It is Halloween in Montepulciano as I write this travelogue (sounds better than a monologue). I plan to cover much ground but will introduce the occasional emoji to let you know that you should have another shot of caffeine or something stronger before moving forward.
We left Ferrara rather early for a lunch at Maga Mago in Barberino di Mugello in Tuscany. The restaurant had been recommended by friends and we were somewhat apprehensive.
The owner and chef of Maga Mago asked if I had seen “the German cemetery” while driving over the mountain pass. Somewhat embarrassed, I said “No.” I felt much better when he said, “Don’t worry, just a bunch of dead bodies.”
In Italy, it is a mistake to tell someone there is a family connection, particularly if the owner is a pastry chef. Found below is a summary of what we ate:
- Prosciutto and fried artichoke hearts;
- Carbonara with aglio/oleo variation (see image above);
- Polenta with cinghiale sauce (wild boar)
- Ossobuco that had been slowly cooked for 12 hours
- Pastry plate of 5 Tuscan specials.
What a delight! One of the most memorable meals I can recall. Sadly, we needed to move forward and the chef suggested that we stop at Pensione Bencista in Fiesole that provides a panoramic view of Florence while you sip tea under bougainvillea.
In late October, there were few guests and no flowering bougainvillea. Lovely old hotel, but I thought I was auditioning for a minor role in a Visconti film.
After a brief tea, we pushed on in rush hour Florence traffic to our new abode in the old woodshed of a lovely castle high on a hill on San Donato (Bagno di Ripoli). The pictures don’t do it justice as we spent a couple of very pleasant nights there with a day trip to see our olive oil producer (more later) and Greve, where I had a nice reunion with my Cinghiale friend in front of Forlani.
While we hadn’t planned on visiting Florence, we trecked into the city on Saturday morning to see a family friend. As it was a just cool enough to enjoy a nice walk through this wonderful town, we decided to spend the day and have lunch at Trattoria Borge Antico in Pizza Santo Spiritu on the south side on the Arno.
The highlight of our visit was a trip to the Florence market. What joy!?? Surely, one of the best markets in Europe featuring all wonders from the farm, countryside and food artisans. We were particularly entranced by the varieties of mushrooms and truffles that were now coming into season.
After 10,000 breathtakingly beautiful steps in this remarkable town, we pushed on to Pistoia, just west of Florence. We stayed in a modern tourist hotel outside the city. Aside from a warm shower, this nice but not entirely memorable medieval town deserves a pass.
The next day we took the laborious “scenic” route from Pistoia to Montepulciano with a stop for lunch at Starda (more later as it deserves a separate article).
We arrived at Montepulciano just in time for a lovely sunset.
P.S. Notes on driving in Tuscany. Tuscany is truly one of the wonders of the world. Adventure and stunning panoramas await around every corner. Nevertheless, the roads were built for people, horses, and ox carts – NOT CARS. Everything takes twice as long and the roads are narrow and dangerous. Avoid traveling at night. GPS strongly recommended, but you may need to reboot several times. If you want to see a town, please park and WALK. Good advice: It is the journey, not the destination.
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