Early fall is a great time to see Tuscany. The weather is coolish and, in our case, quite sunny. We missed the wine pressing, but not the olives. In fact, 2016 olive oil is now available in some boutiques, although most serious producers wait over a month or so to allow the oil to settle before they produce their blends.
Of course, the cinghiale hunting season recently opened up and they even have a pecorino cheese festival in San Quirico d’Orcia. Did I mention truffles and mushrooms? Lots of temptations for those who have been on a diet.
We decided on a frenetic road trip through several smallish towns in the lower Orcia valley. We started with a lovely Roman bath town called Bagno Vignoni. This is the only village I can recall where the main square is a thermal bath. It was clearly important to the Romans since they left a 3rd century plaque written in Greek to acknowledge its medicinal benefits.
This is a very interesting village with the warm waters fueling an ancient grain mill located nearby. Nevertheless, I found it a little too commercial for my taste with the typical New Age aromatherapy store just off the main square. The owner dressed like a witch and parked her broom just outside the front door. It was Halloween, but really!
We dashed down the road to Abbadia San Salvatore where we walked through an authentic medieval village (see image above). Rather dark and spooky, unlike the screen set for a Harry Potter movie.
Leaving culture behind, we made a beeline to Ristorante Anna in Piancastagnaio mentioned in one of our foodie guidebooks. We were fortunate to get the last table in this delightful family restaurant. It was All Saints Day and local families were celebrating the memories of those no longer with them.
This is the way they used to celebrate when Henry VIII dined and we were totally unprepared. No menu, but plenty of food that you take or take a pass. Come with a large appetite and book well in advance, particularly on weekends. Found below is what we ate:
- Mushroom and chestnut soup (superb ???)
- Raviollo with ricotta and lemon and truffle sauce (wow!??)
- Handmade Pici with “light and dark” pork (?)
- Polenta with a Bolognese sauce
- Roasted suckling pig with potatoes (??). You could also have veal, rabbit, chicken, cinghiale or pork kidneys.
- Sheila had mille foglia for dessert
- Herbed and locally produced digestivos.
What an incredible meal served very efficiently by a staff consisting mainly of women. Clearly far too much food, but a dining experience we will not soon forget. (Editor’s Note: Italian women are taking over traditional male roles in Italy. Is it because they are far more efficient or because they are cheaper or do not succumb to stress? I am currently researching this question.)
We dashed around several winding roads to visit our good friends Renate and Giorgio Girardi who own a small wine and olive farm in Montalcino. Note to Wine Lovers: 2016 vintage Brunello di Montalcino will be very good, but not available until 2021.
It was wonderful to see Giorgio and Renate again and share a few laughs. Although they live most of the year in this idyllic setting, this is very hard work and your livelihood is at the mercy of Mother Nature.
After far too short a visit, we dashed to Chiusi (hour and a half drive) to pick up my sister, Alison, who came from Florence on a train.
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