Friday, October 22, 2010

Cretaiole, Val d' Orcia, Tuscany

We left Lucca at about noon September 10th. The drive from Lucca to Pienza is an adventure in itself! We leave the freeway, as previously mentioned, and travel the final 60 miles (97 Km) on SR2 which winds through the beautiful Tuscan hills and valleys, past vineyards and olive groves with geraniums and roses planted in carefully aligned rows adjacent to the highway. Our 2 hour leisurely drive twists and turns (often abrubtly) into small towns (citta) and villages (villaggio).

Often the highway narrows to a very tight two lanes passing through a village where the homes and shops are separated from the roadway by only a three foot wide sidewalk, and occassionally, no sidewalk at all. At nearly every significant intersection of this highway with other roads, we encounter the well designed traffic circle. The circle may intersect as many as five or six roads with multiple signage pointing the way to major (and minor) towns. A word of advice...if you decide to travel by car in Italy, pay careful attention to the signs, especially if you are unfamiliar with the locales where you travel. Know, however, even if you do get lost, that in itself, can be a very pleasant adventure. In 2006, we left the paved highway (relying on a GPS) and traveled, nearly in circles, for an hour or so, through some pretty, and some very wild, countryside, on a dirt road, before we stopped and asked directions of a non english speaking gent in a brushy wooded area where hunters were about chasing wild boar.

A few of the citta and villaggio we passed through were Bellevista, Staggia, Castellina Scalo, San Martino, Siena, Isola d' Arbia, Monteroni d' Arbia, Buonconvento, Torrenieri, San Quirico d' Orcia and finally arriving at Cretaiole about 2PM. Cretaiole sits on a high ridge just a few minutes (by car) west of Pienza and the intrepid walker could walk into Pienza in less than an hour. I say "intrepid" because the walk either involves travel along the highway (limited shoulders) or cross country through the farm fields on dirt roads with views of Pienza obscured by the topography. As an aside...we saw quite a few cyclers on the road, apparently traveling through Italy by bicycle! Courageous and demanding physically.

Again, I digress.

The drive was great but could have been much better if we had planned it so we could have stopped at a few of these small villaggio if only to stretch our legs. Well, leaving that for another trip (which is certain to occur soon)...

Tonight, in/at Cretiaole, a dinner prepared by our host and hostess...pici ragu (bolognaise), wood grilled/roasted meats and sausages, local (jug) wine, grappa and lots of bread. Pici is a thick, hand rolled pasta (fat spagetti) which origine is claimed by this area (Province of Siena) of Tuscany.

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