Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Review 4331: Agriturismo Cretaiole, L’Oliviera
apartments on a farm near Pienza, Tuscany South
September 26 - October 17, 2009, 3 weeks
Having spent over three weeks in a little piece of heaven, and having experienced an opening of my heart to an amazing land, culture and people, I am not sure where to begin. It is hard to put into words what my heart feels. It is full, touched by so much kindness. It is at peace, having witnessed a life that is simple, yet full of work. It is in love, with a man of another generation who believes in the traditional values of the Italian life, and who gives so much of himself to others so that we can only try to grasp the passion he feels about his life’s work. In love with a man and woman who are committed to this land, the Val D’Orcia, to its preservation, and to the education of outsiders about their way of life.
My husband, Brad, and I left for Italy on September 24, 2009, flying Vancouver-Toronto-Roma. By the time we hit Roma we hadn’t slept in 24 hours. We hurried to catch a train up to Chiusi where we would find our rental car. A big thank you to Aesserent car rental – Sara was a delight to deal with over email, and the gentlemen in the shop were helpful with directions, maps and pronunciations of towns.
We left Chiusi and headed to our hotel in Chianciano Terme. I won’t name the hotel, as it was noisy and a bit awkward, but we slept soundly after an Italian beer and pizza.
Saturday morning we awoke to sunshine. We drove to Montepulciano and then on to Pienza. Following explicit directions from Isabella, we found Agriturismo Cretaiole with no problem. When we pulled up, we were both left speechless by the beauty of the place – olive trees, fig trees, oak trees, many flowers, a big vegetable garden, grape vines heavy with fruit, and a beautifully restored old farm building. We couldn’t believe our luck – that this would be our home for the next three weeks. Carlo approached us and between sign language and my little bit of French and Italian, we ended up leaving our back packs in our apartment and heading into Pienza. We were “killing time” until our meeting with Isabella at 3:00. I make the statement in quotes, as we were still in our “city state of mind.”
Pienza – the most beautiful little town I have ever been in, four kilometers away (uphill - you need a car). Small, charming, quaint, clean, lovely shops, yummy food stores (pecorino cheese, salumi, breads, pastries, pastas…) and nice little restaurants. We wandered the town, walking the exterior wall and taking in the awe-inspiring views. We snapped photo after photo, reality slowly sinking in that we were actually here!!! We marveled at the narrow streets, the beautifully tended flowers, and the laundry hanging in the breeze.
At 3:00 we returned to Cretaiole to meet Isabella. She is more beautiful in person than her picture on the website portrays. Isa is a walking ball of positive energy, excited to meet new people and help them find whatever it is they need for their week (or two or three) experience. She introduced us to our beautiful apartment, L’Oliviera, and explained where to find the fresh water spout – what fun!! Fresh from the deep well. The building is historical due to being in the Val D'Orcia, a UNESCO sight. Quiet, peaceful, lots of wild birds, pheasants. There were five other apartments on the land, all within the old farmhouse.
Our apartment had comfortable beds and pillows. The bedroom was big with a huge armoire for clothing. The bath was okay, the shower small. The furnishings were in good shape, clean and comfortable. We had a large, very well equipped kitchen. We cooked often since we were there for three weeks. Wood BBQs were available for our use, and we took advantage of them twice.
After familiarizing ourselves with our apartment, Isa directed us to have dinner with a wild Italian at Sette di Vino. Again, we were pleasantly surprised by the helpful nature of the owner, Luciano – he brought us a wonderful Tuscan bean soup, and an assortment of delicious finger foods. And of course, the house vino rosso!
On Sunday, after another meeting with Isa to review the weeks’ events, we went to San Gregorio, the family home and farm. Here we met Luciano, the father, the farmer, the producer, the wine maker, the center of it all. We had a tour of the cantina where they make the wine and olive oil, the pecorino cheese and the salumi. Luciano took us out to show us his animals – pigs, chickens, ducks, and others. He is very proud of his farm. He sold us wine, cheese and salumi with a big smile, and promised to come around with fresh eggs in the mornings, and for a drink in the evenings “dopo cena”, which I learned to mean after supper. After supper for Italians is 10:00pm!
Every evening Luciano would come around the find people to have a little vin santo or grappa with. He enjoyed using the Italian/English dictionary to aide in the communication process. Luciano enjoys socializing, but the language barrier makes it difficult sometimes. We made up for it with sign language, laughs and patience. After a few days I learned words for breakfast, lunch, dinner, full, enough, different vegetables in the garden, how to state the time and day, tomorrow, yesterday, today, after, before ... but the easiest way to communicate with Luciano was to look into his eyes and feel what he was saying. He loves his garden, is proud of his farm, and is like a peacock when it comes to his wine, salumi and cheeses. If you look closely enough and listen as well as possible, you will understand him. His evening visits were an opportunity to drink his elixir with him and learn about the culture, about his work, his life, his love for Pienza. He grew up in a very depressed time in Italy, and made the most of it when given the opportunity. His hands are rough from years of hard farming, but his eyes are soft and full of life.
