Archive for category: Tours

This Business Is a Lemon, and a Family Wants to Keep It That Way

AMALFI, Italy — On a recent spring morning, Luigi Aceto, a hale 78, climbed a ladder in a terraced lemon grove that stretched up the hillside in one of Italy’s most picturesque towns and expertly began snipping lemons into a wicker basket. The sun was shining. The lemons were ripe and as big as fists. The scent of blossoms was intoxicating.

Mr. Aceto, nicknamed Gigino, was born and raised in these lemon groves, where his family has been working for centuries, first as tenant farmers, then as landowners. But with the land on the Amalfi Coast far more valuable today for luxury tourism than boutique lemons, Mr. Aceto worries what the future will bring.

“I have the honor and the burden of bearing witness here to six generations,” he said contemplatively, as he stood on a promontory in the lemon grove, wearing, as it happens, a lemon yellow shirt. He was referring to the three generations that preceded him as well as his own, and those of his two sons and grandchildren.

In many ways, the Aceto family tree mirrors Italy’s transformation from an agrarian peasant society before World War II into an industrial power afterward — and its lingering ambivalence about whether it wants to compete globally or believes its future lies in local traditions. The debate has become more intense since the introduction of the euro in 2002, which raised the price of Italian exports, making it harder for small businesses to compete.

Today, 90 percent of Italian businesses have fewer than 15 employees. The Acetos make a niche product — world-famous lemons, prized for their low acidity and delicate flavor — and like many small Italian businesses, they are reluctant to grow, preferring quality over quantity, tradition over expansion. Mr. Aceto wants the lemon groves and the business to stay in the family.

The Amalfi Coast is known these days as a tourist mecca.Credit :The New York Times

“My two sons work for the business and are dedicated; I count on them,” he said.

Mr. Aceto’s son Marco runs the production side of the company, La Valle dei Mulini, making limoncello liquor, lemon honey and other products from the lemons, which are so sweet you can eat them whole. Marco’s wife works in the family shop selling the products in the town’s touristy main square. Mr. Aceto’s other son, Salvatore, recently left a job as an accountant to come back to work for the family business.

That isn’t always the case for other nearby families, whose children left the lemon groves to go to college and seek professional jobs in the cities. Keeping the lemon groves alive is a constant struggle.

“One of our main goals is to prevent the abandonment of the gardens on the coast,” said Salvatore De Riso, a well-known pastry chef and the president of the Consortium for the Protection of the Amalfi Lemon. “So many have been abandoned, and we’re trying to get them back by involving the owners. We’d like to valorize the Amalfi lemon, which is unique in the world.”

Mr. De Riso said that the consortium, which certifies the quality of lemons in products like limoncello to protect them from low-quality imitations, is trying to help local producers raise production.

The consortium is also trying to get state financing to help the boutique producers stay afloat. But that is a vexed issue in Italy, where in past years, although generally not in Amalfi, the misuse of European Union agricultural subsidies has often made it more lucrative for larger farms to let fruit rot on the tree than to pay the costs of harvesting and transporting it.

Luigi Aceto, whose family has worked in Amalfi for centuries, says he takes care of the “patrimony of humanity.” CreditGianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Although Mr. Aceto helped start the lemon consortium, he no longer wants to be part of it, saying it is pushing small growers like him to produce too much.

Mr. Aceto would also like to sell the lemons himself, and frowns on what he calls “mercenaries,” or wholesalers who buy lemons from small producers and sell them at a markup to larger distributors.

Mr. De Riso disagrees. He said that increasing the quantity of production would help small producers earn more without detracting from the quality. All lemons certified from Amalfi must be of the “sfusato” family, which comes from the Italian word for spindle, because of their pointed ends. These grow only in the microclimate of the Amalfi Coast, where cooling breezes are trapped between steep mountain valleys.

The lemons were first brought to the Amalfi Coast centuries ago on trade routes from the Middle East and were treasured by sailors for warding off scurvy and other ailments at sea.

