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Italy - Orvieto and Tuscany Countryside

Pauline

Forums Admin
Woke up to sunshine!! Not brilliant blue skies, but sunshine. Not hot either, which really is probably good.

Steve is feeling much better. I did the driving today though to give him a rest. We drove to Pienza and had coffee and cornetto at the caffe outside the gate into the town, where we used to go for coffee when we stayed at La Fornicina near Castelmuzio for 3 weeks in October 2001. Then we walked around Pienza a bit, checked out Latte di Luna, the restaurant there that we liked.

Drove on to San Quirico d'Orcia and walked around a bit. They are repaving many of the streets. Tried to have another coffee but waited and waited at the bar, along with others, and no one ever showed up. Found another place, had a coffee.

Took the backroads through Bagno Vignoni and Castilglione d'Orcia to Sant'Antimo, a 12th century abbey still used by a religious order. I read through my very old notes on SlowTrav and they were still accurate. We arrived at noon, spent 30 minutes exploring the church, then waited for the 12:45 chanting. This time there were only 6 monks (my notes said 7). The chanting was lovely. There were quite a few people there to listen.

Then we drove to the nearby town, Castelnuovo dell'Abate, and had a simple lunch at Antica Osteria del Bassomondo (recommended in my notes). We both had pasta.

By now our sunny, warm morning was turning to a grey, overcast afternoon. We drove north to Monte Oliveto to see the Sodoma frescoes of the Life of St Benedict, another one of my favorites from past trip. I used my SlowTrav notes and read out the meaning of each section (and took photos). I found a section that I missed in my old notes! We spent an hour looking at each section in detail. I love those frescoes and how Sodoma included animals in many parts. While we were doing this, it started pouring rain. Our rain jackets were safely stored in the car trunk about 1/4 mile away in the parking lot. We took the opportunity to look at each section a second time.

The rain let up, became a drizzle, and we went to the shop. I got some of their honey, debated getting some of their herbal tinctures but didn't. We went back to the car in the drizzle. It was 5pm and we headed "home".

After a few minutes on the road, a torrential rain storm started. It lasted about 30 minutes. The road filled with water. I pulled over for part of it, but drove slowly for some of it. We drove back through Chisure (where my friend Zak lives - we will see him later in the week), then Montisi (where my friend Gail lives - we will see her tomorrow). We drove by the house we rented near Castelmuzio. By the time we got to Pienza the rain had stopped.

We stopped at the Coop in Pienza where I got to watch an Italian woman slowly buying tonight's dinner ingredients at the deli - ricotta, thin sliced meat of some kind, a small piece of pecorino. We got some olives (too spicy) and artichokes (wonderful). We also got some bottled sauces made at Fungiamiata (I think I have that right). Years ago we visited their food factory that is nearby.

Back home and I made dinner, the same as last night - white rice and a combination of the wonderful vegetables from the local Frutta e Verdura (onion, fennel, carrot, zucchini, asparagus).

Before we started out in the morning we stopped at the local bakery (forno) and had good bread and focaccia (I know that is mis-spelled and why does right click not work on Steve's bloody Macbook Air?). Anyway, we also had bread for dinner.

What a lovely day! So many things brought memories flooding back. Memories of previous trip, of writing things for SlowTrav, of topics on the old forums.

I wish we were having hot sunny days. I had planned to sit out by the pool and read or knit. I bet it is sunny in England!! But, I don't handle the heat as well as I should, so this weather is probably best. We had big lightening and thunder too.

Tomorrow Ann Reavis comes down from Florence!

I will post photos in another post, since I have to post them from my iPad. We have a complicated tech setup here.

Chris, I am taking photos of every table linens shop that I see for your trip next year!
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
focaccia - shows as incorrect on the input box (red line under). Two fingered tap on MacBook Air is same as a right click, but when the correct spelling pops up it is nothing close.

Dana's Italian Menu Decoder, which we are using all the time, says my spelling is correct!! I guess whatever dictionary this computer uses (0r is it firefox that is doing this?) doesn't know focaccia. Humm.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Sant'Antimo as the dark clouds come in.

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An old olive tree at Sant'Antimo.

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Sodoma includes himself and his pets (2 badgers and a goose) in one of the Life of St Benedict scenes.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
We spent today with Ann Reavis. She took the train down from Florence and we picked her up at the Chiusi train station.

I was reading the Cadogan guide last night and wanted to see the main church in Chiusi, so we visited there first. I thought we had never been to Chiusi, but when we got there things were familiar so we had been there before. The church has beautiful mosaics, similar to those in Ravenna, but - - they are fake! They were painted in 1915. They look great.

