Month: October 2021

Wine Tasting at Marcampo (13/08/2021)

Wine Tasting at Marcampo (13/08/2021)

I got up and had a nice walk. Here are some shots:

When we last ate in Del Duca, we were invited to a wine tasting by somelier, Claudia, and took her up on her offer. We’d been at their farm before for a cooking course, and so we knew that both their wine and their food are great. Who could resist?

Podere Marcampo is about a 5km drive from Volterra, and down a dusty, gravelled driveway, that is a little bit steep at times. We got to the house, and saw a few other cars already parked there. We waved hello to mamma Ivana, who was heading off to the restaurant for the evening service. In fact, she used to be head chef there, but those duties are now carried out by talented young Cypriot, Alessandro Calabresi.

Claudia greeted us then, and I saw she was wearing shorts, which is unusual for her. Why was that? Well, because down in the valley where the house is, it was pushing 38 degrees, and she informed us that further down into the valley it was 42. She couldn’t remember it being so hot! Despite the heat, they still live a little slice of paradise:

We waited inside their tasting room, while Claudia assisted some guests who were staying at the agritourismo. Waiting with us was an Italian gentleman (from the south, if I recall correctly) and a young couple from The Netherlands.

We all had a snifter of Marcampo’s wines, interspersed with a cheeses and salumi. They have a bunch of lovely reds – an award-winning Merlot, but I like the Merlot and Sangiovese mixes they have too. They start off with chocolate and cherry undertones, and if you’re having rich food, almost have a buttery finish. So yummy. Niamh in particular is a fan of their Vermentino. I won’t regurgitate all about them here. Instead, you can read about them directly on their website!

Later on during the tasting, a British couple came in, who were well-known to Claudia. They had a house on a hill somewhat north of Volterra, in lovely countryside. They also have a pool. As soon as I heard that, I joked with Niamh about how important it was to get to know people! They took it in good humour, and gave us good tips on where to explore and shop.

I didn’t take shots of the tasting (which was delivered in English), as you should go there yourself to experience it. When we were done, Claudia showed us their remodelled winery and cellary. It was certainly different to the last time we’d visited.

It was certainly much cooler than it was in the tasting room, which was surrounded on all sides by glass. Although there were a couple of air-conditioning units, it was still very warm there!

Then from there, we were allowed to roam between the vines. The soil was so loose, so you we had to watch our footing. I broke out my macro lens and took a few shots of the grapes. Claudia insist I send them to her, which I duly did.

At the end of it all, I bought a bottle of Marcampo (Savgiovese/Merlot mix) and Niamh a bottle of Terra-Blu (the Vermentino). We had a fun time, and we’d recommend it to anyone.

That evening, we didn’t stray farther than Porgi l’Altra Pancia, where I had pici with a Chianina beef sauce, and unsurprisingly topped that off with a little gelato!

Finally, a chat and a little drink on the terrace, and then to bed.

I hope you enjoyed the read. If so, please leave a like and comment. Thanks!

To the Beach and Casale Marittimo! (12/08/2021)

To the Beach and Casale Marittimo! (12/08/2021)

Well, we screwed this one up big-time.

Pro-tip 1: if you ever want to go to one of the free beaches in August in Tuscany, then you *must* get up and leave for it at sparrowfart. We didn’t. We headed towards the Gulf of Baratti, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t get there until about 12:30.

It took well over 90 minutes. This was my fault, as I wanted to travel a route more scenic than the motorway. Anyway, we go there, and although were cars parked everywhere – I mean for *kilometers*, we managed to get a parking spot by queuing for only 15 or so minutes.

Pro-tip 2: set your expectations for ‘sand’ a little differently. Few beaches in Tuscany have smooth sand. The Gulf of Baratti at first appearance looks like it does, until you try walking on it – especially near the shore. It’s a lovely looking area, though – but come with flip-flops, or somewhat calloused feet. We walked along the shore for maybe 10-15 minutes before giving up. I wanted to walk onwards towards the marina below Populonia, but the ladies didn’t.

Pro-tip 3: At least take a towel with you! The girls spent some time sitting, after draping throws of some description on the sand. I was tempted to try the bar instead, but it looked too crowded (plus I was like a walking lighthouse, I was that pale), and so hung out in the area between the beach and the road, and was comfortably shaded by the beautiful pines you can find everywhere in Tuscan coastal regions.

