For this trip we had rented a villa in Tuscany. Finding the house was a bit of a challenge and it pays to get clear directions. We didn't so we enjoyed an extended tour of the Valdichiana Valley while we searched for the house. In the end, exhausted we found Il Calcione.

Il Calcione is located six km outside the hill-top town of Lucignano. This small town dates from medieval times and still retains the original elliptical architecture.

There were a couple of roads from our house to Lucignano. The road follows a spiral and makes two complete circuits. Indeed, the goal every day was to be able to take the correct road. It was only by the end of the week that we mastered a direct route from our house to the town!

Il Calcione Castle

The Calcione Castle and estate have been in the family for hundreds of years. Dating back to the 10th century, it first belonged to monks of the holy order of Sant'Eugenio. It later became the home of the Lotteringhi della Stufa family in 1483. Ferdinando dei Medici rose to the rank of Marquisate in 1632. We rented part of the Fontegiannelli House, pictured below.

While we were there, and the terrible events of September 11th unfolded in the United States. The Marquisate invited guests to come into the castle to watch TV and be brought up to date with the horrific events of the day.

On the property are a number of houses, renovated and rented for vacation homes. Ours was the Fontegiannelli House. This house had three apartments. We had wo bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and kitchen. We were the only guests in the entire house - so it was ours!

Luckily we were advised to buy our provisions before we arrived as the local supermarkets close by 7:00 pm on Saturdays. The idea is to be well stocked with coffee and milk and something for breakfast. We had a great kitchen. Cooking here and looking out the window across the olive groves towards the family cemetery was a view of which you just could not get enough.

Chris Grant enjoying the great kitchen at Fontegiannelli.In addition to the rooms, we had a great private patio with tables and chairs to enjoy mornings and evenings. The only regret is that there were so many places to go each day in Tuscany that there was only a limited amount of time that could be given to just relaxing around the house and grounds and our own pool.

When we arrived we found out we could make an arrangement to have one of the women in the area come to our house and cook a meal. This would be like getting a cooking class right in our home. We provided the requested menu. She would buy the food, arrive and the cooking and eating would begin. Emila arrived around 4:30 PM and started cooking for the evening. She did not leave to almost 10 pm.

Emila preparing Antipasto TuscanaEmila first started making a Torta Notta, a tasty cake with a custard filling and topped with pine nuts. It lasted for days and got better each day. Next she made Toscana Antipasto a series of dishes that included roasted vegetables, prosciutto with melon as well as a liver pate crostini. After that, as if we needed more food, followed a ragu pasta. This was followed by veal with lemon sauce.

How we made it through that much food is amazing. Chris and Glenn had just completed a morning cooking class... more on that follows... so this was a day of much food.


Our typical day? Get up by 8:30 or 9:00 am, enjoy some great coffee and eat what ever food we had and then head out for a tour of Tuscany. Not a bad routine.


Here is one of the great towns of Tuscany. Memories of this town? Great scenes, good leather purchases and great galato! Lunching in an outside patio with a view over the valley. Parking is outside the town. A wall from the 13th century surrounds the town. San Gimignano is a trendy tourist destination with plenty of day visitors from Florence. This should not stop anyone from taking the time the visit this charming town. As you drive up to San Gimagnano, the 14 towers can be seen for kilometers. In the 13th century there were more than 70 of these family fortresses. Most cities, it is reported, actually established regulations against the building of the towers and some even took existing towers down. Pisa and Florence, for example had more than a hundred at one time. The Ghibelline tower remains as the tallest in San Gimagnano and is the only one that you may climb.

The scene above is the Piazza del Duomo. There are good quality leather goods as well as ceramics from the different areas of Tuscany and Umbria. Chris found his computer case here. Karen and Glenn wallets.


Another day's tour was Florence. Driving a car to Florence is easy. We were about 20 minutes from the autostrada. Getting there is easy. It is what you do when you get there that is difficult. We had a parking destination in mind. A lot near the river that has been over the past few years a very handy place to leave the car. Then, simply pay a staggering 85,000 Lire for one day of parking and its is across the Ponte Vecchio to tour the town. Sights to see: the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Uffizi and the Accademia. Of course, from Glenn's perspective, there are are number of great pen stores also to visit!

