Tag Archives: Tuscany

Italy Food & Lodging

Where We Stayed

Tuscany
La Canonica In Cortine

Located 5 minutes drive from San Donato In Poggio, this complex of buildings includes 10 guest villas and a bed & breakfast. Our friends had two villas (they were traveling as a couple with infant twins, plus grandmother, brother & girlfriend), while we had a room in the B&B. I found the price quite reasonable and the accomodations were excellent. Our room had tile floors, lovely beamed ceiling and jacuzzi bathtub. The setting was calm and peaceful, the staff always helpful with great recommendations for food. We were a 30 minute drive from Siena, San Gimigiano and most other places we wanted to visit.

Venice
Residenza Cannaregio

Located 5 minutes walk from the Santa Alvise traghetto stop in the Cannaregio, this is a recently renovated hotel complex. Facilities were clean, couldn’t complain about the room, breakfast was included and I liked being located in a more residential area. However, for 4 nights, we paid almost twice as much as we paid for 5 nights in Tuscany. The advertised high speed Internet was non-functional for the duration of our stay. One night we returned to our room to find that housekeeping had neglected to replenish the toilet paper. A visit to the front desk resulted in no toilet paper after a 30 minute wait. During a subsequent call to the front desk, we were asked if we wanted to “up the priority” on the request. I don’t know about you, but after a full day of sight-seeing, I may not need toilet paper the minute I arrive back to my room, but once I request toilet paper, it’s a high priority. :-)

Milan
Residenza Luc & Genevieve

We stayed with friends in Varese. They had a lovely villa clinging to a hillside. The hospitality was excellent and the food was great!

Where We Ate

Antica Trattoria “La Toppa”
Centro Storico San Donato in Poggio (FI)
Tel: 055 8072900

Mushroom soup and bruschetta
Pasta with duck ragu and pasta with tomato and garlic
Gelato and pannacotta with fieldberries
Chianti classico Fratonia La Ripa 2003, made in San Donato

We ate here our first night. We were exhausted and the food went down really well. All the food was hearty and tasty, and we were welcomed even though we arrived after nine. Perfect for our first night in Italy. Recommendation from Irene at the Canonica.

Al Mangia
Il Campo in Siena

We ate here for lunch in Siena. I had a mushroom and pork risotto that I quite enjoyed. I shared a shrimp appetizer on a bed of artichoke with my husband – the artichoke appeared to have been marinated and then shredded and the flavour was really nice.

Bottega del Moro
Greve

Gnocchi (me) and degustazione de caprini (goat cheese sampler – Guy)
Oliveti de vitello (veal shaped like olives)
Wine: Castello di Cacciano 1997 and Renzo Marinari 2001

Dinner on our second evening. Another recommendation from Irene at the Canonica. I had the gnocchi and everyone at the table agreed they were the best gnocchi anybody had ever tried. They simply disappeared in an explosion of flavour as soon as they touched the tongue. The veal was also good, but after the gnocchi, I could have had anything and not really noticed. The staff was friendly and accomodating.

Ristorante Badia a Coltibuono
Localita Badia a Coltibuono
53013 Gaiole in Chianti – Siena
Tel: 0577 749031

Lunch on our third day. I had a squid and red pepper pasta with chickpea noodles, Guy had pork ragu pasta with white beans on the side. The setting was lovely, with arching vines covering a walkway leading to an outdoor terrace with a view of the valley. The service was indifferent.

Osteria La Gramola
Osteria & Enoteca
Prodotti tipici toscani
Via delle Fonti 1
50028 Tavarnelle V.P. (FI) Tel: 055 8050321

This is where we did our Tuscan cooking class (another recommendation from the Canonica). We made (and ate) Pappa al Pomodoro (Tuscan tomato and bread soup), Maiale Ubriaco (drunken pork) and Biscottini con Vinsanto (biscotti). We also got a lesson on olive oil and a tasting of several different types, a tasting of pecorino cheeses with honey and quince jellies, and a Chianti wine sampling. I think my friend would have liked the cooking session to be more hands on, but I had a good time, and it was nice to be able to talk to local people and try some traditional recipes.

Ristorante Arnolfo
Via XX Settembre 50
53034 Colle di Val d’Elsa – Siena
Tel: 0039 0577 920549

We were going to have lunch in San Gimigniano but the place we were hoping to eat at was closed. So on the recommendation of my friends’ copy of The Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Tuscany, we drove the 20 minutes to Colle di Val d’Elsa in search of Arnolfo’s.

Just to set the stage, we had spent the morning and early afternoon trekking around San Gimigniano in our tourist getups of shorts, t-shirts, sandals and sundry items of touring gear. Guy and I found the place first. When we poked our heads inside we found an immaculate white foyer with a waiter in full double-breasted suit. Uh-oh. I mean, we all love fine food. We have all dined out at some of the finest restaurants in Vancouver. We just weren’t mentally prepared for the meal we were about to get. But after a brief discussion amongst ourselves, then another discussion with the waiter regarding the dress code, we took the plunge. He didn’t look too happy to have our scruffy selves gracing one of his tables but his colleague was pleasant and lovely the whole time. I didn’t realize until midway through our meal that the little ottoman next to my chair was to place my purse on so it wouldn’t get sullied by the floor.

