Tag Archives: Tuscany

Long weekend

22 Feb
The Presidents’ Day long weekend gave us an opportunity to celebrate: my birthday and Valentine’s Day, not the presidents. In Oregon we almost always went to the coast for a few days this time of year. Last year we spent 5 days celebrating in Rome as tourists. This year we had a weekend at an agriturismo in mind, and the opportunity to stock up on wine from a favorite cantina we visited last July. How lucky are we to be able to say “We’re going to Toscana for the weekend”?
Toscana in winter is not for the faint of heart. It is chilly: 32-34 degrees Fahrenheit overnight and maybe high 40s at the highest during the day. (OK, I know the U.S. is in a deep freezer right now and 40 sounds pretty balmy, but that is considered cold here. And we are considerably less acclimated to cold than our Minnesota and North Dakota roots would indicate.) There are no sunflowers, and vineyards are bare, but also there are no crowds, driving is easy, and wineries and restaurants are welcoming.
Last April we bought a stay at Agriturismo Poggio Etrusco at an auction. As readers of this blog are aware, we are on-the-go a lot as I try to burn up all of my paid vacation time before I retire. So it was winter before we found time in the schedule for this trip. 


One of the downsides of a trip to Toscana is that we have to rent a car and I have to drive. Ric is the navigator and manages the GPS, a bitch voice named Bonnie. She drives me mad with her repetitious, annoying flat mechanical voice. And she’s not always right, so we have to have maps as well to double-check her directions. For example, I have no idea how we ended up on a dirt road coming home from one day trip when our outbound portion was all paved. I think Bonnie found a “short cut” to entertain herself. HOWEVER, without Bonnie we would have much more trouble navigating and we have learned to always take her along. We have also learned when to turn her off so we don’t end up in a ZTL.
The upside to renting a car is we have a method to transport massive quantities of wine and olive oil. Our Fiat 500L was luckily big enough to handle the purchases. If we had bought anymore we’d have needed a van. We whiled away the weekend at wineries, visited an abbey we have planned on seeing since our first trip here in 2010, ate too much, and got to know the Montepulciano area better.
The Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore is a magnificent and off-the-beaten-track place to visit, at least in winter.  It was begun in 1320, which in itself is hard to grasp, and also houses priceless frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries. One wanders down a forest path to visit this very peaceful place. It was fun to be the only visitors wandering around on our own. The monks make wine, olive oil, herbal remedies, honey, and soaps. An affable young man named Luca was manning the cantina and entertained us with stories and history. An enjoyable aspect to off-season visits is the availability of people like Luca who have time to chat when visitors are not lined up 6 deep. 


One does have to plan meals around restaurant openings especially in the off season. On Friday we arrived at our destination, Poggio Etrusco, a farm that produces olive oil and wine, after 2:00 PM and were directed to try to find something to eat in the town of Montepulciano as there was nothing open in the little hamlet near the farm. On the way to Montepulciano at almost 3:00 PM, we saw a place that in retrospect I can only describe as a Tuscan Tourist Roadside Attraction. Almost like Camp 18 in Oregon. The quality of the food was fine, but sale of products was clearly uppermost in the minds of the staff and owner. You are caused to walk through their retail space on the way to the cavernous dining room; there’s a push toward the €20-€30 bottles of wine (not at lunch, thank you); and walking back through the retail area to pay, there are all kinds of inviting products practically throwing themselves off the shelves at you. That said, it was the only game in – or out – of town and there were Italians eating there too. If we had waited until we got up into Montepulciano we’d have ended up eating cheese, sausage, and oranges standing on a street corner in the cold.
Cavernous Ristorante Pulcino - not my picture but from their website. I wish I had photographed the outside for you!
Cavernous Ristorante Pulcino – not my picture but from their website. I wish I had photographed the outside for you!
We ate some meals at some old favorite places (Grappolo Blu in Montalcino) and also discovered some new ones like Tre Stelle in Sant’Albino. We also enjoyed the luxury of hanging about the farm, entertained by cats, dogs, and chickens, nibbling on pecorino from Pienza, sipping wine provided by our host, eating the aforementioned oranges, in front of a lovely fire in a massive fireplace.  I will say for those who seek a non-touristy experience, winter in Toscana will provide that. As long as you aren’t forced into Ristorante Pulcino. And bring your flannel pajamas.
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