Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Muricce

Since we all liked our “home in Tuscany” – The Muricce – so much, I think it deserves its own post.

IMG_5642 The Muricce is located smack in the middle of some of the world’s most beautiful scenery – the gently folded fields and hills of the Tuscan countryside, just turning a bit golden during our October visit.  We all feel fortunate that we were able to enjoy it so lavishly.  Every day, every turn in the road drew oohs and ahhs from us.  It was almost impossible to take a bad picture – a real boon to camera buffs like me.

The stone house itself was built in the 1700s, and has of course been completely refurbished on the inside and well maintained outside and in.  The accommodations consist of the main house, a large structure now divided into at least two living areas – one for family members and one for guests; a converted barn, complete with living, sleeping and cooking areas, and covered patio; and a “guest cottage,” also attached to the main house but with a private entrance and courtyard.  The guest cottage, too, has living, sleeping and cooking areas.  Actually, if you like to climb stairs, the third floor bedroom of the guest cottage is beautiful and provides a wonderful view of the property and beyond.

FullSizeRenderIt’s hard to say what we liked best about this villa.  For me, I think it was the proprietors, Giada Manscholt and her mother, the owner (pictured at left), who were so kind and attentive to us, that made this place special.  For others it will be the location 5 miles north of Siena – a perfect spot from which to take day trips to locations in Tuscany and Chianti.  For some of us I know it will be the meals prepared by the cook, Piera, who shops for local organic food, then prepares and serves the tastiest and most sumptuous meals you can imagine.

There are a few of Piera’s dishes that stand out for me.  The chocolate cake with pears.  The pasta with white beans and black cabbage (kale). The cucumbers marinated in lemon and garlic.  The “fruit cake” (I put this in quotes because it is completely unlike our fruitcake) made with apples and fresh grapes.  The homemade tiramisu.  I don’t know if we’d ever be able to duplicate this food at home.  We might, with luck over time, duplicate the recipes, but the food would not be as fresh; the soil and sun and rain it’s grown on would not be Tuscan; the hands that prepare and serve it would not be Piera’s.

And the grounds?  The pictures below were all taken on the grounds of the Muricce.  A mowed lawn slopes down from the converted barn to the large swimming pool, and along the way are cypress trees, an olive grove, and benches for sitting and reading or enjoying the scenery.  The courtyards and patios are planted with flowers and vines that invited us to sit outside and enjoy the Tuscan air.  Our table inside was situated beside windows that looked out on one of the courtyards, so we could enjoy it even in the morning with our coffee and biscotti.

The property can also be seen on the Home Away website.

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Joyce continues on . . .

Venice is as beautiful as always, but the day time crowds are at a maddening level,so I find ways to avoid them [ lesser traveled neighborhoods, less known sights]. If I’m not too weedy [ the cold has slowed me down but not stopped me! the nasty little bugger] I take a walk at night, it’s when Venice turns magical, soft and quiet, all shadows and small sounds, soft light contrasts,great for a photographers eye. Love my hotel.

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Sorry you caught my cold, Joyce.  Glad you’re still able to enjoy Venice.

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And then there was Ramon

Margaret, Joyce and I left the Villa for Florence on Friday, where we spent the night before a morning flight home on Saturday.  The others will hopefully take the same flight on Sunday.  Finding Hertz was no picnic, but otherwise we had an easy drive.  Once we had the car returned and had taxied back to our hotel (an odd little place called “Golden Tulip Mirage” about 2 km from the airport, where all the newspapers are in Chinese and the bartender will be happy to give you lots of ice cubes in a plastic bag and even open a bottle of wine for no fee, but there is hardly anything you’d call a dining room), we were mightily hungry.  It was about 4 pm and we hadn’t had lunch.  Of course we had no car, so we set out on foot.

The first place we tried was closed, not to open again until 7:30.  Ah yes, the Italian siesta.  A few other places looked to be in that same situation.  But we spotted a gelateria and bar – why not?  The bar was also semi-closed, but Joyce asked nicely and the proprietor agreed to fix us some pasta – aglio olio for Margaret and me, and spaghetti with butter and cheese for Joyce.  Ramon turned out to be both beautiful and charming, a doctor from Catalan who volunteers for Doctors Without Borders when he is not in his bar (he owns it with a partner).  He speaks seven languages, including a very good American English, since he lived in the States for a while.

He decided we should have Catalan creme for dessert.  It came doused in pure grain alcohol which was set on fire and burned for a long time.  Ramon forbade us to eat it until the flames had gone out on their own, by which time it was warm and crispy on top.  Absolutely delicious!  But that was not enough; he also brought us over two shots of Anis (the Spanish version of anisette), one each for Joyce and me, and a shot of something else for Margaret (I can’t remember what at the moment).  The Anis was milder than Sambuca and very good.  (Ramon says you can’t get this anywhere but Spain, but I found it at Total Wine in Pinecrest – at least the sweeter version with the red label.  There is a dryer version with a green label which I did not find.)  We thought we should take a picture of the shot for Bonell, since he swears no one pours water into a shot glass (which they did in Florence) and this proves him at least half right.


