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Review 3504: Le Manzinaie, Villa Viole


Review by Zita from MA

apartments on estate near Montepulciano, Tuscany South

Sunrise in Valiano from our villa, photo by Gustav Freedman


April 19th-May 2nd, 2008, 2 weeks


We are two couples from Massachusetts who have traveled together many times and we all agree on the beauty and comfort of Le Manzinaie, and perhaps more importantly, on the generosity, warmth, hospitality, helpfulness, joy, openness, and the rare human connections of our hosts, Marzia, Fiore, and Alice. We were greeted by the effervescent Alice and Marzia upon our arrival at 7pm on a Saturday night. We'd gotten a bit lost on our way from Rome (if you make a right turn immediately upon leaving the A- 1 Autostrada, and then follow their on-line directions you won't get lost!). Alice spoke to us in her wonderfully Italian accented English and showed us to our "new" home, La Villa Viole, showing us the special faucet in the kitchen for drinking/cooking water, as well as the thermostat for the heat that we would need at the end of the day and upon waking each morning. There is a €2+ fee per hour, but well worth it, and with the price of oil these days, we understood their need to have clients pay for their own heat!

The bedrooms were large, the king beds extremely comfortable, with a good solid mattress, and there was plenty of closet space. It was wonderful to be able to unpack completely for the two week stay. We appreciated the screened window and our door to the outside with a curtain to keep out any flies. They change the sheets once a week, and the towels twice a week, perfect, and they also do a good cleaning! We asked for an extra pillow in the morning and it was there when we got back in the afternoon.

The kitchen is very well equipped with all the necessary cooking utensils including a colander and a juicer, which we used almost every morning for delicious fresh-squeezed blood orange juice! The refrigerator was stocked with cheese, prosciutto, eggs with the deepest orange yolks I'd ever seen, and milk, and a basket with packaged rolls, bread, and jam to get us all going before we could do some shopping, as well as a bottle of an unlabeled Montepulciano rosso wine from a winery who supplies Fiore with wine, all free of charge.

The room you enter is a combination living room, dining area and kitchen space. There is a couch, but we needed to pull out the dining room chairs if we all wanted to sit in the living room, which was a rare occasion since we preferred being outdoors on the plastic chairs and movable table. Having one more comfortable chair in the living room would be a plus.

Le Manzinaie is a beautiful property with peonies and deep purple irises in bloom in mid-April. There are fruit trees in a small orchard, and Fiore and Marzia were planting vegetables during our stay. From what I understand the fruit and vegetables are offered to their guests. Our villa was surrounded by thick green shrubs, which gave us privacy. Each morning we looked out towards Valiano and saw a beautiful sunrise over the hill of that village across the fields next to our house. We could not pass Fiore without his asking if we wanted, "Caffè, cappuccino, vino, grappa, limoncello?" I had a cappuccino one morning, and it was delicious.

Marzia and Fiore have worked extremely diligently and carefully to transform an abandoned property into a beautiful, comfortable space, always adding something new. They've just completed the dining room and kitchen behind the newest villa, Iris, and we had the first cooking class in that space. There were only five of us "cooking." A man from British Columbia and I learned how to make tagliatelle from scratch. Marzia had set up little mounds of flour, set out eggs and salt, and taught us how to work the dough and then pass it through (many times!) a hand-turned pasta machine. What a great time we all had. Our friends and the other guest made Tiramisu, working with Alice. We had all of our culinary accomplishments for dinner, along with a delicious sauce, veal, salad, and wine, made and offered to us by the family.

The following week, when there was a full house, we all were invited to another dinner with pasta, many barbecued pork courses, salad, and dessert, as well as wine, grappa, and limoncello. The generosity of this family is incomparable. On another late afternoon, they organized a visit to a beautiful small winery just outside of Montepulciano, the Tanata Gatto Winery, run by Susanna and Roberto, and for a fee of €15 per person we were given a tour of the winery, simultaneously translated by Alice, and a wine-tasting with sliced sausage and cheeses. The setting with views of Montepulciano was worth the fee!

Alice and Marzia were always ready to give us preprinted papers with instructions on how to go to many towns and villages. Fiore even told us to go to the beautiful church, San Biagio, just outside the walled city of Montepulciano, and to clap our hands standing just below the dome in order to hear a unique echo. Fortunately there was no one else in the church when we arrived to follow through on the experiment!

