Honeymooning in Italy, Part 2: San Gimignano

Our first destination was only an hour away from downtown Florence. I had reserved us two spots in a cooking class held in the Tuscan countryside. First we had to find it, which was an adventure in itself.

Even though our contact, Chef Mauro, had sent us detailed directions, it eventually led us down dirt roads, and we ended up lost. We pulled into the parking lot of a charming little agriturismo (farms that host visitors), and asked the proprietors in broken Italian for directions. They were very sweet, but had never heard of the cooking class or the address before. Just when we were about to give up and try to call Mauro, we found the road we had been looking for and pulled into a nondescript driveway. Mauro himself was waiting for us, grinning broadly.

He instantly made us feel at home and welcomed us into the Tuscan house in which we would have our cooking class. Since it was a sunny day, we would be having the class outside on the patio, which suited us just fine. 

This was our cooking set-up.

This was the lovely view of his backyard from our spot at the table.

We accepted a few glasses of wine (at 10AM no less!) and got to meet the other people in our cooking class, which included a pair of middle-aged sisters from the Netherlands and a family of five adults also from the US. Everyone was lovely, and it was nice to meet other travelers. 

Meanwhile, Andrew wrangled up our dinner. 

Just kidding! That's Mauro's pet chicken, Mauritzia. No chickens were harmed during this cooking class!

We learned how to make Tuscan bread, tagliatelle in Tuscan ragu, spinach and ricotta ravioli in a sage butter sauce, and tiramisu. Mauro seamlessly walked us through all the steps in a way that made it easy for us to pull off all those dishes in four hours. Even the most beginner of cooks in our group was able to get through it. 

He showed us how to use the same pasta machine we had received as a wedding gift, which was super exciting. Soon we had oodles and oodles of noodles. 

In between, we had a lot of fun helping each other, drinking wine, and chatting about our travels. Finally, we all sat down for our big pasta lunch. 

All of the food was incredible. It was hard to believe that we had made it all, but it was the best pasta we'd ever had. We made way more pasta than could possibly feed our group of nine, and everyone left the table happily stuffed with pasta and wine. The tiramisu was also incredible, and given my sweet tooth, it was my not-so-secret favorite part of the meal. 

In total, the class lasted almost five hours and cost 95 euros per adult. We chose the early afternoon pasta class just because it worked better with our schedule, but Mauro also offers evening pasta classes as well as classes on how to make other classic Italian dishes. Are there cheaper cooking classes out there? Yes, including many that I had considered in Florence, but we both agreed this class was worth every penny. The expert teaching, leisurely pace, friendly atmosphere, and tranquil rural scenery was incomparable. We still make pasta all the time using the technique Mauro taught us, and considering how pasta is very hard to learn to make from a book, it was money well spent. 

If you're interested in booking a class, go to this website. This is not an ad by the way. We just strongly recommend taking a class with Mauro if you can. When (not if!) we come back, we plan to take more classes here. 

It was very hard to leave at the end of the class, but we said our goodbyes to Mauro and hopped back in our car. San Gimignano, the first Tuscan town on our itinerary, was only 10 minutes away. 

I had walked through San Gimignano with my parents back in 2012 during a Tuscan day trip tour and remember it being so unique and impressive. Unfortunately by the time Andrew and I arrived, it began drizzling intermittently, so our experience was still enjoyable but a little different. 

We found parking just outside the city walls for about 2 euros per hour. Believe it or not, this was the view just from the parking lot. 

The city of San Gimignano is notable for being a very well-preserved medieval walled town and, like many of the other Tuscan towns, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town has been around since the 6th-7th century, and is an incredible piece of living history.

If anything, the rain added to the medieval vibe. It really does feel like being transported to a different time. 

The town is famous for its saffron, which is reflected in its most well-known gelateria, Gelateria Dondoli, and their famous saffron and pine nut gelato. Given how much pasta we had just engorged ourselves with, we were not in the mood for gelato, but next time!

The city is small, and you can easily explore all of it in a couple of hours. There are a number of nice vistas that you can climb up to. 

We ended up in the ruins of an old fortress, the Rocca di Montestaffoli. 

It was a pleasant stroll through the city, just what we needed after a heavy meal. Soon we were getting back in our car and driving towards our lodging for the night. By this point, the sun had come out again, and we were treated to some gorgeous views as we drove. Every bend in the road, I would fall in love with another gorgeous valley. Poor Andrew had to keep his eyes mostly on the road while I was losing it over the views. 

Our plan was to stay at an agriturismo, that is, a farm stay. They are independently owned working farms with accommodations for visitors. Many offer meals using fresh products made on the farm, and many offer amenities and activities such as pools, wine tastings, horseback riding, and cooking classes. They're usually more affordable than staying in hotels in the cities, and you get a more authentic, rustic experience. We stayed at a few different agriturismos as we made our way across Tuscany. They're fairly easy to find, either through Italy's official agriturismo website, or through popular travel websites like booking.com or Tripadvisor. 

We were already planning on stopping by the agriturismo Fattoria Poggio Alloro (only a 10-minute drive from San Gimignano) for a wine tour. On a lark, I emailed them months before our trip and asked if they had any rooms available for the date we would be there. It turns out they did, and we very easily booked a room over email. 

Soon we were pulling into the small parking lot, and oh my gosh, I immediately fell in love with the place. 

Look at the view!

On the right, you can see the city of San Gimignano in the distance. 

