Tag Archives: montalcino

Off the Grid & Under the Tuscan Sun: Montalcino, Siena, & Firenze

23 Mar

(Rewind to our stay at Il Poggione)

After stuffing my face with the most incredible meal I’ve ever devoured, Francesca dropped us off at the local bus stop so we could spend the day in Montalcino. Expecting a dinky city bus, we were surprised when a giant coach bus rolled up. Empty. Only Allison, me, and the smelly Indian bus driver with giant boils on his face.

Unlike the harvest season, Montalcino was extremely quiet when we got dropped off. We walked through a square that I remember being loud and packed with young locals drinking beer and Italian street musicians and singers covering American oldies. This time it was empty, but exactly what we wanted. We were drawn into a little cafe because of the huge windows in the back with a huge landscape view of the beautiful Tuscan town.

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We ordered Brunello (cause “when in Montalcino..”) and it was brought out by a delicious looking man and some delicious cheese.

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All we wanted to do this trip was wind down, have girl talk, and drink good wine – not that fake stuff we drink out of a box. So if that makes us sound like 50 year old women well then, so be it!

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We wandered the streets for a couple hours. Took a walk through the castle, made fools of ourselves in front of wine stores, and eventually (just as the sun was setting) stumbled upon a playground.

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We were brought back to our childhood, except instead of swinging in front of groups of kids picking their noses on the woodchips, we were swinging in front of vineyard covered hills. Oh and you know we teeter-tottered.

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Before the Bindocci’s met us in town for dinner we grabbed coffee from a cafe right in the square. I didn’t realize until I went home and looked at videos from my last trip to Montalcino that the bartender/barista I had been talking to for a while was the same one that had poured my beer 3 years ago.

Mr., Mrs., and Francesca took us out for a pizza dinner in Montalcino. I was really looking forward to it because pizza’s always better when go with locals and surprisingly, I don’t eat much pizza when I’m in Rome (although I should start taking advantage as I only have 1 month left). Mmmm we got a platter of fried vegetables (the fried potatoes were melt in your mouth!) and everyone got pizza except Allison who got a huge vegetable calzone (proud of my little one for stepping out of her margarita pizza comfort zone). Dinner was far less frustrating this time around because I could understand 90% of what they said to me in Italian and I was able to answer them in Italian (or try to). I felt really bad for Francesca always ends up being the bilingual translator. We ended dinner with some classic Italian digestivos because as Allison says, “A happy life starts with a happy colon.”… Some had Orzo, which is like a mix between coffee and tea, and the Mrs. and I had Grappa, try if you have a strong desire to severely burn your esophagus.

I can’t remember the last time I felt that full. Let’s just say it was a sprawl on the bed and unbutton your pants kind of night. Yet somehow we still had room to snack on our leftover cake.. nothing can stop us.

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After Al experimented with the shower and flooded the entire bathroom we decided to call it a night.

We started the next morning the way any smart person should: with some good ol’ MTV music videos. I feel like I don’t know what’s going on in the pop culture world sans my iPhone and TV. Like who is this Juicy J character? I thought that was a type of gum..? Anyway, Francesca came down the hill to pick us up again and this time we were off to Siena! It was raining that morning in Sant’Angelo (when is it not raining in Italy?) and we followed a group of hunched over old women onto another coach bus. The ride was only an hour, but within minutes the two of us were out cold. Mouths wide open and everything. When we got dropped off at Siena’s train station I thought Allison was going to kill a person because she had to go to the bathroom so bad. When she’s cold or has to go to the bathroom, don’t mess.

When we thought we knew which bus to get on to take us to the city center, we were wrong. We got on what we thought was the right bus, rode it for a good 30 minutes, got off, realized we went in the complete opposite direction, (laughed at our lives), waited for that bus to come back the other way, got on and rode it another 40 minutes into the city. It’s all a learning experience and at least we were just missing out on the rain.

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Siena is a beautiful city circled around a huge square, Piazza del Campo, famous for its annual horse race, Il Palio. The Friday that we were there not only was it International Women’s Day, but there was a weekend long chocolate festival going on in the square. Women + Chocolate.. there’s nothing more perfect.

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Il Torre del Mangia

Il Torre del Mangia

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This chocolate fest had every kind of chocolate you could imagine and we walked booth to booth shmoozing for as many samples as we could. We tried one that was 100% cacao and ughh the bitterness was like a suicide for our throats. But the chocolate covered fruit and “hot chocolate” were calling our names. I use the quotes because by hot chocolate they meant “a cup of straight up melted chocolate”. They even had chocolate iPhones.. tempting, but a girl needs her SnapChat.
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We grabbed lunch on the patio of Piazza del Campo under a heated tent. I ordered another unbelievable tagliatelle bolognese with a Chianti, famous in Tuscany. The waitor was some good eye candy, so we obviously stayed for a while.
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Another beautiful spot in Siena is the Duomo that doesn’t seem so big until you stand next to it and look like an ant in pictures. Speaking of ants.. I had some in my pants because I could not wait for dinner. Francesca had invited our friend Claudia who’s my age and studying in Siena and I had been dying to see her since we last saw each other as little 16 year olds who rode vespas and threw molotov cocktails in the Sant’Angelo streets.
Can you see me?

