Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dreaming of Tuscany and Umbria: Remembering A Day Trip To A Few Of Our Favorite Places

A view from Montechiello (Tuscany)
The drive through the Tuscan landscape is enchanting. The destination is Monte Oliveto Maggiore, 36 km. south of Siena

The Cloister,Monte Oliveto Maggiore
For us, a visit to Tuscany is about art, food, drawing, cooking, gardens,wine and of course the lovely people. The drive to Monte Oliveto Maggiore, through the Crete Senesi is unbeliveable.
In May, the landscape is jewel green with hillsides defined with cypress trees and houses topped with terracotta tiled roofs. There are sheep, olive trees and vineyards. In Fall, the crete landscape becomes evident with an strange turned clay soil, that completely startles the first time you see it. It is amazing!
The Great Cloister at Monte Oliveto Maggiore holds a Renaissance masterpiece.

Along the walls of the cloister the story of the life of St. Benedetto ( St Benedict),which unfolds in frescos painted by Antonio Bazzi ( 'Sodoma') and Luca Signorelli. This a truly wonderful example of a Renaissance fresco cycle. Not only are there these masterfully painted frescos, but they are surrounded by decoratively painted columns and panels.
A visit here should include the upstairs library and the abbey if they are open.
On our walk past the tower to the abbey, I could smell food grilling and immediately made reservations for lunch at the restaurant on the grounds, La Torre. After filling our eyes and souls with the frescos we dined on the best bean soup we had ever had. After the soup came the grilled guinea fowl and chicken that caught my attention earlier, along with zucchini flowers Dolci (dessert) was a young and lucious local pecorino. On return visits we have also had terrific house made pastas.

Lovely Pienza, here Pope Pius II had a palazzo designed that was sensitive to the landscape. The loggia overlooks a Renaissance courtyard garden and the view continues out across the Val'd'Orcia. Next to the Palazzo Piccolomini lies what many say is the perfect Renaissance piazza. The piazza was designed over a period of time from 1459-1462 by Rossolino, a student of the great architect Leon Battista Alberti.
Spend some time here sketching to really see what is going on with the architecture and scale.
Pienza has a subtle aroma of pecorino cheese! The shops selling this local favorite line the streets. The pecorino's are heavenly, from the youngest that are soft and mild to to the aged bold flavored ones. We hear spring time when the sheep are feeding on new grass is the best time to taste pecorino cheese, especially the young, fresh variety.

The Garden at Villa Le Mura

Just outside the walls of Panicale, which in not in Tuscany, but Umbria, is Villa LeMura.
A grand villa that made me think of Henry James, with it's parlors and library.
After a full day, a spectacular day, it was perfect to sit on the terrace just off our room, with a glass of wine and enjoy the remainder of the day. I remember the sunset.....it filled the Umbrian sky.

Nice to think back on and plan for the future!
For today I am dreaming of Italy.

Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Tuscany Italy
South of Siena, near Asciano

Osteria La Torre ( at Monte Oliveto Maggiore)

Villa Le Mura, Panicale, Italy (Umbria)

More recommendations:
Bar Gallo, Panicale(Umbria)
Ristorante Masolino, Panicale (Umbria)
Trattoria Latte di Luna, Pienza (Tuscany)
Osteria La Porta, Montechiello (Tuscany)


The Palazzo Piccolomini, Pienza
A worthwhile tour is open to the public.

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