La vita è bella in Italia

Florence

Florence

San Gimignano

San Gimignano

As promised, a post on la bella Italia. Having not been in Italy since I was there on Erasmus almost five years ago, it was just so nice being back. I’d forgotten how much I liked the country, the people, scenery, food, language, everything really. My Italian was a bit rusty I will admit but not as bad as my driving, both of which started to improve – somewhat in the case of my driving – after a few days.

Thanks to Ryanair’s delayed flight both my mum and I arrived pretty much at

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

the same time at Pisa airport; me from Stansted and her from Dublin. We proceeded to pick up our little hired Fiat and on my insistence my mum drove the first leg of the journey to Rignano sull’Arno, where we were staying in the heart of Tuscany. Part of wanting her to drive was that I’ve never driven on the other side of the road before, the other being the fact that I hadn’t driven in two and a half years and was worried I would be a bit out of practice. My concern proved to be well founded seeing I did end up driving on the wrong side of the road one morning – although I’m still blaming that one on the lack of coffee before leaving. And more worryingly for my mum, the afternoon I got the car stuck on the side of the road while trying to park. Luckily we were rescued by a car full of young Italian’s who thought it was hilarious. One of them had to lift the front of the car up while I reversed back onto the road. Luckily for us Fiat’s are nifty little cars!

Green pea risotto

Green pea gnocchi

We stopped off for lunch en route and I have to say I’d forgotten just how amazing the Italian food is. The mozzarella in the caprese salad we had was so unbelievably fresh and tasty, none of that mass produced supermarket cheese you get in the UK. I ordered green pea gnocchi for mains and my mum a seafood Ravioli with a pumpkin sauce. As

Seafood ravioli with pumpkin sauce

Seafood ravioli with pumpkin sauce

per usual with us we shared our mains; it’s the best way of eating out, that way we both get to try more than one dish. It was a lovely lunch and to top it off we sat outside in the sunshine, a first for this year. Our rather extravagant – for us at least – lunch was finished with an espresso – or cafe as the Italians call it – for myself and my mum broke the Italian coffee drinking code by ordering a cappuccino after 11am, a big no no in Italy. But she enjoyed it nevertheless.

Poggia Tre Lune

Villa Poggio Tre Lune

After lunch I drove – after practicing in an empty car park –  the last few kilometers, without incident I should add, to Villa Poggia Tre Lune,  were we were staying with my mum’s friend and her

View from Poggio Tre  Lune

View from Poggio Tre Lune

family. Situated on a hilltop – hence the name poggio meaning hilltop –  the villa has a stunning view over the Tuscan countryside. Not only do they rent out apartments in the villa but they also have a biodynamic farm where they have a vineyard and olive grove from which they make and sell their own wine and olive oil. They also grow their own grain and make pasta, all of which we sampled during our sojourn there. We were very warmly welcomed and almost every evening we had a hearty Tuscan dinner with our hosts and their family; drinking home-made wine and eating everything from pasta to pizza, lasagne, gorgeous rustic Italian lentil and bread soup, and various other local delicacies. 

Siena

Siena

During the day we went on various excursions, taking turns driving along the beautifully scenic but rather windy Tuscan roads. We visited Siena, wandering through the stunning Duomo and it’s surrounding historic sites, we ate another scrumptious lunch and had gelato in Piazza del Campo where the Palio di Siena takes place every August. We visited Florence on a rather rainy day. As both of us had been before we selected a few places to visit, including Cappella de Medici and San

Siena Duomo

Siena Duomo

Marco which is full of beautiful frescoes. After traipsing around in the rain for a few hours we stopped in a delightful little bar, Enoteca Bevo Vino on Via di San Niccolò on the other side of the river to the Duomo, for a well deserved glass of vino rosso.

Our travels also took us to the the beautiful walled medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano, where we enjoyed the bank holiday Monday with half of Italy, wandering the streets of the town and munching on Panforte, a delicious  traditional dessert made from fruit and nuts. En route back to Rignano we made a short coffee stop off in the tiny walled town of Monteriggioni, which is just outside Siena. It’s absolutely tiny but very picturesque.

Antipasto

Antipasto

Pizza with prosciutto, rucola and parmesan

Pizza with prosciutto, rucola and parmesan

I know I touched on the food already, but it was just amazing. I don’t remember the last time I ate so heartily – and I’ve been swimming all week to make up for it. From antipasto to pizza, risotto, ravioli, gnocchi, lasagna, gorgeous bread, mozzarella and lots of gelato and coffee, we really did eat royally.

And then on our last day we drove to Pisa in the morning, parked the car and

Pisa

Pisa

wondered through the city in search of the leaning tower, which we had both seen years ago but didn’t remember very well, aside from the fact that it was very crooked. And I have to say it was a lot more off kilter than I remembered it being. After wandering around a bit we sat down outside in the sunshine for a final indulgent lunch before flying back to our respective countries of residence.

It was a fantastic trip. There is still so much of Italy that I need to see and it will take plenty more trips before I’ve seen my fill of this stunning country – if ever. If the Italian economic and political situation weren’t so bad I’d most definitely consider living there again.

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