Sunday, May 14, 2006

Day 11: San Quirico d'Orcia-Castellina in Chianti

Today is our last day at the Palazzo del Capitano so we have to pack
up. Breakfast continues to be great--they make a fruit salad
(macedonia) that is the best I have had in Italy. Diana gets birthday
wishes from Laura at the front desk and from Maureen and Franco.
After breakfast, we have a leisurely morning sitting out in the
garden. We talk to another couple who are staying at the hotel; they
come from Amsterdam and have done a lot of walking in the area. Diana
goes over some of her Reggio Children material that is written in
Italian with Maureen and Franco and then Marian, Mark and Cheryl come
over to see the hotel and the garden.

Before we leave town, we take another stroll in "downtown" San Quirico
and make a stop at the very wonderful linen store on the main square.
Maureen and Franco and Diana make some purchases--it is a very
deliberate process. While the linen shopping goes on, I sit in the
square and watch the Sunday morning activities. The locals are
strolling around and having coffee at the bar and greeting friends; I
can count the tourists I see on two hands--and most of them are
Italians. There is an archery tournament being held as part of a
neighborhood festival--so every so often, a team of archers in
medieval costumes troop through the square, going from shooting
station to shooting station. I wonder how long this idyllic situation
will last before San Quirico d'Orcia is "discovered" and I wonder if I
should be contributing to the popularity of the town as a tourist
destination by sending clients here.

I walk down the street to a photography shop to buy some postcards of
the "intarsia" decorated choir stalls in the La Collegiata church.
The man tending the store turns out to be Australian--an English
teacher who has lived here for five years--and he asks me if we were
able to get close to the choir stalls. Apparently the priest is
touchy about letting people go behind the altar and I guess his
reluctance has been picked up by the church caretaker.

Back at the linen shop, the sale is being concluded and we are ready
to leave. Since we have to come back close to San Quirico on our way
from the train station in Chiusi to drive to Chianti (and because
there isn't enough room in the trunk even for our luggage), we stash
our luggage at the hotel. The chosen birthday lunch location is at
the very beautiful and stylish Locanda dell'Amorosa in Sinalunga--a
town in eastern Tuscany not far from Cortona. Jonathan had visited
the place when he was working on the television show "World Class
Cuisine" and had really liked it. I have been wanting to go there for
a while--even though it is an up-scale place, it has the reputation of
not being stuffy or overly expensive.

We arrive in Sinalunga right on time for our 1:30 reservation. The
restaurant is immediately appealing...both the appearance and the
menu...even though just about all the customers are English speakers.
It is a comfortable room done with a lot of style but not over the
top. The staff are dressed in dark suits and ties but aren't stiff
and formal. The menu has a lot of intriguing possibilities and we
spend some time discussing options. Everyone thoroughly enjoys the
meal....I start with fried calf brains which are light and flavorful,
followed by a wonderful fettucine-like pasta called reginelle served
with beets and fava beans and then a very unusual dish for an Italian
restaurant--poached eggs wrapped in prosciutto--surprising, simple and
delicious. Diana starts with the white asparagus tart, followed by
ravioli, roast lamb and a tart for her "birthday" dessert. Maureen
has the reginelle and a terrific "involtino" of veal wrapped around
artichoke stuffing and Franco starts with artichokes, then pici with a
meat ragu, a nicely-done frittata and zucchini. The first bottle of
wine--the house wine from Amorosa is pleasant but thin; the second
bottle--a red from Montepulciano is a big improvement. Everyone
enjoys the food and the is a great birthday celebration.

After lunch, we wander around the grounds and end up on the lawn
chairs next to the hotel's pool, chatting and napping, surrounded by
the beautiful grounds and Italian countryside. It is hard to tear
ourselves away and end the terrific weekend, but we have to bring
Maureen and Franco to the train in Chiusi and then move on to
Castellina in Chianti. The traffic to Siena from San Quirico d'Orcia
on this Sunday evening is pretty heavy and we don't reach Castellina
in Chianti until after 7 pm.

The hotel, the Villa Casalecchi, is an imposing country hotel located
just outside of the town. It is immersed in green, has beautiful
terraces and a swimming pool. The building itself is quite formal and
grand and our room is large and light, but the furniture is the kind
of period furniture that looks grand but is not very comfortable. In
the room, Diana is surprised to find a beautiful bouquet of flowers
from her sisters and brothers-in-law and a birthday card from her
mother. We get settled and decide that there is no way that we are
going to eat dinner this evening, so we make the short drive into town
for a gelato (at the very well known Castellina gelateria--Antica
Delizia), a short walk around town and then back to hotel and to bed.

Tomorrow we have no firm schedule but hope to enjoy our country estate.

NOTE: Before I forget, I want to mention the church bells in San
Quirico d'Orcia. There are two churches and they both ring their
bells on the hour--24 hours a day. One of the churches also strikes
the bell once on the half hour. The quirky thing is that the churches
are not in of the churches rings the bells two minutes
after the other one.


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