We found ourselves saying this a million times on our trip. Anyone that knows us, even for 5 minutes, knows how much we love the Green Mountain State – all the mountains, the green hills and valleys, the local producers of everything from meat to cheese and from fresh produce to beer, wine and cider. That coupled with the independent spirit of Vermonters and we feel very much at home. Which is why we hope to make it our home one day. But this is not a post about Vermont, this is a post about Toscana…
(Tuscan view- San Gimignano in the distance)
After our first day in Tuscany, we were finding a lot of similarities to our favorite state. In fact, the similarities are what brought me to Tuscany in the first place. I have been finding myself becoming increasingly interested in the slow food movement, locavore eating, farmers markets, sustainability, gardening, animal husbandry and cheese making and I have been writing about some of this on my blog over the past months (and there will be more on these topics to come). As I am learning more about these things, I am finding that when it comes to vacationing that I like to have an option of staying somewhere that is more in line with this lifestyle and where I might learn a thing or two about my budding interests. In Italy that is Agro-Turismo, a thriving vacation business where Italian farms offer accommodations to tourists and visitors who want to experience a bit of the country life instead of the more common hotels, or even bed and breakfasts. Tuscany is full of such places.
( The “Torraccia” or tower of Chiusi)
I had a fantastic opportunity to go to Tuscany and visit a gorgeous agro-turismo, Torraccia di Chiusi right outside of the beautiful and medieval village of San Gimignano.
(Grazia, Bruno, Jenn)
Just reading about the Torraccia on the website got me really excited about this place, especially the part about the food. You see, there is an amazing chef/ cookbook author/ artist at the Torraccia di Chiusi named Bruno, who is on a bit of a slow food adventure himself. Not only is he a master of Tuscan cuisine, but he also likes to dabble in Medieval and Etruscan cuisines, and grappa production. But what I didn’t know until I got to the Torraccia is what a personable and truly generous person Bruno is. Let’s just say we ate dinner at the Torraccia every night of our stay in Tuscany and enjoyed immensely the wonderful after (and during) dinner conversations about farm life, sustainability, sheep, cheese, olive oil, wine and all the good things of a simple life that revolves around living off the land. The Torraccia produce their own wine, olive oil, olives, eggs, grappa and cured meats and plan on adding chickens and perhaps some other meats to that list later this year. We had exceptional meals there.
At this point I will explain about what “dinner” means to Italians. Everyday, for dinner, Italians in every region, and of every age enjoy a large, at least 4 course meal.
It starts with some kind of antipasto platter or bruschetta, this is sometimes followed by a soup,
but it is always followed by a pasta course, then a meat or fish course, a salad, then dessert and then either grappa, amaretto, sambuca, or some other after dinner drink.
(Jenn with Bruno’s homemade grappa)
Dinner is always enjoyed with sparkling (or natural) bottled water and wine.
(red wine produced right on the farm)
So of course this was no exception at the Torraccia. We enjoyed, seasonal, local and amazing prepared meals. Tuscan cuisine is very rustic.
(Boar roast with greens)
There is a lot of roasted meats, like wild boar, chicken and pork involved, and there are also lots of warming vegetables, like potatoes and carrots. Soups were hearty and desserts were simple and just enough to top off the meal.
(Marscapone Cream with Biscotti)
Now remember, when we were visiting it was just on the edge of spring. On one of our last days there it actually snowed. So since the food served is seasonal, this was reflected in the meals we were served. Everything was lovingly prepared by Bruno and whether we were alone, or there were other guests, he went all out each night. Believe me, we had a great time chatting about food together, even though he doesn’t speak English, and my Italian is barely passable – but that is where Roberto’s help really was worth its weight in gold. We had such a great rapport that we are now facebook friends! At the end of our visit I took home with me a bottle of their liquid gold – olive oil produced from their olives and Bruno’s first cookbook. The cookbook is in Italian, but they are working on an English version and trust me, you want it and we are going to work with Bruno and Grazia to give you a chance to get one. All of the delicious dishes we enjoyed at the Torraccia can be found in this cookbook, so we can now enjoy them at home. Yay for us.
(View from our room)
Now let’s talk about the rest of the experience, now that we have the best part covered. The Torraccia di Chuisi is really and truly out in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, nestled in the fertile hills and surrounded by nothing but farms and vineyards.
For those that love animals, like I do, they have an amazing dog, a border collie named Raja. She loves to play, and she is an unofficial greeter and tour guide. There are also several cats milling about and ready to go on a hike with you.
The Torraccia is also home to two donkeys and two Pilgrim Geese. There are also chickens. We didn’t get a good look at them, but they are there laying their beautiful eggs for our breakfast. I must admit that the first time we drove up the steep dirt road that gets you to the Torraccia, I was concerned. See, Italian roads are narrow, this one was dirt, there are no guard rails, and if you veer a little too far to the side, there is nothing to prevent you from falling hundreds of feet. I wasn’t really prepared for this the first go around. But like Bruno assured us at dinner the first night – after you drive it a few times, it is just like a highway! I wouldn’t go that far, but it does get better. And it is well worth it, because the views from the rooms (and we had a rooftop terrace) are magical and awe inspiring. Everywhere you look is a painting of Tuscany, just like you would imagine, and with the fireplaces burning, the air is full of its scent. Truly heaven for those who enjoy relaxation and the little things in life.
If you are looking for some luxury the Torraccia di Chuisi can give you that as well. There is a beautiful spa there, where they offer massages, Turkish baths and various other beauty and relaxation treatments. There is also a beautiful pool and outdoor porch to enjoy in the summer months. Pretty much everything you need.
But the most amazing thing about the place are the people. The owners, Donatella and Stefano are very present, and always offering help and suggestions. We had trouble with our internet connection, and they offered to let us sit in their offices and take care of some business. When we needed to make a quick call, the phone was made available. Then there is Grazia, the hostess, who is very knowledgeable about the surrounding areas and the history of the Torraccia and also is there to offer advice on everything from where to eat and what attractions to see in the surrounding towns. Grazia spent many years living in England, and so when I wanted to take part in conversation, she easily went from Italian to English and back again. Everyone was just so kind and accomodating, and for us, that hospitality is exactly what made this destination so exceptional for us. I really cannot recommend this place highly enough. They just do everything right.