Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Day 14: Castellina in Chianti

It is a little overcast this morning when we open the shutters and look at the beautiful view outside our window....but the sun is threatening to break through.

This morning, I have an appointment with the owner of the Mugnano Horse Farm--near Certaldo (southwest of Florence)--to check out her property where I have clients staying later this year. We drive to Poggibonsi on the very curvy road from Castellina and pass the restaurant--Il Pestello--that we were looking for last night.....we stopped just two kilometers too soon. Poggibonsi is a big commercial center and we encounter a good bit of traffic as we negotiate the very intricate traffic circles and road junctions looking for the road to Certaldo. The road to Certaldo is also lined with light industry and warehouses....Diana says she doesn't mind it at all because at least it is a sign that there are some jobs in the area.

We are supposed to go to the train station and call Paris Lutge, the owner of the horse farm. She will then come and lead us to the place. Our first problem is that we have a great deal of difficulty finding the station, even though we are driving along the railroad tracks and we think we are following the signs correctly. When we finally find the station (almost by accident), the telephone number that I have won't go through. So we drive back to the tourist office (we had passed it on the way into town) to ask for help.

The number that the tourist office has is the same as the one I have but on the Certaldo map, there is an advertisement for the horse farm, with a cell phone number. I try to call the cell phone and no one answers. But the woman at the tourist office tells us that it is only ten minutes away, gives us directions and marks the route on a map. The setting for the horse farm is very scenic, in the rolling hills outside of Certaldo.

We find the place quite easily and Paris is in the yard waiting for us. She is about our age and comes from California. She tells us that she has been running the horse stables and the agriturismo for 25 years or more...way before this type of farm accommodation became popular and trendy. We take a tour of the accommodations, which are rustic and simple but seem quite nice. We discuss the arrangements and what the clients should expect in terms of the accommodations and the riding. I am glad to have had the chance to visit the property and meet her before my clients arrive, since I knew nothing about the place, other than the pictures on the web site.

We are going to have lunch with our friends, Rita and Lino, who live near Greve in Chianti. We are meeting them at the Badia di Passignano, a small village with a large abbey and the home to a lot of Antinori wines. There is a Last Supper at the Badia but the only time we could get in to see it was on Sunday, and we couldn't work out the details. The drive from Certaldo east to Chianti is extremely beautiful...every bit as nice as the more famous Chianti countryside. We drive though a number of attractive villages whose names are completely unfamiliar to me. This area of Tuscany definitely deserves some more attention.

They are waiting for us when we drive into town and we take a short walk around the abbey and the village before driving--in separate cars--to the very remote and rustic country restaurant--La Cantinetta di Rignana. We have a very nice time with them and also enjoy the food.....we share a big antipasto platter with salami, prosciutto, marinated vegetables, lardo and olives. Diana and Rita have the with rucola and cheese, one with truffles, Lino has a hearty beef stew (peposo) and I have the rabbit stuffed with ham. The house wine is easy to drink, the food is delicious, the weather has become very fine and the company is great---a wonderful Italian afternoon.

We say goodbye...they take the road to Greve in Chianti and we go via Panzano. Before going back to our hotel, we stop in town and I visit the Palazzo Squarcialupi, a hotel I use frequently but have never seen. I take a tour of the hotel...very nice sized rooms, some with beautiful views over the countryside. I also collect some commissions that are owed to me for previous clients. I like the chance to meet the people in person that I deal with on the internet and get first hand knowledge of the places that I am recommending.

A quick gelato stop at the excellent gelateria in Castellina in Chianti--we both have frutti di bosco and limone which are excellent. Then back to the Villa Casalecchi to sit in the sun and read, write and talk to another couple who are staying at the hotel.

Tonight for dinner, I had planned to try an osteria in Fonterutoli (five minutes from our hotel) which had been highly rec ommended by a number of sources. When I call to check, I get no answer and when I ask the manager about it, he tells me that it closed last year. He suggests Il Pestrello but I tell him that it is closed on Wednesdays. He thinks for a while and comes up with a trattoria in Lornano, about 20 minutes away. He says it was good two years ago and calls to book a table for us.

It is a nice drive to Lornano....the sun is setting as we approach the town and it is very easy to find the place--it is the only restaurant around. But it is another one of those very inviting Italian trattorias....tastefully decorated, nice tablecloths and a welcoming atmosphere. There are two other couples eating there--one American and one Italian. There are only two downsides for me-- the first is that I think the waiter is a bit strange and the second is that, other than the pasta dishes, there is not much on the menu that appeals to me. (I could have the Tuscan antipasto but we had had a delicious one at lunch earlier in the day.) So I have the ribollita (not as good as in San Quirco d'Orcia) and vegetables and Diana has the risotto with artichokes, which she says is delicious, lamb chops (also excellent) and roast potatoes (very nicely done). We have a half bottle of the local Chianti (which we have no trouble finishing) and skip dessert. Certainly a good place and on an another night, I think I might like it more than I did tonight.

Tomorrow we pack up and head for Lerici.


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