Italy: San Gimignano and the hilltop towns

One afternoon my mother and I walked down the dusty road that scrolled past our house to unleash a million little discoveries. We were in the middle of San Gimignano, in the middle of of Sienna, in the middle of Tuscany, in the middle of the beautiful boot-shaped country. Every five minutes, there was the surprise of foreign flowers, a house that looked a little forlorn, or a new streak of vines on the horizon. There was a wave of newborn puppies, and row after row of black grapes. The sky rolled like a cerulean snowglobe. I've never felt so small. 

In addition to the silence of the wine country wilderness, there was such an abundance of life in the surrounding towns! During the day, the streets were filled with tourists and backpackers, but at night, the locals and their children came out for twilight pizzas and gossip.  Most of these towns were walled medieval villages. The thing about these hilltop towns: they were built before cars, so the streets force you to use your feet. We used them a lot. 

There were some days when my family (I was traveling with my brother, father, mother, uncle, and aunt), and I would wake early, scarf down some yogurt and apricots, and then head into one of the surrounding towns or villages. We also took a trip into Florence to see David, because we'd have failed as tourists had we not.  Aaron and I were our own that night, and took the opportunity to eat less-than-rare filet (a great thing) and sleep in a 14th century monastery (the beds had since been updated). 

But then there were the afternoons we'd simply be. We'd maybe go for a wine tasting, or head to the market to pick up more cheese (the buffalo mozzarella GOD) and bread, and then drive back home with one hand out the window and both feet on the dash. Back at home, we'd snack on cold eggplant, drink wine, and read before we either A) got hungry for dinner B) got drunk or C) got drunk and hungry for dinner.  It was like "Under the Tuscan Sun," except none of us were divorced or Diane Lane. 

And as you can see, I took a lot of pictures, which was new and fun for me. I like to see the surprises when I look through them later on, like "holy crap, that old Italian man was wearing a white suit and eating pink gelato --- HOW CUTE!" But  there were also times when I wanted to through my camera out the window and ease through the country clunk-free. I did this a lot too. 

A region of sweet red nectar, stonefruit and cream, and the whistle of spinning bike wheels, Tuscany is a place for the dreamers and eaters. You sleep on pillows of ravioli and lean out the windows to breathe in the same air exhaled by dizzily-infatuated Italian lovers, dragging bread across white plates of olive oil, and finally understanding of Bella Notte. 


We stayed in San Gimignano, which is located about an hour away from Florence in the Siena region. Here are some of the places we visited and loved. 

Volterra // Located at the tippy-top of a mountain, Volterra is where you can witness the creation of alabaster knick-knacks and get one of the best views of the Tuscan countryside. For a casual wine tasting with a wild waitstaff, go to La Vena Di Vino. The "tastes" are more like glasses, and it costs 15 euro for five wines. Bras dangle from the ceiling and they play Hozier and Amy Winehouse. 

Florence // The Accademia! The Uffizi! Go to both these things. Also go to Trattoria di Tito for amazing steak, eggplant caprese, and free shots of limoncello to top of the meal. But make a reservation, because it gets elbow-bumpin' and grindin' in this joint. 

Siena // Perfect for twilight strolls, Sienna is known for the Palio horse race and it's numerous confectionary creations. Be sure to find a place (it won't be hard) with Ricciarelli cookies, one of Sienna's specialties. They are adorable, diamond-shaped macaroons, made from almond paste and honey, with the texture of a buttery cloud. You eat them with wine, not milk, which is such a combination of fun and classy that I could explode. 

San Gimignano // Our home! So much Chianti wine! Also location of the 2006-2009 GELATO WORLD CHAMPION, aka Gelateria Dondoli. The best advice I can give is to simply stroll the city; you will likely stumble upon accordion players, free wine tastings, and secret stairwells. Also, the risotto from San Martino 26 deserves a hefty pat on the back. If you are a white wine fan, San Gimignano is known for their Vernaccia. Its crisp and honeysuckle-y and perfect for day drinks and summer skips. 


