Once more, I am filled to capacity with the most amazing experiences gathered in these last two weeks during my trip to Italy. Is it still bella Italia after all this time? Oh yes, in more ways than I could ever have imagined. This trip introduced me to a deeper understanding of the different amenities of both the north and south. Each is quite different from the other. But all together, they blend into a country that is richly diverse, resulting in a culture thousands of years in the making. People who, for the most part, are warm and hospitable, who care deeply for their land, and who live out their daily lives with dignity.
I’ve had the good fortune to stay at three different accommodations, each one quite distinct from the other. In comparison, they proved to be equally delightful. The proprietors who operate/own them are as wonderful as the amenities they have to offer. I am excited to share each one with you and plan to introduce them over the next few months. I feelstrongly that each one deserves its own spotlight.
I hope that you will check back and discover what I have… that there are beauty, warmth, and possibilities beyond your expectations. Come and meet the people who offer an authentic Italian experience. Find out what makes their hotels, agriturismos, and accommodations so unique. I am inspired to share each one with you.
The rolling hills of Tuscany are alive with endless rows of vines. In fact, wine is produced over most of the territory in this region of central Italy. The passion, gusto, and delightful flavors of the wine is directly related to the heart and soul of this beautiful land full of myths and legends. However, the historical truth is much more interesting. Read more →
To experience Italy from a local perspective, discover it’s ancient traditions and feel the passion of the local artisans and producers who cherish the entire life of the product, from farm to table….this is clearly the real Italy.
Arianna Cini, who operates KM Zero Tours in Chianti, works closely with local producers and artisans who cherish the tradition and old ways of Tuscany. Her dedication to sharing “a restorative experience for body and soul” with others is impressive. So when I saw this video about the wheat harvest in Tuscany posted by Arianna, I was greatly inspired. It wasn’t the camaraderie alone in the video that caught my attention, although I loved watching these Italians work so well together, but it was more….
It was their deep desire to work closely with the land and embrace the old ways of growing and harvesting ancient grains.
I decided to research a little further about wheat-growing in the village of Montespertoli and discovered an exciting story. Until roughly 8 years ago, bread was made by locally grown wheat consisting of modern varieties. It lacked the unique features desirable in a hearty, aromatic loaf of bread everyone loves.
At that time, Prof. Stefano Benedettelli from the University of Florence researched the ancient wheat varieties and contacted miller Gianni Paciscopi from Montespertoli. Together they worked to find farms that would grow these ancient grains and to regain the knowledge of the old ways of processing wheat into bread, which had been lost. The producer, miller, pasta maker and baker began to reestablish their working connection, once again using the stone-grinding mills.
A three-year crop rotation is used to keep the wheat-growing land fertile and healthy. The results have been met with great satisfaction by both the producers and consumers as the loaves of bread are far superior in both taste, texture and health benefits. As one of the top producers of wine and olive oil in Tuscany, making bread using ancient, local grains has become a high priority in Montespertoli.
It remains a challenge to produce the wholesome ancient wheat as farms continue to feel the pressure to cut costs while many of the consumers continue to purchase cheaper products as a result of their decreased purchasing abilities. However, farms remain that are dedicated to keeping the old ways alive and embrace the production of high-quality wheat.
One of the attributes of the many medieval hamlets of Umbria and Tuscany that I especially love are the old traditions that have been passionately maintained over the centuries. On a visit to Monteleone d’Orvieto, nestled on a hilltop in the heartland of the Umbrian countryside, I was extremely impressed by historically clad villagers who welcomed us at the main gate. They embody a fierce pride in their heritage, one that you cannot help but deeply respect. Read more →
While standing in a Tuscan vineyard full of ripened purple fruit to stretch my legs during a long car ride from Pisa to Rome, I found myself captivated by a vision that appeared straight out of a Brothers Grimm storybook. Sitting high above me in a fairytale setting was the castle village of Scarlino. Located only 62 miles SW of Florence and a short way inland from the coast, Scarlino looked like an island floating on a sea of green trees. Blocky beige houses tumbled down the hillside, hemmed in by ancient stone walls and oak-filled forests.
Small medieval hilltop hamlets have always had a magical effect on me. They leave me curious and compelled to see more, as if they held a secret ready to be discovered. Scarlino was no exception, and I quickly decided take a temporary detour to the top.
After driving up a few switchbacks, I rolled my little car through the old medieval gateway and into the quiet village.
Narrow cobbled streets took me to rustic corners, tiny piazzas and tall brick buildings. Bits of the 11th century fortress walls, great for a perch, provided expansive views of the surrounding countryside. To the west, the Mediterranean shimmered endlessly toward the horizon. Located only twelve miles from the coast, Scarlino (scherl in the Lombard tongue, meaning lookout-post) offered a perfect opportunity to experience Tuscany without the waves of tourists.
Vines and flowers grew around crumbling rock in crisscross formation and stonework felt warm to touch. I passed by several coffee bars, restaurants, and tiny food shops. Small gatherings of locals sat about the piazzas engaged in conversation.
While relishing the expansive view from the wall, an elderly gentleman in dark worn slacks and a white t-shirt approached me for a visit. In a town where very few speak English, typical of small villages like this, our language limitations were no barrier. His wink and broad toothy smile gave me reassurance that I had made a friend.
My short stroll through the village provided some authentic Italian nooks and crannies that are so enjoyable to stumble across. Below is the backside of a restaurant that, on the other side, offered birds eye views of the valley below from a flagstone terrace. Bright red geraniums light up this old crumbling wall.
A bit of history….
Afterwards, I found a chance to look up the history of Scarlino on my laptop. My strong attachment to a place always involves the past and I love to investigate. What I found is that archaeologists have discovered remains of a small village where Scarlino is today, composed of wooden huts surrounded by a boundary wall dating from the Late Bronze Age (10th – 12th century BC). Since then, communities have come and gone, including Etruscan settlements, until the early medieval ages when Scarlino became an established village with a castle fortress.
Rocca Aldobrandeschi, its ancient castle, is worthy of exploring. Although much of it is no longer existing, the ancient grounds, towers and views fascinated me. According to documentation, it was in existence by 973 AD. and was once a stronghold for the northern city of Pisa. Originally owned by the powerful Aldobrandeschi family, the village and castle were conquered by Pisa in 1164. During this time, political and military expansion dominated the goals of the wealthy and prestigious. By the 13th century, Pisa had permanently imposed its authority along the nearby Tyrrhenian coastline.
Curiously built with five sides and three odd-shaped towers, the castle is strategically positioned overlooking the valley on one side and the coast on the other. A wide panorama of patchwork fields in variegated green surrounded the village from below. Opposite, rolling hills of oak give way to the distant open expanse of the Mediterranean sea. Today the castle is used for local shows and cultural events.