The Duomo and tower in Florence. The traffic is horrendous. More roads seemed to be blocked off. We agreed on a place to meet at 7:30 and Chris and Carmen left the car at a traffic light. Eventually Karen and Glenn found the infamous parking lot.

Ristorante Mamma Gina

Of course, you can not go to Firenze without having a great meal, and one restaurant that has been a repeat for Karen and Glenn is the Ristorante Mamma Gina.

Chris, Karen and Glenn had "way too much" to drink, and Carmen did a wonderful job in driving the lot back to our house.



Piazza del Campo in Siena. Looking towards the Plazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia.

Another trip was to Siena, a jewel of Tuscany. The city has retained its 14th century look. The centre of the town in the Piazza del Campo, arranged in a circle. The tower at IL Campo is the tallest in Italy. Much of the Palazzo Pubblico dates to the 14th century. The Duomo is unforgettable. Construction started in 1360 and continued for the next two centuries. The finest artists in Siena were commissioned to create magnificent inlaid marble scenes for the floor. Much of the floor is now covered up, although in September it is open for total viewing. Good thing we were there in September!

SienaIn the Duomo see the Biblioteca Piccolomini - created in 1495 - this room holds the library of one of Pope Pius II. The walls are covered with frescoes.

We walked the town, toured the Duomo, had an enjoyable lunch at a restaurant in the Campo. Chris and Glenn continued to rate towns by the quality of the gelato. Don't miss the great gelato to the right of the Torre. It ranks as one of the best in Italy.




Chris and Glenn were really looking forward to this event. A cooking class. A cooking class in Tuscany. A cooking class in an actual working restaurant kitchen. We booked our class through The International Kitchens. There are many cooking holidays available in Tuscany, but this was one of the few options for a single one-day class with no accommodations.

Chef Eric worked with Glenn and Chris and demonstrated over a dozen different dishes. The kitchen, an actual restaurant kitchen, was small, the pots were the real restaurant stuff - all banged up and warped - and the food was great.

What did we make? Deep fried zucchini flowers - what a treat. Where can you buy zucchini flowers in Vancouver? A two-cheese radichio salad. A sharp, crisp taste. Popping clams and scampi served over pasta. All the while there was a large pot of chicken liver pate cooking for hours. We prepared scampi, beef with a green peppercorn cream sauce, fried cheese and egg plant, Totanetti caldo can verdue grigliate, funghi pasta, calmari and pasta, and a mushroom salad. Naturally, we drank wine throughout the cooking. What else does one do in the kitchen?

At the end, we were seated in the restaurant and our dishes were brought to our table. The eating began. How we ate all the food, and drank another two bottles of wine is amazing.

Chris even discovered he secretly loved Calamari. The stuff looked bad on the way in but great once he started cooking!



PienzaPienza is located east of Montalcino. It is a town that has retained a great feel and has not been overtaken by North American tourists.

In 1460 Pope Pius II decreed that the town of his birthplace should be glorified. So it was. The cathedral, plazzo and homes give the town a grand feel.

Here we ate at Le Latte de Luna, a restaurant that is worth a journey. Home made pastas, great roast meat dishes and bruschetta that is out of this world.

The bruschetta was so good Chris order another round for dessert! It totally through the staff and they were not quite sure what to do -- bruschetta for dolci? Le Latte de Luna was the restaurant chosen by the crew of The English Patient. There are pictures of Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoch and other crew members on the walls.



Lucignano from the air

The town of Lucignano.





Our villa, the Casa Fontegiannelli

FontegiannelliCarmen, Chris, Karen and Glenn enjoying the patio.

San Gimignano

Plaza in San Gimignano


Carmen & Chris Grant in San Gimignano




Ponte Vecchio




Glenn with Chef Eric at cooking course.


Chris at home in the kitchen.