We drove to Montichiello and had lunch at La Porta, which everyone raves about. The town and setting are beautiful, and the food was good, but it was mostly Americans there, not much choice for non-meat eaters - it just wasn't as fab as I was hoping.

We drove up to Montisi and spent the afternoon with a SlowTrav friend, Gail. Had a great time chatting and walked around the town. I got a 3 liter tin of the local organic olive oil.

Back to Sant'Antonio, in the sun (good weather all day) and we explored the grounds. Very beautiful. This is a lovely place. Our apartment is lovely - comfortable, very spacious, fabulously comfortable bed.

Back to Chiusi for Ann to take an evening train home. We picked up dinner from the nearby Tavola Calda. A lovely day.

A lot of sun today and warm, but not hot. I forgot how much driving you end up doing in Tuscany. We got a brand new Audi A1, which I like driving.

View from Montichiello.

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Doorway in Montisi.

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I am loving being back in Tuscany!
 

Marcia

10+ Posts
Finally managed to get to your reports here, and loving reading about the Sant'Antonio we saw back in May. One night the rosticceria next to the frutta e verdure provided us a very nice and simple dinner.
 

Roz

500+ Posts
Pauline, have you seen the Sodoma frescoes at Sant'Anna in Camprena? We finally got to see them on our recent visit to Montepulciano. We have been trying for years, but it's always been closed when we have gone there. I love Sodoma too, and I'm glad we finally managed to get in to see them. Here's one I photographed:
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Pauline

Forums Admin
Hi Roz, we saw them years ago when we spent 3 weeks in a house near there. I had hoped to see them again yesterday but we were too late leaving Montisi. We will try to get to them.

Sunny this morning!
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Sunny and warm this morning so we did the two mile trail that Nico made here for his runners. It did not rain yesterday and the trail was dry. It is a lovely trail with a good amount of up and down. It goes along the edges of woods and fields making a big loop around his property. Views to Pienza from one part.

We had lunch here and sat outside reading for the afternoon. Then we went into Montepulciano without our rain jackets (mistake). From Montepulciano we could see the dark clouds over Pienza and heading our way. We parked in the upper town and walked to Piazza Grande, then walked around that part of town. We made a dash to gone car when gone rain started and got within 100 feet of it when the downpour started, so we huddled in a bus shelter. This weather is much like Santa Fe monsoon season, but in June instead of late July.

Eventually we got to the car. We thought we might walk around the historic part of Chianciamo but it was still raining when we got there, so we came back home. Dinner here tonight.

The sun in the morning was lovely!

Sant'Antonio olive trees.

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Montepulciano.

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Nico now has four apartments in Montepulciano and we are thinking of coming for two weeks this winter. That takes off the pressure for seeing more this week.
 

Chris

500+ Posts
I'm so glad you're getting sunshine after that forecast of rain all week! I'm really hoping to see the frescoes at Sant'Anna in Camprena next year. We missed them on previous trips.
 

Chris

500+ Posts
If that seems out of context, it's because I wrote it a day or two ago and forgot to click Post Reply. It's surprising that this software saves unposted text that way.
 

Lisa in Ottawa

500+ Posts
Pauline,
When you were in Uzes, I thought tht's where I'd like to go in October. Now that you're reporting from Italy, I'm thinking that's where........
While I've been to Italy several times, with the exception of Firenze, I haven't explored much of Tuscany. I've thought of it as very touristy. Everyone waundering around with a Rick Steves in hand. But I know it's lovely and I do adore Italy.
When you book your auto rentals from the UK, who do you use? Is it still auto europe or a local supplier? Maybe I should ask this in another forum.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
I thought Tuscany would be more touristy now too. Ann says Florence is packed with tourists, Russians and Chinese being the latest big groups. But tourism is down in Italy overall the past couple of years. The towns here have lots of tourists but it is high season now. Uzes was full of tourists too.

I use AutoEurope.co.uk because we drive with UK licenses.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Pauline, have you seen the Sodoma frescoes at Sant'Anna in Camprena?
Thank you for reminding me about this. We went this afternoon and saw them. Opening hours are 4pm - 6pm (16 - 18). We got there at 5pm! Years ago it took us several visits to finally find them open.

I think the movie The English Patient was filmed there, and on the piazza in Pienza, but the scene where she sees the frescoes was in the Arezzo church. Slowly, much of my Tuscany travel info is coming back to me.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Sunny and hot this morning, clouds in later afternoon. No rain yet.

