Napoleon, the grape and feasting in Tuscany

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October 1st 2010
Published: October 2nd 2010
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The Grape lives to make us happyThe Grape lives to make us happyThe Grape lives to make us happy

on the table and in the bottle
From the vine of the grape—Tuscany was born.

We departed Florence late on Sunday morning in pursuit of our next destination, the island of Elba. Never heard of it? Not too surprising as it perhaps best know in western hemisphere historical circles as the place where Napoleon was exiled in 1814 or so after he was ousted from power. The poor guy was allowed only 600 men to keep him company. He did however help the island by carrying out reforms both socially and economic during his 300 days. Thus endeth the history lesson. Oh yes, Napoleon's stay on Elba is the basis for the famous English language palindrome: "Able was I ere I saw Elba." Alright…now we’re done….really.

To modern day Europeans, it is a quiet and lovely island situated about an hour’s ferry ride from Piobino on Italy’s west coast. Geologically it is a volcanic-formed island that was part of a much more extensive archipelago that at one time connected Italy and Corsica. It is green, lush and has beaches, although most appear to be of the pebble variety. Not frequented by many Americans, it nonetheless is quite nice and somewhat reminiscent of a Caribbean island. The
Sunset on the vineyardSunset on the vineyardSunset on the vineyard

The end of a nice day in the Tuscan sun
island of Elba was bigger than we had pictured it in our minds. While we were sitting on the dock waiting for the ferry we were able to watch them filming an Italian movie- that was fun.

We took a quick jaunt there for an overnight stay at a lovely villa. It was relaxing to escape the hordes of tourists that fill Florence to a place where life is exquisitely slow. We stayed the night at the Villa Otone, which was a grand place and the location we decided to splurge on this trip. We enjoyed a four-course meal and fine wine in the dining room. We left the window open that night and heard the splashing of the waves upon the pebble shore. There is nothing that we love more than listening to the sounds of the sea.

The next morning it was back on the road and after the ferry ride back to the mainland our next stop was to be San Gimignano and the Villa San Paulo. Originally we thought to stop in Siena at the duomo and take in the famous tiled floors which are only uncovered in the month of September, but a wrong turn on the auto strada (four lane highway to most) led us in the opposite direction. We decided to continue north and headed for Pisa and the famous leaning tower.

It did not disappoint. The adjoining cathedral was another stunning example of Renaissance fresco works. We have learned a great deal about how they create a fresco in the walls and on the ceilings—if you want the information it is going to cost you a glass or two of wine!

We strolled about for a little over an hour and were on our way to San Gimignano, confident that the GPS would take us where we needed to go. Long story short, we arrive in this ancient town and instantly find ourselves driving in a restricted part of the village. A quick chat with the polizia and we turned around and narrowly escaped through what can only be described as a wide doorway that was paved. Another stop yielded us more accurate directions and we landed safe and sound at the villa, which has outstanding views of the countryside and the town from afar.

Our first day in this region was rainy and yet we did not mind. We had been hoping for a slower pace and a down day. We slept late, read and didn’t make it to breakfast until after ten. We discovered our Villa had a spa so we headed downstairs for massages. We relaxed in the room and read until the rains stopped about 3pm when we headed to town to explore. Now - that was just what we needed!

A couple of day trips found us in San Gimignano and Siena on consecutive days where we took in the local sights. The floor tiles in the duomo in Siena are amazingly intricate and along with the panoramic views afforded from the museum’s walkway made for a great afternoon’s touring. Cold beer and pasta for a late lunch topped off the effort and proved to be an ample reward for a good day’s tourism. If you are coming to Italy, we recommend a September visit so you can see this floor uncovered. It is amazing work.

San Gimignano can best be described as way beyond cute and extremely well kept centuries old walled town. The architecture is simple but wonderful to take in. The many shops and restaurants on the
On our way to ElbaOn our way to ElbaOn our way to Elba

A sailboat on the blue waters...
small piazzas were to be taken in via a slow stroll.

