Hilltoppers from Umbria to Tuscany

Hilltoppers from Umbria to Tuscany

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

Wednesday, 1 January 2015
Orvieto, Italy to Tuscany

A lazy start to 2015 after our late night…we wander down to breakfast, through Palazzo Piccolomini’s simply elegant sitting room,01011501 am lazyand join a few late-rising musicians for coffee in the vaulted basement. Look through those alcoves in the wall to earlier centuries, remnants of Etruscan civilization over which the papal palace (Piccolomini was Pius II) was built.01011501 breakfastWe’ll squeeze in one more concert, Davell Crawford, whom we heard a couple of nights ago in duet with Jon Batiste. Today it’s just him on the billing, but he calls up several friends throughout the hour – one guy on a harmonica, a seasoned gospel sister on vocals – as he keeps our toes tapping with classic jazz, rhythm and blues, pop and funk. In exuberant style, he mixes the music with heartfelt tales – of last night’s New Year’s phone call from godmother Roberta Flack, before sharing his memorable take on “The First Time”. What a superb way to kick off the New Year!01011501 concert Davell and friends and Flack godmother talked last nightBefore packing up and getting on the road we stop for a quick lunch at Cantina Foresi, beside the Duomo. Alessandro carries on the fine family tradition (the cantina was started by his grandfather in the ’50s) with a warm welcome and platters of delicious Umbrian salumi to go with steaming bowls of minestrone.01011501 light lunch at cantina foresi by duomoAs we walk back to the hotel, jazz drifts through the doors of one café after another,01011501 music spills outand we stop at Bartolomei’s shop for our olive oil – yes, we can fit a bit more in our suitcases!01011501 oo from bartWe arrive at our next hilltown, Monte San Savino, with time to check in to lovely little Logge dei Mercanti, settle into our rooms, and take in the sunset from our windows.01011502 next hilltownDinner takes us through the impressive portal of another tiny hill town, Lucignano. 01011503 lucignano another hill townWe explore a bit, wandering the steep streets of this snail-shaped charmer,01011504 explore a bitand then continue our Italian feasting at Il Goccino. A WOW of a meal, from the smoked goose breast and foie gras,01011504 fab dinner foie gras smoked goose breast appleto a “Chocolate Pearl” that melts when our waiter pours on the hot raspberry soup. 01011504 raspberry soup on chocolate pearlOh we eat SO well out in the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside!
Back to “our” hilltown – 01011505 goodnight to our hilltownBuona Notte Monte San Savino, it’s nice to be back!



A Village, a Hamlet, and a Town in Tuscany

A Village, a Hamlet, and a Town in Tuscany

January 2, 2013
Pienza, Monticchiello and Siena, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

A good breakfast in the ancient vaulted cellar of Logge dei Mercanti,
and we’re ready for a day full of Tuscany.

First stop, the delightful village of Pienza, perched precariously on a hilltop,
site of a Pope-designed ensemble of buildings heralded as “the first perfect Renaissance square”,

and also ground zero for pecorino production and ageing.
That’s immediately evident by the scent of ripe sheep cheese that wafts from the little shops lining Pienza’s one main street.

From young and fresh to old and aged, whether in straw, ash, leaves or a pit, take your choice after nibbling on a sample or two.

Even the Christmas decorations in this town are designed around cheese!

And here’s that perfect square, ordained by an early 15th century pope who was born in the village, Pius II, Piccolomini (his name comes up alot this week  – first in Palazzo Piccolimini, where we stayed in Orvieto). He wanted his palace (yes, another Palazzo Piccolomini) on the right, placed just so to enjoy valley views from the rear loggia and gardens, then the church in the center, the Archibishop’s Palace on the left, and a loggia across the street.

A yule log sizzles with welcoming warmth in the square during the holidays.



Architect Rossellino did his best to discourage the pope from his plan, which would place the church on an unstable surface, but Piccolomini had his way, and the light-filled, graceful church has an obvious tilt at the apse,

with visible cracks in the walls and floor that are monitored in hopes of keeping the structure from slipping further off the cliff.

The vistas from the center street are some of the best in Tuscany, overlooking rolling green hills and valleys, fertile fields, and an occasional picturesque hilltown, such as this one, where we’re going for lunch!

And the tiny lanes threading off main street? Well there’s Via del Amore, or Via del Bacio (the kiss), always good for a pause 😉

Winding our way across the valley, we have to pause again for this perfect view of Pienza – see that gracious loggia, placed just where Piccolomini desired? No surprise – I’d love to lounge right there too!

Our lunch destination is don’t- miss La Porta, right by the main entry (porta) of that tiny hilltop hamlet, Monticchiello.

With a warm welcome from dear Daria, we’re all seated and ready to choose from the menu,

beginning with seasonal delights such as mushrooms on polenta, drifting in a puddle of creamy taleggio cheese.

Then on to a plateful of perfectly roasted beef, or duck breast with pear, each beautifully presented.

We all look through the dessert menu, but decide we can’t fit in another morsel. However, I’ve been eyeing the selection of house-made chocolates and cookies in the display by the front door – how about just a couple of each of those with our coffee? When the overflowing plates arrive, we all groan – “Oh we’ll never eat all of that…” but as I’m sure you’ve guessed, every delicious tidbit disappears!

Before getting in the car and heading for our next destination, we wander the few lanes of this tiny hamlet, stepping by the gents gathered by the front door, catching up on the latest gossip.

Garlanded with fruits and greenery for the holidays,

a narrow path inviting discovery, Monticchiello’s  a beautifully kept little jewel.

From village, to hamlet, to the medieval wonder of Siena. It’s just about sunset time so Bruce heads off to find the best view, and the rest of us walk ahead “Meet us at the Campo-

we’ll wait for you by the fountain.” Kirk tells tales of Siena – its twice-a- summer raucous horserace around this fan-shaped piazza, the 17 fiercely loyal contrade, or neighborhoods, the age long rivalry with Florence…

Then on we stroll together to the Duomo, dramatically lit,

zebra- striped in and out.

Following the papal trail, we spend time in the exquisitely frescoed Piccolomini library – an intricately painted ceiling above,

precious illustrated manuscripts displayed beneath colorful tales of the pope’s life, each figure in elegant Renaissance dress.
It’s been a wow of a day – filled with delights for the senses, from the tastes at La Porta, to the scents and sights of Pienza and Siena. We never tire of the charms of Tuscany!