Virtual Day Five: Exploring the Tuscan Countryside
Last night, after pouring over the Michelin map and consulting TripAdvisor, Ken and I decided to have an adventure. Luigi picked us up at 12:00 for the 45 minute drive from Villa Maramai to Ristorante I Lecci overlooking the hills in Castiglione D’Orcia (population 2,300). As we approached this charming Tuscan ristorante Luigi explained that it was a favorite of locals, including his family. Our anticipation increased!
Note: For those of you who know your Italian wine regions you will recognize this as Piemonte. I will replace this photo when we take the trip in 2022.
Andreas welcomed and led us to a lovely table on the terrace overlooking Mount Amiata (an ancient, dormant volcano at 5,700ft). The warm sun and cool breeze made it a perfect day for al fresco dining, and I could easily imagine its beauty at sunset. Anna came out of the kitchen to greet us and talk through the fresh, daily menu while Andreas returned with a bottle of local Nobile di Montepulciano, Riserva with large glasses. While we discussed the daily specials, he expertly removed the cork with a decisive pop, poured a small portion into our glasses, and recommended that we allow the wine to breath for a few minutes.
Upon Anna’s return, we placed our lunch order starting with a primi of Chianina steak tartare with a lovely rocket (arugula) salad with pecorino (cheese), walnuts, and honey. As we sipped our wine, we could clearly hear the tartare being hand chopped in the kitchen. Divine! The secondi course of rabbit (delivered to the kitchen that morning from the surrounding fields) with caramelized onions and a hint of cinnamon was followed by the BEST Tiramisu with black crumbled chocolate.
After our medicinal digestive of grappa, we strolled through the tiny village of Castiglione D’Orcia (population 2,300) before meeting Luigi for the drive to Monteriggioni (population 9,900). Castello Di Monteriggioni is a former military fort, serving as a defense for Sienna. The round fort is perched on a strategic hillside and during the Middle Ages, its considerable fame led the esteemed poet Dante to refer to its ’round enclosure’ in the Divine Comedy (Hell, chant XXXI vv. 40-41). The walls, which are nearly intact, cover a length of 1,870 feet and are alternated by 14 towers and two gates. Its defensive walls and towers now protect a lovely village of hotels, restaurants, shops, former military houses, gardens, and winding streets. For cycling enthusiasts, the Gran Fondo is held in Monteriggioni and is a 75 mile bike race.
Tenuta di Monte Chiaro is located within the village and is owned and managed by Alessandro Griccioli. The winery was founded in 1345 by Grigio da Barberino di Val d'Elsa, the forefather of the Griccioli family. The Monte Chiaro villa, built in the 17th century, is blessed with outstanding panoramic views, particularly the view of Siena in the distance and the panoramic view of rolling hills with vineyards and olive groves.
After a tasting of sangiovese wines of chianti, rose, and Chianti Reserva Alessandro shared a sample of the olive oil produced from the trees on the villa grounds.We purchased several bottles to take back to Villa Maramai. As the light of day began to soften into late afternoon Luigi picked us up for a leisurely drive home through the rolling Tuscan countryside.