We went in looking for a light lunch. We left having eaten one of the best meals of our lives.

This place was on a par with the best restaurants I have eaten at (Lumiere in Vancouver, Oliveto in Oakland, etc.). They offer a traditional Tuscan tasting menu and a more avant-garde tasting menu, with a la carte selections. I only wanted one course, so I ordered the Tortelli di ricotta di pecora con pesto leggero al dragoncello e timballo di pecorino (AKA the pasta stuffed with pecorino ricotta). Alas, one course was not to be. Our hosts insisted on plying us with food (someone we met in Venice later laughed and said we were given the poor man’s treatment. Do I care? Hell, no!). First came the bread, three pieces on my plate, each one of a different type. When I returned from the washroom, the bread had been replenished on my companion’s plates with three other types of breads. Then came the plate of amuse-gueules, 5 mouthfuls of exquisite flavours (shrimp, red mullet, quiche…), then a zucchini flower stuffed with ricotta, then my pasta. We declined dessert but were nevertheless presented with a dessert sampler plate, each mouthful of sweets better than the last.

A top-notch dining experience. I wish we’d gone for dinner. But then, maybe we would have missed the lovely spectacle of the grasses undulating like ocean waves on the hillside behind the restaurant.

La Locanda di Pietracupa
Not sure if this qualifies as being in San Donato or Castellina.
Turning left out of the Canonica access road, this restaurant is the first one on the right.

Dinner on our last day in Tuscany. By this point I was no longer hungry. To be honest, I can’t remember what I ate here (I had a pasta – veal ragu? – and a green salad). I just remember it was good. Like all the food in Tuscany. Fresh, simple and full of flavour.

Back to Italy 2006 home

Itinerary

Italy Itinerary

Day 0 – Monday, May 15, 2006

Red-eye Montreal-London, depart on Air Canada at 7:30 PM, arrive London Heathrow 7:30 AM. Bleurgh. Hate red-eyes.

Day 1 – Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Depart London Heathrow on Alitalia at 10:30 AM, arrive Milan Malpensa 1:45 PM. Alitilia lost one piece of luggage. Drop off contact details with baggage handling. Pick up car from Hertz. Reserved Mazda Miata not available, upgraded to BMW Z4. Phew! Luggage all fits in trunk. Wipe sleep from eyes, put convertible roof down.

3:30 PM. Find A8 Autostrada. Follow signs for A1 Autostrada and Tangenziale around Milan to Bologna. Successfully locate A1 Autostrada without entering Milan. Fumble through toll booths. Freak out at number of trucks on roads. Italy must not transport freight by train. Wall-to-wall trucks in slow lane. Unlike North America, exhaust pipes not directed at sky, instead piped into faster lanes. Begin regretting top-down decision.

Follow A1 through Parma, Modena and Bologna. Stop for dry panini at roadside rest stop just outside Parma. Block of parmesan cheese at gas station for sale for 10 euros! Note that Italian version of dilapidated farm house is beautiful crumbling stone instead of grey, weathered wood. Witness two near accidents in fast lane, and one motorcyclist nearly get wiped from face of planet. Outside Firenze, terrain changes from flat agricultural plain to hilly. Autostrada begins to go through numerous tunnels.

Approaching Firenze, construction signs seem to imply our exit might be closed. Brief panic. Arrive at Firenze-Certosa exit to find it open. Exit A1 at Firenze-Certosa, enter Raccordo Siena-Firenze (SI-FI). Breath sigh of relief at lack of trucks.

Exit SI-FI at San Donato in Poggio. Begin adapting to roadsigns. Find well-marked turnoff for Canonica In Cortine. Arrive villa 8 PM. Room is beautiful, all tile and warm, waxed wood. Scrub diesel exhaust from hair. Dinner in San Donato 9 PM.

Day 2 – Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Follow our friends along SI-FI to Siena. Explore outdoor market, town and Duomo. Lunch in square (Il Campo). Return to Cortine via smaller road 222. Meet friends in Greve for dinner. Take tiny turnoff in Grignano back to Cortine.

Day 3 – Thursday, May 18, 2006

Head south from Cortine to Castellina in Chianti. Take route 429 and drive through Radda in Chianti. Turn south just past Villa to find gift shop recommended by friends in Meleto. Don’t buy anything. Go back up route 408 through Gaiole and stop in Badia Coltibuono. Lunch at the Badia. Head back towards Radda. Find small turnoff to north that takes us on backroads through Bugialla and Torsoli. Follow signs to Greve. Arrive Greve, explore town square with market, fantastic butcher shop with cheese cave, and the Enoteca (1500 wines for sale, 150 available for sampling). Head back to Cortine and make dinner of carbonara with pancetta purchased in Greve.

Day 4 – Friday, May 19, 2006

Cooking class in Tavarnelle (only 20 minute drive from Cortine). Mmmm. Get olive oil and wine lesson from Osteria owner. Relax poolside, then do 50 lengths of pool. It’s not a big pool. Dinner back at Cortine again.

