A Villa in Tuscany - Part 1 of a series
Waking Up In Casa Rasa
In 2006 Craig and I took our third trip to Italy, this time renting a Villa in Tuscany with two couples, our friends Al & Louise with whom we had traveled to Italy with twice before and Joe & Sandy, a couple from Oregon that we met on our second trip to Italy. It had been a goal of the six of us to one day realize this dream, And so here we are, Day 1 of our week and we are waking up in Casa Rasa.
The night before had been spent sipping wine out on the loggia and catching up with our American friends whom we had not seen since our Spain/Portugal trip back in 2004. A lot had happened since that trip and we were not too sure that we were going to be able to make this trip after all. Not too long after our tour of Spain/Portugal Sandy had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. She had been waiting right up until January of 2006 to get the go ahead from her doctor, that it would be OK for her to take this trip in May. And then more bad news hit us with the diagnoses of Prostate Cancer for our friend Al. In the end Al's surgery was a success, with no need for chemo, and Sandy's doctor gave her the go ahead; and so we were off.
Having consumed a fair amount of wine the night before, our first night together, we were all moving a bit slow this morning. But what I remember vividly about that first morning was waking up in our bedroom and looking straight ahead to the glorious views outside our window - the rolling hills of Tuscany surrounding our villa. It was like a piece of Heaven and Craig and I were just so thrilled to be there.
When we were planning this trip we decided on an area that was not in a heavily populated or tourist-busy town. Our travel agent found us this villa which was rented and run by a couple - she from Spain/he from England. And we loved the fact that it was out in the country with the closest town, Buonconvento, a five minute drive away. This town is in the Province of Siena and is an important agricultural center. In ancient times it flourished because of its proximity to two rivers - the Arbia and Ombrone, bringing them a richness in trade. This also subjected them to many raids throughout the centuries. Like most small towns in Italy it is enclosed by a wall.
What we loved most about Buonconvento was its non-touristy feel. One could stroll around very easily unencumbered by jostling crowds and indeed feel very much like the local citizenry, stopping for a capucino or cafe latte now and then. It was truly enjoyable and because of its close proximity to our villa we could drop in and out on a whim.
After spending an hour or two in Buonconvento through mid morning, we decided to head for Montalcino which is not too far away. We thought this would make a nice stopping point for lunch. Montalcino is a hill town community in Tuscany situated near the Crete Senesi in Val D'Orcia. The Crete Senesi (Sienese Clays) is an area of hills and woods with a landscape looking somewhat lunar because of its distinctive grey coloration in the soil. And of course Montalcino is known for its wine - Brunello di Montalcino - which translates to "nice dark one" and is the unofficial name of the clone of Sangiovese, typical of the grapes growing in the region.
Finding a place to park our cars we wander along taking in the charms of another medieval town and everything it has to offer. For lunch we pick out a charming little enotecca and go with a simple Tuscan lunch made up of cold cuts and lovely cheeses, paired with scrumptious breads and of course a glass of wine.
Back At our Villa - Casa Rasa
After lunch we head back toward Buonconvento and our villa. We need to stop first at the Co-Op in town to pick up some more supplies for our week's stay. Once back at the villa we find ourselves sitting around outside on nicely situated chairs, put there for us by our hosts while we were gone, so that we may sit and stare out at the surrounding hills. This became a popular pastime every afternoon as it truly was a "piece of heaven", I know that first full day, sitting there that late afternoon we all had our own thoughts and I remember mine as being "Here I am In a Tuscan Dream" Not so many years before that I had wondered if I would ever get to Italy. That in itself was a dream. And now here I was with my husband, and very good friends, sharing that dream.
That evening we were heading back into Buonconvento to have dinner at a restaurant we had checked out and for where we had made reservations. But first we were invited to have cocktails with our hosts on their patio. The evening was getting a bit chilly, which called for a light sweater or jacket. But once on the patio, drinks in hand, the cool air was forgotten as we listened to our hosts beginnings in this villa; what they'd had to do to get this villa ready for renting out and a little bit of a history of the villas surrounding us on adjoining hills. The thing we noticed first of all was how few villas there actually were and we found out the reason for that. Building in this area is not allowed. Instead, you can purchase an existing villa - rundown, or otherwise and bring it back to it's original architectue. And there's the clue. There are very strict rules. One can do what one wants "inside" the villa, but the exterior must keep the integrity of its original facade and indeed the area surrounding. When you look around the countryside, you can certainly see the merit in this. There was absolutely nothing to pollute the views and the beauty of the region.
My Piece Of Heaven
Ristorante Da Mario
That night the six of us sat in Ristorante Da Mario and watched in awe as a young couple at the table next to us made their way through what we found out was Bistecca Florentine. This was a humongous steak that would have made Hulk Hogan proud. I don't know how they got through it, but they did. It pays to be young.
Here ended our first full day in our Tuscan Villa; we had enjoyed our dinners - not Bistecca and we had some more wine waiting for us back at Casa Rasa. Tomorrow would be another day of touring and discovering, but meanwhile the night was still young.
Before you leave check out our Youtube video of our Tuscany Tour. It will give you a preview of whats to come. The start of the video is in Rome as we four Canadians had two nights and a day in Rome before meeting our American friends at the airport. The four of us also headed for San Gimignano after our week at the villa for 3 nights and 2 days before heading back to Rome to catch our flight home. I hope you will enjoy!
Our Tuscany Tour
Be sure to check back for Part two - tomorrow we go to Cortona - the town near Frances Maye's villa "Under The Tuscan Sun".