Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 110: Paul and Kathy's trip to Tuscany (Sept 4-17)
By Paul in Oregon from Oregon, Fall 2001
Trip Description: One week in San Gimignano; One week in Cortona
Destinations: Countries - Italy
Categories: Foodie Trip; Independent Travel; 2 People; 3-4 people
Page 1 of 1: Two Weeks In Tuscany
My wife and I last visited Italy in 1989. My sister Renee, our family's world traveler, introduced us to the concept of travel outside the US. Of course, we were terrified and excited at the same time. Flash ahead to 2001. After many years of business/pleasure travel all over the world, Kathy and I head to Italy 12 years after our first visit.
We flew on United from Portland, Oregon to Washington DC (Dulles) and on to Milan, arriving on Sept 4. While waiting for our Alitalia flight to Florence, we noticed signs indicating that smoking was illegal in the airport. Something smelled funny. It was then that we noticed the occasional Italian smoking right in front of the signs! Welcome to Italy. (We're non-smokers if it's not obvious from my comments.) I guess the signs are meant to be ignored?
Upon arriving in Florence and after finding our checked luggage, we connected with our AutoEurope driver. It was just too easy! The driver whisked us away to San Gimignano in his Mercedes sedan.
Before we knew it, Kathy and I were checking into the Hotel La Cisterna in San Gimignano. We were both somewhat shocked by the rather large number of people/tourists wandering the town. But, as the travel books predicted, the evening hours brought peace and a reduced number of tourists in the streets. Our room at the hotel looked to the north over the Tuscan valley. Simply beautiful. A small balcony with two chairs allowed us to soak up the essence of the area.
During this week in San Gimignano, we had no rental car and we were happy. We walked all over town, exploring shops, restaurants and spending lazy mornings sipping cappucino in the piazza whilst the tourists reclaimed the streets once again. One day we decided to visit Siena. After deciphering the Italian bus schedules and asking a very helpful bus driver "Per Siena?", we were able to make our way outside the city as needed.
I must mention that we're both known as "food snobs" or "foodies" by our friends. Kathy and I happily fell into the pattern of cappucino for breakfast, a bottle of vino rosso for lunch along with meats, cheeses, honey, bread, olives, pate, capped by a simple dinner at 8pm. I kept notes on all the restaurants we visited on this trip and will write about them shortly.
One restaurant in San Gimignano, La Grotta Ghiotta, is a small osteria/deli owned and run by brother/sister pair Roberto and Sylvia. This place features wine, meats, cheeses, honey and grappa from the local area. We had two very enjoyable (and long) lunches at this place and ended up getting to know the owners a bit. Highly recommended for lunch, as long as you can speak a bit of Italian.
After a week in San Gimignano, Kathy and I hired a taxi to take us to the train station at Poggibonsi (This is the closest train station to San Gimignano)for our train trip to meet our Oregon friends in Cortona. We bought our train tickets in advance from a travel agent in San Gimignano. Note that this is a much easier way to buy tickets, especially when compared to the lines we encountered at the train station ticket window.
Our friends had been in Italy for 2 weeks and we planned to spend the last week together at a villa in Cortona. The reunion in Cortona was very Italian, with lots of hugs and kisses on the cheek. It's funny that we never greet each other like this in Oregon, but in Italy, it's so natural to be warm with each other.
The 4 of us drove to Villa Metelliano, a property in Cortona reserved easily through The Parker Company. Driving up the tree-lined gravel driveway, we immediately felt the formality of the property. The host, Signore Tommasi, greeted us and led us to the 3rd floor apartment which consists of a very large sitting area, two large bedrooms, a kitchen, two bathrooms and some very funky plumbing. We used the villa as a base for day trips in the rental car out to Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza and various wineries in the countryside. The only negatives I noted on this property were the neighbor's collection of over 20 hunting dogs who would howl and bark at night. Leaving the windows open resulted in a few mosquitoes shaing the bedroom with us. Given that the days were not that warm, we didn't have to leave the windows open very often. I wonder what people do in the middle of the summer to keep the room cool when the dogs and bugs are trying to get in.
We liked Pienza and Montepulciano - nice small towns with things to see, good restaurants and great views of the valley. Arezzo was just too "modern" for our tastes. On Sunday, we drove to Gualdo Tadino to visit with my cousins. From the time we got out of the car until very late that night, we ate/drank/kissed/hugged and caught up on the 12 years that had passed since our last visit. We also visited Assisi, a very nice small town with great architecture and steep, winding roads that make iron stomachs feel awful. (Rick Steves mentions "Travel Gum" as a wonderful Italian antidote for the twisty roads. We bought some and it worked really well!)
On Saturday, the 4 of us drove from Cortona to Milan's Malpensa airport and the Hotel Villa Malpensa. Our friends were flying out on Sunday and we wanted to get a ride to Milan since we were flying out on Monday. The hotel was nice but the staff just tried too hard in some areas. The restaurant food was ok but very expensive. I asked if I could bring a bottle of wine to dinner instead of ordering off the wine list. This request, made hours before dinner, resulted in some animated discussion and gesturing, so I gave up and ordered off the wine list. Taxi drivers charge L20,000 to take someone from the airport to the hotel, a 5 minute drive. On Sunday, a rather slow travel day, our taxi driver was very upset to have waited for 3 hrs just to get a $10 fare. Sorry!!
Sunday, Kathy and I took the train to Como and spent the day walking the shores of Lake Como. We plan to spend a week or so in this area on our next trip to Italy. I wanted to write up this trip report now rather than wait until the weekend since I'm flying out of town on business for the next few days. :-(
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