Day 5 – Saturday, May 20, 2006

Take SI-FI to Poggibonsi, follow signs for San Gimigniano. Explore medieval walled town of San Gimigniano. Sample gelato from place in square with blue neon sign. Mmmm. Place friends recommended for lunch closed. Drive to Colle di Val d’Elsa. Locate Ristorante Arnolfo. Fantastic lunch. Drive along road to Casole d’Elsa in attempt to locate cristal factory. Factory closed. Take backroads to Volterra. Visit Etruscan museum. Back to Cortine via backroads north of Volterra. Bail near San Gimigniano as dusk sets in. Suffering from postcard scenery overload anyway. Return to Cortine via main S.Gimigniano-Poggibonsi road, and SI-FI. Dine just outside San Donato.

Day 6 – Sunday, May 21, 2006

Depart Cortine 11ish. Go south to Castellina in Chianti, east on 429 back through Radda. Follow route 408 to Montevarchi. Connect with route 69 to Arezzo. Take route 71 north to Bibbiena. Route becomes twisty pass through mountains. Wow. Motorcyclist coming around curve in our lane nearly lands on my head. Pulls off fancy move at last minute and we all clean our underwear. Join E45 highway at Bagno di Romagna, and follow it through Cesena to Ravenna. In Ravenna, join route 309 north to Venizia. Arrive Venice around 7 PM. Park car in Piazzale Roma (got told it was only for monthly parking but they found room). Take traghetto number 41 to Santa Alvise, where hotel concierge talks us to the hotel via our mobile. Arrive Residenza Cannaregio. Dine in Cannaregio.

Day 7 – Monday, May 22, 2006

Explore Venice on foot. Wander somewhat aimlessly. Visit Ca’ d’Oro, Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace. Dinner at pizzeria in Cannaregio.

Day 8 – Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Visit Murano. See glassmakers. On to Burano. Lovely colourful fishing village. Take next to last traghetto to Torcello. Another dinner in Cannaregio.

Day 9 – Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Museum day. Visit Ca’Rezzonico, the Frari, and Ca’Pesaro. Get caught in thundershower – no gondola ride. Lose contact lens on traghetto. Lovely dinner in Cannaregio.

Day 10 – Thursday, May 25, 2006

Retrieve car. Leave Venice via A4 Autostrada to Milan. A4 much better than A1. Lunch at Sirmione on Lago di Garda. Take back roads (route 11) from Sirmione to Bergamo and Como. Mistake. Roads not so nice and crowded. Traffic a nightmare from Bergamo to Como. Traffic a parking lot from Como to Varese. Arrive Varese, realize forgot map in Vancouver. Retrieve directions via mobile call to our ex-pat friends. Arrive at our friends’ villa in Varese without too much trouble, by “not thinking too much” as the road changed names 6 times in 2 km. Dinner at villa.

Day 11 – Friday, May 26, 2006

Driving tour along shores of Lago Maggiore (Laveno, Luino). Return early to villa. Visit Essalunga grocery superstore. Relax on porch once back at villa. Dinner at villa again.

Day 12 – Saturday, May 27, 2006

Automatic gate to villa breaks and opens only halfway – not enough to get car out. Spend two hours looking for keys to unlock hydraulic rams and debugging gate circuitry. Finally locate keys and blown 5 Amp fuse. Drive to Milan. Visit Duomo, climb around on roof. Shopping on main drag. Wow – packed. Wow – pricey: 600 euro Vergelio shoes and 6000 euro Prada bags. Find a FNAC on Via Torino but no fuses. Find a less pricey outlet for Vergelio shoes on same street and buy more reasonably priced 130 euro shoes. On return to Varese, spot a Le Roy Merlin off the highway (equivalent to Home Depot). Fuses? Spend 30 minutes trying to relocate it via Italian backroads. Find 2.5 Amp fuses but no 5 Amp. Return to Varese. Get gate working. Hooray! Dinner on shores of Lago di Varese.

Day 13 – Sunday, May 28, 2006

Gate still working. Phew. Depart Milan Malpensa via Alitalia at 10:30 AM for London Heathrow. Depart London Heathrow 3:45 PM for Vancouver. Arrive 5:45 PM Vancouver Intl.

Trip too short. Need to spend 4 months in Tuscany learning Italian and taking cooking classes. :-)

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Food & Lodging

Italy Vacation

On May 12, 2006, we flew to Montreal for a weekend of family visits surrounding my grandmother’s 90th birthday. From there, since we were almost halfway to Europe from our home base of Vancouver, we decided to fly on and take our first non-boating vacation in over 12 years, catching a red-eye on the 15th to London, then winging our way to Milan, Italy, where we picked up a snazzy little convertible rental car and took off for two weeks driving through Tuscany, Venice and Milan.

Strictly speaking, this was not a voyage of the S/V Ganache, but it was a great trip involving the crew, so I’m posting it to this portion of the site regardless.

There are more architectural features in the photos than usual, as I was conducting research for my book. Apologies if you don’t like doors, windows, and old stone houses.

Itinerary & Travel Details

Food & Lodging

Tuscany Gallery

Tuscany

Photos of Tuscany

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