Can you see me?

We decided to switch up the menu for tonight and go with Indian cuisine at Namastey India! I really wasn’t experienced in that department, but as long as I don’t have a Ben Stiller “Along Came Polly” experience then I’m down to get exotic. Turns out everything was amazing and spicy-just how I like it! Pretty sure that by the end of the meal we were all sweating bullets. Our waiter brought over some awesome digestivos that were little candy that looked like Nerds but tasted like black licorice (I’m tellin you, these Italians take digestion pretty dang seriously).

Claudia and Francesca

Claudia and Francesca

I didn’t want to leave Claudia that night and after she showed us around her adorably Italian furnished apartment in Siena it was really sad to say goodbye again, especially since we only got to spend a couple hours together. Allison and I crashed on the car ride home. I tried to stay up as long as I could to keep Francesca from falling asleep at the wheel, but my eyes wouldn’t let me!
I couldn’t believe that the weekend in the Il Poggione farmhouse was already over. I’ll miss that view, that wine, that relaxation, and that family. Francesca drove Al and I out to a bus stop the next morning so we could grab the bus to Firenze.
Who knew shopping could be so frustrating for a woman? The Florence leather market is one of the most overwhelming experiences I’ve ever had. Not only do the rows of vendors never end, but every vendor has the same purses, the vendors are all obnoxious and clingy, and the bartering game is so stressful. I didn’t want to impulse buy, so I sat on my options all day and came back right before we left town as they were closing shop. I almost left (depressed) without an Italian leather purse because no one would accept my price, but I finally pissed off a vendor so much that he just sold me the bag to get rid of me. “She” is beautiful and “She” is my new baby.
Rocking my baby in Santa Maria Novella train station.

Rocking my baby in Santa Maria Novella train station.

Throughout the day we roughed it in the rain with our heavy backpacks breaking our backs as we tried to hit all the major spots. The only thing we didn’t do was the David because I for one have already seen it and also, why pay to see a naked statue? You know what to expect, you’ve seen all the pictures, so where’s the surprise?

The Duomo

The Duomo

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I still don't understand the size proportions he was going for here..

I still don’t understand the size proportions he was going for here..

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After we got our fix of naked men we walked down Ponte Vecchio, the cutest bridge to window shop on. If someone was to propose to me with an engagement ring from Ponte Vecchio it’d be a done deal!

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The classic reaction to the "Love Locks"

The classic reaction to the “Love Locks”

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

After shopping, walking, and gazing up at male statue genitals, we had worked up an appetite. We got lunch at El Gato e La Volpe which is pretty much Florence’s version of Rome’s “Tony’s” and if you study abroad in Europe then you know Tony’s. In both places the owner table hops and chats with all the patrons and you definitely get a lot for your money.

Tagliatelle with Truffle Cream Sauce

Tagliatelle with Truffle Cream Sauce

As the sun (which was barely even out) was beginning to set we wanted to make sure we made it up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. This is a must do/see across the river from the main attractions.

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Prepare yourself for quite a hike. The hill is pretty steep and the steps feel never ending, so by the time I reached the top with my backpack the size of a small child weighing me down, I was gasping for air. The view for the top is so worth it though! ADVICE: I’ve learned that it’s best not to pay for views FROM the famous monuments (like the Duomo), but to find a free view OF that monument.

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All the naked statues must have gotten Allison going because as I’m soaking up the gorgeous view, she comes up beside me and randomly proposes we moon Florence. Right then and there. What did we have to loose? We’ll never see these people again! YOFO (You Only Florence Once). Bet the city wasn’t expecting that kind of full moon that night!
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The face just says it all!

The face just says it all!

At least we went out with a BANG! Our Tuscan weekend had come to an end and we were sad to say goodbye, but excited to get back to Rome Sweet Rome. On the train home we befriended a couple of older men from Naples that spoke decent English and loved the States. One man revealed the entire history of his brother’s love life (all 4 wives) and then proceeded to try to convince me that Michael Jackson is still alive. Oh the people you meet on public transportation..

