Italians have a saying, “il dolce far niente…” which literally translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing”. For me, nothing is sweeter than aimlessly touring the Tuscan countryside south of Siena, between Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana.
Lots of open space, wooded valleys, olive groves, vineyards and a handful of small towns dotted with working farms make up the landscape. I’ve visited this area before, and will return again, as it is a fabulous home base for exploring the southern Tuscany and northern Umbrian sites.
Charming medieval San Casciano dei Bagni is a delightful borgo (medieval village) steeped in history dating back as early as the third century. One day the town’s church bells rang ominously for over 15 minutes straight ~ in honor perhaps of a beloved’s passing ~ the intense vibration of the bells resounded throughout the town and shook the earth! A very spiritual and moving experience and there wasn’t a soul around… For Whom The Bells Toll?
While San Casciano dei Bagni has a handful of good restaurants, a few boutique hotels, a cappuccino spot and a small grocery market, it is best known for the 42 natural hot mineral springs in the surrounding hills and also for the ritzy Terme di Fonteverde 5-star resort.
Fonteverde is a wonderful way to spend a day pampering yourself in the first-class spa or soaking in the hot spring pool, even on a rainy day! www.fonteverdespa.com
I chose the agriturismo (farm stay), il Poggio, located in Celle Sul Rigo, a few kilometers from San Casciano dei Bagni, as my home-base for my two-week stay in the very southern region of Tuscany, near Umbria and Lazio. I highly recommend il Poggio to anyone looking for an authentic farm stay between Rome and Florence. There are one and two bedroom apartments, complete with kitchens, which make for a great immersion experience shopping for groceries in the little markets nearby.
Il Poggio also has a charming on-site dining room, called Il Ristorante, which features excellent local cuisine nightly and cooking classes (the cappuccino was the best in Tuscany). The property’s enoteca (wineshop) is called La Dispensa di Mafalda. It’s a well-stocked deli/wine shop, featuring a wide selection of Tuscan wines and cured meats from il Poggios’s farm-raised La Cinta Senese (pigs) and Suino (wild boar), aged cheese, pastas, olive oil and excellent wine from the estate itself. The staff is amazing and very accommodating, but speak very little English, so brush up on your Italiano! www.ilpoggio.net
The highlight of my stay at Il Poggio however, was the 3-hour guided horseback trek through the backcountry right off the property, with a castle on the hill as a compass! The horses traversed the carved river canyons, passed by a few working farms, pastures of sheep, wandering deer and soaring falcons all the way to the Via Francigena, the ancient road and pilgrim route from Rome to France. Absolutely the most breathtaking horseback ride ever!
Upon the advice of one local wine enthusiast/guide, I made my way out to Palazzone, about 20 minutes from San Casciano dei Bagni for a private wine cellar tour with winemaker and vineyard owner, Giacomo Mori.
Giacomo Mori graciously welcomed me and opened the doors to his ancient cellars for a private tour and tasting. At times there was a little communication problem as Giacomo spoke about as much English as I spoke Italian. Nevertheless, the shared love of wine prevailed with a lot of smiles and gestures and of course a few glasses of his excellent wine!
Giacomo Mori hails from a long family line of winemakers dating back to the mid 1850’s. The vineyards consisted of 11 hectares (approximately 20 acres) and were planted primarily in Sangiovese, Merlot and Italian varietals Colorino and Canaiolo. Malvasaia and Trebbiano was also planted in small lots for the highly-prized Vinsanto.
For a real treat, Giacomo led the way to the top of the cellar by elevator to the Vinsantaia, the attic where the Vinsanto rests. This was a new experience for me!
Vinsanto is produced from Trebbiano and Malvasia (Italian white grapes) which are harvested late in the season and left to dry on the racks in the attic for five months. The grapes are pressed and the nectar is stored in small oak casks for another six years and subjected to extreme summer heat and extreme winter cold. The perfect dessert wine with biscotti!
As a parting gesture, Giacomo gave me two bottles of his finest Chianti Reserva to enjoy for the rest of my time in Tuscany. Cellar tours are by appointment only, as is the norm in Italy. Charming guest accommodations are also available in the renovated nineteenth century farmhouses on the Mori estate. www.giacomomori