Once again chance or fate took us down a different path and lead us to Costello Vicchiomaggio a beautiful castle/fort on top of the hill just outside Greve.
Driving from Vinci, I spotted a wine tasting sign and said, lets pop in here – they might do lunch.
No lunch on Sunday, but even better, we met the lovely Ines. She was doing the wine tasting and of course we got chatting and laughing and never really left. She speaks English, Italian, Spanish and Africarn and a delightful lady. Lives with two dogs and five cats and that suits her ‘just fine’. Later we discovered the reason why and I also would be happy with just fury animals instead of one of the more average men that are out there.
A quick look at our original Agritourism was enough to know we were meant to stay at this Castle. It was over 40 degrees and they had no pool.
You can see the fort at the top of the hill and of course the slowly ripening grapes for the wine in the front.
A family runs the caste with all hands of deck most days in the summer months. There are three girls and one son of 22. Every time we saw him, I tried to encourage Ella to fall over or do something to grab his attention, but alas, it did not work and he was way too young for me to make eyes at (Ines said she thought you went to jail for less than that). A very wealthy family it would seem but extremely nice as well. The dad was born in England and moved to Italy as a youngster. He and his wife have owned this winery as part of the family estate since 1964. So have a very good reputation in the wine world and the best wines we have had so far.
This is the fort at the back as a lookout tower and the balcony off our room on the top floor to the right. A very spacious room with massive lounge room, huge kitchen complete with centre table for say 6 people, huge dresser and a fireplace in each room. Very nicely done. A little spooked perhaps but nice all the same with an amazing view over the vineyards and mountains from every window.
We have stayed in some amazing places and apartments. Had only two not so good ones in nearly three months, so have been very fortunate. Have let the universe take us on a merry roll through Tuscany and we all agree it has been a fantastic holiday like no other.
On the second night they held a wine tasting plus four course dinner and a tour of the cellars to show us how the wine gets from the grape into the bottle.
A very long process for some of them – but well worth the wait. We have tried several wineries since and nothing seems to come close to Vicchiomaggio.
We once again met some lovely folks. Adam and and an ‘M’ name we couldn’t grasp were young lawyers from Canada – Toronto (next to Alby) just out of law school and having a holiday before becoming twisted and warped with law, they said. Then another Canadian couple Marco and another ‘M’ name. He was a supervisor for a building company and she worked in pallative care and deserved medal. Marco had more wine and everyones share of grappa (because it tastes like ‘rocket fuel’ or worse) and was very entertaining. There was a chick on a table further back, wearing skimpy shorts, kept closing the massive big windows and blocking the delightful cool breeze and after a while he boomed out – ‘we are all menopausal over here – open the window’. You kind of had to be there, but was very funny.
A beautiful room. This was before we got messy on lovely red wines over dinner. All the castle guests were in the centre of the room and outsiders on the other tables. Was very good fun. Mind you, no headaches with the wine from here. So it is good sh…!
There was also an olive oil tasting another night, but we skipped that. Mario said it was fabulous but another couple said – olive oil and ice cream don’t mix, so guess we were lucky we chose dinner with Ines that night.
We felt very privileged as she is often asked out by guests and always says ‘no’ but for some reason we passed the test and she accepted our invitation. Her sister was even more surprised when we met her later in funky childrens wear shop. She was also lovely and her right hand girl was Robina a very well kept long haired pooch. Very friendly and who could resist a cuddle with those big brown eyes.
I have been a bit wary of pooches since the ringworm episode but not entirely. If they are clean and nice they get a cuddle still. Who am I kidding, I still pat the majority of pooches that we see.
Ines took us to her favourite restaurant in Greve and it was just delicious. Alby almost had the rabbit but could not bring himself to eat BUGS! So had a veggie pasta instead which was Ok but not fab. I had meat stuffed with zucchini and something else and it was just delicious. All washed down with a decent bottle of red. Also some Schiacciata bread – a special almost sweet flatish bread that is very moist and very moreish. Overall in Italy, the bread is dry and kind of sandy and not with any salt (apparently salt was very expensive in days gone by so they learned to cook bread without salt). But, as you know, I could live on bread alone so am kind of happy the stuff in Italy is not to my taste.
This is a side view of the castle with the main fort behind this part. The gardens were very formal and immaculate. A magnolia tree had the odd blossom but they only last a day or so. A pen enclosed some 55 tortises which were very cute as they demolished whatever food fell over the edge of the wall.
The photo below is the view from the table and chairs. If anyone wants to get married in a beautiful location – it is here. Words can’t describe the view – the camera lense is just not big enough to capture it all. It is quite lush here compared to where we are now with great banks of trees. You will see in the next blog the moonscape of further south of here, still in Tuscany, but a different landscape completely. That’s what makes this country so amazing, all so close and yet so different in numerous ways.
In Greve, which is a lovely little village which has all the necessities for travellers and locals. The only trick is to get there before or after siesta.
It is quite incredible the whole idea of siesta. Alby can’t grasp it and gets a bit bewildered. The touristy bits and big town stores are open pretty much all day, but anything else in the villages like the supermarket, post office and most chemists closes from say 1.00 – 4.00pm (sometimes 5.00pm) . This is really common in Italy and yet they are struggling financially as a country – but they are never open to sell stuff to the millions of tourists that are here walking around trying to give them money. It is the weirdest thing, but like everything in Italy – it is the way it is and that is just fine. You just have to be a bit more organised.
At 4.00pm at the supermarket it is like the Myer Boxing Day Sale. So of course Alby was in his element directing people to the vegetables on the left, undies on the right, other stuff in the middle. One woman looked at him like he was from mars – but you get that. The staff are in there restocking the shelves during siesta time, so why not open the doors. Anyway, it is Italy and there are so many more great things about the country than this foible.
