Sunday, June 20, 2010


The Pearl Of Tuscany

Sant'Albino was home base for our week-long stay in Tuscany.

Just a stone's throw from Montepulciano, "Sant Albie," as we coined it, was the absolute best jawdrop backdrop for our fourth Italian adventure.

Landing in S. Albino wasn't on purpose, however. We had two villa rentals "fall through" from our previous villa rental fave. After a Google search, we got hitched with a new rental company called Parker Villas, and the stars aligned.

We're fans of rentals versus hotels because of the authentic feel of your stay. Parker has some beautiful properties that will knock your boots off. In fact, it seemed every property was straight from a House Beautiful photo shoot.

Parker is based both in the US *and* Genoa, so you'll have dual-country coverage around the clock in the event you need it. We wound-up renting our villa and car through Parker and experienced only good. More about our wonderful rental below.

Getting To S. Albino:

While Italy's train system covers the boot, there are some villages, like S. Albie, where you'll need to jump train, as there is no train line connecting all of the countryside villages. So, we saddled up for a car rental for the first time ever and departed Pisa south via the A1 Autostrada hanging a right (portare una destra) bound for Chianciano Terme then through to S. Albie.

Suggested Stay:

A lifetime. Not one day shorter. Pinky swear!

Must See | Do:

Greater S. Abino is a charming, relaxed community. You'll feel more local than tourist here, so leave your hustle and bustle on Texas soil. We chose this location because from it, you can easily drive to the nearby villages of Montepulciano, Cortona, Pienza and Siena.

The countryside roads of Tuscany are as curvy and curly as a bowl of spaghetti and you'll discover seemingly endless vistas with beautiful panoramic views. Be prepared to pull roadside to stop and admire the views that recharge the soul in ways hard put to words.

S. Albino Shopping & Eateries:

Centro Commerciale Etrusco ~ From the outside we thought this was an Italian version of Central Market but once inside, we quickly realized it's actually a small mall. About a 20 minute drive from S. Albie here you'll find about 25 stores selling books, gelato, electronics, clothes and more. And then there's the anchor PAM Superstore where you can spend hours bulking-up for essentials to cook at your very own casa, like we did. Visit them online.

Coop ~ A smaller store than PAM, but located in Chianciano Terme proper, just under a 10 minute drive away. Make sure and pick-up some of their super cheap recycled shopper bags. We found orange bags boasting white daisies and purchased them as gifts for our local Texans back home.

Il Caminetto Pizzeria ~ (Largo Amiata 8/10, Chianciano Terme)

Also just a dash from Sant'Albino located in Chianciano, this "steak house and pizzeria" has good Napolean-style pizza with smoked mozzarella and a "fold-over" pizza with veggies and cheese ~ both were authentic and tasty. They have an outside patio perfect for al fresco dining and you can also take your food to go.

The Pearl Of Tuscany

The best part of our stay in S. Albie was where we stayed in S. Albie! The Borgo del Molinello was by far the best decision we made when building our 2010 travel itinerary. So much so, we're planning another adventure there for the 2011 harvest.

The Borgo del Molinello estate is comprised of four "apartments" in three distinct structures which can be rented in entirety, or in parts.

We rented Il Granaio ~ a small house complete with kitchen, bath, living and dining areas and a bedroom complete with a queen-
sized bed. While Il Granaio is just 9 years old, it was built of similar materials as its nearby brother and sister farmhouse structures, some which were much older.

Il Granaio was perfect.

The rental properties are managed by Laura ~ a totally wonderful Italian who will be quick to apologize to you for her broken English, which we found humbling given where our Texas toes were located.

we found it totally easy to communicate with Laura ~ her broken English... our really broken Italian... the perfect blend!

Laura is charmingly hospitable and knowledgeable about Italy. She can give pointers on where to visit (like the Bagno Vignoni thermal spas as well as making you a list for the really good places to eat). To this day she remains in contact with us via Facebook and we consider her a part of our extended family across the pond out east.

Like most Italians, Laura is honest, hardworking, approachable and delightful. As we got to know her better, it felt like we were staying with the best of family. The Innocentini family works the property from tending the vineyard, dead-
heading roses, mowing the grass and chopping wood that keeps nearby restaurant kitchens aglow. Add chirping birds, rolling hills, bright skies, the sweet, sweet scent of Spanish Broom and the family dog or cat that might wander by and then you'll discover this a truly authentic way to experience Italy beyond the predictability of the common hotel room.

Laura said the farm was 100 hectare (about 250 acres) and it's mostly comprised of rolling hills sporting vineyards and olive groves. There's a wonderful pool on the property that is shared by renters. I knew I *had to* go back to the Pam superstore and purchase a float so I could enjoy the water by letting life's stresses melt away under my very own piece of Tuscan sun. I refer to it as our "Vacation Staycation Day" and we made a point to stay on property one entire day so that we didn't fill our day with the typical tourist's agenda.

We lived Italy that day as meant best.

You can
purchase olive oil and wine on site and I found it totally worth the costly air flight for the honor to be buying direct from the artists who turn mere grape into drinkable delight.

One awesome secret.

As a child growing up in Texas, I "came unglued" when I saw fireflies. I remember running to try and catch them to put into an empty mayonnaise jar. My very own magically blinking pets. I honestly can't remember seeing more than 5 fireflies at a time, which made them as special as South Texas snowflakes.

To my surprise, at daily dusk just as sun and moon exchanged position, the vineyard would come alive with literally thousands of fireflies! It was a totally magical experience and unlike anything I have experienced on Planet Earth. "Firefly 30" was better than any "double complete rainbow" and it immediately became a treasured part of my daily rituals.

Sadly, the firefly experience couldn't be caught on film but trust me when I say that if you ever get the chance to visit this part of Italy, the experience is something you will remember for the rest of your days. And most especially, your nights.

"The Pearl of Tuscany?" Borgo del Molinello!

If I've done my job well, say goodbye to state-side online traveling and hello to your best travel adventure yet!

for the love of : italy
Our Next Stop? Magnificent Montepulciano!
Hang onto your cowboy hats, folks!

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