Tag Archives: Tuscookany

A field of sunflowers

A field of sunflowers

Who doesn’t smile when they see the face of a bright yellow sunflower?
I told my friends on the trip to Tuscany the only picture I really wanted was one standing in a field of sunflowers, and they came thru for me.

One day we agreed to venture down the dangerous white road (dry gravel road with a 30 degree grade) to visit some of the nearby towns. Along the way we spotted fields of tall sunflowers stretching their large faces toward the sun.

When we found a perfect field we turned off the highway onto a ribboned path between two flowered fields. A farmhouse sat nested in the flowers to our left. We were definitely trespassing. And I believe we could not have been the first carload of American women to do the exact thing.

No place to turn around so the girls directed me back out.

Tower of the Truffles – Torre del Tartufo

Tower of the Truffles – Torre del Tartufo

Torre del Tartufo - Arezzo, Italy

As we walked the grounds just minutes after we arrived my friend Lisa quietly admitted she was thinking on the plane…”it is such a long trip, what if I really don’t like this place? Judi, this is truly the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever seen. I am coming back for my 60th.” Within five minutes she was already planning to return.

That is the feeling that I felt my first trip with Kelly in 2010 to Tuscookany’s Casa Ombuto which is located just a thirty minute drive from Torre. Both locations are wonderful with spectacular views and restored villas that make you feel as if you are living a true Tuscan lifestyle.

Tuscookany staffs each villa with about six people. The manager, Barbara is the perfect hostess and sees to your every need. She dines with you several times and makes herself available to arrange a trip or answer travel questions. There are two housekeepers whom you seldom see. They tidy your room daily and do your laundry if requested. There is a groundskeeper you might see pruning the bushes or stoking the wood fired hot tub. Of course there is your Chef and their assistant. That is it. And, after dinner, everyone leaves the villa. The only sound you might hear is that of a wild boar.

This trip we took the Seven Day Italian Course. While this sounds like an intense amount of cooking we actually were only in the kitchen about four hours a day for four days. The rest of the time we spent relaxing by the pool, having massages or site seeing in the towns nearby.

Barbara greeted me with hugs and tears. She was pleased to see me return and made certain I was well taken care of. She placed me in what is known as the “honeymoon suite”. It is a very large room with a fireplace and an iron canopied king bed. All of the bathrooms are marbled floor to ceiling with large wooden beams that remind you of the rustic barn like feeling of a true Tuscan building.
The floors are stone and several large windows that are kept open allow the mountain breezes to waif through your room day and night. No air conditioning is needed in the warmest of temperatures.
This is truly a slice of heaven on earth.

Poolside at Torre. The honeymoon suite has the four windows with white curtains.

Day two in Tuscany

Day two in Tuscany

This is a page from my personal journal dated…..June 7th, 2010

This morning I set my alarm for 7:30 am and was stirring to the sound of beautiful birds singing  loudly just  as the sun was about to rise over the mountains.  I am in Tuscany…..and I need to rise and get ready for the day.  Kelly and I had planned to take a hike.  It. felt cold as I stepped out of my comfortable bed.  I looked forward to a warm shower, even though I knew I would be warmed when we walked.  I showered and met Kelly at the cucina for a light breakfast of papaya yogurt, granola and a piece of toasted grain bread…..delicious, slices of fresh tomato and  swiss cheese.  Kelly had been sitting at the computer sharing  news with the family. Laura’s assistants had started a fire in the outdoor wood burning oven which would later bake our focaccia bread, but was a warm welcome with it’s spitting embers and smokey fragrance to  greet us as we sipped out hot tea.

After eating with the group we took to the trail for a morning hike.  Just a few minutes into the hike we were huffing and puffing.  The altitude was effecting us and it seemed we were totally out of shape.  The incline didn’t t seem to be that great, yet we were struggling to make it to the top of the trail, the road we had driven into Casa Ombuto from the main road from Poppi.  We were determined to complete a walk and continued on.  The view from the road just beyond the entrance was breathtaking.  The wild flowers, including bright red poppies were spectacular and encouraged us to continue on.  We took several pictures of the panoramic view even though we knew we could never capture the magnificence of it all.  We reached a summit and agreed we must attempt one more incline and then we would turn around and travel the trail downward returning to Casa Ombuto, the easy part of the hike.  We were able to complete our walk and were happy to climb the stairs from the main road to the pool area where Kelly showed me the hot tub, a large wooden tub with a fire burning stove for heating.  She suggested we inform them 24 hours before we wanted to use the tub so they could heat it. We freshened up after our walk and made our way to the cucina for cooking class.  It would be a long day with two classes, French and Moroccan cuisine.  We were excited to learn some new recipes.

