Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Visit To The Nursery

  I totally dig taking the time to check out the various local nurseries in our area, here in Umbria. I do the same thing at home…I have my favorites, and I go back to them time and time again.
 I'm a plant whore. What can I say. 
 Hey, there are worse vices, right?
 Why wouldn't I want to dip my toes into the waters here? So I do.

  The latest spot we visited was after a tip from a gardening pal here in Panicale. He and his wife have one of the most gorgeous gardens here, and they tend it daily. We had run into them at Bar Gallo, and they mentioned they were heading to Citta della Pieve to this garden center…one I hadn't known about, so of course I wanted all the details.

  After getting directions, we were good to go. It took us a few days to finally find the time, but we did…and what a treat!

Even "out of season", this place looks great...

Showing off a title color.

Very Italian...

  We were happy to be able to just wander the extensive grounds, including several greenhouses. I was so happy to see so much in house propagation going on…it totally reminded me of my own years working in nurseries. I always loved my hours and hours spent in the greenhouses, planting tiny cuttings or little bitty seedlings… It makes me smile to know this still goes on..

Propagation in ACTION!

  Of course, every good nursery has it's garden kitties..always on duty, doing what they do best...

Yes, that would be napping.
Preferably in the warm sunshine.

  It's still on the cool side here, so all the citrus were in the greenhouses. I was surprised to see so many varieties, including my favorite kumquat trees. I could barely stop myself from picking a few for later.
  I was good, and resisted.

Oh so tempting!

  Right now, most of the "color" in the nurseries are either pansies, violas or geraniums. Soon we'll be seeing azaleas in bloom, as well as hanging lobelias and lots of different types of carnations.  Banksia roses are budding in local gardens, as well as all the wisterias…the lilacs are on their way, too.

There were lots of big greenhouses here...

Some nice dianthus and carnations, and we love the green bench!

One thing we don't have back home in our nurseries…
An old ruin.

  I had decided to pick up a couple of small geraniums and a tiny basil plant for the kitchen window, and we were good to leave…but the young woman running the place made sure we saw the rest of the place. 
  It's a huge operation! We worked our way down three separate terraces, each with greenhouses and planting beds.

Also, killer views of Lago Trasimeno…Sweet!

Roses and more roses.

More shrubs and landscape plants...

  I've seen lots of nurseries here, as well as back home. This was one of the largest I've seen here in our area. There is a really giant operation nearby, featuring full grown trees and shrubs, but this place was good sized, for a home gardener.
  I'll enjoy going back later in the trip, when more is going on. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the small pots of color I'm creating on our front steps.

  It makes me homesick for my own garden in California, I suppose. Especially after seeing this fine group of Hellabores….I'm telling you, this is a language we gardeners all speak!

Homesick for my Hellabores, and my roses…but..
Still so happy to be here, now!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lunch: After The Rocca Hike!

  About that lunch…. you remember…the one I pined for during the hike up to the Rocca? Of course. It was the only thing that kept me climbing up that damn tower.

  Well, we found a sweet little trattoria in the very nearby village of Castiglione d'Orcia. This town had actual stores that were open, and a few bar/caffe places. We saw people driving around, etc…so we found parking and headed up into this very pretty town.
  They have a castle tower that is being restored, so we'll have to watch the progress over the next few years...

Castiglione d'Orcia.

  We came across this sweet looking spot, and could here pots and pans banging around in the kitchen, so we decided to give it a try. 
  I was hungry, don't you know..

Trattoria Il Cassero.

  As seems to often be the case, because it's March, we were the only diners. The nice folks, a husband and wife team, I'm assuming, took good care of us. We were seated in a small room which had some interesting artwork as well as a fireplace. I was happy.

I thought this was pretty cool..

I've never met a fire I couldn't resist "poking".
Plus, what wacky decoration!

  The chef had come out and taken our orders, very helpful, too, and we had our wine, just waiting and enjoying the views...

I'm so ready for some pasta, please…….

  There were some interesting vegetarian options in the "primi" section of the menu, so it was easy to decide what to have. Johnny had me order for him, as well.
  We didn't have an antipasto this time, but each ordered pasta and contorni(side dishes), as well as a cheese plate to share for our "secondo", or main dish, sort of.

   Our pasta came first-

Ravioli with leeks, spinach, and roquefort.
The sauce was so great..a little cinnamon in there, adding a slightly
sweet and exotic note, very well balanced with the roquefort.

Maltagliata, a wide egg noodle, with roasted Romanesco broccoli and olives.
I loved it. The noodles were house made, and so perfectly chewy/silky.
The sauce on this was spicy. Two completely different red sauces.

  The dishes took time, and I'm glad they did. They were so good-you just knew there was someone back there that really cared.
  We ate slowly, switching plates more than once. We chatted a little with the chef, as he would pop out to see how we were doing, and it was all just so relaxing and comfortable.

  Next came our contorni, and another sip of wine...

"Carciofi alla Grappa"
Artichokes simmered in grappa.
Need I say more? Yes, good!

Oven baked vegetables that were the best I've tasted.
Perfectly seasoned, and roasted until just slightly charred in spots.

  Lastly, we enjoyed a wonderful cheese course. Not extensive, there were three cheeses, each aged longer than the next, and the fig marmalade that accompanied was just right.
  The wife makes the marmalade, and I would have loved to bring some home.


  I'll tell you, I especially enjoyed this meal, after hoofing it up that giant Rocca-tower thing, I'll tell you. Every bite was a bite well earned, as well as delicious.