For the Aceto family, the euro — and the euro crisis — is yet another phase in a long and rich history. Gigino Aceto’s great-grandfather, grandfather and father tended the lemon trees for a local nobleman, when the Italian south had a largely feudal economy. His father was able to buy some land when a local noble family needed an infusion of cash.

The family’s limoncello. CreditGianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Mr. Aceto was born in 1934, the eighth of 13 children; his parents got a special large-family subsidy from Mussolini’s Fascist government. In 1968, he enlarged the plot to about 20 acres with a special 40-year loan from the Italian state at 1 percent interest, part of an agrarian reform aimed at helping farmers buy their own land.

He isn’t nostalgic for the past and still remembers being a child during the war, when the family nearly starved and he and his siblings were sent to gather herbs and anything else edible. “We had relatives in America who sent us packages,” Mr. Aceto recalled. “Now China is taking over. That’s how the times are going.”

Faced with global competition, Mr. Aceto’s son Salvatore is not convinced that the euro is helping small businesses like his. “I’d say no,” he said. “There are lots of positive sides, but the other side of the coin is that we didn’t benefit enough. If we still had the lire, we’d have stayed more competitive as agricultural producers.”

The Aceto lemon groves could be sold for millions of euros for luxury vacation properties, but the family will hear none of it.

“I’m taking care of the patrimony of humanity,” Gigino Aceto said. Planted in a series of stonewalled terraces, the roots of the lemon trees help prevent soil erosion and landslides, a growing problem with the torrential rains of recent years. “The rays of the sun penetrate under the roots, so that the lemon is like a little baby in its cradle,” he said.

“Maybe lemon juice runs in my veins instead of blood,” he added.

After his afternoon nap, Mr. Aceto showed off the family’s smaller plot, high on the hills above the coast. A sweet breeze blew through the lemon grove. The sounds of traffic and water lapping on the shore rose from below. Above were the steep stone walls of the local cemetery. Salvatore Aceto looked up. “Here, even the dead are in paradise,” he said.

Puglia; Italy’s Best Kept Secret

Puglia has some of the brightest seas, most diverse art and architecture, most mouthwatering peasant cuisine and kindest people in all of Italy — including strangers who will go out of their way to lead you to one after another stunning beach on impossibly lapis-lazuli waters.

Puglia is the heel to Italy’s boot, and after two weeks spent touring the region, I felt grateful that charter airlines don’t disgorge hordes of tourists here. These are just some of the reasons:

Brilliant seas
“I said put it back, this is a natural park,” a stern father told his son. He was pointing to the octopus that sat with protruding eyes on the boy’s shoulders after being plucked from the crystalline waters at Natural Maritime Reserve of Torre Guaceto, just north of Brindisi.

With more than 500 miles of coast on two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionian, Puglia has all sorts of gorgeous beaches. For white limestone cliffs spotted with the deep green of gnarled pine trees, try the southernmost tip of Salento.

At opposite ends of this peninsula, I swam in the fingerlike cove of Porto Badisco, where legend has it that Italy’s mythological founder, Aeneas, landed, and I dove even deeper into history at Portoselvaggio, where remains of Neanderthal men were found.

A few miles north, it’s all about sandy expanses, like Punta della Suina, where the setting sun turns the transparent water pink.

But it’s Torre Guaceto that gets my gold medal — for the baby-powder white sand, the schools of silvery fish flitting from reef-like rock formations in pools of turquoise water, and the scent of pine needles drifting from the pristine forest that borders the beach.

Living history
No other image says Puglia better than the trullo, a rural home that’s essentially a whitewashed teepee of small limestone slabs stacked without mortar, with a cone surmounted by pagan or religious symbols. They are scattered among olive groves and huge prickly pear cacti in the Valle d’Itria, inland in a triangle between Bari, Taranto and Brindisi.

Of unknown origin and unique to Puglia, they date at least from the Middle Ages. Most are still inhabited and more than 1,400 huddle in Alberobello. The town might feel a bit too touristy for Puglia, with its souvenir shops exhibiting plastic trulli, but it only takes a look at the clotheslines in a trullo backyard to realize that real life goes on in this primitive fairytale place.