Eat, drink andddd ....

- Stay cozy 

 

"Yeah, go ahead and throw it in there" bruschetta chips

Italians, I have learned, like to eat.

It is not ambiguous as to why; food is great. Even better when enjoyed in the company of friends, lovers, or extended family members over a stone table as you paddle back in forth from pool to kitchen for more sun and more sangiovese. Dining is an experience, one as sacred as a Sunday Mass, but without the pesky limitations of a dixie cup of wine. 

Last night provided tangible proof of such a mindset.  Aaron and I spent the evening in Florence and had our dinner at a local place recommended to us by my friend Sergio. The place, called Trattoria Da Tito and located a convenient block way, is "good for the young people and good for the meats," or at least that's how Sergio described it. Not only do the Italians at Tito's enjoy a solid meal; they provide a vibe and energy that fuses into one magnificent, pomodoro-scented "experience." We were greeted with a hearty, "CIAO" and then a fat jug of a super tuscan, followed by three courses of utter euphoria, and then a liquid dessert of limoncello. The space between each course was timed perfectly, so that we were never hungry or overcrowded with plates (which illustrated profound consideration for the diner). At midnight, our waiter turned 26, and he rode through the restaurant on a bicycle and asked us to partake in more shot-taking. Um, duh. 

Besides, waste is frowned upon. Which is why I most recently prepared a snack using an amalgamation of leftovers found in our cucina. 

I made these "bruschetta chips" a few days ago, on the afternoon of our first full day in San Gimignano. The night before we had been searching for a grocery store, navigating our u-haul-sized Fiat through the mockingly narrow streets, and finding only small markets that sold small things. We were tired, expressing common familial frustration, and the place sold wine and bread and cheese and a few vegetables. Just fine. My mother is a wonderful chef, and she and my aunt were able to combine these beautiful babies to create a heavenly, Tuscan pasta dish. 

The next day, the grownups took a trip to the actual grocery store (a mere 20 minutes away!), and I rummaged through the leftovers to make them something yummy. There were fresh tomatoes of the roma and cherry variety, diced red onions, black olives, and parmesan cheese. The owners of our home had gifted us a bag of toasted bread wedges, that depicted a bland exterior, but were actually very good. Bruschetta was soooo possible. 

And so with a juice glass of grenache and dripping pool water on the kitchen floor, I chopped and tossed and stirred and made one of the easiest things in the world: bruschetta dip! The juicies from the tomatoes and olive oil create a lovely pool at the bottom of the bowl, perfect for soaking into crunchy bits of bread and filling them with the smooth tang of earth and acid. It's romantic and sexy and I want to feed bites of it to my nearest and dearest. 

I recommend it on a day where you can do nothing but read and eat, preferably in a bathing suit or something just as playful. It pairs well with a dry rosé. 

"Yeah, go ahead and throw it in there" bruschetta chips

Chop the tomatoes into tiny squares (depending on desired chunkiness) and add to a medium-sized bowl. Chop up any of your mediterranean fixins and add the the bowl, along with the onions. Chiffonade (or finely chop) the basil and toss that guy in there. Add the balsamic, olive oil, sea salt, and pepper to taste. Shred the parmesan over the bruschetta and stir. Taste. Add more. Add whatever. Go out into the garden. You've got this. 

Serve with wedges of crusty, toasted bread. I like to break the bread into small bits, because I find it fun to consume this dish in a "chips and salsa" fashion. 

 

 

 

1 lb of cherry tomatoes

4-5 roma tomatoes

1/2 cup red onion

anything mediterranean that you've got (sundried tomatoes, capers, olives)

basil , 

balsamic 

olive oil  

coarse sea salt

pepper 

parmesan cheese

toasted baguette pieces (for serving)

- Stay cozy!