Living a tasteful life

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Italy Recap: Tuscany

I’m back with another recap of our trip to Italy that we went on back in October and this time it's all about Tuscany! I’m going to jump right in where I left off, which was in Pompeii. You can find part one here and part two here if you need to catch up!
We left Pompeii and headed to the train station to make our way to Florence where we picked up our rental car. From there we had about a two-hour drive to Tuscany. Once we got to Tuscany, I honestly wasn’t sure how I would ever get back in the car again. The roads were narrow and winding, rarely giving way to a straight path. It took my stomach some getting used to.  It was dark when we arrived at our hotel and we were hungry, so we immediately checked in and got ready for dinner. We stayed at Castella di Spaltenna, an incredible upscale, 5-start, resort hotel in a castle, located in the country side with country-chic rooms and a welcoming staff. I was most excited about their Michelin star restaurant, Il Pievano. We had reservations in this quiet, fine dining, restaurant filled with old world, Tuscan charm. The cuisine, inspired by both Tuscany and Campania was incredible. Presented as a work of art, the food was unexpected but not disappointing. For example, this is a picture of their version of tomato soup five ways. Each version tasted just like the soup, yet somehow offering complex layers of flavor that were different with each sample. 
 A platter of treats, all of which were delicious, although I can't recall exactly what each item was.
 A warm box of assorted breads.
 Here's a few of some of the other dishes that made their way to our table.
The presentation of everything was just beautiful! I can’t recall what some of these dishes were, nor am I entirely sure, but nonetheless they were all delicious. This was my first experience dining at a Michelin start restaurant and it truly was an amazing and unforgettable dinner.

The feeling I had the next morning when I got out of bed and opened our wood pane windows was once I will never forget. Remember we arrived at night so we weren’t able to see the grounds. I opened the windows to the most breathtaking and calming view of the country side. The fog had rolled past and beautiful green and yellow vineyards were left in the distance. I couldn’t wait to explore the grounds.
There was nothing that the complimentary breakfast buffet lacked. From sweet to savory food to and unlimited cappuccinos and complimentary prosecco, I looked forward to breakfast every morning. After a filling breakfast, we made our way to the spa and took full advantage of all the amenities before we set out for the day.

Our first stop was Castello di Brolio, a rural castle, palace and gardens located in the municipality of Gaiole in Chianti. Since 1141, the Ricasoli family has been making wines from the vineyards surrounding their estate, Brolio Castle, making it the world's oldest winemaking operation under continuous family control. You can buy a ticket for the “historical guided tour” or the classic tour which is a visit to the gardens and museum. We chose the latter. Included in the ticket is a wine tasting at the Ricasoli wine shop

After our tour, we stopped in the wine shop for our tasting and decided to have lunch at a small Agribar Brolio, a small cafe just across the street. We each shared one of the simplest sandwiches comprised of nothing but meat and cheese but it was so good. 
We started making our way back to home base after lunch. The distance of our multiple points of interest weren't too far from each other, but the winding roads added much more time to our travels. We hadn’t yet explored the area outside of our hotel which was quaint and lined with little mom and pop shops and restaurants. It was also time for another snack break. We couldn’t resist sampling some of the pasta highlighted on a chalkboard outside of one of the restaurants. It was just what we needed to hold us over until our next meal.
We had scoped out the scene that afternoon and knew exactly where we wanted to go back for dinner. Wanting to stay nearby, we headed back to the little area just outside of our hotel to a restaurant that soon became our favorite place. It was small and cozy and the food was amazing. We actually ate there twice and probably would have gone more if we had stayed longer. Whit is now obsessed with this dessert and frequently recreates it at home.
Another delicious breakfast with a breathtaking view the next morning. If only every morning started like this.

We set out for a day on the road with our first stop at a local vineyard. This particular vineyard was owned by the hotel we were staying which was just down the road. The hotel kindly arranged our complimentary tasting and tour for us. This was a smaller vineyard with great wine and friendly staff.
Our road trip wasn’t without purpose, we were headed to Vignamaggio for a cooking class. One of my favorite parts about the day was stopping at a random town to grab a drink and snack on the way. There was a language barrier for sure, but we were able to communicate meat, cheese and wine….all the important food groups. 
We arrived at Vignamaggio and were greeted by the chef and sous chef, and introduced to two others that were joining our class. We all put on our aprons and headed to the kitchen. Everyone was each assigned a different dish to prepare, really making it a joint effort. We had a wonderful experience, leaving me feeling confident that I could prepare these dishes at home. Here's a look at was was on the menu...

Melanzane Alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan) 
Spinach Gnocchi 
Pollo Alla Cacciatora -Chicken with tomatoes and onions stewed in wine
Cantucci De Prato (Dessert) I wasn't a big fan of this.
Tiramisu- I was partially responsible for this dish and it turned out great if I do say so myself.
Making the gnocchi.
While the Chef plated our food, we had time to explore the grounds of the breathtaking estate where the villa was located.

Thank you, Vignamaggio for a wonderful experience! I highly recommend book a class with them if you enjoy cooking. 

We had originally planned to “vineyard hop” on our final day in Tuscany, but after mapping things out we soon realized that the vineyards weren’t as close to each other as we had hoped. We decided to visit the top vineyard on our list and then make our way to Siena. 

We had the best experience at Castello Banfi! This seven thousand acre wine estate is the largest in Tuscany. As we were just beginning our tasting, and were kindly welcomed by a sweet lady who happened to be the owner. She chatted with us for a bit about where we were from and what made us to choose Italy and we told her why we were visiting. She welcomed us with open arms, gave us a private tour of their balsamic distillery, set us up with a beautiful charcuterie spread for lunch and gifted us with a bottle of champagne to celebrate. 
 I'm pretty sure I could live off of meat, cheese, bread and wine.
 These are the barrels the balsamic is made in.
And this was hands down, the best balsamic I've ever had. The owner brought it out specially for us to have with lunch.
The hospitality at Castello Banfi was contagious. We left feeling satisfied and happy that of all the wineries we could have visited, we chose that particular one.

Siena was a car ride away. We immediately treated ourselves with a huge cone of gelato the minute we arrived. I’m pretty sure I indulged in this at least once a day while we were there and it was so worth it.
 How beautiful is the Siena Cathedral?!
We briefly scoped out the city but honestly decided we really just wanted to go back to our cozy little town where we were staying at have one last dinner at our now favorite spot.

We had the veggie platter to star.
 The most amazing ravioli. 
 And cheesy, flavorful pizza with crispy crust.
 And Whit's new found favorite dessert!
Dinner was nothing short of amazing. What I wouldn't do for more of their pizza and pasta. Man, writing this recap really has me longing to go back. 

The most popular questions we've gotten since we've returned from our trip have been "Which was your favorite place?" and "What did you enjoy most?" I'll have to admit that I think Tuscany was my favorite. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Capri and Positano, there was just something about Tuscany that stole my heart. Maybe it was the peaceful countryside and the breathtaking views as far as the eye could see. It was a great place to get away and relax. But if you're looking for hustle and bustle, this may not be the place for you. It's definitely a great place to unwind and enjoy vacation at a slower pace. I don't know that I would stay longer than four days, but I would definitely visit again!

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