Pro-tip 4: For the love of baby Jesus, take something to eat and drink with you. We didn’t. And we arrived there when it was time for lunch. In hindsight, this was such a mind-numbingly stupid thing to do, but heigh-ho; life is for learning. The ladies spent maybe another 20 minutes sitting on the beach, and then we got back to the car (giving our spot to a nice elderly couple), and headed towards Populonia, the town on top of the cliff. This wasn’t so much stupid as ignorant. We really had no idea how busy it would be. There was no parking anywhere; not in the actual carparks, not along the side of the road.

Dejected, we headed back north up the coast, marvelling at literally kilometers upon kilometers of road on which cars were parked on both sides. I’d never seen anything like it. The Italians really enjoy their beaches!

We chickened out at stopping at some of the more touristy looking coastal restaurants, and although we drove through San Vicenzo, we failed to stop there too. Instead, we headed inland, and tried to look for random restaurants or agritourismi that would feed our faces. We breezed past Bibbona (nothing seemed to be open at that time), and about 20km of countryside, before I suggested Casale Marittimo. This place is my favourite hilltop village. I have been here a bunch of times. I took a few more snaps for fun.

There were 3 restaurants still open! Yipee! It was 14:30, and if you know Italy at all, you’d know that restaurants generally close after lunch at around 15:00, and re-open around 19:30 for dinner, so I thought we were cutting it fine. We weren’t. I had the humiliation of walking into 3 places and being rejected for food each time.

If you know me, you will know that ‘food disappointments’ send me into a brooding, nay, narky spiral, so I was not good company for our brief visit and journey home. I can’t remember what I ate, it probably tasted like bitter ashes in my mouth. Casale Marittimo, you broke my heart…. temporarily; I still have mad love for you!

Things got better that night, with dinner in Quo Vadis (the Ombra della Sera pizzeria was closed, and I was all-set to rejoin the fine residents of Narkytown). But with at least one decent place open, plus these views throughout dinner, it wasn’t the worst end to the day.

Sadly, I can’t remember what I had there! But I remember having this afterwards:

L’Isola del Gusto to the rescue as always!

Thanks for reading this. Please leave a like and a comment, if you have any questions regarding the area. I’d love to hear from you.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

And with that little cliché, I would like to announce that I am both proud and delighted to have won the Michael Mullan Writing Competition in the micro-fiction category.

It’s a very worthy cause, and I will continue to support it in the coming years.

Please feel free to click the link below to read the story (it’s very short!).

Competition Winners.

Let me know what you thought of it.

A Trip to the I Gigli Mall (11/08/2021)

A Trip to the I Gigli Mall (11/08/2021)

Today was the day we wanted to go visit a good-sized mall, to shop (of course), but also to see what they’re like over here. After exploring the map, I came to the conclusion that Prato seems to be ground-zero for malls. There are 3 in the vicinity, and it looked like I Gigli was the one easiest to get to… more or less slightly closer to us. Having said that, I think I Gigli still has an address in Florence, but to me it looked closer to Prato.

We told Google where we wanted to go, and I saw the ‘preferred’ route took us all the way south to the autostrada at Colle di Val d’Elsa, so we could join it and go all the way north to Florence. Instead, I chose the country route, which was more direct, if perhaps taking longer, and we headed out. We promptly lost signal as we were leaving the carpark, and Google unhelpfully recalculated to the autostrada route.

What followed was a reasonably dull drive (except that bit where you go past the O), to the outskirts of Florence. Niamh drove like a boss, and remained (mostly) calm through Florence, until we got close to the other side. A couple of double-backs later (more my fault than Niamh’s) and we were good again, but vigilance was the watchword on some of the spaghetti-like junctions heading out of the urban area.

We had barely left one urban area before we were in another, and ready to find parking at I Gigli. Fortunately, there’s tons of parking to be had on the roofs of the mall! We parked… no shelter to be had, so we left the car out in the sun, in 35+ degree heat and went inside to the cooled air of the mall itself.

The ladies did a little shopping for bedclothes, towels and some wicker baskets to use as temporary trash receptacles. Niamh was ages waiting in a queue that was only 3-deep to pay for those baskets! I spotted a lovely pair of blue Bugatti shoes, but didn’t go for them in the end. At the time of writing this, I annoyed I didn’t.

