The Val d’Orcia

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Despite the chill and drizzle during a recent (and all too brief) trip to Tuscany, the beautiful Val D’Orcia mesmerized us with its beauty. Recently featured in a NYT Sunday Travel article on the benefits visiting Tuscany in winter, traveling there in March could not have been more delightful, with rewards of cozy cafes serving espresso, local wine and olive oils, pecorino cheese and delicious pasta. And lovely, long stretches of empty roads for driving and deserted hill town streets for walking. Though the weather may not have been the perfect sunshine usually associated with Tuscany, the landscape was a magical early spring green, with touches of rich brown. My only regret was that I had not packed a warmer coat. Wined and dined by our lovely and gracious hosts, not even rainy weather could dampen the beauty of the landscape, the amazing food and wine, and the kindness and graciousness of its residents. If you do find yourself in this area of Tuscany, whatever the season, be sure to stop by La Pieve for a glass of their own wine, some delicious Tuscan food and a ultraclean, cozy and modern place to spend the night. Surrounded by the Tuscan hills and vineyards, and close to many attractions, La Pieve makes a perfect base to explore the riches of the area, and the owners and staff offer exceptional and super friendly hospitality.

Here is a guest post – some early morning reflections from the terrace at La Pieve:

The place that is La Pieve is different from it’s name.  La Pieve is the small baptismal church that makes up a portion of the basic building blocks of sturdy stone buildings arranged atop a soft knoll in the lower hills of southwestern Tuscany.  La Pieve, the church, in one form or other, has stood ready to welcome the newborn to be reborn unto Christ since before the 14th century.  Appendaged to, and protected from exposure to the northern winds by its thick walls are the buildings that house the restaurant “La Pieve”  and associated guest apartments.  From all appearances, or at least from those that a new arrival at La Pieve might have, the name is comfortably shared between the old, established use of the location and its fresh presence as a way station for travelers to the region.  What they have in common is greater than either of the parts; they have the setting.  On every side the land falls away in soft folds of drapery.  A cloak of deep rich soil cast over the scalloped bones of an old seabed.  Here, as in most of the Mediterranean region the design of the land’s fabric is man-made.  The warp and weft is defined by row upon row of grape vines.  They criss-cross the landscape in patchwork pattern.  Only the thick vine stems poke up from the ground.  The tracery of their previous summer’s growth has been pruned back to bare nubs, giving the flesh of the land a bristled look, like the back of the piscadori, the wild boar that roam the ravines and wooded hillsides barely visible in the distance through the grey mist of morning.  Last night’s rain quieted the air.  Birdsong is subdued.  Drippings from the roof of the terrace fall in whole notes on the sodden ground.  Tips of the tall cedar wave imperceptibly in lightly stirring air.  Light reflected from puddles in wheel ruts along the edge of the vineyard is brighter than the dull pewter glow emanating from the cloud-banked sky.

Something has happened two days in a row below me here on the terrazzo.  From the house down the way a white haired man pushes a wheelbarrow along the path between the vineyard and the tarmac road.  I hear the single “toot” of a car horn and look up to see the man respond to the salute from the driver of the baby blue Fiat “Cinque Cento” with a quick flick of the hand.  The car speeds along and the man progresses a s steady pace wheeling a light load of loose materials that rattles as the “cartillito” rolls along.  This scene repeats itself in identical fashion, only the lack of rain clouds overhead distinguish yesterday’s event from today’s.  I thought it extraordinary serendipity until I realized that it’s very likely a scene played out every workday morning at exactly 7:45 as both parties head to their respective occupations.

It is Friday, our last of four days at La Pieve, we stayed in last night after a busy afternoon touring the val d’orcia.  From Montalcino to Pienza we wound our way over dirt tracks and tarmac.  At the Renaissance town designed by Pope Pius II we braced ourselves against weather reported to be record cold to our south in Rome.  Despite the persistent drizzle the narrow streets were peppered with people; school kids on a field trip, down-clad couples quickening their step to duck into the shelter of a darkened church, and a herd of American tourists trundling from a pit stop at an over-sized cafe back to the shiny space ship of a motor coach that awaited them curbside.  We took the wind and weather not for long.  We quickly sniffed out the smallest cafe in town (one table, seven stools) and ordered pecorino paninis.  As small as it was, the one-baristo establishment offered all one could ever want, alcohol, sandwiches, pastry, ice cream and coffee.  That the all inclusive 10×16 space was a model of efficiency goes without saying.  The key to its workings was the arrangement of marble counters and hardwood casements the barristo conducted his affairs around.  As the metal plaque affixed to the one walnut panel attested, this cafe was outfitted by the manufacturer, ABA.  Clearly, ABA is top of the line when it comes to cafe furnishings, not just for looks, which are handsome enough, but for functionality.  An under-counter glass case displayed ready-to-go panini and pastry.  The gelloti beckons from another.  Behind the baristo, bottles of wine and aperitifs lined the edges of a large, wood-framed mirror.  The baristo, a tall young man of quick and precise movements, chatted with a regular customer as he filled our order.  With a sixth sense for all things extra special, we got a hot chocolate that was devine.  Not too sweet, the whipped coco confection was smooth as velvet and thick enough to stand a spoon.  It was the perfect remedy for the shivers, fortifying us for an afternoon that would bring snow showers to the hilltops of Tuscany.

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