Finding Florence, and a Wine tour!

OK, I know that in my first post I said that I would post in the order of the places I visited in Italy, but I am so excited to share Florence with you, I had to skip ahead.  Ahhhh, Florence, and Tuscany!

The first destination to choose to go to in Italy was a no brainer- Rome. Who has NOT heard about Rome: The Colosseum, Gladiators, and all the history of The Roman Times? But, I honestly had not heard very much about Florence, and what a shame. Florence felt like being home- well at least being lost at home, but once again thank goodness for Kathy and her good sense of direction. We arrived in Florence (our first time) by train from Rome in November, 2010, found our hotel which was surprisingly so close to the train station we could walk, checked in, and then all of a sudden we all lost our momentum. What momentum? The momentum we had started in Rome by touring like mad tourists with a definite time limit, and the desire to do and see EVERYTHING in Rome in only 4 days. Yes, it stopped, and the feeling of life, and living in Italy began. La Dolce Vita!

Life in Italy to us was strolling, and roaming the zig zag of Italian streets. We explored the OMG, many, many shops with Amazing shopping!!! We ate EVERYTHING we wanted, and drank Oh so much vino! We slept in, had the most wonderful coffee at our hotel every morning, and figured out how to drink real Cafe with Grappa in the afternoon. We saw David, shopped some more, ate some more, drank some more, and had so much fun! Oh did we laugh!

  The weather unfortunately turned from the beautiful sunny, warm days we had in Rome, and the first day in Florence, to rainy and cool, therefore the one thing I longed to do, which was go on a wine tour in Tuscany was cancelled. Reason #1 to go back!!!  When I got home, the leather jacket I bought ended up being a dud (read scams and scammers), Reason #2 to go back!  Kathy and I were attempting to plan a girls trip to Vegas for a weekend, and figured that the money we would spend to fly, stay, dine out, drink, and shop, for a couple hundred more dollars, we could go back to Italy for a week. Reason #3!  We then found cheap flights, gave ourselves a budget for hotels, and the TaDa, our 2nd trip to Italy was planned!  And, I was going on a wine tour! By the way, there were more reasons, including the Incredible shopping, the most Amazing food, coffee, and wine, and of course the desire to explore more of a country we had fallen deeply in love with! Oh, and our week long trip to Italy became 12 days away… Oh, we are good!

To ensure that we would not miss out on a wine tour, we reserved a tour with Tuscan Wine Society for our first whole day in Florence. Once we paid a deposit via Paypal, we were sent the location, and more information to meet the van to start our tour of Chianti country.

We were greeted by Ilari, our guide, and were then joined by our fellow ‘winos’, 3 fun girls from New Jersey, and a newlywed couple from North Carolina. We knew about 5 minutes into the trip that we were going to have fun together, which we definitely did!

As soon as we left the city limits and were in the Tuscan countryside, I was so glad that we came back to Italy for a wine tour. It was just as I thought it would be-Scenically Beautiful, and oh so quaint! There were rows, and rows of olive trees, many  farms, and field, after field of wine orchards. The vines were just starting to bloom, and everywhere it was green, which was even better for us because it was still snowing at home.  Then all of a sudden, up ahead we saw a castle! Now that never happens at home! We quickly got out of the van and took pictures.

Our first Vineyard, Villa Cafaggio.  This is a small winery, where they not only produce wine, but also olio (olive oil), and olive oil chocolate. We were given a tour of where the magic happens to produce all of their wines, plus their olive oil. It all is simply an art, to produce good wine! We then sat down in their tasting room, and it was explained to us why you sniff the cork, why it is good to oxygenate the wine before you drink it, what you are determining when you sniff the wine, and what to look for when tasting it. It was a lot to take in, but it was very helpful, and educational in explaining the art of drinking wine! Who knew there was an art in drinking! Mmmmmm. Can you believe, the challenge I had was to finish all of my wine. You see, I now had an empty stomach, and was really enjoying the wine, but did not want to get drunk. What? If you know me, being drunk, and vehicles do not make a good match, and the windy roads of Tuscany would have been another factor to this inevitable mess… So yes, I did some alcohol abuse, and left some behind. But luckily our next stop was lunch!

, in Panzano was something I really did not expect. I knew that I was hungry, but I was expecting some sandwiches or something simple like that, and simple is not at Dario’s butchery, and restaurant, except  to put it simply, Amazing!!! I do have to warn you that unless you arrive with an open mind, and the willingness to try new things, you may not enjoy your experience, and most importantly your lunch. It really amazes me that some people travel to other places of the world, and expect to eat what they would at home. This is part of the fun for me, and if you love food like I do, trying new things is like eating another chocolate from my new box of chocolates.  At soon as we walked into Antica Macelleria Cecchina we were greeted by the owner himself, Dario. His greeting was to pour us some of his house wine, and show us his spread of tasties to try- could it get any better? I immediately fell in love with his salt spice that you sprinkle on the olive oil for dipping your bread or veggies in. We were then shown the way to the restaurant, and sat at the huge communal table, and immediately the Olio, and Vino started to flow onto our plates, and in our glasses. The menu was simple, yet brilliant as it showed off Dario’s true talents- meat.  Your choices were: “a half pound burger in a crisp crumb crust, garlic and sage roasted potatoes,vegetables and sliced onions, our sauces, Tuscan bread, water with or without bubbles”  OR, “Raw garden vegetables to dip in olive oil, Chianti sushi (steak tartar), Chianti tuna (a pork dish), pork roasted with herbs and garlic, meatloaf with sweet bell pepper sauce, Tuscan bread, water with or without bubbles” I must say that as I type this my mouth is watering…  We of course also had endless wine, and ended the meal with Grappa.  This is a quote from Dario’s menu:  “The meat I serve is raised on my behalf in Catalunya (Spain) and in Panzano in Chianti (Italy).  Our restaurant menus are all naturally dairy-free (unless you like cream in your coffee) and perfectly adapted to a lactose intolerant diet.”  Kathy and I as well as most of the other fellow ‘winos’ chose the 2nd option, so they brought out our many dishes family style for our group. All I can say is YUMMMMM. It was SOOOOO good, and I honestly can not wait to go back again!  But more wine awaits us!

Just when I thought our day could not get any better, we were taken to the farm, of Renzo Marinai. My oh my, oh my, oh my.  He is a Beautiful man, with such a beautiful spirit about him. (pictured on the far left) And his wine is not bad either….lol  Renzo’s farm grows not only grapes, but also olive trees, and wheat for pasta, and bread and it is ALL organic! I was so impressed with their attitude towards farming, and I was even more  impressed about their philosophy, especially after we were given our tour of their facilities. At one point in particular, I was most impressed when we entered this one cellar, we could hear Mozart being played. It was explained to us that Mozart is played in this specific cellar for the first and second fermentation for those grapes. Happy grapes makes happy wine! And I can attest that their wine, olive oil, and pasta are all Wonderful! The only problem was that I did not have enough room to bring more home with me! Since being home, I have been very specific with whom, and how much I will share the olive oil with, and I am saving my wine for a special occasion for my husband and I. The pasta I brought home  from Renzo’s farm was gone the first week I returned home, and yes, I did share it with my kids too.  Oh, and the best news we found out, is that they are hiring for their harvest in October! And they feed you too!  Wine, food, and getting paid while in Italy?? Now that is La Dolce Vita!   I now just have to convince my husband!