September 20, 2014
Our week in Chianti, with home base in a beautiful villa in Vagliagli, was spectacular! With a van that held all of us, we didn’t have to worry about caravaning in three cars or getting lost (well, at least not THREE cars getting lost) on our way to our daily adventures. Peggy was my navigator-extraordinaire, and though on the first day, just outside of Siena, an unruly metal guardrail jumped out and snatched a big blocky side-panel attached to the left rear of the van, we still managed to get to our first destination, the beautiful restaurant at Badia a Coltibuono for lunch, just outside Radda in Chianti.
Badia a Coltibuono is also the property on which Lorenza di Medici’s cooking school is situated, and if you want to spend several thousand dollars for a few days with the school, your bank account is much larger than any of ours! But lunch on the grounds is exquisite, with wisteria drooping over the canopy overlooking the Tuscan hills.
During our week at Solaria di Santa Maddelena, up the hill from the little town of Vagliagli, we spread out among the seven bedrooms and six bathrooms, the four patios and decks, a huge living space with large dining room and larger living room, and we played. For several days we all piled into the 9-passenger van I rented, and explored the area.
Day One, Sunday, we traveled took advantage of a cloudless sky and a good weather forecast, and drove all the way to Porto Santo Stefano and the Giardino Tarocchi near Capalbio. The Tarot Garden is the brain-child and many-decade project of artist Niki de Saint Phalle, http://www.nikidesaintphalle.com , a nearly unbelievable mosaic labor of love. Click on the link for many photos and the story itself.
The next morning we headed to Montepulciano, a favorite hilltown, where we were promptly applauded by several elderly Italian men watching me pack into a tight parking space with this huge van! Three or four of my travelers were outside the van, calling directions for situating the big Opel beast perfectly within the lines of the parking area. Where was my camera THEN??
We finished that day by making a stop in Pienza, the location for two scenes in the film, The English Patient, as well as the home of pecorino cheese, a fine sheep’s cheese. Stopped at the main piazza for a cappuccino with some of the group, joined by Jennifer, the gelato queen of our trip, and her friend Mindy, both nodding in approval at their selected flavors of the creamy stuff.
Shopping in Greve in Chianti, everyone found something special, a manageable painting, a ceramic pitcher or other-shaped vessel, and two bottles of wine for Neil, a tradition begun in 1999 when he and I visited this wine shop in Greve together.
For some reason, (perhaps because of the wine shop and the very unique ceramic artisan shop) this is my favorite Chianti town, though others might argue the virtues of Radda, Castellina, Gaiole and Panzano as “best”. I used to try to rush around and see at least three in one day. Now it is more enjoyable to just land in one village and take my time. My traveling companions were more than happy to do that as well.
As we wound down the afternoon and returned to our villa, those who stayed home were preparing a delicious dinner for us, and we were satiated with sightseeing, shopping, swimming and sumptuous food, ready to go to bed and greet tomorrow’s adventures well-rested.