Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tahiti Trip May 2011 - Four Seasons Bora Bora

Continuing my series of previously unpublished posts from our Tahiti trip in 2011, this time Bora Bora!  (Note: in 2014 we returned to this resort, and a few things had changed, but my observations are still pretty much the way things are there today...)

Welcome back to 2011:

After 4 beautiful days at Vahine Island, we were sad to say goodbye, but were excited to move on to the Four Seasons for 5 nights!

It's only a 10 minute flight to Bora Bora from Taha'a. The Four Seasons has a real red carpet welcome (as you'd expect). We were greeted by a very friendly employee who oversaw our luggage and took us to a beautiful yacht. White leather seats and polished wood paneling. The boat ride lasted around 30 minutes, we were given cold bottled water and towels, and completely processed our check-in, right there on the white leather. Convenient!
view from bungalow deck

Our Four Seasons home was one of the most beautiful overwater bungalow we have ever seen, and definitely the biggest. Picture a separate living area with armchairs and a couch, a curiously segmented bathroom spanning the depth of the bungalow, and a bedroom with what Carrie swears was the most comfortable bed ever! The best part of the bungalow, though, was the deck. Stretching from one end of the bungalow to the other, it had enough room for two seating areas (one centered around a dining table, and the other a pair of lounge chairs), and an incredible view of the mountain). Three sets of sliding glass doors, including one set above the giant bathtub. It felt like you were taking a bath in the great outdoors, which, well, you kind of WERE. It was heaven!

tropical drink sampler at the Sunset Bar
In keeping with the accommodations, the rest of the Four Seasons is huge. We stayed in the 200s, an arm of bungalow docks which was closer to the restaurants and other guest areas. If you stay in the 300s or 400s, the walk is pretty long to the main areas (but this being the Four Seasons, there's a small army of golf carts at the ready to ferry your soft tourist butt around!). We ate at all three of the resort's restaurants, the gourmet one for dinner one night, the Sunset Bar for sushi one night (plus drinks at sunset, natch), and the main restaurant, for breakfast and lunch. We also ate room service breakfast and lunch a couple of times. None of the meals at the resort, sadly, were that memorable, considering the real estate given over to food! The best meal was probably the gourmet restaurant, where everything was good, but so expensive you really had to start thinking about value. I know, it's the Four Seasons. Whaddayagonnado.

We also had three dinners off the island, Bloody Mary's (probably our favorite restaurant on Bora Bora), Villa Mahana (very good food in a tranquil Italian-ish courtyard, though dazzlingly expensive), and Lagoon restaurant at the St. Regis (also very good, but also overpriced, we thought).
"menu" at Bloody Mary's

At Bloody Mary's we started with a tuna sashimi and a pair of excellent egg rolls, then for entrees, I selected an albacore in a mesquite sauce and mahi mahi with a glaze, and Steve got a simply grilled parrot fish. All of this was delicious, but the albacore with mesquite sauce was something special. Maybe it's the mesquite, but the meaty flavor just explodes in your mouth. Very unusual for Tahitian fare, which tends to be so much more restrained and French! We ended it with a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. The meal, as well as the funky decor, the "menu" (the smorgasbord of raw fish that you point at to order when you walk in), and the ability to feel the sand between your toes while eating, made this one of the most memorable meals of the trip.

Our second favorite on Bora Bora was Villa Mahana. The restaurant is simply lovely. We sat in a beautiful courtyard of what looked like a candlelit Italian villa. We did the epicurean prix-fixe menu, which consisted of a shrimp salad with caviar (just ok), foie gras that had an amazing flavor, but which was a little undercooked, a lobster risotto which was amazingly creamy, and a huge filet with parmesan gnocchi (which was also good, but by then I was so full I couldn't really enjoy it). We ended our meal with one of the best desserts on the trip, another warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. With our meal we enjoyed our only Italian wine of the trip, a Villa Borghetti 2005 Amarone, which was excellent, especially with the last two courses. The two epicurean tasting meals were 250 euro, so with wine and bottled water it was around 350 euro, or a little over $500 US. While this is not the most expensive meal we've ever had, its up there, and usually when we spend that much for dinner, we love the meal itself a lot more. But I've been dying to try this place for forever, so I'm glad I was able to come here and have the experience. If I went to Bora Bora again (which I don't know if I will, it's a little too touristy for me), we'd go back to Villa Mahana and order off the a la carte menu.
table with a view!