This morning we drove to Bagno Vignoni and did a one hour walk. I have the Cicerone Walking in Tuscany Guide, which is the same one we used on vacations here 11+ years ago, and wanted to do part of the 3 hour Bagno Vignoni walk, which we have done before. I am pleased to say that this hike has been changed and now goes on trails along the fields and through woods instead of on a dry and dusty white road (strada bianca) and there are lots of walking signs. It looks like the hikes are much better marked now here. We did find one very overgrown part, but we pushed through the bushes and were able to continue.

On previous trips we had a difficult time finding good hikes/walks. Many trails went along busy roads or along paved lanes (as they do in France too), or were not well marked. It looks like they have made an effort here to put in more signed walks.

We walked around Bagno Vignoni, a lovely small town with Roman hot water baths in the center of town. You can only look at them, you can't use them, but there are several spa hotels where you can buy a day pass and use pools with naturally hot spring water. I would like to do this someday, but we didn't have time today. We didn't even take off our socks and put our feet in the small public stream that flows out on the edge of town - but I did dip my hand in (warm, not hot).

We drove up to a restaurant just outside of Montefollonico, al Botteghino, to meet Gary and Zak from TuscanHouse (vacation rentals in Tuscany - we have rented from them several times) and Joanna who we knew through SlowTrav and met 11 years ago when she was moving to Tuscany. We had a great lunch. I had pici cacio e pepe (maybe spelled wrong) - pasta with cheese and pepper. Very good!

Gary and Zak came back with us to have the tour of Sant'Antonio.

We headed out back towards Pienza and went to Sant'Anna in Camprena, to see the Sodoma frescoes. He did these before the ones at Monte Oliveto. Sant'Anna is no longer a monastery, but is now an agriturismo (!!), and the hours to view the frescoes are 4pm to 6pm - very restricted. Luckily we arrived at 5pm. We had the small church to ourselves and loved seeing the frescoes again.

Back to Pienza to have another walk around. This time I stopped at the fabulous looking table linens shop (on the main street, on the right, just up from the gate) and bought two linen kitchen towels (made in Italy with a hand stamped design) which will never see use in my kitchen. I am going to make them into a wall hanging or something.

Lightening and thunder, dark clouds, but no rain. We went back home and made dinner here.

Tomorrow is our last day! Nico (who runs Sant'Antonio where we are staying) is going to show us one of his apartments in Montepulciano, because I want to come back for two weeks off season.

We didn't make it to Siena (thought it would probably be very crowded) but tomorrow we may drive up to Cortona. There is so much to see and do in this area.

The lovely kitchen linens shop in Pienza.

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Sant'Anna in Camprena.

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Roz

500+ Posts
Sant'Anna is such a beautiful spot, isn't it, Pauline?

I just remembered that Giacomo, who owns the apartments where we stayed in Montepulciano last month, said to say hi to you. If you are looking for an apartment, we loved staying there (he now has 4 apartments), and his prices are quite reasonable, I think. Politian Apartments.

Lisa, when we were in Montepulciano, I did not find it particularly full of tourists. Of course, there are always more tourists as summer approaches. We were there from the last of April into May, which was a pretty good time. We also were staying at the end of town where I think fewer tourists congregate. We made a lot of day trips out into the countryside and small towns, and it was never crowded anywhere we went -- until our last night when we stayed in Florence so we could get an early morning plane. I find myself less and less entranced with cities, and of course Florence is not really a big city, although it is always full of tourists. But the crowds and noise were kind of jarring after being in a smaller town for two weeks.

This book: A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany, by Beth Elon, is my bible for traveling around this area. It's several years old, and unfortunately is not available as an e-book, but you can get used copies quite cheaply. We have had so many great day trips by following her itineraries. Much more off the beaten track than Rick Steves!
 

jonathan

100+ Posts
We stayed in those Politian apartments ages ago (Feb 2004, my notes tell me!) - like Roz, we really enjoyed being up at the top end of the town. All Pauline's photos and reports of places like Pienza (which we loved, but only saw briefly) have made me really want to get back there.
 

Lisa in Ottawa

500+ Posts
Mmm after saying I haven't been to Tuscany except Florence, I remember being in Montepulciano briefly. I think we were enroute to Umbria.
I agree with Roz. I prefer small towns and villages. I adore the countryside.
Pauline, it all looks droolingly delicious. I do love Italy.

We have friends going there this summer. They will be in Barga about an hour from Pisa, think. In the hills of Tuscany. One of them is Italian and this was her choice of where to stay for a couple of days.

Anyone been?
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
We have friends going there this summer. They will be in Barga about an hour from Pisa, think. In the hills of Tuscany. One of them is Italian and this was her choice of where to stay for a couple of days.

Anyone been?

We have not been to that area, but now that Italy/Tuscany is back on my GOTO list, I would like to go there.
 

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