09 November 2008

The Wonderful Tuscan Countryside

Driving our rental car out of Rome, on our way to Tuscany, we both had a feeling that we had seen some amazing sites, but that we had not seen true Italy. We had rather seen a city where everything was more or less taken over by tourism.

This all changed from the moment we drove off the A1 highway, and entered the narrow winding roads in the countryside of Tuscany. Being dark already, it was a mysterious landscape we drove through. Passing old brick buildings, driving through small medieval town on the hilltops, and trying to see what was around the next corner. The most special moment was probably when we saw an old fortress/castle all lit up on a hilltop. We were both very excited and could hardly believe we were actually driving through this fantastic, wonderful area.

We finally found our way to the olive farm/resort Le Casacce, where we were going to stay. Arriving there we were greeted by Enrico Casini, the owner of the place, wearing his signature red glasses, saying, "Welcome to my house", and by Max, Enrico's dog. Since we arrived a bit late, we headed straight of for dinner.

We had learned of this place from a colleague of mine, and she had told that the food was really good. Because of that we were excited and curious about what we would be served, but at the same time didn't really know what to expect. The first dinner turned out to be one of the best meals I've ever eaten. We were the only guests there (it was low season) so a staff of three or four people was working on our dinner. We were even seated in the living room instead of the restaurant area, making it even more personal and intimate. There was also a fire in the fireplace next to our table. It all felt a bit surreal, but very cozy and romantic as well.

We were served a six (!) course dinner, with antipasti (appetizers), soup, primi (pasta dish), secondi (meat dish), cheese plate and dessert. All the courses were really good, but I especially remember the homemade pasta and the beef with mashed potatoes. And all with the house red wine, which was very easy to drink (Minnie loved that), but still an interesting wine. We both knew after that meal that we made a really good decision staying here (and this was only the first night).

The day after we were finally able to enjoy the view from our apartment, looking out on valleys covered with olive trees or vines, and old yellow brick houses spread around. The weather was grey, but the view was still wonderful. The picture below does not do it justice.

You often see postcard-pretty pictures from places, showing off the areas they are proud of. But so often, these pictures only represent a small area, and therefore giving a false impression of the place. People visiting it as tourists then often get disappointed to see that the place as a whole is far from as nice as the pictures. This is not the case with the countryside in Tuscany, not at all. It was stunning to see how valley after valley looked just like the postcard pictures.

We spent 4 days in this area, and made daytrips to Florence, Siena and Montalcino (where the great Brunello di Montalcino wine is made). Every day we came back to the amazing dinners at Le Casacce in the evening (the menus listed in the bottom). We had an amazing time, and highly recommend a trip to this area. I promise you will leave with a feeling of having experienced genuine Italy. We sure did.

PS. Here's what we were served for dinner the 4 evenings at Le Casacce
- Antipasti: Ricotta
- Soup: Beans with cabbage
- Primi: Homemade pasta, cut in triangles, with tomato-sauce with meat.
- Secondi: Beef, from a local breed, with mashed potatoes (but without any milk, butter or egg, just pure potato).
- Bonus-dish (I think this was a spontaneous thing): Cheese-plate with sliced pears and walnut-honey.
- Dessert: Homemade ice-cream with chocolate topping.

- Antipasti: Something very similar to carpaccio, but with cured meat (a sort of prosciutto I think).
- Soup: Mushroom and spinach
- Primi: A locally produced pasta, we don't remember the name of the type, with tomato sauce with meat.
- Secondi: Beef in white wine sauce with a side salad.
- Dessert: Cream puff with chocolate topping

- Antipasti: Crostini (toast with cheese) with black truffles
- Soup: Beans with ham
- Primi: Giant tortellinis (just two pieces to fill the plate) with ricotta cheese and something else we don't remember the name of.
- Secondi: Meatballs in tomato sauce with boiled potatoes with basil.
- Dessert: Butterfly, the chefs own creation. It basically is vanilla cream with super thin flakes of pasta placed in the cream to make it look like a butterfly, and then its topped with warm chocolate.

- Antipasti: 3 small crostinis with meat and 2 big ones with tomato and oil
- Pizza: Big pizza with 4 different toppings. One part tuna, one part sausage, one part vegetable and one part meat
- Secondi: Pork ribs with fried potatoes
- Dessert: Melon Sorbet

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