Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Last week, when I went up to Tuscany for the Outstanding in the Field dinner, Sophie and I ended up staying the night, since it would have been too long a drive to come back to Rome that evening. Rather than rush back the next morning, we decided to make a day of it, and it ended up being a very nice mini-vacation.
We stayed in Radda, a picture perfect little town right in the heart of Chianti. It’s basically one street, which is closed to traffic, lined with ancient stone palaces and centering on a pocket sized piazza. Our hotel was located right on the piazza, complete with one of those stemma-covered town halls and two churches. Really, it looked like a stage set.
In the morning, we were gently woken by the eight o’clock bells, so we headed down to breakfast (local meats and cheeses, and freshly baked bread) which was served right in the square.
After a morning stroll, we hit the road. This has got to be the prettiest part of Tuscany, with soft hills covered with the vines of famous vineyards. We chose the route that headed south, towards Castelnuovo Bernardenga, but kept going till we arrived at our morning destination: Rapolano Terme.
If you’ve never been to a thermal spa in Italy, go. Please. They are fantastic and you can usually find one somewhere on your route to somewhere else. Near Rome there is Terme dei Papi, and in the Maremma there is Saturnia. (and please chime in below, in the comments, with your own suggestions) This was the first time I’d been to Rapolano, and it was perfect.
If we had had more time we could have called ahead, and ordered up a massage. But we were plenty happy just floating in the 40 C degree water. There are a series of four or five separate pools, each one getting progressively cooler at they move away from the hot source. In theory you’re supposed to limit your soaks to no more than 20 minutes. I guess they are worried about the heat? We stretched out ours to about a half hour, alternating with time spent cooling off on the chaises scattered across the perfectly kept lawn. We also become quite skillful at using our feet to scoop up the pristine white mineral mud that builds up at the bottom of the pools, to apply to our faces.
By the end of our third dip, we were both feeling pretty relaxed. And also pretty hungry. After turning in our fluffy white robes, we were back in the car, heading south. We took the back road, skirting by Val d’Asso, towards Trequanda. This part of Chianti is completely different from what we had seen that morning. The famous crete senese make the landscape seem almost like a moonscape, with the hills rolling past like huge, earth colored waves. Very dramatic.
Why Trequanda? Besides being another one of those insanely gorgeous Tuscan towns, complete with checkerboard fronted church, it’s also home to Il Conte Matto. When I’m in a part of Italy I don’t know so well, I can always trust the Slowfood Osteria d’Italia. And Il Conte Matto has just about every symbol that guide gives: cheese, wine and a snail.
We settled in on the shaded terrace overlooking the countryside we had just driven through, thankful that the tables were spaced far enough apart so that no one discovered that we really did smell rather strongly of the sulpherous waters we had just come out of.
We started with the selezione di prosciutto, which included Grigio del Casentino (aged 24 months) and Riserva Bazzone (aged 20 months, both of which are protected by Slowfood Presidi. ) Unsuprisingly, they were everything you’d want in a slice of long aged prosciutto: tender, piggy, not salty and the fatty parts melting like velvet on you tongue.
The terrina di fegatini di pollo e milza di vitellone al vin santo (terrine of chicken livers and veal spleen with vin santo) was served with caramelized red onions. It was - and I’m not exagerating - chicken liver of the gods.
We stuck to tradition for the primi. I ordered pici alle briciole: fat home made noodles tossed with crunchy, garlicky bread crumbs. Sophie chose eggy tagliatelle smothered in duck ragu.
And yes. We ordered dessert too. Because we had sort of done a few heated laps at Rapolano, and needed to restore our strength. Ricotta Crostata topped with preserved sour cherries. A sweet ending to our perfect Tuscan day.
Palazzo San Niccolo
Via Roma 16
Radda in Chianti
+39 0577 73 5666
Terme San Giovanni
Via Terme San Giovanni 52
+39 0577 724030
Il Conte Matto
Via Taverne 40, Trequanda
+39 0577 662 079