Friday, May 30, 2008

Home away from Home…

Last evening I arrived at Il Borgo Villa di Bossi-Pucci in Chianti (Il Borgo means village in Italian – please visit our website for more information on this lovely resort ). Alessandro, the property manager, was right on queue with the remote opening of the large gates that permit access to the estate. His warm greeting (along with his prompt attention to every detail from my last 8 months of emails) comforted me in knowing that this was the right choice for our very special group arriving tomorrow. His cat Red was also part of the welcoming committee – happy to let you rub his belly in honor of getting to know each other better. . . It was very good to be back here.

The evening show consisted of a refreshing rain storm complete with the sound and light show of thunder and lightning paving the way for a restful night’s sleep. The view is spectacular – even at night when it is illuminated only for nanoseconds by Mother Nature. This view stretches across an olive tree-lined valley to the next set of hills which display the profiles of more than one medieval castle in the distance. This area is not typically mentioned in the popular guidebooks. They are busy writing about Greve and Radda and Castellina in Chianti… which of course, are all very beautiful. But here in Montagnana, you are more likely to run into farm workers and local families than you are into tourists or international visitors.

A visit here in Montagnana to the local pizzeria and alimentari or mini grocery store, transport you into the real Italy – no English is served here – just honest to goodness delicious food and sincere appreciation for your business. I always ask for recommendations which are typically given gladly. Ordering some salami and cheese, the recommendation were the products made in Toscana, naturally! Again, the pride and confidence in a culture of quality and tradition is ever present. And the grocer was right – the salami was the best I’ve ever had; made locally... by his neighbor.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The wine, the land, the people...

If you have even the slightest knowledge of Italian wines – chances are you’ve heard of Banfi – One of the largest producers in Tuscany famous for Brunello.

Today I visited Castello Banfi and all its splendor. I was promptly greeted by the events coordinator Serena Rossi - a bright, casual yet very astute young woman who I imagined to be just as comfortable in the company of kings and queens as she seemed to be with me. I could go on about how grand this estate is with its large and wildly romantic rooms and suites, its Michelin star restaurant (also wildly romantic) and of course their extensive wine shop all encircling the magnificent 12th century Castello Banfi – But even more enchanting are the people of Tuscany – genuine and kind. They hold a great respect for their culture, their land, their traditions. It is rare to receive anything other than very gracious hospitality in the countryside of Tuscany – It is no wonder that these Castles that dot this wonderful land have been hosting guests for over 900 years.

And on a smaller scale, but no less important, the waiter that served you last year will most likely be the one to serve you again this year. Full of pride and desire to please, this above all, is the real reason why Tuscany is so enchanting. Scenery and grand estates are only the small portion… It is the Tuscans that make up the true beauty of Tuscany.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not just a once in a lifetime trip...

The more one visits Italy - the more one wants to visit Italy. I hear this so often.

Landing in Pisa was a breeze - nonstop from JFK on Delta. The van rental was a breeze as well once I was shown the way to find your car is by just pushing the remote to see which one lights up - So why did they bother to write D21 on my contract? Who needs rows and numbered spaces?

Drove the back roads to Pienza from Pisa - the secondary road to the freeway consists of many one lane bridges and railroad crossings. At one such crossing where we waited for the train to pass - the driver in front got out of his car and walked over to the Tabacchi down the street - bought a pack of cigarettes - returned to his car - and promptly after his return, along came the train - and we all continued on - Ahhh, the rhythm of Italy.

Arrived into Pienza on an absolutely beautiful day with big blue skies, and grand green fields dotted with bright red poppies. Pienza is one of my favorite towns - small enough to stay quaint and large enough to have access to all one’s needs. Locals gather in the park - discussing vibrantly their world's events. There are fabulous restaurants serving the local cheeses - arguably the best cheese in the world - fresh pecorino made from goat's milk. The aroma permeates the air of this small town. The evening meal consisted of handmade ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta served with a truffle mushroom sauce. The ultimate comfort food.

When I come to Pienza, I stay at the Albergo Rutiliano - a small 10 room B and B within walking distance to the town - with all the modern conveniences and always an especially warm and pleasant reception thanks to Silvia!

I woke the next morning to the ever present church bells bidding the day buongiorno. This day I visited the magnificent estate of La Foce - a 10,000 acre family owned olive oil producing estate which also offers fantastic lodging options and the perfect place for a memorable wedding with its striking gardens and stately cypress trees guarding the estate.

After my tour at La Foce, I headed over to the Abbey of Sant' Antimo - an 11th century place of worship where the brothers sing out Gregorian Chants prior to every mass - This great structure is filled with the vibrations of their prayers seven times per day – You could tell easily who were the visitors and who were the residents by who knew exactly when to stand and when to sit during the prayer – I found it is as simple as following the brother’s actions. And the brother’s chants fill and follow you after you go - a spiritual experience no matter your beliefs. Ciao for now.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Villa Vita In Italy

Welcome Friends to Villa Vita's Blog - It is here we will post our adventures as they happen - stories - photos - new found friends - new places discovered - and general daily life in Italy as seen through the eyes of tourists and residents alike. Our first trip of the season commences on May 26th where we journey to the charming village of Pienza in southern Tuscany to finalize plans for one of our August tours while staying with our friends at Albergo Rutiliano. We'll be visiting Sant'Antimo Abbey to be witness of the most magical Gregorian chanting and prayers of the local brothers. We'll also stop for a tour of Castello Banfi's magnificent estate in Montalcino where the notable Banfi wines are produced. Then we are off to Chianti for a week of fun and relaxation at the fabulous Il Borgo Villa di Bossi Pucci from where we will explore neighboring towns and cities such as Florence, Radda in Chianti, and Siena and enjoy the peaceful days and evenings by the pool or in the piazza. Towards the end of this journey, we'll be off to visit Giuseppe Mazzocchi and his lovely cooking school just outside of Lucca with a possible stop to the Grotta Giusti Spa near Montecatini Terme for a sample of sustained health and wellness Italian style. There will be much to share, much to learn and much to simply enjoy - Won't you come along?

For more information on Villa Vita International and its journeys - please visit