After the disaster of Venice, we were glad to get back to the sanctuary of Tuscany, or Toscana as it’s called in Italian. We checked back into our hotel and were allotted a different, less palatial room. It was only for one night so we didn’t complain (to anyone but each other). It was our last day / night in Florence and I nagged Zorba to death for us to have dinner back at the great little place the students recommended. Of course he agreed :). We also took one last walk along Ponte Vecchio and past Il Duomo.
The next day, another driving adventure was about to begin. We went to the car hire place and I was praying the whole time that our request for a Fiat 500, a cinquecento, my FAVOURITE car, was granted. Zorba was delighted that we got a little black one and so was I. Yay!!! Sooooo much better than a Lancier Y (Epsilon), or a Fiat Punto. The back seats were folded down, our luggage put in, and the GPS plugged in. Off we went!
Zorba did an ace job getting us out of Florence. It was easy with a GPS and I just don’t know how anyone survived a driving holiday in Europe without a GPS. Like email, how did we ever survive without email??
We followed the autostrada to Lucca, where Zorba exclaims, ‘this is like a race track, like coming out of pit lane!’. Noooooooo no no no no – I told him in no uncertain terms that this was nothing like a race track, it was a road and he has a responsibility not to kill his future wife.
We got off the autostrada not far before Lucca and found a hotel just outside the city walls. It was a 4-star hotel that looked pretty standard. She offered a good price for cash, 100 per night, so we accepted. Parking was free and it was close to the city centre.
Lucca is lovely. I liked it more than Zorbs. Maybe because there’s some lovely shops in Lucca! It was stinking hot, again, and the hotel receptionist recommended we walk along the top of the 7m wide city walls. And it was a good recommendation. The walk is lovely, shaded by giant leafy trees, lots of park benches, and nice views of roof tops of Lucca. We went inside the city walls and found out that Lucca is the world capital for comics. It has produced some famous comic strips and comic authors. There was a little comic festival going on inside the city walls which was a spin out – ancient city walls dating back to the 11th Century, decorated with modern comic displays.
There was also a big summer festival set up in the main piazza and featuring on that night was an Italian showman, a comedian. That was no good for us, we wouldn’t be able to understand anything! We used the trusty Lonely Planet to find a place for dinner and the best sounding restaurant was closed! What a shame! The second best sound restaurant didn’t really look very good, so we chose a place that looked busy but was tucked away from the main street.
Unfortunately, all the tables outside were full, so we were seated inside, in the airconditioning, so a blessing in disguise.
Dinner started off interestingly. On our table was dumped by the busy waitress a little metal bucket and in it was a few chopped carrot sticks, celery sticks, some fresh radishes, and Zucchini sticks, raw fresh vegetables. They were nice and felt healthy as I crunched most of them down. Zorba’s favourite tomato dish, Pappa al Pomodoro was ok, but not as good as the one we had in Florence. Dinner was ok. Not cheap, not expensive, not good enough to write home about, but we did get a free grappa on the way out 🙂
The next day we jumped back into our lovely cinquecento and drove towards Montepulciano where we had booked into an agriturismo for two nights, I Chiari. http://www.booking.com/hotel/it/i-chiari.en.html?sid=f8c765c990666b123ac8a7cd4a851141;origin=disamb;srhash=2759028613;srpos=1
We decided to drive off the autostrada and it was the best move we made. We were in for a scenic treat – the sort of Tuscany countryside you imagine – rolling hills, rows of vines, lush green forests. Che BELLA!! Zorba loved the twisty roads of the countryside and so did the cinquecento, so it seemed. We turned off the GPS route and found this very cute little town that had one pizzeria, one bar, and a few gorgeous stone built houses sporting colourful flower gardens. We stopped to take in the view and decided to check out the pizzeria. They were open and it seemed to be run by Ma and Pa Kettle – a lovely looking old couple. We sat down and ordered home made pasta with wild boar ragu for Zorba, and home made pasta with duck ragu for me. Both dishes delicious and we were both feeling really good about being in Tuscany.
We drove to the pretty as a picture town of San Gimignano. We found free parking outside of the town’s city walls and Zorba was loving driving such a small car, parking was a cinch. As expected, San Gimignano was busy with tourists, but nothing like Venice, so we weren’t too affected by it. Great little wine shops, gourmet food shops, and leather shops predominated in the medieval town. Not gelaterias which is what we needed on such a stinking hot day. Only one in the centre of town and that gelato shop had a massive queue out the door.
After a walk around San Gimignano, we went back to our bambino car and high tailed it to Montepulciano. Our accommodation at I Chiari was nice. Set in the middle of the country side with nothing near by, the views from our first floor terrazza was the typical Tuscan vista, just lovely. When we booked, we didn’t know that the agriturismo was also a pizzeria, which is why we stopped on the way and bought supplies for dinner: tomatoes, olives, proscuito crudo, bread, cheese, boar salami (YUM!!), some fresh fennel, healthy carrots, and a jar of black truffle paste for the bread, as well as two bottles of wine, a chianti classico and a brunello that helped wash down a Tuscan date and nut cake. It was a lovely night.
What made I Chiari agriturismo so lovely was the owners. Such a warm and lovely couple with two young children. They were so welcoming and accommodating.
On our second and last night there, we asked if it was possible to watch a world cup game – all other restaurant guests were seated outside under the pagola. We wanted to be in front of the TV. I felt terrible asking