Thursday, May 1, 2014

Italian Road Trip. Second stop: A Tuscan Farm 8/26 - 8/29

After the Dolomiti, Laure and I headed to a farm in Tuscany named Mulino Vecchio del Cilone, where we spent three nights for my birthday.

Mulino Vecchio del Cilone in front of a field of sunflowers.
Some of the guest rooms of the farm.
From Dolomiti to Mulino Vecchio.

Mulino Vecchio del Cilone is what Italians call an "Agriturismo," which is a way to preserve small independent farms in Italy while allowing travelers to experience a taste of rural life. Such farms offer some of their rooms and food to travelers as long as most of their income still come from agriculture to be officially called an Agriturismo.

Our host's painting of his wife became the logo for the farm.
The farm grew vegetables...
chickens...
and grapes.

The farm is located next to a field of sunflowers that looks amazing. I was disillusioned to find out that sunflowers actually do not always face the sun. In reality, they only continuously face the sun during the earlier development stage and then they permanently face East.

Sunflowers facing East away from the sunset.
Panorama.
Tuscan sunset.

We met with our friends Nick and Yili on the first night when we picked them up at the train station near the farm. I'm not usually the sentimental type, but it felt nice and somewhat surreal to see familiar faces after recently moving to Europe.

Perhaps my top priority on this trip was to experience traditional Italian dining. I found the perfect farm that provides family style dinners where all guests and hosts sit and eat together at a long dinner table. The food was exactly what I wanted: multiple course meals of simple but delicious dishes made by our hosts using only ingredients from their own farm or surrounding farms. They also grew their own olives and grapes, which at the dinner table translated to home-made olive oil, wine, and -- yes -- grappa.

The long family dinner table.
The feast is underway.
Our beloved friends Nick and Yili.

We also had a traditional Tuscan dessert: biscotti with Vin Santo -- both home made. Biscotti are Italian cookies -- the name literally translates to "twice cooked" because they are baked twice to achieve a very dry and hard texture. Vin Santo is a light Tuscan dessert wine -- its name literally means "holy wine" probably because it may have been originally used for religious Mass. Our host gave us a "lesson" on how to consume the two together:
  1. fill a shot glass with Vin Santo
  2. dip a biscotto for about five seconds
  3. eat the softened biscotto drenched with Vin Santo
  4. repeat any of the above steps as necessary
Nick between steps 2 and 3 of our lesson.

Every night after the three hour feast, we stayed at the table with the other guests to trade stories and learn a little bit about each others' cultures. We arrived on a Saturday, at which time most other guests were Italian urbanites on weekend trips. Most of them spoke little or no English, so it's safe to say that I was forced to push my rudimentary high school level Italian to its limits. But when people are in a good mood and really want to communicate, language becomes an easily surmountable barrier. That is especially true in a culture where people love to use expressive gestures to communicate. The wine helps too.

During the day, we drove out to explore nearby Tuscan towns. Cortona is probably the most popular one perhaps due to the book and movie "Under the Tuscan Sun", but there are also many other quaint towns that are equally or more beautiful that are more low key.

Cortona town center.
One of many quaint alleys in every Tuscan town.
We wandered into a welcoming wine tasting room.

Arezzo was the largest town at which we stopped. Originally we went to visit our host family at the farmer's market. Unfortunately, the market was finished by the time we arrived but we encountered some "laundry street art" that made our stop worth it.

We never found out why they hang these shirts in Arezzo. 
Lovers under wear.

Anghiari was probably our favorite town because it had really beautiful buildings and a few cafes without much tourism.

Anghiari is filled with beautiful old buildings.

Visiting these quaint Italian hill towns, my favorite time was hanging out at an outdoor cafe in Anghiari. We drank wine and conversed for hours while overlooking the Tuscan landscape below. I couldn't have imagined a better birthday.

Good wine, great views, amazing company.