My lovely, enthusiastic, artsy-crafty and driven friend went on a most unique wine tour of Italy. We nicknamed ourselves “Yin and Yang” when we co-taught Sunday School, co-advised youth group and raised kids the same age through birthday parties, milestones, Greek Festivals and Greek School. My energetic and inspired friend loves to travel. I marvel at how she pursues hobbies and interests. From taking her Girl Scouts troop to Costa Rica to taking personal Spanish lessons (and much, much more), my friend embodies the spirit of adventure that I look for in interviewees for www.gyspyfamilytravel.com She recently attended a wine tour of Italy.
Did you have a favorite winery on this trip?
Cavaliere (Rosso Toscano)–which is where your bottle came from (a gift from her). They had olive oil, too. I have no photos from that wine tasting–that’s how good it was! The vineyard/ winery was like being in “Grandma’s kitchen”. It was two sisters on a small vineyard and they gave cooking classes on how to cook Italian foods. Americans mess up Italian food because they make it heavy and rich.
I agree! You don’t taste the flavors because you’re inundated with the sauce.
Right! To really taste Italian food, you need to meet the people, see where it’s grown, learn how it’s grown and experience their day to day lives.
We went down into the wine cellar with them and they invited us back to work the harvest in November. In getting there, we were on a tour bus going back into someone’s back country. It was eerie and I thought, “Where are we going??” It felt like the edge of the earth. It was rainy with a misty haze all over the ground. We reached the quaint house and it was there that they taught us to make tiramisu. You could taste the coffee and cognac in it. We learned how to make lasagna and they even accommodated the people with gluten and vegetarian issues. The soft mozzarella cheese and cut-up, fine arugula was blended into the cheese. We cut out pears and filled them up with this cheese. It was heavenly! I’ve made it since I’ve been back.
You appreciate the product more when you find out it’s homegrown and homemade.
Yes….and when in Italy…..drink wine! I bought the wine there but ended up drinking the 1/2 case on the trip. (laughter)… We had amazing pork in the Chianti area with Chianti wine, of course. There were ghostly vineyards that day. Every morning, my roommate and I took morning “selfies” with something different in the background. The itinerary took us through: Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti area, Cinque Terre, Lucca and Pisa. Bagno Vignoni, Montalcino, Pienza and Rome. Florence was our home base which we went back and forth to every day. Florence is nice but I loved all the small villages best. In Siena, I loved the door knockers. The Chianti area had a town square with a really quaint village and amazing cheese. In Oklahoma, we have cornfields off the highway but in Italy, they have vineyards. I learned that the Cypress trees are imported; not indigenous to the area.
An interesting feature there was an artist’s studio in an old castle. There was a kids’ playhouse that had a theater there and an atrium area with an interior well where they drew the water. Receptions were held in the castle and there were frescoes on the walls, as well as an outdoor courtyard. A bleached oak table with the names of wines burned into it (like branded) was unique. I want to remake that table. I also learned that they plant roses and lavender to attract bees. The winemakers plant it because they want to see if a fungus hits the roses first to examine what might hit the grapes. They see what’s coming to the grapes to know if their crops will be damaged. The lavender fields help the bees pollinate.
Cinque Terre is the coastal area where the naval fleet and port is. There is a monorail there for the grapes to ride. This helps the farmers harvest because everything is planted on cliffs.
One interesting feature was an angel structure. It was built for the angel’s wings to flap and it was someone’s job to go up there and flap them. Lucca has narrow streets and a tight roofline. Their town mascot is a panther; kinda gargoyle-looking….Their signage on storefronts are mostly in English. Did you notice that when you were there?
No, but it’s probably because Italy is the #1 visited destination. So, they cater to their customers with the universality of English language.
There was a church we went to during one of the saint’s days. Saint Zita was the “Housekeepers’ Saint”. They had her mummy there and I have an icon of her. The story is that she would steal from her employers and hide things in her apron. When they accused her, she would open her pockets and say, “No, look, I’m bringing you flowers!” Whatever she had in her apron transformed into flowers. When she died, she did not decompose. She’s there in the glass case and we visited her. People visiting her would bring her flowers. They’ve turned the outside into a marketplace where you can buy flowers.
The food was amazing in Luca. We had a bone-in-pork meal. Pisa’s main attraction is the leaning tower. In Pisa, we learned about the classes of people at that time and how the church allocated money at that time to protect things. Back at our hotel that night, we did a tour of the old castle hotel and the old wine barrels.
We did a tasting in the hotel where we stayed and met the owner’s family. The other hotel, outside of town, was more yoga-based. On our last day in the Florence area, we headed into the other cities. In Bagno VIgnoni, people used to go there to take warm mineral baths. There was not alot of architecture or busy atmosphere. I loved the big clocks in every town. From there, we went to Montalcino where there was a contest of wines with different labels. I found a label that looked like me! (and took a picture, facetiously)
I found a bottle of wine as old as Liz (her daughter). The food there was amazing. We left that area and moved onto Pienza where there was a cheese factory—all organic. The sheep just roam there where there are no pesticides. It was a small family- owned business. We had a tasting there and tried the cheese. At our last night in Florence, we had a dinner at the top of a hill where I saw two baby deer. We packed up and drove to Rome. There was jasmine growing there that reminded me of your dad. ( I asked him for advice and he’s told me three or four times through the years how not to kill it.)
In Rome, my roommate did a walking tour and I went with the tour guides into the city. I liked the fountains everywhere in Rome. The bottom of the fountains have drinkable water for dogs and the upper fountains are for people. You can refill your water bottles with the fountain water, according to the tour guides.
We went to a show at night with theatrical Italian singing. Our first morning in Rome, we saw the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square and Coliseum. We had free time afterwards. I loved Rome! Although it’s a city and not one of the little towns…I loved it.
It’s clean, organized and well laid out. I wish other capital cities took Rome’s example.
Yes, it is clean. They know you’re a tourist and they do herd you through. While touring, it was interesting to find out that the world maps they drew hundreds of years ago are correct down to the centimeter. If you “Google Earthed” it, it is exact down to the centimeter! I bought a leather jacket from a store and was able to meet the designer! In Rome, we walked around to people-watch. Later that day we had a wine tasting with a sommelier who instructed us on wine with food pairings.
How did you find this travel agent?
Regina Snead and I talked about Kris Radish’s book event and that’s how I found the Wine Madonna. I’ve been reading Kris Radish books for several years and I receive her newsletter. I’ve messaged her about some of the books I’ve read and how certain things touched me. Her book retreats revolve around her books and she has a book club for women only. The books are empowering and about life stories. I received a newsletter from her about a trip and book. She guided us to get with Regina Snead, our travel agent, to make arrangements. I was put on a waiting list, originally. In January, I learned a spot had opened up for me. She paired me with a roommate. I asked several relatives if they wanted to go but it didn’t work out for them so I went by myself. I thought it was going to be for 2017 but it was for this year, 2016! Right before my son’s graduation from high school and my daughter’s graduation from college.
Marco Lori- Italian Master Sommelier www.offthevine.it
(Celtic Tours coordinated everything)
Maybe it was meant to be!–for closure…before graduation. How did this trip enrich you?
Yes! The best thing about traveling is experiencing the culture, food, people, architecture and history of an area but I always think it’s important to remember what’s going on in your backyard at home and explore there, too. We all share the same air! Don’t forget what you have at hand, at home and don’t take what you have for granted.