Chef Laura explaining to Kelly how to prepare the Salad Nicoise

In the morning we dove into French cuisine. The four retired travelers made a plum soufflé that came out of the oven so beautiful and tasty.  As we cooked we learned that Jim, a retired attorney, had written a fictional book entitled “The Baja Experience” that I am curious to read. Kelly and I worked on the salad noicise which is colorful and fresh with it’s many simple vegetables, boiled eggs and light dressing of garlic, basil and olive oil. We also made three Tapenade, one of baked eggplant, one walnuts and onions ,and the last of olives and anchovies. Then we  prepared individual focaccia breads that were baked in the outdoor oven that Laura later told us was over 300 years old.  We knew the buildings were old, but 300years?  During lunch in the garden, under a beautiful canopied wrought iron pergola, we drank a light Tuscan Rosato wine and dipped our focaccia and vegetable sticks into the Tapenades, and ate our fresh salad. So perfect.  I excused ,myself for a one hour nap between classes.  I think the time change is getting the best of me today.

After  our break we donned our aprons and gladly accepted the task of deboning the leg of lamb for the main course Morroccan lamb stew.  Tom and Eleanor formed beautiful almond macaroons while Lindsay and Cassie worked on little parcels of phyloh dough stuffed with cooked eggplant, onion and Morrocan spices.  Tom also prepared the carrots which were cut into sticks and cooked on the stove in several delicious spices.

After preparing the recipes we snacked pizza Laura had prepared for us of canned crushed tomatoes, olive oil and fresh oregano.  She shared with us that she was sad because she had lost her dog on Friday, a boxer she had had for 10 years  He had been sick and died at home.  Since her separation and divorce 8 years ago her dogs and son had been her only companions. She had lost both dogs within a short time. We were all very sad to see her upset and I shared that I too had lost a dog, Bunker recently.  Anyway, we had an hour or so before dinner so we sipped our wine and laughed with Cassie and Lindsay, the crazy sisters as they straddled the wall overlooking the  gorgeous Tuscan countryside.

The dinner table tonight was once again beautiful with a colorful Morroccan colored tablecloth and small enameled bowls to serve our vegetables.  The lamb was served surrounding couscous and made a beautiful presentation.  Although I have never liked lamb in the past, I must admit it was tasty. The almond macaroons and mint tea were the perfect light dessert. Barbara, the manager of Casa Ombuto, had joined us for dinner and when the shot glasses and bottles once again appeared, we cranked up the music and everyone danced.  Laura smiled as she looked on.  Even little Elizabeth from Austrailia danced for the first time since her husband had died nine years ago.
I called Tom before we returned to our suite to tell him about our wonderful day and to warn him we would be shopping tomorrow for table linens and ceramics in the village of Arezzo.

Had better turn in because we certainly do not want to miss the bus!  buena note.

View from the road on our morning hike.

