Monday, December 17, 2012

Bucket List: Italian Wine Country Part 1

When we first made our Europe Bucket List, the Italian Wine country was pretty high up there. It was especially prioritized since it’s also on our ‘before baby’ Bucket List. That’s why when we picked Italy as our December travel spot, we made sure the bulk of our time was spent exploring Tuscany.

Four of our 8 days were spent just outside of Siena and 2 more spent in the Tuscan capital of Florence. As soon as we landed in Florence, we took the rental bus shuttle to pick up our super-Italian, super-small, super-slow Fiat Panda.
It was a lot of fun trying to get that baby up to the 80 mph speed limit on the auto-estrada. If Jonathan was able to catch a steep downward hill while simultaneously pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor, he could occasionally register close to the speed limit. His top speed was actually 83 mph which was quite an accomplishment. I don’t think we’re too worried about any speeding tickets from the Italian government coming our way...

With our not-so-speedy car it took us about an hour to reach our hotel near Siena. Siena is a great jumping off point for exploring the Italian wine region, not to mention an adorable town with remarkable food and shopping.
Our villa was about a 5 minute walk into town, but our location outside of the walled city afforded us post-card worthy views of the countryside.
One of my favorite parts about our stay at Palazzo di Valli was opening our window to see the sun coming up (or down) over the Tuscan hills.

It was every bit as pretty as I’d imagined. Our first order of business was to eat some Italian food, so our concierge recommended some great spots in town. One happened to be just across the street from us and since Jonathan’s hungry monster was in full force we decided to stop there. We ordered the house red for about 9 bucks and were pleased to see that the bottle was actually from the restaurant, Forti Porta.
It brought a more literal meaning to the term ‘house red’ and was something we really enjoyed about our time in the wine region. I was determined not to eat cheese pizza the entire time so for this first meal I branched out and ordered mac and cheese. But fancy mac and cheese with bits of ham, so it counts as authentic.
After lunch we explored Siena before eating dinner at another fabulous restaurant recommended by our hotel.  
The next day was our only full day without an excursion so we decided to take a road trip to see the leaning tower of Pisa. We accepted the fact that it was extremely touristy thing to do, but we were only about 60 miles away and wanted to see what the fuss was about. Plus we figured a nice road trip would be a great way to see the countryside. When our trusty TomTom directed us to take the interstate, we completely ignored him and went the ‘scenic’ route. The scenic route ended up being a bust since it was a stop-and-go two lane highway through a highly industrialized part of Italy.
It was scrappy and desolate, not the gorgeous Tuscan views we expected. Plus, it was taking us an additional 2 hours to drive it our way, so we abandoned ship and followed our TomTom’s guidance back to the interstate, which turns out offered sweeping views of the Italian Alps. Who knew?
Once we got near our destination, our GPS was unnecessary since we could just follow these trusty signs to the monument.
When we arrived it was a gorgeous sunny day and some of the warmest temperatures we experienced on our entire trip. Leaning tower or not, we were enjoying Pisa just due to the weather.
Turns out the tower really is something special though so it was a win-win.
We took the obligatory tourist shots and ate pizza at a tourist trap restaurant (Jon’s hungry monster and my cheese pizza obsession strike again!). When in Pisa, do as Japanese tour groups do…

I’m not gonna lie, the whole town is a bit touristy, but on a good day it’s a stunning sight to behold. And plus, the large lawn surrounding the monuments is quite nice for a cat nap in the sunshine.
And since we were there in December, the crowds weren’t too bad.  We thought about climbing to the top of the tower, until we found out it would cost 15 Euros a pop, and then we thought again.  Instead we just took a zillion pictures from every possible vantage point.

We took the short and scenic route home and were back in Siena with plenty of time to shop and grab some hot chocolate-syrup before dinner.
We kept seeing little pottery shops throughout the town, and since I had missed my opportunity to rack up on some beautiful pieces while in Poland, I decided that I wasn’t leaving another pottery hotspot without something for myself.

I decided to go for a tea set since that’s such a classic part of entertaining here in Britain and as of now I just have hodge podge coffee mugs, which is a tad humiliating when offering the Scottish handyman a cuppa. Ever been embarrassed when serving a plumber tea in a giant rooster mug? I have. Not anymore; once my beautiful set is delivered I will be hosting tea parties left and right.
But because I still like the hodge podge concept a tad, I decided to get half of the set in blue and half in green to give it a little more personality.
That sums up our first two days in Tuscany, and since this post is already a bit long winded, I’ll save days 3-4 for tomorrow’s post. Here’s a hint: Wine tasting and Tuscan cooking lessons. You won’t want to miss it!

To be continued…..


  1. 15 Euros? Isn't Wallace monument nearly free? Supply and demand I guess.

  2. Love the little Italian cars it's like driving a go kart :)
    The Pisa photos are beautiful!!

  3. Jealous of all the great wine you guys had! Looks like the trip was great from the start:)

  4. Gorgeous tea set! You're plumber is one lucky guy