Look at the pool!

Look at our room!

Needless to say, we were very happy. We checked in and were immediately offered glasses of their own wine. We sat at a little table on the patio petting their dog and feeling like we were in paradise. 

We took a dip in their pool, which we had all to ourselves. As it had just rained, it was pretty chilly, but it was still a nice break from the humidity of Florence. We then showered and changed for dinner. 

Dinner is an informal but extravagant affair at Fattoria Poggio Alloro. Served every day at 8PM (except Tuesdays), it's an opportunity for travelers to come together at communal tables and enjoy a wealth of fresh produce and meat collected directly from their farm and cooked in their own restaurant. You don't have to reserve a room to enjoy their restaurant, but we liked having the luxury of eating and drinking to our heart's content without having to drive elsewhere after dinner. 

Normally dinner is served in this space overlooking the farm. 

However, there was more rain in the forecast, so dinner was moved inside to this room.

To be honest, we were still not that hungry after the giant pasta lunch we had enjoyed, but we sat down at a table with eight other guests (including two adorable kids!), ready for whatever they chose to bring us for dinner. Each 4-person setting had a bottle of their red wine, white wine, and extra-virgin olive oil. 

Each setting also had a menu/program detailing what was to come, and that's when I realized we were doomed. Just to be clear, this isn't a menu you order off of. This is EVERYTHING that they were going to serve us for the night. 

Then came the onslaught of food. Course after course was brought to our table. We would try to pace ourselves, but ended up eating it all. Then servers would come by and offer us seconds, then thirds. This was death by Italian food. 

We quite liked this fried bread dough, called donzelle fritti. It was simultaneously light, chewy, and crispy. We've never had it before, but we would definitely have it again. This could've easily fed four or five people, but it was given to the two of us (the family of four next to us got their own plate). 

They cured all this meat themselves. It was the best prosciutto and salami we've ever had. Reading their cookbook now, they talk about the labor of slaughtering the pigs, drying the meat, curing it, and letting it age for years. I feel very fortunate to have been able to eat this. Seeing how much we enjoyed the prosciutto, they came by and offered us more. We couldn't resist. 

Some very tasty quiche indeed. We wanted to eat seconds of this but were painfully aware of how full our stomachs were already getting, and we hadn't even gotten to the main course.

A lovely fresh salad with pears and Pecorino. This was much appreciated, as you may have noticed that Tuscans don't seem to eat a lot of vegetables. 

This was the second tagliatelle with beef ragu we had eaten that day. We actually liked the one we made more, not that this wasn't also very good. We were glad the serving size was smaller here. 

Here we have the big Tuscan platter of grilled meat. This seemed to be a pork chop, sausage, and ribs. It was delicious, all charred and tender (heavy on the salt, but I'm reading that this is typical of Tuscan food). We enjoyed it but could only eat half.

Tasty side dishes!

Just when we thought we couldn't eat any more...

Andrew is not a fan of chocolate mousse, and neither of us are fans of cantucci, but these were still nice. 

They offered us grappa, limoncello, and coffee, but we don't drink any of these, so we declined. Perhaps the coffee would have been necessary after all of this food, but it was also nearing 11 at this point, which I guess is what happens when you start a long multi-course dinner at 8PM. 

Dinner was 64 euros for the two of us, which is more than reasonable considering the amount of food they served. I can't imagine doing this every night, but this is something you must experience at least once while in Tuscany. On Saturdays, they do a special Florentine steak dinner for 39 euros per person, which I imagine is amazing. 

After dinner, we walked around the grounds again, which were super quiet--another benefit of staying at an agriturismo, before falling into a nice peaceful slumber. 

The next morning, we went to breakfast, which was an assortment of tarts and breads, in the same dining room. Breakfast is included in the price of lodging. 

We had reserved two spots for a tour of the farm followed by a wine tasting. The tour was very interesting. We hadn't realized how large the farm was. Our tour guide was a young and enthusiastic employee of several years. 

Rows and rows of grape trees with a sentinel plant in the front. When pests come to attack grape trees, they attack the sentinel plant first, which allows the farmers to act quickly before the grapes trees are destroyed. 

Why do calves have to be so cute?

We also got to see their wine cellars and learn about the barrel ageing process, which I didn't take pictures of. 

Afterwards, we could've stayed for the wine tasting, but the tour took longer than we thought, and we wanted to allow ample time for exploring Siena. I'm sure the wine tasting is great, and we really enjoyed all the wine we had here during our meals. Next time we come, we would love to do that as well as a cooking class, which they did not happen to offer on the day that we were there. 

We were sad to leave Fattoria Poggio Alloro. It's a gorgeous farm with a great restaurant, and we would gladly come back. One thing to note is that it's a bigger operation than many other agriturismos in Tuscany and has more of a commercialized feel. Be prepared to encounter buses of food and wine tour groups during the day, though they did clear out at night. We didn't mind, since we spent the day exploring San Gimignano anyway. I've since bought their cookbook and have an even greater appreciation for what they're doing for their community and the Italian tradition. 

Our room was clean and comfortable. For 97 euros per night including breakfast, it's very reasonable. We were glad that we had chosen to stay here rather than a hotel in San Gimignano or Siena. If you're interested in staying here too, I recommend contacting them here

I meant to cover more days in this post, but given how long it already is, I guess I'll stop here for today. 

To read my next post about Siena, click here

To see my previous post about Florence, click here

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