Marzia and Fiore also told us about the market in Montepulciano on Thursday morning, and about the annual huge market on May 1st. I have to admit to being prejudiced about the extraordinary markets in France. The ones we saw in Italy were much smaller and filled with stalls selling cheap clothing, shoes, house wares, etc., not particularly interesting. The stalls selling vegetables and fruits were fabulous, however, and I wished for more. The tomatoes we had in April were extraordinarily sweet and juicy and tasted like pure tomato essence! Strawberries were also in season and were wonderful. What is not to be missed at the markets is the porchetta, roast pig! We bought several pieces of Pecorino cheese, different kinds, and were hooked. The best we bought at a cheese "fattoria" called Cugusi, just off the road between Pienza and Montepulciano, with views that are extraordinary. They sell a Pecorino which is similar to a Gorgonzola and it was delicious.

Le Manzinaie is located within an hour or a little more of many wonderful walled cities, including Pienza, Siena, Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia, Cortona, Arezzo and the two related towns to see Piero della Francesca’s works, Monterchi and Sansepolcro. We spent every day out exploring Tuscany and felt that our two weeks was not enough! We never got to Chianti, we spent one hectic day in Florence and my birthday in Lucca, a truly beautiful town (and flat!!!!). Everywhere else we climbed stone stairs, hills, streets. We were stopped by the crowds in Assisi, not able to make our way to see the Giotto paintings in the church because of the thousands of people visiting over the long weekend of April 25th, independence day. We were moved by the bricks on the walkway going from the town of Assisi to the parking area (amidst olive trees!), with names of the victims of 9/11. There was no apparent signage, but we recognized some of the names as those of people we knew and realized what all the named bricks were. Very moving. Le Manzinaie is close to Umbria and Lake Trasimeno is barely 25 minutes away.

For meals, we cooked in just a couple of times, making big salads, and drinking some good local wine. One night we decided to buy some bistecca fiorentino at the butcher shop, Macelleria Fabio, in Montepulciano Stazione. That night Fiore made a fire in the barbecue with wood he’d cut and he cooked our meat! Our favorite restaurant was just minutes up the road in Valiano, Trattoria Guastini (Telephone 39 0578.724006 , with extraordinary maialano (roast pig), and pear and pecorino ravioli in a walnut sauce, great service, run by a husband and wife with two more people working in the kitchen. We ate there twice and tried for a third time, but it was fully booked. We also enjoyed La Loggetta in the opposite direction in Gracciano, barely 10 minutes from Le Manzinaie for delicious pizza, wonderful pici (special Tuscan pasta) with duck and then with hare (lepre) in its sauce. Our first night we had dinner in Montepulciano Stazione at Da Renato, where we had our first pici, which we thought was wonderful until we tasted it at other restaurants! Another wonderful evening meal was in Montepulciano at A Gambi di Gatto, up high on the Via dell’Opio nel Corso, 34. This was another husband/wife team who were phenomenal. We were the only ones there in the six table restaurant on a Monday night. Emanuel presented us with five wines to taste before ordering, and then five olive oils to choose from. Laura, the chef was very imaginative and creative in her 12 crostini/bruschetta appetizer plate. We had a culinary lesson as we ate and talked with Emanuel. Another strong recommendation. We do not feel the same way about Ristorante L’Angolo in Acquaviva, also close by. The food was good, but certainly not great and the service a bit distant.

Alice and Marzia made quick phone calls for us to reserve tables for meals, always very willingly and as though it weren’t anything extra for them to do. When we returned from Lucca (a two hour drive) on my birthday, we found a local specialty, a plum cake baked by Marzia on the table in our kitchen with a card that Alice had made to celebrate my birthday.

Don’t expect to have access to their computer in the office. They do need it for work and it was often down because of the connections. It’s easy to go to Montepulciano and pay €3 for a half hour of Internet connection at your leisure at the Internet shop on the main road, on your left, going up the hill as you enter the city.

I got teary leaving those three dear people, a family so easy to love and so easy to admire. We’re trying to figure out a way to go back again. I recommend Le Manzinaie to everyone coming to Tuscany. We look forward to going back in late October/early November when the weather will be beautiful again and the crowds in Florence and Assisi, much thinner!

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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