It's hard to believe we've been back a month already. What an incredible vacation it was! My husband and I had been separately to Italy almost 30 years ago so it was long overdue. As former exchange students in our youth, this trip really affirmed from me that—as Rick says—a great trip is much more than just checking off a list of famous places to see. I think it's somewhat hard to plan a trip to a new place without doing that, but the rewards are great when you find a way. (Plug here for my new favorite website: Little Roads of Europe..esp if you are heading to Italy or Ireland.)
Landed in Milan on 5/26 after much travel mayhem. Rented a Fiat F00L which was much bigger than I realized, but served us well. (Should've gone for the cute smaller model.) Spent the night at a nearby Holiday Inn Express for $59, great deal for clean digs and a surprisingly large breakfast. Still...next time I'll Airbnb it near Milan for a more authentic travel experience. Also, thanks to a poster in this Forum, I downloaded the Day One app on my ipad for journaling. Such a great memento. It's how I can remember so much detail for you now.
Sat 5/14 Drove 4.5 hours to our Agriturrismo Venuto San Pietro near Pienza. Had lunch at Autogrill on the freeway. Amazing! (In what other universe could you get a squid salad, risotto, 3 types of pasta on the road? Don't miss Autogrill if you're driving.) Venuto San Pietro is highly recommended: unbelievable breakfast spread, comfy, luxurious beds, beautiful property. Still, this trip has really increased my confidence to rent an apartment on my own next time (see Little Roads for suggestions.) This trip was a splurge on many levels. My new goal going forward is to continue to avoid more tourists and save Euros by renting in small towns..so I can go more often!
Anyway, walked Pienza in the evening. Cutest little town ever with a beautiful "terrace"/walkway to watch the sunset. Religious services were just ending at the famous church so we held the door for the elderly Italian ladies deep in conversation and saw it in candelight. Great dinner at Trattoria da Fiorella.
5/15 One of our most magical days! Drove the crazy winding roads to the Abbey Sant Antimo near Montichello. No Gregorian chants as we'd hoped (really confusing times on the website. Our hosts even checked for us) but there was a service in Latin (I think) with an acapella choir of six intermittently. The acoustics were really something with the natural light streaming in and the incense swirling up past the friar(?) in a long white gown. Walking back to the car, it was quite the contrast when a little fiat zoomed up with ACDC blaring out the windows and a gaggle of Italian teeangers tumbled out. :)
Next up: one of the most scenic drives of our life through Monte Amiata to one of the best meals of our life at Ristorante Ana in tiny Piancastagnao. We spent 2.5 hours for an off menu 5-course meal (yes, just bring us whatever you think we should try!) complete with dessert, wine, digestives for 65 Euro. (Don't miss the porcini-chestnut soup!) Late that night, we'd planned to stop for a few groceries but everything was closed. We found one tiny grocer open and made fast friends. By the end of our visit, he was adding broad beans to our haul for no charge and insisting we sample (at no charge) all the different pecorinos as he explained them in broken English. We had so many wonderful experiences like this with local Italians (but you gotta get off the tourist path). I'd move there tomorrow!