As I mention I arrived in Rome last Tuesday and had two days of rest before repacking my one bag that arrived (out of two) and headed up north. We rented a car at Fiumicino and started for wine country. The weather was not really our friend on this trip, but that is Italy in January. I would like to say that is was better than the snow in New England, but we didn't finish our trip without snowflakes falling. Still, it was beautiful.
The first stop on the way was Montalcino, the home of the Brunello di Montalcino. For those who are not wine drinkers, a Brunello is made from the Sangiovese grape and is full, ripe and rich. They are usually wines that reach into the deep folds of your wallet. This was a perfect place to start.
The town of Montalcino rests in the steep hillsides of Tuscany and helps give character to their grapes that they harvest. This also makes for some crazy driving on windy, narrow and sometimes scary roads. Once we arrived in town, we climbed the windy and hilly streets to the castle in the center of town for some tasting of the famous Brunellos. The shop was filled with bottles ranging from 10-15 euros and many reaching all the way up to and beyond the one thousand euro mark. It was filled with honey from the region (which is supposed to be the best) and also grappas, dessert wines and Brandy made in the region. What was it not filled with? Tourists. We were the only ones in the whole castle, save our hostess. We ate some pappardelle with wild boar sauce, thick Ribollita soup, a smattering of local salamis and cheeses and drank, of course, Brunello.
After some warming wine and food, it was off to Florence. We stayed at a beautiful hotel outside of the city and then drove in to see the Uffizi and the Academy museums. We had two nice dinners. One at a very quiet (I mean only one other table and no music) restaurant known for its fried food, where we had fried radicchio and fried frog's legs. The second place was my favorite. It was way up on a crazy narrow hilltop, but everything they served was produced or farmed onsite. We split some of their cheeses and jam to start out, then I had a first course of a ravioli with a duck sauce and then osso buco, which was covered in a tomato sauce delicately flavored with rosemary, which is quite a feat considering rosemary's typical domination of everything. My husband had a leek soup with guanciale (like bacon, but better) on top and then finished with a pork shank with a sweet onion/balsamic sauce. We shared of bottle of their house made wine, which was also very good. The place was packed, the food was delicious; clearly the winner of the trip.
On our way home from Florence we decided to stop in Assisi, which is located just north and east of Rome, near Perugia. It is considered a very sacred town, being the home of the Saint Francis who started the Franciscan order of the church. This man knew how to appreciate nature; every corner we turned the views were awe inspiring. The medieval town was perched on a mountainside. It was snowing by the time we got there, which was breathtaking in itself, yet made it really cold and also harder to take many photos. But I managed to get a few from my numb fingers:
The town was empty, being more of a summer place to visit, so it was even more enchanting. The lunch we had was also amazing. A light (seriously!) homemade cannelloni filled with cheese and orange. I know it sounds super heavy, but the pasta, the sauce and even the cheese had a wonderful light and freshness to it. Also if anyone is a Giotto fan, the basilica in Assisi is teeming with Giotto frescos, which I would have loved to get a photo of. If I wouldn't have been tackled by a guard or done damage to such beautiful work I would have snuck one in.
Finally, after three days and numerous hours in the car, we arrived safely back to Rome. I have lots of visitors on their way in the next few months, but I am sure I will find time to explore more of the Italian countryside. For now I have two great bottles of Brunello di Montalcino to keep me company :)