Ivan Tortorella  /  AP

A view of the typical “Trulli” constructions of southern Italy’s Puglia region, in downtown Alberobello, near Bari, Monday April 24, 2007. Puglia has the brightest sea, the most diverse art and architecture, the most mouthwatering peasant cuisine and the kindest people in all of Italy, including strangers who will stop their cars to direct you to their favorite secret beaches. (AP Photo/Ivan Tortorella)

Farther inland is the Murge, scorched highlands grooved by canyons where, in the Middle Ages, people built cave dwellings as homes and churches when they fled from pirates.

The most famous dwellings of all are the Sassi in Matera, which is just across the state line in the Basilicata region. Below the modern town and built on the side of a steep ravine, two whole neighborhoods of single-room cave dwellings and rock-hewn, frescoed churches were inhabited first by hermits and then by families until the 1960s. While some are now trendy hotels and restaurants, they still look so authentically ancient that Mel Gibson filmed scenes here for “The Passion of the Christ.”

Cities as art
Art is not a masterpiece in a museum but a whole downtown in Valle d’Itria cities like Locorotondo, or, by the coast, in Bari, Ostuni and Lecce.

Locorotondo is a round nest of a village where everything is white except for the bright splashes of red flowers that overtake its wrought-iron balconies. Ostuni is even more blinding, though a sea breeze caresses you as you hike up and down its steep inclines and marvel at the sculpted baroque portals on its whitewashed houses.

But you haven’t seen Baroque in all its theatrical, indulgent, luxuriant excess until you’ve spent an evening among the wreaths of fruit and the pinup women sculpted on the golden limestone churches and palaces of Lecce.

The busy port city is trying to overcome its dangerous reputation, but the only person that chased us in the narrow alleys was a grocery store clerk with a cold bottle of water, concerned that ours had become too warm as friends and I waited for another clerk to make our sandwiches.

Art gems
Medieval masterpieces are everywhere on the eastern coast, beginning with the inscrutable Castel del Monte. We know the octagonal castle was built by Emperor Frederick II, one of the most powerful men in the Middle Ages, in the early 13th century. But nobody quite knows why.

Isolated on a small hill, it lacks both the architecture and the location for a military fort, and it’s way too imposing to be a pleasure palace. The most evocative hypothesis is that it was an intricate symbol, built around the magic intersection of astronomy, mathematics and the Christian faith.

Traveling south, the Romanesque cathedrals at Trani and Otranto seem to rise from the sea. The latter’s floor is covered by a mosaic from 1165 representing the tree of life, a hopeful message in the site of a massacre — a chapel houses the remains of the 800 citizens who were slaughtered in the church where they had fled an assault by Islamic armies in 1481.

Puglia, like most of southern Italy, has been conquered over and over by northern and Mediterranean armies since Greek colonizers established flourishing city-states on its coasts. More than 2,500 years later, their heirs still speak Griko, a dialect of archaic Greek, in the inland Grecia Salentina.

Octopus to figs
I’ll admit that the powerfully alcoholic red Salentine wine played a role in my dancing the pizzica pizzica, the local version of tarantella, one night in the streets of tiny Serrano.

Image: I Linguini del Pescatore

Ivan Tortorella  /  AP

“I Linguini del Pescatore” (Fisherman’s Linguini) is fresh pasta with seafood, a typical dish in southern Italy’s Puglia region, near Lecce.

But the food that went with it at the farmers’ fair was just as worthy of celebrating, including Puglia’s staple, orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta), as well as horse meat steaks, ciceri e tria (handmade tagliatelle with garbanzo beans), fave e cicoria (pureed fava beans and chicory), cakes spilling over with figs.

Meat, grilled or cured, reigns inland, nowhere more spectacularly than at Cisternino in trulli land. At night, the absurdly numerous butchers of this whitewashed village set up tiny tables on the sidewalks and cook to order whatever you select from their marble counters, preceded by minuscule black olives, homemade cheeses and salami.

