July 26, 2016
I have been traveling since I was 4 years old. I have seen the Great Pyramids of Egypt, been all over Europe and North America, even Alaska. I have been to Italy a dozen times or more. Yet, meeting Arianna Cini and Alessio De Genova in Tuscany was definitely one of my top 10 travel experiences.
What do you look for when you travel? Most people want a unique experience where they can feel and enjoy the real life of the location they are in. It is very difficult to find those one of a kind adventures. You can find it with Arianna and Alessio.
Last June I only had 24 hours to visit these two young, Slow Food Movement members. I could have spent a week with them. They are Km Zero Tours and they invite you to share their lives during your interactions.
Arianna is a Tuscan who lived in the Chianti Classico Region all of her life. She is a wonderful travel guide and offers her stone family holiday home to people like us for rent and for personal interaction (Casa Montrogoli, www.montrogoli.it. ) Alessio is a charming Abruzzese man, a sommelier and great chef. He actually cooks for guests in their home!
Km Zero Tours’ belief system is simple: go with the flow of the land you are in. Slow down and experience the local, artisanal craftsmen and share the life they live. Keep it real, sustainable, and as close to the nature of Chianti as possible. Doesn’t that sound perfect?
They found me the B&B Art of San Casciano in Val Di Pesa, a lovely town above Florence. We dropped my luggage and headed out on our adventure!
Our first stop was at the home of their friend Giorgio. His craft is woodworking and he is excellent. I saw so many of his creations—unfortunately the photos are lost. However, while we talked he created a honey dipper for me. His bowls and other items are so good. You can order them to your taste too.
As we drove through the hillside of Chianti, Arianna told me about Anna Maccaferri and Villa del Cigliano. Anna’s mother was Eleonora Antinori. They are members of the Antinori Italian Aristocratic family that has owned the estate since the beginning of the 16th Century.
Anna was such a gracious host. We toured the first floor of her residence and the incredible yard behind the home. We saw the extensive family tree in her sitting room, the reflecting pond and rock sculpture in the back..
Anna explained how the lemon tree is part of the history of the Medici and Antinori families. Even though they are not native to the Tuscan region, they have always grown lemon trees and taken them inside in winter.
We tasted both a sweet wine and Chianti wine and both were excellent. I want to return next year, talk further with Anna about her history as the child of a diplomat and the Antinori family and just share some time with her. Would you like to join me?
Wouldn’t you love to experience these places? It was fantastic. I thought we were done for the day. However, Alessio drove to Greve, a lovely town with a touristy piazza. We went to the one restaurant in the square where the locals eat, a Slow Food Champion named Mangiando Mangiando. Alessio and Arianna frequent this restaurant because of its dedication to serving artisanal wines, local sourced foods and quality ingredients all around.
Arianna talked me into trying Tartar di Chianina Beef (Raw Meat!) and I thank her for that. The preparation with excellent olive oil and premium meat was sublime. I had never enjoyed anything like it before. Would you have tried it?
I also loved the Pappardelle with Boar’s Sauce. Both the portion and flavors were just right. Of course we imbibed in local wine throughout the meal and enjoyed each others’ company. I highly recommend Mangiando Mangiando. Eat there. Wait 20 minutes if need be. Eat the local food and enjoy it all.
The following day we visited Fornace Masini Impruneta where Tuscan Terracotta creations are made. That particular red clay color only comes from Impruneta. Since the early 14th Century there has been a guild protecting terracotta production. In fact, when you see the Duomo of Florence, the Cupola (dome) created by Filippo Brunelleschi is covered with flat, terracotta tiles. He supposedly checked every batch before accepting them for the Church dome. Each had to have the coloration he wanted—but, more than that, they needed to be soft and light weight. There are no supporting structures to hold heavy weights.
So, while I walked where Brunelleschi spent time, I learned about the process and artistry of the people of Fornace Masini. Almost every aspect of their work is done by hand. There are some pieces where they use forms for detail. But once they are removed these artisans carve the edges, making each one unique. Also, the largest ones are all formed by hand. The work is impressive.
In the olden days, the furnaces were all manual too. Men working had to feed the fires all night to keep them at a constant temperature. There are love stories surrounding their work as well as credit for the creation of Peposo, a dark, peppery roast that cooked all night. Now this peasant food is served everywhere in the region.
My two favorite pieces were a beautiful horse head and, hidden on the grounds, a woman’s body.
Our final interaction of the day would be one of the most memorable. Have you enjoyed an olive oil tasting at the source of the olive oil? We shared that experience with Janet and Stefano of Aziendi Agricola Sagittario. First, we visited the tasting room where I learned how their olives are picked up in the tree itself by hand or with hand tools—just the way it has always been done. They are processed without heat almost immediately to save the flavor and distinctive taste. I tasted their oil here and it was lovely.
After our tasting we moved to the home of Stefano and Janet for a real Tuscan lunch where every dish was touched or drenched in their lovely olive oil. We walked in the garden with Janet, checked the olive trees, and tasted a fresh peach off one of her trees. The location of their home in Impruneta overlooks the city of Florence. Gorgeous. Stefano created our meal. The food was fantastic. I continued my raw food adventure by sharing their olive drenched sardines (I believe they were sardines.) which were wonderful. So was the company. When I move to Italy next year I will be returning to buy their olive oil. In fact, I want to be there in November next year to get it fresh! Meet you there perhaps?
Can you believe Arianna and Alessio created this incredible, relaxing, 24 hour adventure? We were in tune with the land itself. Would you like to experience any of this? Or maybe you would like to feed the goats and see how goat cheese is made? Perhaps your family wants to stay in her 5 bedroom, 4 bath home. Km Zero Tours (www.kmzerotours.it). We could combine it with other unique experiences especially for you through Take Me Home Italy. Let’s do it. Andiamo! Let’s go!
Ciao for now!
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Ciao for Now!
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