If we polled all the members in the family, without a doubt our favourite place in Italy was Agriturismo Cretaiole, in the Val d’Orcia, Tuscany. Agriturismo is the booming business of “farm stays” in Italy, and Cretaiole was the farm we stayed at for five days. It is owned by the Moricciani family, Luciano, Liliana, their daughter Laura, son Carlo and Carlo’s wife Isabella. None speak any English, except for Isabella, who in fact lived in Toronto for a year and a half. Her English is perfect, delivered in a Hollywood-worthy Italian accent, complete with an additional “a” at the end of each word. (We quite liked it when Isabella pointed to the fields below us in the Val d’Orcia, and told us it was where the scene from the movie Gladiator was shot, where “Russell-a Crow-a was-a caressing the wheat-a.”)
Tuscany is incredibly beautiful and filled with rolling hills that are always ‘photo worthy’. We understand that through a tourist initiative, the farmers have been permitted to allow suites be built on the farms. The result is that you can live on the farm, self sufficient, for as many days as you wish having the ability to cook in your own place. Our apartment was in a typical Tuscan stone building, built in the 1300’s. We had our own kitchen and were able to pick any vegetables we wanted from Luciano’s impressive garden. We told the girls that we were enforcing a “you pick it, you eat it” policy to curtail their enthusiasm for harvesting vast quantities of cabbages. Dave failed to follow his own rule and picked a big pumpkin that he never quite got around to eating.
The Moricciani’s own an historical site close by which was used as a Romitorio, or hermitage, for monks in the Middle Ages. It is also reputed to be built upon a former Etruscan tomb. Isabella gave an impressive tour of the romitorio which unbelievably still contained statues carved from the middle-ages. It was also later used as a hiding place for the locals from Pienza during WWII, when the planes would fly overhead.
Cretaiole is only 4km from Pienza, a Unesco protected Renaissance town where would go for gelato, and we even managed, one evening, to hit the annual “chestnut festival”, which also seems to be a popular thing to celebrate in the south of France. Who knew.
The girls loved the evening where all the guests learned to make the local pasta, “pici” by hand. Everyone, including Didi of course, had a go at it. The pasta-making lesson was followed by a big dinner with Liliana’s ragu on the pici, dishes contributed from all the guests and lots of Chianti, pecorino cheese and olive oil from the farm. Dave committed the mortal Italian sin of mixing his dishes, when he heaped salad on the same plate as the pici. The Moriccianis nearly fell off their seats. “He’s-a putting salad on the pici! Alora!! What is-a he-a doing!!