The Villa Week, continued . . .

Remember, I’m writing this after the fact, and am trying to catch up and finish before it’s NEXT YEAR!

Wednesday, May 14 – Today’s visit is to the eastern reaches of Tuscany and beyond. First we drove just over the border into Umbria to visit the lovely little Lake Trasimeno, specifically the town of Passignano, where we hopped on a ferry boat over to Isola Maggiore, a small island with about 100 people, five churches, a few restaurants, bars, and post-card shops, an abandoned monastery and a couple of small beaches. You can walk around this island in about an hour or a bit more, with some craggy paths on the back side.

After wandering around the right side of the only little street on the island, taking photos of all the doorways I had photographed each year I’ve visited in the past, I found my usual restaurant spot at Sauro, owned by a family at whose hotel we stayed on our first trip to Italy in 1996. The birds were everywhere, audacious enough to pluck bread right out of the basket sitting in front of me on the table . . . and I encouraged every bit of it!

Some of the women joined me after awhile, we had wine and some dessert, and slowly made our way back to the boat dock to return to our cars in Passignano. Once settled, after bathroom breaks and more gelato and water, we headed to Cortona, the site of Under The Tuscan Sun. It is a walled hill-town high high up on a hilltop, and I like it better each time I visit there. Neil and I spent one night in October right in the old town and I’d like to do that again some time, but not today. Today we wander through the main streets, onto some back roads, and into a favorite coffee bar, where we get bellinis and lovely appetizers.

Then it’s back to the villa for the evening, through beautiful countryside, mist hovering over the Tuscan hills, and the sunlight streaming through distant rainclouds. We were fed at the villa with delicious leftovers and wine grown, made and bottled right on our villa property. Who could ask for more?

Oh yeah, and I drove through a little town I’ve never heard of, Bettole, that looks like a good candidate for a future purchase, if my lottery ticket comes up some year!

Thursday, May 15 – Today’s road trip is to Chianti country, and there are six of us, the other four opting not to venture into this most famous wine country. Castellina in Chianti is our first stop, and I haven’t been here for a dozen years. We found an Enoteca where we tasted some wine, discovered a beautiful small hotel right next door to the wine shop, complete with spa and stone swimming pool. A spectacular view out to the Chianti vineyards that make up 90% of this area of Tuscany, and the purchase of postcards and a few bottles of wine . . . then off to our lunch destination . . . Badia a Coltibuono, owned by Lorenza di Medici and her cooking school.

The restaurant is on a hill past a grazing pasture full of huge white cows. At the front of the restaurant are wisteria and the strangest rose bushes, full of small pink roses with petals almost carnation-like. On the same branches, sprinkled throughout, are huge yellow roses with pink edges! How do they do that???

Our four-course lunch, paired with appropriate wines, was exquisite as usual, and we spent half the afternoon gazing out to the views beyond the restaurant grounds. Then to our last Chianti stop, Greve in Chianti, with its wide piazza, little flower shops, and an excellent ceramics shop. Not the tourist fare, but actual artisan art. There is a ceramic mask hanging in my studio, purchased from this shop in Greve.

It rained on and off all afternoon, but we were undeterred. We made our way back through the outskirts of Siena during rush hour traffic, just barely arriving at the villa in time to sit down to Maria’s delicious meal.

Friday, May 16 – Today is the day we all sleep in, sit around the lovely villa, and pack up for tomorrow’s departure from the villa. But mid-afternoon, Donna, Jane, Barbara Due and I took off for Montalcino wine country . . . that’s Brunello wine country, and the roads are full of invitations to visit one vineyard or another to taste the wine that has made this area famous! My goal was to get to Castello Banfi, a well-known name, even in the U.S., and as I suspected, the grounds were beautiful, the tasting room was like a castle, and we spent quite a bit of time with our two tasting hosts before reluctantly returning to our villa.

We packed up the cars before going to bed, so we would be ready to head back to Florence the next morning, to return the rental cars and get our private transportation to Cinque Terre. It’s been a good week, and I think I will see this villa again soon.


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