This is a steakhouse, Italian style. The owner, who carries a rather bloody meat cleaver in his belt, draws a diagram of a steak on your paper tablecloth and asks (forcefully) if you want the whole (that would be the porterhouse cut) or a smaller piece, the NY. You point, and he clomps off to his huge butcher’s block placed in front of a roaring fireplace in the back. Whack, whack! A huge steak is slapped on a piece of butcher paper, weighed, and brought to your table for approval. Our steak was the size of a newborn, no kidding. If you like what you see, you nod, he calculates the cost, again on the handy paper tablecloth, you nod again, and off it goes to the fireplace. The rareness of the still-sizzling steak upon delivery to your table indicates that it has not spent much time on the grate, but WOW, is it delicious! This place is a must for meat eaters. It is loud, raucous, the staff is great, and you make friends with the people at the table 3” from yours. Really, really fun!
Orvieto, just 45 minutes from the castello, is such a big, beautiful hill town. I love everything about it, because it has everything. A fantastic cathedral with breathtaking art and history, winding streets with fun shopping, delicious hidden restaurants, and amazing people watching. The more I visit, the more I love it.
AHA will be in Tuscany twice in 2012. July 12-18, we will share an Italian music festival at Castello di Proceno, with a very small group of guests, Musica in Tuscany, a Castle Courtyard Concert. And again, September 30 – October 8, with Rome and Tuscany, a Colosseum and a Castle. If you want to know Tuscany, these two itineraries were designed to accomplish just that. In fact, all of our itineraries are created with one thing in mind, getting to really know your destination.
After five leisurely days of just “being” in Tuscany, we are packing and girding ourselves for the upcoming five days in our very favorite, Rome! After Tuscany, it can be a shock to your system. But we will be there on a Sunday, so we are planning to gather with thousands in St. Peter’s Square to see and hear Pope Benedict. We have done this many times over the years, and there is something very special about it.
I will post about our time in Rome in the New Year. It was FANTASTIC.
UGLY AMERICAN ALERT: After our lunch at Aquacheta and an afternoon ramble around picturesque Montepulciano, we were headed back to our car
Steak for two, Acquacheta
about 6PM. Our route took us past the now-closed Aquacheta. Standing in front, trying to peer in the windows, was a very American couple with a computer printout in hand. We were the only other
folks on the street so, in apparent desperation, they looked at us with frustration.
Jim says: “Great restaurant! Delicious! You’ll love it,” and keeps moving.
Woman: (In a whine) “Yes, we’ve heard about it, but it isn’t open.”
Jim: “No, it will open about 7:30 for dinner.”
Man: (Angrily) “If it is so good, why isn’t it open at dinnertime?!”
Cyndie: Walking away, a little ashamed and shaking head.
It was 6PM, he was hungry, and they walked away to find some place, any place that was open. I guess he thought he was still in the states where dinnertime is dinnertime.
TRAVEL TIP: In Italy, the only people in a restaurant having dinner before 8PM are either Americans or Canadians. By grabbing a piece of pizza or a gelato around 4PM, you’ll be hungry when the restaurants are hopping Italian-style.
New Friends, Estela and Gianni, Acquacheta
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