Wine, Wood and Mountains in the Val d'Orcia

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A few weeks ago, Jimmy and I had another little Tuscan adventure! We decided to scoot down to an area of Tuscany famed for it's amazing wines, historic towns and beautiful drives; an area known as the Val d'Orcia. When you picture the Tuscany of old renaissance paintings with it's golden hills and pointy cyprus trees, the Val d'Orcia is what those painting show. It extends from south of Siena to Monte Amiata, and we did our best to explore every last nook and cranny in the 2 days that we had there. And if you know anything about our travel style, you can probably guess that we were able to conquer a good amount of it in our short time there!
*areas we explored in the Val d'Orcia
We found a good deal on a hotel in Chianciano Terme, so we decided to stay there for our two nights in the area. From there we visited Montalcino first, to shop around and check out the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino (among other wines of course), then the charming town of Pienza where we picked up some beautiful ceramics and delicious gelato. 
One of our favorite parts of the day though was right outside of Pienza on our gorgeous drive to Montepulciano, where we found a couple of agriturismos offering wine tasting. Wine tasting in Tuscany is a little bit different than other places we're used to (for instance, Napa). For one thing it's often free if you find the right place, but these 'right' places can be quite off the beaten path. 

You have to be willing to make quick stops along the road wherever you see signs for an agricola or agriturismo offering "vino e olio". And you have to be willing to get through that inevitable awkward moment when the resident Italian wanders out from their comfy siesta and grudgingly offers you a taste. Don't be scared off - in our experience they warm up quickly! And last but not least, you must be willing to buy at least one bottle, but that part's never hard because the wine is so damn delicious :).
Palazzo Massaini is worth checking out!
While checking out an adorable shop in Montalcino called Fatto a Mano ("handmade"), the store owner/chief artist Carlotta Parisi had told us about an exhibit called Woods, featuring installations by her father. Her work was beautiful (and apparently being shown as well) and we were intrigued, so before heading to Montepulciano, we just had to take a detour to La Foce to check it the exhibit. And we're so glad we did. Our favorite part was the "library" of trees, which must have taken ages to create! Each book was a tree, made of the wood of that tree, and including beautiful details and samples of and about the tree...just amazing.
And finally, a little evening in Montepulciano: shopping, walking, and an American hamburger.
The next day we took a spin up to the peak of Monte Amiata for a beautiful view of the Val d'Orcia where we savored in the fresh (and MUCH cooler) mountain air, took a little nature walk, and cruised through the beautiful chestnut trees that the mountain is known for. 
And finally....before heading home to Barbialla...we had one of the best.meals.of.our.LIVES. No joke! We walked into Ristorante Aiuole in Arcidosso to be sat by the waiter, served some delicious vino bianco della casa, and then fed the best Italian meal I've had yet. There was no menu - he would simply tell us what was next to see if we'd like that course, and we'd respond with "si"! Homemade ravioli, melt in your mouth dumplings made of ricotta, nettle and egg, chocolate boar, Tuscan fried chicken, then the most amazing dessert: chestnut cream on ricotta cheese. 

Amazing. Delicious. Aiuole is a must go if you're ever in the area. Okay well this blog post is officially getting long - hope you stuck through til the end! 

A presto, ragazzi!

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