Judi and Kelly under the garden pergola where we ate our Moroccan lunch

planes, trains and rental cars…

planes, trains and rental cars…

This blog is my Journal for June 6th, 2010

Yesterday was a day of planes and trains stations.  Kelly and I flew thru the night to Frankfurt and , although we had taken off more than one hour and a half late from the US, made our  tight connection to Florence.  We decided to hitch a cab from Florence airport to the train station.  A cab ride directly to Casa Ombuto would run approximately 200 euro said one of the cabbies so we needed to figure out the best way to get to our final destination.  It seemed good being in this train station that I had been in with Tom and the kids on our previous trip to Florence.  At the station we saw lines of people waiting to purchase tickets or, like us asking questions.  I found the information office and asked the girl for the closest rental car office.  She pointed outside of the station directing me to Centuro (street) ????  I  left  Kelly to guard our heavy  bags and ventured out of the busy train station in search of the rental car office.  After directions from several non English speaking Italians, I saw the small office with a sign on the window front ” easy car rent”.  Sounded good to me.  And as I approached I noticed a small, white haired lady asleep in a chair and an equally small grey haired gentleman behind the counter asleep is his chair.  They popped to their feet and I asked if he spoke English.  He nodded yes, meaning not very well, but  he seemed to understand.  I arranged to rent a Fiat Panda for the week for just over 250 euro.  I  briskly walked back over to the train station with a smile on my face, to share with Kelly our good fortune. We dragged our large suitcases down the via toward the rental car office where the sweet old man helped us put them in the back of the yellow Fiat.  After helping us load  the destination city “Poppi”  (pronounced pope’E) into the TomTom, which we immediately named Tanya, we were off.  The drive from Florence to Casa Ombuto was an experience in itself. It seemed as if it took forever to get out of Florence, which is quite small geographically.  However, Tanya managed to get us thru several roundabouts chanting “take the next right, bear to

Kelly next to our Fiat Panda....

your left and make a right turn on the third exit.”
It is approximately 50 km from Florence to Poppi, where we could check in by 4pm.  It was 2pm when we left Florence, so we should arrive on time.  We were blown away as we finally entered the highway that led to the  surrounding countryside.  It was every bit as beautiful as any picture.  We just kept saying…”oh my God”. Then we drove, we drove, we drove, thru little towns and winding mountain roads.  The Fiat is a five speed so I kept down shifting and it was crazy as motorcycles, banking the curves headed directly for us ……ON OUR SIDE OF THE NARROW ROAD!
After some anxious moments of wondering how to find our casa, and nearing dark, we happened upon two kind soles in a pick up truck just on the edge of Poppi.  They were the first people who seemed to recognize the name  “Casa Ombuto.”  They said, “follow us.”  They led us up the mountain road for probably two miles of winding dirt ribbon and finallystopped in front of an even smaller dirt road and pointed for us to turn.  We both yelled “Grazia” and we were off. When we reached the road I have dreamed of for months, the road I have as my desktop on my computer, we were “screaming..”there it is…..” We drove past the stone columns with the sign Casa Ombuto down the canopied dirt road and winded around the pea gravel road to the stone building we had seen in the brochure.  Barbara the manager and our chef, Laura Guisti greeted us immediately with hugs and a glass of wine . “We were a bit worried, and were looking for your travel information as you pulled up””, said Barbara, happy all of her students had arrived safe and sound.

After a warm welcome, Barbara showed us to our suite. We each have our own bedroom and bath that open to a large living room with kitchen and fireplace.  Outside our glass French doors is a covered porch with a huge wooden table and benches…..flowers everywhere,  we were too exhausted to shower, so we washed up and made our way back to the kitchen and dining building, just a few steps from our apartment excited to meet the other students

Seated at the outdoor wooden table were our cooking classmates.  We would be a class of nine.  Barbara and Laura introduced us all around and we shared a glass of Comparti..  We met Rosemary and Tom from Ireland  and  now living in Boston, Eleanor and Jim from Boston and Bonita Springs, Fl   The four were neighbors in Boston, now retired travel companions.  We met Elizabeth from Perth, Australia and two sisters, Cassie from Wisconsin and Lindsay from Austin, Texas. Then we moved into the dining room and were served a meal fit for a king.  Laura had prepared a simple salad of tomatoes, asparagus and green beans with olive oil and buffalo mozzarella, Casarecce’ ( a dense type of pasta ) with speck and saffron,  The main course was a Florentine T-bone, a slightly grilled steak with chippolini onions and cannelloni beans.  All of this was accompanied by three wines selections, white and red.  Dessert was a berry tart that would make you dream of your grandmother.  After dinner Barbara and Laura began carrying several bottles from the large wooden cupboard in the corner….apparatiff ….amaretto, lemoncello, cognac, brandy, grappa, some home made……..we were to sample as many as we wished in the shot glass that was placed in front of us.  They said we could sit as long as we liked. Just blow out the candles and close the door. She suggested we take a full glass back to our room.  It was a beautiful evening and I was in a deep sleep moments after my head hit the down pillow.  Tomorrow we begin to cook. Bueno notte.

Tom from Ireland and Barbara Manager of CO

Kelly with the after dinner drinks.....

The seasonal berry tart.....lovely