One of them is the butcher shop in Greve –
It was incredible. The whole shop is dedicated pretty much to smoked pork. Every bit of the animal is used here. Italians waste nothing they proudly say and by God it is true.
Here are legs and some cheese products. But it was amazing to see the cheeks, the ears, the legs of ham with a tail attached, feet – every bit of the pig. The smell was fresh and inviting despite being all smoked or salted.
They do the best ham here that is kind of like Proscuitto at home but tastier. I am not a big salami fan (unless cooked to death on a pizza), but Alby brought six little nuggets of salami on a string and said they were delicious.
He is the one to try anything a bit weird – more so for me.
We spent quite a few days visiting the villages around Greve which was fabulous. Lots of stone houses that have shops beneath them. Old churches and narrow laneways that provide lots of opportunities for fabulous photos. All with a backdrop of the beautiful Tuscan mountains.
This is a typical Tuscan farmhouse I snapped on our travels.
Alot of art shops in Panzano, a cute little town but of course we were there at siesta time, so could only see through the windows at some fantastic sculptures and paintings. One day we will get back to check it out further and plan not to be here in the siesta time.
We also had lunch and a sniff through Castelina, another great village. It is famous for its Etruscan ruins. It was essentially four tombs under a big hill. It was spooky to say the least, damp dark crypts with nothing in them. I guess grave robbers had pinched everything way before this – even the bodies.
Radda was on another day and we just loved it.
A little village, again on top of the hill, with a beautiful church and great laneways full of interesting shops.
Alby took a shine to a timber rabbit until it was 85 euro. Bugs still lives in a dress shop in Radda with his snitchy owner.
They built on the hills so they could see the enemies approaching. There are forts and castles and lookouts on most hills. Not sure how they saw anyone coming as there are quite alot of trees and I guess they didn’t have our sophisticated tracking devices. But guess they managed because they were all in the same boat.
Now it is just armies of tourists. Although, not so many buses here compared to the rest of Europe. No vast amounts of Chinese scrambling for everything in sight. No Gucci or high end shops either, so I guess that is why are they are not here – also, something to do with only having very small amounts of time to travel.
August is the peak tourist season for everyone international but also the Italians also take August for their annual break. Another foible. So it is quite common to see a sign on the shop window to say that they are on holidays for a few weeks. It is the hottest month so they all go to the beaches apparently.
Also, when it comes to making wine, it is also the best month in terms of workload. At the Castle, the tractor was going along each line of grape vines and trimming off the excess leaves that were sticking out into the sunshine. These are just like runners that have no grapes on them. The grapes are already set and just need to ripen, so they trim the excess leaves and it allows the sun to get onto the grapes and to ripen for harvest in late Sept/October. So not an entirely strange time for folks to be on holidays, but just weird as winter brings with it very few tourists as it is bitterly cold in some areas with several feet of snow.
They also do amazing ceramics here and there are quite a few shops that sell plates and bowls that are hand painted in beautiful ornate patterns and colours. The prices vary depending on the region but most are not particularly cheap and nor should they be taking into account the amount of work in them. There are a couple on their way home in yet another box direct from the shop and a resident artist.
I’m not sure you can read this sign next to here, but it is the story of the Chianti Classico region.
Chianti is the region in general but only grapes grown in the Chianti Classico region can sport that name. To symbolise the Chianti Classico region a black rooster (cock) is on the lable at the top near the cork. This means that the grapes are grown and processed within the boundaries of the region subject to tight government regulations. It is also the best wine in Italy.
The story, in case it is not clear is essentially about the feud between Siena and Florence and boundary of the two regions. It was decided to end the feuding and rivalry and two soldiers were to leave their respective village of Siena and Florence when the cock crowed in the morning (no TAG HUER watches back then) and wherever they met, was the new boundary. The Florence rider starved his black cock for the days and night before and he crowed alot earlier than dawn as he was hungry, so the soldier had a head start. The Sienese took pride in their white cock and fed it well and looked after it as a sign of prosperity, but because he was well fed, he slept longer and the Sienese rider was disadvantaged. This is the fable, but a few people hinted there was a lot more to it than this, but it is a nice story.
San Gimignano – a beautiful old stone village on a the top of the hill. All the buildings were made of stone which gives the village a totally different feel. Almost no plaster or paint – it was stunning. We walked around the laneways and out onto the outer wall to see the view. It was almost deserted with most of the tourists sticking to the main street. But the best bits are off the beaten path we have found. We have been lost most days, but hey it is Italy – how lost can you get. We left going there until late in the afternoon to give time for the tourists to subside.
The photos below are from here and as we had dinner I took about 20 photos of the roof changing various shades of orange and red. It was really beautiful.
A lovely little jeweller was in an underground shop. He had made a lovely 3.5carot ring for a mere 65,000 euro. He got excited when I said I would have two of them. He was a very interesting man and we chatted for ages. He did fantastic work. Could have brought quite a few bits before Alby snuck me out the door.
As well as very nice dress shops, there was an amazing art gallery with very contemporary art pieces. We could have come home with half the shop.
Very different mixed media pieces – one in particular was clear fibreglass with the mesh inside but in a unique splashed design with butterflies exploding from the centre – really amazing and unfortunately I couldn’t take a photo.
Alby did take this one of me with the mea cats out the front.
The view below was from our bed and breakfast looking over towards San Gimiginano and was just stunning.
This was a villa on the opposite hill and was massive. Probably housed a couple of families. They had a massive farm that stretched for miles.
This is a little more hay farming around here. They still have the mandatory olive trees and vineyards but a little more hay as well. Saw a couple of sheep farms but not too many.
From here we are off to Radicofani for a week which is on the southern boundary of Tuscany. More from that side of Italy next time.
Bye from Ekatravels.