In the first week at Cretaiole, we visited Pienza, Montalcino, Sant’Antimo, and Cortona. Cortona is a beautiful hill town – very steep to the top, but the view is worth the walk. The flower pots are brilliant with color. We took a day or two for down time, just hanging out at Cretaiole, drinking coffee and hanging in the hammock, having a lunch of salumi, cheese and bread (and of course red wine!). We cooked a few suppers, using ingredients from the garden for fresh salads. One evening Isa came to teach us all to make pici, a handmade pasta that is slightly thick and chewy. A wonderful experience!! The family then grilled up some meats, the guests brought assorted dishes, and we had a feast. A great evening with great company – the synergy in the room was electric.
One day Luciano came by and asked if we would like to help pick the bianco grapes at San Gregorio – but of course! We went over to help and it only took about three hours. Sticky, sweet fun. Many of the grapes were cut and hung for Luciano’s homemade vin santo. Liliana, his wife, invited us into their home for lunch – wow – what an honor! While we didn’t speak much Italian, and they spoke virtually no English, it was a fun lunch – lots of trying to figure out what was being said using hands and sign language and laughter.
The following week Carlo said it was time to get the Sangiovese grapes off the Cretaiole vines. About 15 of us guests showed up in the vineyard to help. Again, a sticky, sweet mess, but the feeling of working with the grapes, in the dirt, in the hot sun, with bees swarming all around was thrilling! Liliana and Isa came over and cooked up a big lunch for us all – pasta, meats, salad, and dolce. And wine of course! Back to the vineyards to complete the harvest. By evening all of us were tired. After a shower and a light bite, we were in bed by the time Luciano came back for a drink.
The next day we harvested Sangiovese at San Gregorio – only took four hours. Again, lunch was served in Liliana’s kitchen – and again, a real honor to be invited into their home. We met Walter from northern Italy, a friend of the family who loves coming to the farm to fill his soul working with the crops; Eva from Germany, who comes because she loves to work the vineyards; Claudia, an ex-pat who relocated to Pienza a year and a half ago after falling in love with the Val D’Orcia (she and her husband Gary are now very much a part of the community). We met a number of Italians who help Luciano and the family with the grape and olive harvests. It was a day filled with hard work, many laughs, and great food.
While we spent time over these three weeks touring a few towns and cities (Siena, Firenze), our hearts were at Cretaiole and in Pienza. After battling traffic and hoards of tourists, we looked forward to the peace and quiet of the farm house, a glass of Cretaiole vino rosso, the hammock, the quiet little town with friendly people. We appreciated our moments with Luciano in the garden, learning what Italians do with certain vegetables, and learning bits and bites of the language. My husband would hear the tractors in the fields and go see if he could help. There was always something he could do, and he was happy to be working with Luciano and Carlo.
Each week we participated in the making of the pici and the feast that followed. And each week I became more and more amazed at the energy Isa, Carlo and Luciano put into the event. Isa gives her heart and soul to the guests, creating an experience for them unlike any other. While there were many scheduled events that you could participate in, our most favorite thing to do was hang around Cretaiole with a bottle wine and just relax and converse with others.
In Pienza we met Valerio Truffelli of Bottega Artigiana del Cuoio. Valerio is a superior craftsman, working his magic with leather. I happened upon his shop and found the most exquisite leather bound journal, the cover having a cypress tree and quarter moon. While he burned our names onto the back of the journal, he spoke with us about the new generation, how he is worried about their future, their lack of pride in their work, and that computers are all they care about. He spoke of working his little farm, making wine from his grapes, this work bringing him closer to his ancestors who also worked the land. His fear for the new generation is a fear many his age feel – the children no longer have the passion for the land, for farming, for creating a life in the Val D’Orcia. They want something bigger and brighter. Valerio made my husband a belt – when asked to burn his name into it, he was embarrassed and a bit shy, but did it. We are forever grateful for this man’s insight, and for opening his heart to us.
We left our hearts in Pienza, at Cretaiole, and at San Gregorio. We miss the family, the friends we made, La Dolce Vita. The work is hard, but the life is simple and sweet. We could all learn a lesson from these people. Work to live, to feed your family, to have pride in what you do. Bliss. I am forever in love.
Recommendations if you visit Pienza:
This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.
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