 Slideshow: European escapes Seafood, including delicacies like octopus and sea urchins, rule the coast in hole-in-the-wall trattorie like Nonna Tetti in Lecce. I had a hard time finishing pignata di polpo there, when the whole octopus was brought to me in a clay pot — especially since I had already had mozzarella di bufala, fried vegetables, and linguine with mussels.

I needed similar endurance when gratitude compelled me to start my last dinner in Puglia with a humble pizza margherita. This must be the only region in Italy where the tomato-and-mozzarella staple of generations of students and workers still only costs about $2.50.

Puglia is Italy’s top olive oil producer, so, for 660 miles back to northern Italy, I carried a three-gallon tank of thick olive oil in front of my car seat, sheltering it from the sun that for two weeks hadn’t stopped blazing and that pervades every facet of life here.

I kept thinking about a verse from an Italian poem that was used on an old tourism ad for southern Italy. Roughly translated, it was something like this: “No earthly hope can give my heart peace as much as the certainty of sun that overflows from your sky.”

By Giovanna Dell’Orto

Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/18357722/ns/travel-destination_travel/t/puglia-italys-heel-has-it-all/

 

Tuscany Without the Crowds

By DANIELLE PERGAMENT

IT was a cold, foggy morning in Tuscany, and La Foce, a 15th-century villa that sits on 2,000 acres of rolling fields overlooking the storied Montepulciano vineyards, was eerily quiet.

I walked the stone pathways in the manicured garden. Around me, cypress trees creaked, ripe persimmons swayed soundlessly from bare branches and a scattering of white flowers clung to a stone wall for warmth. Far below, a miniature Fiat truck made its way up the hillside, chugging along the empty, winding road.

The last time I was in Tuscany, it was July. Fields were ablaze in that golden yellow you see on postcards, bikers in neon Lycra were swarming the roads, and tour buses jammed the medieval piazzas. And I’d had the brilliant idea of inviting 120 non-Italian-speaking friends to the tiny village of Pienza for my wedding. “Beautiful, hot and full of Americans” was how one ungracious guest had put it.

But now, the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees and the color palette had shifted to the shockingly bright green that appears in these hills only in the winter and early spring. Steely gray fog rolled slowly across the valley, and a blanket of silence suggested a landscape that had gone into hibernation.

Forget the magazine covers that promise “The Undiscovered Tuscany!” “The Hidden Tuscany!” “The Secret Tuscany!” When a place has been attracting admirers for more than a thousand years, no square inch is undiscovered. The real Tuscany, as locals have been telling me over the years, is found in the dead of winter, when the crowds are thinner and the rooms, flights and restaurants are pleasantly cheaper.

That’s what brought me — along with my husband and our new baby — back to the Val d’Orcia in December. We came to visit friends who live here and to experience a Tuscany populated only by Tuscans.

Bordered to the north by the hills of Siena and to the south by the imposing arc of Monte Amiata, the valley is known for a few things: the cypress trees that line its winding roads (no calendar of Italy is complete without a picture of them), the creamy saltiness of its pecorino cheese, and Brunello di Montalcino, a king of Italian wines. Basically everything I care about in life.

The Val d’Orcia is also a Unesco World Heritage Site (take that, Chianti). “I love the Val d’Orcia in the winter — you get a much truer Tuscany,” said Benedetta Origo, who, along with her sister, Donata Origo, owns the La Foce estate, where their family used to live. Their mother, Iris Origo, wrote “War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944” — the de facto textbook of the area.

“This time of year, the clay turns to mud,” Ms. Origo said. “I put on my boots and go for long walks along the quiet paths in the forest. It’s rather poetic. And you can always expect to see a family of wild boar.”

In fact, the wildlife is a big part of the charm of the area. “The landscape is lush and full of boar, hares and pheasants, whereas in the summer, you don’t see animals, and fields are plowed and brown.” This is John Voigtmann, an American expat who turned a crumbling stone barn into La Bandita, an eight-room boutique hotel that sits atop the most-photographed of those cypress-lined roads. With its sleek four-poster beds and infinity-edge pool, it is one of the rare modern-design hotels in the area. “This is the time of year you see real Tuscans sitting in a cafe, drinking a grappa,” Ms. Origo added. “Maybe people are a little friendlier. The Val d’Orcia comes back to its own life.”