We are finding that we prefer the smaller towns the size of San Gimignano over the larger towns like Siena. I guess we’ve watched one to many travel channel specials because when we were in Siena we kept expecting Rick Steves to stroll around the corner.

Speaking of restaurants, we have not taken the time to comment on the food, drink and confection in this gastronomically advanced country. Every meal has been delicious and well prepared. Yes, you can get pizza and we have on two occasions already and found the fresh ingredients and dough to be first rate.

Italians love their wine and coffee and we have sampled many a Chianti and red in our days here along with espresso. The absence of tannins and preservatives has afforded Dave the chance to indulge more often of the grape without the resulting headache. The coffee is full flavored and the Italian tradition is to serve it with milk that has been warmed, not the little plastic dairy creamer products you find in the states. We suspect Italians would be distraught at the notion of putting cold
A lovely sunshiny dayA lovely sunshiny dayA lovely sunshiny day

heading to Elba
milk product in their coffee.

When you are finished eating, there is an abundance of confection available, but there are gellateries on almost every block, so we have set about to do our due diligence regarding taste testing as many as possible. The taste is light and not heavy like American ice cream and quite delectable.

Overview of our time in Italy:
Day one Pizza, beer and gelato
Day two Pasta, wine and gelato
Day three Pasta, beer, wine, chocolate and gelato
Day four….ok, you get the idea…..

In short, Italy is about consumption. We stroll in town, stop for a glass of wine, stroll into the church and a couple of shops, stop for some wine and bruscietta, stroll…. repeat the process.

Sadly all of our accommodations have had scales in the bathrooms. The last thing we are interested in right now is figuring out how much weight we have gained. We will worry about that when we get back. We have successfully resisted the temptation to step on the scales to this point.

Driving in Tuscany is about enjoying the beauty of the surroundings. The photos you have seen of homes and estates on rolling hillsides are accurate. Each property seems to have a grove of Olive trees along with a few acres of grape vines. I would imagine man could successfully live on bread, wine and olives. We’ve seen several people taking in the countryside on their bikes, which is no small feat given the hills and the fast drivers they encounter.

Last, but certainly not least, we had the wonderful opportunity to hook up with Dave’s brother Bob and his wife Lois as they had rented a most beautiful villa near Castiglione d’ Orcia. The view was stunning and the accommodations were quite lovely. They had arranged to have a traditional meal to be delivered to the villa. Only their wonderful company topped the fine food and wine on a most enjoyable evening. We will have the opportunity to get together with them later in this sojourn.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 27


A break from the wineA break from the wine
A break from the wine

A beer and a bloodymary
Villa OttoneVilla Ottone
Villa Ottone

The island of Elba
Dave Dave

knocking over the tower

knocking over the tower
San GimigianoSan Gimigiano
San Gimigiano

high up on the hill
Antipasta plateAntipasta plate
Antipasta plate

Shopping for winesShopping for wines
Shopping for wines

no shortage of choices
Cheese pleaseCheese please
Cheese please

.....just one more slice
Two italian guysTwo italian guys
Two italian guys

shooting the breeze
Spaghetti bologneseSpaghetti bolognese
Spaghetti bolognese

Yet another fine meal

2nd October 2010

Good times!
Loved your commentary, Merry Jo- entertaining as always. Sounds like wonderful places to visit! Susan
4th October 2010

So jealous!
Wow, how fun! Great pics and LOVE the commentary to go with it. You are great writers and it's always a pleasure to read about your adventures. Thanks for sharing!!!
4th October 2010

Trip cont.
I did it again.....sent my message before it was complete. Anyway...we took day trips to many little hilltop towns, San Gimignano, Voltara, Montepulciano, Montalcino etc. We also drove to Assisi one day. We loved doing this area with a car as it's really the only way to discover little villages off the beaten track. If we travel in cities we forget about the car and use public transportation. Your blog is bringing back lots of good memories. Can't wait for the next edition. Sonja
30th October 2010

I can't wait to get exactly the same type of pic when I visit.
2nd November 2010
The Grape lives to make us happy

you have nice photos =)
this reminded me of the sour grape juice I drank

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