My Second Year of Living in Italy, Part 2

January 22, 2019

When I returned to Italy after nearly six months in the USA, I had little time to rest. I arrived around 20 October, just a few days before a huge storm hit Italy. I recall how the color of the air changed as it always did in Minnesota when a tornado was about to hit somewhere. I didn’t think we had tornadoes in Liguria. But, earlier that day, we were forced to leave the Promenade as the wind was fierce.

It was a red alert.

I loved the waves. But you could feel the danger. Luckily, my town of Chiavari had little damage. However, my neighboring towns were hit hard. I visited Rapallo the next day.

Trees were down everywhere, and yachts were up on their Promenade.

Roads washed out in Portofino. Water damage all along the coastline. Lives lost all over Italy. It was a shocking time.

Between the storms, I was shopping at IKEA in Genoa for bookshelves, a glass front kitchen display cabinet and other shelves. My things would be arriving sooner than expected—and I had nowhere to store my books and my precious kitchen items. Thankfully, my handyman worked two days in a row plus another evening to set it all up. And then my belongings arrived.

Now my little appartamento was a mess and feeling a bit claustrophobic. I needed to get it together.

But there was a trip in my near future. Thanks to my new friends, Deb and Massi of ITALY UNFILTERED, offered to share time with me in the Siena area.

Italy Unfiltered specializes in custom tours for the day or the week. Massi is also a driver who can pick you up at the airport in Florence and transport you to Siena or wherever you desire.

My time with them began at my hotel outside the city walls, at my hotel, Hotel Italia.

Deb dropped me off there to get settled and returned at about 6pm to take me to a surprise dinner. She knew that I preferred to eat gluten free and, after stopping to see fresh olive oil being pressed,

(I love the green color and the taste of fresh olive oil.)

We drove to Arbia Scala, a town outside of Siena, for a fabulous dinner at a completely gluten free restaurant,

The food was incredible.

And the desserts were fantastic. I had Una torta di Nonna, a specialty pie that I have never seen Gluten Free before.

It was fabulous! I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who is gluten free and even dairy free. They cater to your needs.

On the way there, we passed a bar called Ricci Bar. I had to stop and take a photo. Unfortunately, they are all lost except for the one below, of pens given to me from the Ricci men who have owned his bar since the 50s.

That night, Massi took me on a night drive through Siena. I wish I had photos to share with you. It was a magical night.

The next day, we began early, Deb, Massi and I, traveling first through the gorgeous, Crete Senese,

the countryside outside of Siena filled with unusual rock formations and so many Cypress trees.

We were on our way to meet Anna Rita and Ray of CasaMonti, a winery, olive oil producer and the Cinta Senese, A Tuscan pig that 20 years ago was nearly extinct. These are black pigs with a distinctly light belt around their middle.

These animals are fed only non-GMO, Organic and local food plus they forage in the forests and eat as a wind animal would. According to their website,,

Cinta Senese are so special, they have received the special D.O.P. designation from the government…. Products labelled D.O.P. give you the guarantee that this product has been made locally using traditional methods by artisanal producers.

Their wine is quite good. I love their Olive oil. But the cured meat from these precious animals is mouthwatering.

Vegetarians should not look.

I truly enjoyed this experience and location.

Raymond and Anna Rita were also quite enjoyable.

I went home with Olive Oil and have used nearly half the bottle. For an unusual tasting experience, I would highly recommend CasaMonti.

We continued on to our next location where we would enjoy a meal with wine tasting.

The colors of Autumn were brilliant. We were near Radda when I took the next photo.

Massi drove us down a very narrow road to La Fattoria di MontiMaggio,  an organic winery with stunning scenery and excellent wine. It is a bit of a challenge to drive there on your own.  Let Italy Unfiltered take you there. It is worth the drive.

Our hosts gave us a tour of the location before we sat down to an excellent meal based on a local bistecca, steak.

Each course of the meal meant a new flavor of vino to accompany it.

I purchased the Reserva from, I believe 2012.  I am not a wine specialist but I know what I like and what tastes are worth the expenditure. This one was a perfect match for our secondo of steak.

The location was so enticing. I must have shot 50 photos outside. I would return in a heartbeat for the wine and the ambiance. And I would travel with Deb and Massi.  Please let me know if you would enjoy an adventure with these two. I will help you plan it.

Normally, that is enough food and wine for me for an entire day. But Deb and Massi wanted me to meet a special family that only allows visitors to sample their wares when Deb and Massi introduce them. We traveled further into Chianti and arrived at Sunset. We entered the lovely home in time for a little snack.

Ha fame?

Potatoes perhaps?

How about homemade cantucci, often called Biscotti in the USA.

They are best served with Vin Santo.  The scent of their Vin Santo was so floral. The taste was also excellent—I bought some.

The family also knew I was gluten intolerant and prepared this for me, meringue.

After many hugs and heading back to my hotel, Deb, Massi and I said our farewells. I look forward to working with them in the near future. If any of these options appeal to you, please contact me at I can arrange their services in and around Siena and even further.

The following day I had planned to travel to Florence. Along the way, I stopped to see my friend, Judy Witts Francini, of Divina Cucina in her home town of Certaldo.

Judy is an American who arrived in Florence over 3 decades ago and never really left. She met Andrea.  

Judy is a trained chef with talent and experience to back that up. She lived in Florence with Andrea for years before moving to Certaldo.

Judy and Andrea drove us up to the old town of Certaldo where I fell in love with this walled fortress.

It was like driving into the past.

Every street was a new picture.


Combining the Middle Ages with today.

San Gimingnano was off in the distance.


Sculpture by Franco Mauro Franchi dazzled the eye and the mind.

We walked and talked about what we do for a living, helping others to taste a bit of true Italy when they visit our adopted home. Judy offers culinary travel to Sicily (I hope to go with her in March.), Puglia, and near Florence and Certaldo too. She designs experiences for her clients who keep coming back for more. If you are interested in experiencing a phenomenal food, wine and travel experience, contact me or Judy soon.

Andrea drove down to a restaurant near the train station while Judy and I took the funiculare.  When we arrived, Judy gave me a copy of her cookbook.

She is a chef I can follow, one who understands that recipes can be adapted to fit you, that eating seasonally is the way to go, that no one in Italy wants to spend hours and hours in their little cucina.  I have used several of her recipes, and, until recently, hers was the only cookbook in my home. Let us know if you would like to purchase her cookbook.

After a luscious meal, we said our farewells at the train station.

I look forward to spending more time with Judy.  You should too!

It is almost bedtime in Chiavari right now. It is time to say buona sera! Good evening. Please contact me at I will be able to assist you in contacting Italy Unfiltered, CasaMonti, and Judy Witts Franchini to arrange your dream experiences. I hope you can feel a bit of your Italian Soul with them and with me.

Next week, find out about more fun in Florence, and more new experiences. Until then,

A dopo!

Ciao for now!

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