Until next time,
Ciao!
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Wine Not? : Il Poggione

18 Mar

It all started 3 years ago. I was extremely fortunate to have been asked by my cousin Elise to spend a month of my summer working in some vineyards in Italy. My uncle is in the wine business and of the extensive list of international wine his company represents is Il Poggione, a winery in Sant’Angelo in Colle, Toscana. Although we had the luxury of our own apartment with a pool overlooking miles of rolling hills and vineyards, the work we did in the Il Poggione vineyards was brutal.. I passed out the first day on the job. After such a life changing experience I knew I needed to go back to visit. The winemaker’s family is one of the most generous and welcoming families I’ve ever met and I’ve kept in touch with the daughter, Francesca, since I left. I knew that this semester in Rome was my chance to go back and visit them, so we made it happen! Here’s a blast from the past..

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Our work crew

Our work crew

This trip back to Il Poggione was the ultimate relaxing girl’s weekend and I wish I had my cousin Elise along for the reunion! This time I went back with a somewhat intermediate knowledge of the Italian language and was so excited to use it! The weekend started off in the most American way possible : McDonald’s milkshake and cheeseburger at 6am. The trip was off to a bumpy start before we even got on the train. The departure sign said Grossetto (our stop) on Track 25, by the time we got there the train wasn’t there and we had 10 minutes to spare. We went into ultimate freak out mode and started sprinting throughout Termini Station with our backpacks, purses, and milkshakes in hand looking for anyone that could help. We finally asked a group of police who thankfully told us we were to get on the train to Genova which stopped at Grossetto.. we threw ourselves on the train with less than 1 minute to spare..

The train ride from Rome through Toscana is absolutely breathtaking. You pass through rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, covered with shepherds herding their cattle. The winemaker’s wife, Signora Bindocci, and their daughter, Francesca, generously picked us up from Grossetto and drove us back to Sant’Angelo in Colle which is a little town on top of a hill right outside Montalcino.

Sant'Angelo in Colle

Sant’Angelo in Colle

Since it’s off season, the vines are bare and the fields are empty which made for an even quieter and more relaxing getaway. The Bindocci’s were unbelievably accommodating to let us stay in the same apartment that I stayed in last time. Also due to it being too early in the year, there was only 1 other family staying in the 11 apartment farm house with us. The minute I walked through that door again I knew I was never going to want the weekend to end. And the backyard view.. to die for.

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We finally got to have the 'pillow talk' we've been waiting for!

We finally got to have the ‘pillow talk’ we’ve been waiting for!

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Halfway up the hill to Sant’Angelo is the Il Poggione winery. Francesca gave us the perfect tour with an explanation of the entire winemaking process and I’m proud to say that I understood and appreciated it so much more this time around. First we walked through winemaking room filled with huge vats where the fermentation process takes place. Next we walked downstairs to the fancy wine tasting table and then through to the cellars. One room is full of monstrous barrels that age the Brunello which takes longer than the Rosso di Montalcino which ages in much tinier barrels in the second room. The combo of the wine and wood scent is so powerful down there, but it made us really anxious for what came next!

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DSCN1037_2DSCN1042_2 DSCN1043_2The next part was hands down the best part of our Tuscan weekend. We walked across the courtyard to a big dining room on the top floor of a separate little building with ceiling to floor glass windows overlooking endless rows of vineyards. We sat at a table with my back against a crackling fireplace and began the Il Poggione wine tasting and classic Tuscan lunch. The adorable little cook named Fiorella shuffled out of the kitchen to serve us the most amazing meal I have had in Italy. I went to heaven with every bite I took and everything we ate came from the winery’s animals along with homemade pasta.

Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino

Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino

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Tagliatelle con ragu di cinghale (wild boar ragu)

Tagliatelle con ragu di cinghale (wild boar ragu)

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Steak Florentine

Steak Florentine

Cake with a sweet pink cream and crushed walnuts

Cake with a sweet pink cream and crushed walnuts

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Why did it have to end? Each of their wines were so delicious, but my favorite is the Lo Sbrancato rose because it’s so crisp and refreshing and reminds me of laying by the pool during the summer.. and who wouldn’t want to be reminded of that?! Allison and I devoured everything on our plates and even went for seconds on the steak, thinking that would be the best way to compliment the cook.. look at us fat Americans. This was adorable, while we were out exploring the rest of the day Fiorella surprised us by dropping off the rest of the cake in our apartment – which was inhaled as a late night snack and breakfast. I wish I could shrink her and carry her in my pocket so I could eat incredible 4 course meals like that all the time.

Smells like success

Smells like success

In order to digest the food baby inside us all, Francesca took us to the top of Sant’Angelo in Colle where her family and only 150 other people live. It’s one of those towns where everyone knows everyone’s business and it’s impossible to hide anything from anyone. It’s really peaceful and exactly what you’d picture a Tuscan town to look like. She took us to her favorite lookout point and we stood in silence staring out at the land for a while.

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There is definitely a special place in my heart for Il Poggione, Sant’Angelo in Colle, and the Bindocci family. No matter what language barriers I might have with their family, they always show me an unforgettable time! Fingers crossed that this won’t be the last time I’m back to visit.

Until next time,

Ciao