Sunday, Day 5, is our first full day in Umbria and our country houses. We started the day by enjoying the view of the fog filled Niccone Valley and the soft sun lit hills of Umbria. I love this view which is very common and very magical as the fog wafts around the hills only broken by the gradual enhancement of the sun until it gains the upper hand and burns off the fog until the next morning and then the whole show repeats itself.
With the coffee brewing we all got ready for a wonderful day in the country. With that delicious Italian coffee to wake us all up we were off through the Niccone Valley and up and over the hills down to the beautiful valley where the Villa Piazzano lies.
We turned off the main road and started down a long straight one lane gravel road lined by 400 year old Italian cypress trees that flank each side in a rhythm that nearly hypnotizes you into a feeling that something very special is about to happen - and of course it does....the Villa Piazzano. This is another one of my favorites, especially because it was a place that I accidentally discovered on my first trip in 2000. When I came upon it by randomly picking a dirt road to follow I happened upon the villa which was an overgrown ruin. A group of people, from Australia, were walking around seemingly exploring it also. I went up and asked them if they knew what this was, and they offered in a bewildered manner that it was an old villa that they had just purchased and they were going to restore it. I knew they had their hands full and I could see the same trepidation, yet underlying passion, to undertake this endeavor. I returned the next year to be stunned at what they had accomplished and enjoyed my first meal with them. It has been a regular stop now on every tour and I have become good friends with the family who go out of their way to accommodate us in the most elegant manner.
This year was no exception. We started with a little tour of their grounds and garden while they completed our tables following their morning breakfast to their patrons. When we arrived a beautiful table awaited us and inside was their typical, colorful and most savory array of foods from fruits, to pastries, to eggs, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and of course sweets! It is fantastic and sitting on the terrace overlooking the pool and grounds is so picturesque.
With brunch completed we took a group picture at the steps into the topiary garden, and then were given a tour of the villa, now a hotel, and the wine cellar. It's fascinating to hear the history of this villa which dates back to the 13th - 14th century. The wine cellar is wonderful - the smell alone is most memorable as it was occupied by the German army who upon fleeing cut holes in all the casks and filled the cellar with wine. When the owner returned upon the exit of the Germans, they invited all of the neighborhood farmers to bring buckets and get the wine. You can still smell that wine!
Our original plan was to have brunch and then head to Arezzo for the antique fair, and then Cortona for dinner but I could see that my group was fading from the Candelaria pace, so I offered them the option to head back to the country houses for a little rest and recuperation and they eagerly took me up on it. So back over the hill we went and everyone hunkered down for a most common Italian siesta.
With a nice two and a half hour nap everyone was ready for some more fun and so it was back down the hill, through the valley and up and over the next hill and then through the next valley and then back up the hill to Cortona, famed for the movie and much better book, Under the Tuscan Sun
. I really love Cortona. It is a happening little hill town and this Sunday was no exception! We parked and made our way as a group to our ultimate restaurant destination so everyone knew where it was and then we had two hours to shop and explore the town. The town has a main thoroughfare that traverses the town on a pretty level grade, lined with shops, enotecas, and trattorias, but the key is to wander the streets that bisect and go straight up or straight down - that is where the treasures are to be found. From amazing galleries to wine stores, we uncovered some more amazing spots.
With our exploring completed, and thank goodness a little walking included, it was time to enjoy some more Italian and Tuscan cuisine. So off we went to the Trattoria Toscana for an amazing dinner. We started with some local wines of course and then some antipasto including beef tongue in a spicy red sauce, wild boar carpaccio with parmesan cheese shavings and rocket arugula, then insalata mist, followed by an array of pastas and then grilled sirloin with white truffle shavings and a grilled porcini mushroom. Finish dinner off with a little home-made vinsanto and WOW! And the prices where less and less as we wandered further off the beaten path! An amazing meal and everyone enjoyed the laughter and good times.
We then made our way back through town, a quick photo with some old men observing life from their bench, a stop for gelato and a purchase of some cigars and we were off through the now quieter streets to our cars and back to our homes in Umbria for a great night sleep in the country.