  I would say that if you are in the area, take the time to seek this little place out. We were so happy we found it.
  After coming home, I had looked it up, and the reviews, especially from Italians, were so-so…maybe the meat dishes aren't that great..., I don't know. These pasta dishes were really kind of special, though.
  I say go!
 Climbing the Rocca first? Well, that's up to you….
 In Castiglione d'Orcia-
 Trattorio Il Cassero

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Day Trip: Rocca d'Orcia

  I kid you not, I have wanted to visit Rocca d'Orcia for at least ten years. 
  Every time we drive through the hills and valleys of this stunning area, I've gazed longingly out the window, wondering what the holy heck that big old tower thingy was.
  You can see it from miles and miles away. Especially on the beautiful drive between Montepulciano and  San Quirico d'Orcia. This is the heart of the Val d'Orcia, land of a million calendar photos. You've seen them, I just know you have.

  Anyway, we wanted to visit the nearby Bagon Vignoni, where we had read about a new art space that features contemporary art, so we decided to make a day of it.
  First stop was to see the artwork. Johnny wrote about it on his blog. We both were pleased to have sought this place out. We seem to keep discovering interesting art galleries, etc. in the most unusual places…

  Afterwards, we headed for the Rocca….

Yes, way up there.

Ummm…what were we thinking?

  Actually, the drive wasn't bad at all..it just looked scary from way down below. After a few hairpin turns, we found some parking, and hiked our fannies on up the hill.

I assume this is some type of town crest, since it
was at the front portal into the small town.

  Walking into this small hill town, in March, is like walking back in history. Except for the total lack of inhabitants, that is.
  There was no one around, though I did see a few places that had laundry on the line. For the most part, we were alone. 
  I think most of the residences are holiday rental units, or second homes for owners in Rome or Florence. 
  It was kind of eerie. But so beautiful, at the same time...

It was an overcast day, so this just added to the sombre feeling of the place.

The main piazza.
Just us and a couple of cats.

Unreal, right?

  After "ooooohhhh-ing" and "ahhhhhh-ing" for a good while, just standing and soaking it all in, we began the walk up to the actual Rocca itself.

All I'm thinking is:
"There better be a good lunch after this hike up."

Another small group of mostly closed up houses...

  Halfway up the hill, I spied the perfect spot to set the camera up on a timer, so we could actually get a picture of the two of us. 
  Plus, we were pretty much huffing and puffing our little hearts out…Good thing we are regular walkers! I don't know how we'd get to some of these places otherwise.

Not there yet, Baby….

I want to be up there, with the birds!
See the ruins of yet another Rocca, way over in the background?

  We made it to the bottom of the Rocca, where there is a small building with a nice docent to sell you tickets to climb on up. It's a great view from this spot, but I was on a mission. I wanted to get to the top of this one!
  Poor Johnny, I truly think he just figures I want to do him in. He's a very good sport.
  He does enjoy a good castle, tower, battleground…..all the historical stuff around this area. Thank god. That's what keeps him hanging in there on these hare-brained ideas of mine.
  Bless his (pounding) heart.

Just. A. Bit. Higher.

Ok. I'm beginning to regret this. 

  You know, I didn't really think about the whole "I'm afraid of heights" part of this foolhardy adventure. Sigh.
  There is a nice lunch after this, right?

  I must say that I am really quite proud of my little old self. I kept right on going, and left that scaredy-cat self behind. Down below, where it was really safe.
  Big old baby.

Up we go to the first level of the Rocca.
Totally worth it for the views, of course.


  When you do arrive to the Rocca, you go inside and there are several displays which talk about the history of the Rocca, and old photos, etc. Johnny loved this part of the adventure.
  It's really well kept, and in all truth, not scary. The steps to the very top, though super steep, are very sturdy, with railings all the way up.
  And I do mean UP.

I'm not scared.

No, really. I'm not scared.
Ok, at this point I did sort of go on hands and knees….


There's the little town, below, and the road we came up
starts way the hell down there.

  I say go. 
  It was totally worth it, especially since there were only two other people there. It wasn't really all that hard to climb, and the views of the Val d'Orcia can't be beat. 
  We spent only about ten minutes at the top, because the day wasn't perfect. I want to go back on a sunny and clear day, to do this again. I can only imagine what these views would be like on a nice day...

  We made our way back down, down, down…which was just as difficult, I gotta say..especially on the knees. The damn knees.

This is one empty little hill town…
But just so gorgeous.

I made it!
Now…where's my lunch?

  We walked around the areas of the town we hadn't seen on the way up…and actually came across a small gallery that was prepping for a photography exhibit that was opening later that evening.
  Go figure. Who would attend? Being a Saturday, maybe quite a few folks staying or living in the area.    We got to see the show, so we were happy.

 We ended up going the mile or so up the way to Castiglione d'Orcia, which was also lovely, and had more activity.
  We had that lunch I was hoping for…which will be another post here in the very near future.

  On our way back home, we stopped for a walk around Pienza, a favorite spot for a late afternoon glass of wine...

Views on the way to Pienza.

View from the walls of Pienza…classic Tuscan.

  I love these day trips. I dream of them all year. It's fun to be the co-pilot along the way, and it seems there is always a sweet spot for a glass of wine somewhere at the end of the day….

Happy Boy.

Happy Girl.

    Can't wait to see what's next on the agenda…as soon as this freaking rain stops, that is!
  In the meantime, I have a good chance to write, so it's a win-win, si?

Here's the place to climb, brave friends:

Rocca d'Orcia