In that spirit, we set out on a brisk Wednesday morning for the medieval town of Sant’Angelo in Colle for lunch. As we drove to the tiny hilltop village, it started to drizzle, then pour. Winter in Tuscany is damp and pleasantly cool, with temperatures dipping as low as 30 degrees, though it rarely snows in the valley. And the landscape turns to a vibrant shade of jungle-y emerald — the only place I know that gets more colorful in the winter.

The village — sand-colored stone palazzi and worn cobblestone paths, all drenched in mist and rain — sat like a slumbering animal on top of the hill. I tried to remember if I had been there before. After a dozen trips to the area, I still have trouble telling one beautiful medieval mountaintop village from the next.

There wasn’t a soul in sight. We parked our car on the road (there was no shortage of spaces) and dashed into Il Leccio, a restaurant and wine bar.

Il Leccio is a trattoria, meaning a casual, pasta kind of place, but the starched tablecloths, crystal wineglasses and armor mounted on the wall made me feel as if I should have been summoned to the table by a man in white gloves. The menu is full of Tuscan fare, but Il Leccio is best known for its wine cellar (4,000 bottles deep) and as the unofficial cantina of Tuscany’s legendary wine producers.

On any given winter day, you might sit next to the man who made the vintage on your table. Winemakers flock here to talk about the harvest, complain about rain and order a bottle — of their own, naturally. In fact, as we were digging into our spinach and ricotta ravioli in a butter and sage sauce, we noticed that Gianfranco Soldera, the superstar producer behind the cult Soldera Brunello, was seated across from us.

Inspired by all the talk of vintages and varietals, we decided to drop by a nearby winery after lunch, the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, a family-run vineyard that produces Tuscan mainstays: rosso, brunello and a supertuscan. In the summer, this would have been vacation suicide. The region’s top vineyards are often impossible to get into from June to September, clogged with busloads of tipsy tourists. But after a 15-minute drive down a deserted muddy track that trundled through the forest, we found ourselves walking alongside gargantuan oak casks, alone except for a young tour guide, Martina Frullanti, our footsteps echoing off the vaulted stone ceilings.

We had the whole place to ourselves. It was all very “Welcome to my own private Tuscan estate, please tie up your horse outside.” After Il Leccio, I could hardly try any more wine, but we bought two bottles of the estate’s 2003 brunello. “This is a big wine,” explained Ms. Frullanti. “It’s best in the winter.”

So goes a common refrain: the flavors of Tuscany actually taste better this time of year. First, Tuscan cuisine is winter fare: big red wines, lots of porcini mushrooms, black truffles, chestnuts, and hearty pastas with meat sauce. In addition, Tuscans eat what’s in season, and the best stuff ripens between October and March.

November has the olive harvest. Once they’re picked, the olives are pressed immediately, giving the oil a green, spicy flavor unique to those first few weeks. Pecorino cheese is creamier in the fall and winter, when the sheep eat grass, not hay (a local secret). Winter also coincides with hunting season, so even the cinghiale (wild boar) is fresh, not frozen as it is the rest of the year.

Winter, in other words, is eating season in Tuscany. To test this out, we visited Il Casale, a strange and almost fantastical farm near Pienza, run by perhaps the most eccentric family in the valley. To get there, we drove down a long dirt road overgrown with brush until we saw what looked like a typically lovely stone villa. But as soon as we stepped out of the car, we were greeted by shaggy dogs, peacock squawks and the unmistakable smell of farm. The source of the odor was an open barn, just behind the villa, humming with shuffling sheep.

Everything produced at Il Casale is organic; the animals roam freely around the grounds, and they create almost no waste (pigs eat the whey left over from the cheese). Even “our veterinarian is homeopathic,” said Ulisse Brandli, a charming if curmudgeonly Swiss expat who moved to Tuscany in 1991 with his wife, Sandra, and has since raised five sons and hundreds of animals.