Afterwards, we’d read that there was an oriental place we could go raid for food, but we couldn’t find it until we’d already eaten. We did find what looked like a dim sum place, but we needed something a little more substantial. We briefly eyed the branch of All’Antico Vinaio, but there was a literal queue of 30 people… just like there is in Florence! Soooo…..

We ate in Old Wild West. We’d eaten there a few times in Navacchio, and sometimes you just need a break from Tuscan and Mediterranean flavour-palettes. The only downside to it, was that it didn’t seem to have any working air-conditioning, so the atmosphere was a little thick and heavy there. Still, I enjoyed my ribs!

Once done, we took a little more time than was warranted in finding the car, then roasted the backsides off ourselves for a few minutes until we got ourselves air-conditioned. I did the driving home, and completely forgot that Niamh took some footage – which was a shame, as we drove home the country route through some towns. Here’s some footage from the day I did take!

Later in the evening I found myself hungry enough to have visited La Sosta del Priore and grabbed one of their yummmy burgers there. I took a couple of snaps and then must have gone home and collapsed in some sort of food coma!

I hope you enjoyed the read. Please leave a like and a comment or question about living/holidaying in the Val di Cecina!

Lunch Rescued! (10/08/2021)

Lunch Rescued! (10/08/2021)

We had a lazy morning – I didn’t even walk. For shame! We had decided to go to Mazzolla for lunch, to Trattoria Albana. Niamh and I had eaten there before, so we wanted to show her sister what a Tuscan lunch in middle of nowhere (or a small hamlet!) would be like. The food there is great, and Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon filmed an episode of their series, ‘A Trip to Italy’ there.

But before that, we visited Vanna in Colpa del Vento. She is a lovely artist, who paints without too many references, and her stuff is colourful and earthy. Niamh’s sister bought a piece and Vanna persuaded her that she could carry it though security onto her flight (and she was right!). She was delighted we bought from her. We left the piece there for collection after lunch.

It’s only about 8km, but due to twisty Tuscan roads it can take 20 minutes or so to get there. We parked in the small free car park, and got out in blasting heat, and were met with a wall of cicada-screeching. The town is on a promontory, and has a few points where you can snap some amazing views of the farmed hills below.

Unfortunately, I think we fell foul of the August curse, because, despite what the website says (open every day for lunch), the place was closed. A lady was sitting outside reading a book, and she confirmed this with me, with a shoulder shrug, before getting back to her book. What a pity.

We had a couple of backup plans, though! We knew that there were a few other places on the way to Colle di Val d’Elsa on the SS68, and drove past all of them, before we settled on Locanda Il Boschetto.

We got there, and went to the outdoor seating area, where it looked like we’d be waiting behind a glamorous couple for a table. They happened to be smoking, and when the waiter approached them, he offered to look for a table for them. They agreed, and after a few moments of searching, during which time I saw our chances of grabbing a table ourselves becoming more and more remote, another couple at a table for four got the attention of the waiter. The girl of the smoking couple ‘waiting’ began to look both amused and chagrined. The couple at the table told the waiter that the smokers were already with them, and that he had seated them (if my Italian was correct). The smoking couple had a bit of a laugh at the waiter’s expense, who in turn had a good laugh at himself. We got a good chuckle out of it too (maybe you had to be there).

Anyway, we sat down, got drinks and ordered the food. For starters, the ladies shared an antipasti plate, and I had a medley of crostini.

During the starters, we noticed that a lot of cars were driving in, but the occupants were turned away by the waiter. So it was a popular place, and we were dead lucky to get a spot. There was a seating area above which looked empty to me, but I suppose, they also have to seat people based on the cooking and waiting staff to produce food in a timely manner, and in such a way as they could close for a few hours after lunch time.

After, I had tagliatelle alla boscaiola – basically, a sausage and mushroom sauce. It was nice enough, but not the nicest I’ve had.

And then this little beauty (lemon curd cake) for dessert.

I took a couple of shots near the restaurant, as it was beside MonteRosola winery, which has one of Volterra’s strange scuptures. A sort of squashed ‘O’.

We got home after being stuffed, and grabbed the artwork from Vanna (whose coffee I’m told is amazing!). Despite being full, I still had room for a granita!

Niamh’s sister went out to explore the town on her own, while we vegged.

What did we do at night? Well, that’s a mystery sadly! I only have this photo as evidence, but I’m pretty sure we must have eaten simply at home, rather than go out.

Thanks for reading! Please leave a like and comment if you enjoyed it, or if you have any questions.