We left Venice in a rental car and wended our way through the Italian countryside to an absolute gem of a B&B outside of Pienza called Le Traverse. Le Traverse was an old, run-down farmhouse when Pinuccia and her husband bought it in the 1980's. They rehabbed the property over several years, restoring the farmhouse to be their primary residence, and adding four guest rooms divided between a wing of the main house and the former barn. They opened their doors as a bed & breakfast some time ago, but from the moment we arrived, it felt as if we were the first, only, and most important guests ever to ascend the cypress-lined drive to their doors. A casting director for a big-budget movie set in the gorgeous rolling hills of the Val d'Orcia couldn't have found a better woman to play the warm, vivacious Italian hotel proprietess: Pinuccia was gracious, entertaining, and exceptionally helpful with everything from recommendations to reservations, and though I'm generally leery of chatty B&B owners, I looked forward to coffee with her every morning as much as any of our other plans for the day. Our stay there was, in my mind, the absolute highlight of our trip... daytrips through miles of vineyards and olive orchards to the surrounding hilltop towns, incredible meals, and this lovely lady: Florence was the one spot not on our itinerary that we felt we needed to fit in, if for no reason other than that Matt had never been. While he spent the majority of the day touring the Uffizi and the Accademia, I tooled around town asking random strangers if I could make their portraits in my broken Italian. So many interesting people and spots bathed in gorgeous light...
Places to eat:
Bologna: Drogheria della Rosa was pretty well out of the way on our drive from Venice into Tuscany, but I'd heard from a friend whose recommendations I trust implicitly that he'd had one of the best meals of his life there, and so we decided it needed to happen. After a parking fiasco that nearly derailed our plans, we made it to the restaurant, and I cannot tell you how happy we all were that we did. We had a perfect lunch and a fantastic time. Thank you Andrew & Rachel for the suggestion!
Near Pienza (in Monticchiello): Osteria la Porta. This was arguably the best meal we had on our trip, and that's saying a lot. Truffles and zucchini flowers were in season, and though we had them as part of several meals, they were perfect in every way here. We ended up chatting with the owner at the end of the night as the rest of the crowd dissipated, and she brought out two or three rounds of dessert wine and fresh biscotti. If you go, be sure to ask for a table outside... the view overlooking the setting sun was extraordinary.
Montalcino: Osticcio. Another incredible meal with an incredible view recommended by Pinuccia. She described this place as "very simple," and I would argue that our meal was anything but simple - after having a first course (which was all we wanted to have for lunch), it was hard to leave the second course options behind. Beyond that, the room was lovely, with large windows lining the wall overlooking the valley far below.
Pienza: Latte di Luna. This restaurant was solid - not amazing - but a nice spot to sit and have an inexpensive bowl of pasta among locals in the beautiful little town of Pienza.
Bagno Vignone: Osteria del Leone. It was raining when we pulled into Bagno Vignone for dinner on our last evening staying at La Traverse, and even though we were running from our car into the restaurant, I immediately I wished we'd been able to spend more time there. Bagno Vignone is a teeny little town situated on a natural volcanic aquifer. The main square is a huge rectangular tank that draws directly from the aquifer, and there is ample archaeological evidence that Bagno Vignone and its healing waters have been a popular spot as far back as the Romans and Etruscans. Anyway, if you go, beyond making time to soak for a bit, I'd plan for a meal here.
Things to do:
Eat incredible food, drink lots of Brunello, wander around hilltop towns, get gelato, visit a vineyard or three, talk to locals, pinch yourself to make sure you're not dreaming, sleep, rinse, repeat. Oh, and if you'd like a respite from your hectic vacation schedule, stop by the Abbey of Sant'Antimo and spend some time listening to the monks chant in their lovely, 1200 year-old monastery.
Final installment next Monday: Positano and Rome!