Thursday, May 11, 2006

Day 8: San Quirico d'Orcia

We wake up to an angry sky and pouring we have a leisurely morning. Breakfast at this hotel is noteworthy for its stylish breakfast room, its abundant spread of great breads, cheeses, fruit, of the nicest we have seen anywhere. We see some of the same people who had been at the restaurant the night before.

Back in the room, we try to wait out the bad weather and, as it begins to lighten up, we decide to take a drive into the mountain areas to the south. We drive toward Mount Amiata--an extinct volcano that reaches almost 6,000 feet and dominates the valley--passing by several hill towns, a couple with massive fortresses looming over the towns. The terrain changes abruptly as we start to climb....we leave the gentle, rolling valley and enter into chestnut and pine forests and more typical mountain scenery. The clouds have departed and the day is now clear and sunny, making the drive even more pleasant.

We make a stop in Arcidosso, a pleasant, lively town about halfway up the mountain. We walk up the hill into the "centro storico"--it is another of those picture book Tuscan villages--narrow streets, stone houses, flowers in windowboxes. While standing under the fortress walls, we consult my guidebooks for a likely lunch spot in the area. One restaurant--L'Aiuole--jumps out at is mentioned in several guides and one of the specialties--a pasta dish called "fiochi di neve" (snowflakes) sounds very appealing.

We drive the short distance out of town and find the is part of small mountain hotel....and there are only a couple of cars in the parking lot. We sit down in an almost empty dining room--only one table is occupied. The waiter recites the menu for us and we are happy when we hear that the "fiochi di neve" are available. We both have the mixed Tuscan antipasto---two crostini--one with liver and one with mushrooms and some delicious salami, lardo and prosciutto. The pasta dishes that follow are also great--the "fiochi di neve" are like very light, large gnocchi (they are made with potato, egg and cheese) and served with slivers of parmigiano-reggiano. My tortelli with meat sauce are good but don't compare to the "fiochi".

A secondi is impossible--although they look delicious--and Diana finishes off with a pecorino cheese served with a lemon-scented honey, which she enjoys very much. I turn down the grappa that is offered even though the waiter describes it as one of the best in the world.

As we pay the bill, the waiter asks how we found the restaurant. When I mention the name of the guidebooks, he looks puzzled so I offer to bring them in from the car. He and the cashier look them over and translate some of the English.....they are surprised because no one from any English language guidebook had ever made themselves known to them.

We thank them for a wonderful was one of those great unplanned surprises at an unknown restaurant---an unexpected treat and a justification for my carrying around a number of guidebooks in my shoulder bag.

The ride down the mountain is no less scenic than the ride up. Back in San Quirico, we take advantage of the beautiful garden to rest, read and write. I then go out to explore the town a little more. I find the rear entrance to the pretty church near the hotel, which had had appeared all locked up. Inside the church, there are two especially nice pieces--a Senese painting of the Madonna and Saints from the mid-15th century the back of the church and hard to see from the front of the altar....nine choir stalls decorated inlaid wood pictures.

Dinner is at the restaurant connected to the hotel....Al Vecchio Forno...located on the next street over from the hotel's garden. We are shown to the last table available in the ground floor room that seems to be reserved for non-Italians. The menu is slightly more creative than most traditional Tuscan restaurants and it turns out that our dinner is not as successful as the night before at Il Tinaio. My plate of various Tuscan salamis is excellent and my pasta--an oven baked pasta dish with ricotta and kale--is very tasty. But Diana has a "tortino" of potato that is just okay and her dish of farro and artichokes (prepared like a risotto) is bland. My panna cotta is good but the mixed berry sauce is not as good as the night before. The wine--a red from Montalcino--is very drinkable. Since our meal is not completely satisfying, we will have to decide whether this is where we want to eat on Saturday night when our friends are in town.

We get back to the hotel through the garden gate and climb the stairs back to the room and to bed. Tomorrow we will explore the town some more and then pick up Maureen and Franco at the train station in Chiusi.


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