And here is Ramon’s bar in Florence, near the Golden Tulip Mirage hotel.  Thanks for the pix, Margaret.


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Siena one last time

We just had to go back one more time to Siena, where prices are the lowest and selection of gifts is highest.  Strangely, some of the shops were gone, their tents removed and stored – for the winter?  The good food was still there though – one more wild boar dish, one more eggplant dish, and OH, the best pears and pecorino drizzled with Tuscan honey.  We ate on the campo and watched the children play with the pigeons there.

It was a day to wander off alone and get lost in Siena.  Since it rained off and on while we were there, we probably all have a souvenir umbrella to remind us of our last day together in Tuscany.

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About 45 minutes away, even allowing  for getting a bit lost, is Montepulciano, another Tuscan hill town with really steep streets and very old buildings dating back to the 1400s or before. If you lived here you’d have to drive a tiny car with a very good transmission and then walk up steep stairs to get to your apartment. It’s a totally charming town though. We ate in what turned out to be our fanciest restaurant of all. Deep red walls, gold brocade table linens, and an owner that sang opera. Nancy had a risotto she loved, possibly her favorite meal other than those prepared by our own Muricce cook. The view was spectacular too.  The main industry seems to be tourism,  but there aren’t that many tourists at this time of year and the shop owners are ready to bargain. I found a completely renovated apartment with fireplace and “spectacular view” – 1 bedroom, 1 bath with all furnishings included – for 125K Euros.  And oh yes, visitors would have to stay at a nearby hotel, of which there are many.

 We all loved this town!

Thanks to Sally and Margaret for some of these photos.

The first photo is the view from our restaurant.

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Food.  The tales about Tuscan food are NOT overblown.  Last night was grilled red and yellow pepper strips with garlic, capers and parsley; Tuscan bread topped with cheese and walnuts; pasta with black cabbage and beans; roast beef with Tuscan herbs; green salad; chocolate cake with pears.  Our Italian cook is very proud of her work, and she should be.  Every meal she has cooked us (all from local organic sources) has been exquisite.  She doesn’t speak a word of English, but when we oooh and aaah she covers her heart with her hands and beams.  The quantity of food, especially the first course (pasta) and the dessert is always enough to feed us for two meals, plus a dessert breakfast for Jim.

Our food in restaurants has been equally good.  I’ve had three versions of my personal favorite, marrow bone – a braised veal shank with marrow intact – and all were excellent.  We’ve discovered that wild boar is best served as part of a sauce over pasta, also excellent.  We like the fat spaghetti (pici) that is often served with a tomato sauce, but all the pasta seems to be home made and extremely fresh.  And of course Bonell’s favorite, eggplant, comes smothered in cheese, or with a light tomato sauce, or packed tightly into a baking cup and turned out onto a plate when done, or sliced and marinated in oil and balsamic vinegar.  Margaret (a questioning soul) always orders the strange and unusual.  She has had braised rabbit (“quite delicious”) and truffles (she said the truffles did not quite live up to their hype).

The Tuscans like to combine chocolate with pears.  Big slices of fresh pears are baked inside chocolate cake, or folded with chocolate syrup inside flaky pastry before baking.

And hot news: we have discovered that the thick balsamic vinegar which pours like syrup – brand name Fini Glassa – is available from Amazon online, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

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Castellari in Castellina in Chianti and beyond

We toured a winery yesterday – oh how beautifiul!  Bonell liked all the wines we tasted, but he has hardly ever met a wine he doesn’t like.  I’ll leave it at that.  Of course the countryside was exquisite and continues to amaze with each turn in the road – and there are lots of turns.  We drove to Castellina in Chianti – a lovely town – where we had lunch in a little piazza.  From there we went to the winery, having gotten directions from a shop keeper.

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Today we went to Firenze by train from Siena.  Yes, we saw the David.  Yes, we saw the doors of the Baptistry.  Yes, we went into the Duomo.  And yes, it was crowded and chaotic.  We can’t imagine what it would have been like in July.

Thanks to Sally and Joyce for the pictures below of David and the doors to the Baptistry.  The real doors are being restored and have been replaced by these fake ones.  Since we are “of an age,” none of us will see the real doors in our lifetime.

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The near neighborhood

We spent a relaxing day, doing laundry, reading, and being domestic godesses (and gods).  We replenished wine and food. Margaret, bless her name forever, did not lift a finger!! Yay!

We took walks down the road, we laid in the sun, we took a short drive to the estate of Basciano (a few houses).  We took pictures of the valley that was spectacularly beautiful, and we attended  the twilight of the sun with wine.  We dined on the fabulous leftovers of last night’s dinner, much better than a restaurant menu.

Bonell says, “Wish you all were here.”  Especially Russell and Christopher – and David and Scott.

Here are pictures of our home and close environs.

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