Mr. Brandli speaks emphatically and at great, great length about the virtues of small farms. Once you see firsthand how the food is made, he said, “it will taste different to you.” As we were talking, half a dozen pigs, muddy and playful, came trotting up. These were the renowned cinta senese pigs, indigenous to Tuscany, named for the white belt around their bellies, and famously flavorful. Not that I could imagine eating one, once I saw how cute they were.

Before we left, we loaded up our car with honey, olive oil and a small wheel of Mr. Brandli’s freshest batch of pecorino. We sliced into the cheese later that day over a simple lunch of crusty bread, foggy green olive oil and a bottle of rosso di Montalcino. The cheese was decidedly creamier, akin to the difference between Greek yogurt and the nonfat kind.
Amazingly, there are things to do in Tuscany that don’t involve food or wine. The following morning, my husband and baby stayed behind at the hotel as I drove to Bagno Vignoni, a medieval village built on thermal waters from an aquifer and popular since the Roman empire. The town square is a giant pool fed by volcanically heated water bubbling from the depths, steaming in the winter air, and the village has its share of day spas that use the water. A hot bath isn’t so appealing during an August heat wave, but on a blustery day in December, it was perfect.

After paying 28 euros (about $37), I wrapped myself in a plush robe and walked up to the rooftop pools at the newly opened Le Terme Wellness & Spa. I settled in a lounge chair next to a few elderly Tuscan ladies with painted nails and weathered faces. Unversed in Tuscan spa etiquette, I followed their lead: when they helped themselves to hot lavender tea from the silver tray, I did, too. When they dunked in the steaming bath, I dunked. And when it came time for them to wrap themselves in their towels and start gossiping, I took out my book, but then closed my eyes and let the chatty voices lull me to sleep.

On another day, relaxed and recharged, it was time to visit Montepulciano, the medieval fortress town that was recently infiltrated by the cast and crew of “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” For some, the town is synonymous with Tuscany, a nostalgic vision of wine shops that date back to the first Pope Benedict and old crinkly men playing bocce in 14th-century sandstone courtyards.

Of course, Montepulciano long ago became a tourist magnet. But on this heavy winter day, you could almost glimpse what the town was like before it became a cliché — schoolchildren running through piazzas, the smell of wood-burning fires, and a handful of those crinkly old men, their collars upturned, bracing against the chill.

Joined by some Tuscan friends, we wandered down a narrow street to Osteria dell’Acquacheta, a cozy restaurant known for its steaks. During the high season, seats can be booked up to a month in advance. Today, the dark, stone dining room was crowded but it looked as if we actually had a shot at a table.

After a five-minute wait, we were seated next to the open kitchen, surrounded by teenagers, young families and Tuscan businessmen, and watched as Giulio Ciolfi, the gregarious owner with a long, gray ponytail, two leather belts slung on his hips and wildly bushy eyebrows, carved into a side of beef with a machete-like knife.
We ordered a steak and it arrived a few minutes later — two inches thick, seasoned simply with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled so rare it was still cold in the center. Don’t ask for well-done; this is how steak is served here.

All the beef comes from the hormone-free Chianina cows that graze in nearby Val di Chiana. The cows are such a source of pride and raised so humanely, our table agreed, that you could eat the steak and still call yourself a vegetarian (at least my husband did). While everyone at my table talked about how buttery and juicy the steak was, I dug into a bowl of homemade fettuccine, drizzled with olive oil and topped with a small mountain of freshly shaved truffles. We also ordered (yes, there’s more) a skillet of baked pear with melted pecorino and a Tuscan onion soup served with a crust of pecorino-smothered toast. At the chef’s suggestion, we finished with the seasonal dessert: air-light mascarpone cheese covered with slivers of yet more truffle. By the time we finished lunch, it was dark outside.

The next day was our last in the Val d’Orcia, and there was one more place to visit. Monte Amiata, the ancient volcano that dominates every view, is the one part of Tuscany that is meant only for winter, but few make the trek up there. If there really is an undiscovered Tuscany, Monte Amiata is it.

With the baby asleep in her car seat, we drove to the foot of the mountain and snaked our way up — passing Fascist-era chalets from the 1930s and working-class villages. The terrain grew increasingly rocky, the forest became denser, and the light dusting of snow at the base had turned into a thick white blanket by the time we reached the top.

It was a completely different world — people milling about in furry boots, a restaurant selling hot chocolate, and a creaky old metal ski lift that had just started running for the season. We tramped around in the snow and felt totally displaced. A ski resort in the middle of Tuscany is somewhat surreal. Like a vineyard in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

We wandered into Osteria Primo Rifugio, a restaurant in one of those chalets, and found a group of men speaking an unrecognizable dialect and enjoying glasses of grappa by the fireside. “We like to think we have our own secret world up here,” said Damiano Pizzetti, the owner. “You should come back — we actually don’t get many visitors.”

IF YOU GO

From the United States, the easiest way to get to the Val d’Orcia is to fly to Rome and rent a car for the two-hour drive. Continental, Delta, American, Alitalia and others fly nonstop from New York. A recent Web search found an Alitalia flight from Newark starting at about $625 for travel in March. Rental cars (mostly manual transmission) are available at the Rome airport from Avis, Hertz and Europcar.

WHERE TO STAY

Rates below are for the low season.

Piccolo Hotel La Valle (Via Circonvallazione 7, Pienza; 39-057-874-9402; www.piccolohotellavalle.it), which means the “small hotel in the valley,” is a modest but comfortable hotel within walking distance of some of the area’s best restaurants. Doubles (without a view) from 95 euros, or $126 at $1.32 to the euro.

La Bandita (Podere La Bandita, Pienza; 39-333-404-6704; www.la-bandita.com) has eight guest rooms, an infinity pool, jaw-dropping views and nightly tasting menus. It closes from December through February but will open for parties of six or more. Doubles from 250 euros.

La Foce (Via della Vittoria, 63, Chianciano Terme; 39-057-869-101; lafoce.com) has an assortment of villas, apartments and cottages that make you feel as if you’re the guest of an Italian aristocrat. Rooms from 120 euros, while apartments start at 500 euros a week.

WHERE TO EAT

Il Leccio (Piazza Castellare, 1/3-5; Sant’Angelo in Colle; 39-0577-844-175; trattoriailleccio.it; closed Wednesdays).

Osteria dell’Acquacheta (Via del Teatro, 22; Montepulciano; 39-0578-758-443; acquacheta.eu; closed Tuesdays and mid-January to mid-March).

Osteria Primo Rifugio (Primo Rifugio, Monte Amiata; 39-0577-789-705; closed Mondays and Tuesdays).

Osteria La Porta (Via del Piano, 1, Monticchiello; 39-0578-755-163; www.osterialaporta.it) is one of the few trattorias in the area that serves homemade pasta. The specialty is pici all’aglione, pasta in a light tomato sauce with enough garlic to ward off a coven of vampires.

WHERE TO DRINK AND RELAX

Wineries in Tuscany are typically down long dirt roads, with no address. Call ahead for directions.

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona (Molinello, Montalcino; 39-0577-835-616; www.ciaccipiccolomini.com).

Il Casale, between Pienza and Montepulciano (39-0578-755-109; podereilcasale.com).

Poggio di Sotto (Castelnuovo dell’Abate; 39-0577-835-502; poggiodisotto.com).

Uccelliera (Castelnuovo dell’Abate; 39-0577-835-729; www.uccelliera-montalcino.it).

Le Terme Wellness & Spa (Piazza delle Sorgenti, 13; Bagno Vignoni; 39-0577-887-150; www.termedibagnovignoni.it).

Correction: March 21, 2010

The cover article on March 7, about Tuscany in winter, misidentified the type of fruit that was seen on the bare branches of trees in the garden at La Foce, a 15th-century villa there. They were persimmons, not oranges.