We only did one daytime excursion off the island, a private motu picnic/ snorkeling excursion with Keishi Tours, led by a Tahitian skipper/chef named Pierrot. Pierrot picked us up in his beautiful outrigger. We circled about half way around the island and stopped at a spot out at the edge of the lagoon near the breaking waves of the reef. Our old friends, the black-tipped reef sharks, showed almost immediately, even before Pierrot began tossing them their lunch (of raw mahi-mahi)! Pierrot petted them for a while, and then we got in the water with them and the biggest stingrays I have ever seen. The rays came up to us right away (they are always so affectionate, like cats!) along with dozens of bright yellow butterfly fish. Next stop, the coral garden near the Sofitel. The water was very choppy, the winds were high out there, so although the snorkeling was good, it's just not as fun when you're getting tossed around and disoriented in the water! After we got back in, Pierrot took us to a deserted motu with the absolute calmest water we had seen on the trip so far, and with a monumental view of the mountain. We went for a walk along the empty beach, and when we got back to the boat, Pierrot had set up a table with white tablecloth and chairs in the water. Complete with flowers, an ice bucket with champagne, and a large green umbrella providing us just the perfect amount of shade. After we sat down, the great feast began! First course was a salad of lettuce, tomatoes and ham, and the best poisson cru of the entire trip, made right there by Pierrot. While we ate that, Pierrot put the finishing touches on our second course of grilled lobster tail, shrimp kabob and baked potato, all glazed with his delicious homemade bbq sauce. A third course of steak and mahi-mahi followed shortly thereafter, and we finished with fresh pineapple and watermelon slices. A lunch fit for a king, in the water on the beach! Near the end of the meal, Pierrot provided us with some musical entertainment, singing a few Tahitian songs while playing the ukelele. We finished the entire bottle of champagne, then Pierrot talked my husband into a Hinano (when you're asked three times and your host cracks one open, you join him). It was the most perfect day of our trip, and probably the best food! It was expensive, but to us, so worth it.

On our last full day in Bora Bora, we did a couples massage and coconut bath in the Kahaia Suite, which was beautiful and relaxing, and then joined a group of others at the internal lagoon for a tour with the resort's own marine biologist. I would definitely recommend showing up for this complimentary tour. The marine biologist, Oliver, speaks perfect English, and the tour is very informative and entertaining. We'd swum in the lagoon, but never knew there was a squid in there, for example. It helps to have a tour guide!

All in all, we liked our time on Bora Bora, and I'm glad we finally made time to go there. The colors of the lagoon are amazing, and the mountain is beautiful. But, having seen two resorts, the St. Regis and Four Seasons, the resorts do not feel Polynesian at all, and I felt like I could be in Hawaii (if not Los Angeles!). However, the Four Seasons' service was on par with the best of the places we have stayed. For example, we got back from breakfast on our last day, and I noticed that my bathing suit top that I had put on the deck railing to dry had blown away. I called the front desk to ask if anyone found it in the lagoon. They said they would check and get back to me. We went to the front desk about half an hour later to get a copy of our bill before check out, and I asked again about the suit, figuring it was a lost cause. The receptionist said she would call someone and check. Well, we were walking on the dock back to our bungalow and two Four Seasons employees on jet skis came riding up to us from below, and I saw one of them had my swimsuit top! He gestured to meet him on our deck, so we raced inside our bungalow and ran down to the lower deck so he could hand me back my top. He said they found it pretty far from the resort, floating away. Coincidence, sure, but a personal jet ski lost-and-found delivery service? Priceless….

Tahiti Trip May 2011 - Vahine Island

You know how, well... life intervenes and interests change and blogs were made to be abandoned?  Yeah, that happened here.  But here's the funny part!  I found some old friends hidden in the closet!  Old reviews from Tahiti I never posted..... all the waaaaaay back in 2011!  Since it's a shame to waste the work, here's what I wrote about Vahine Island back then!  (Note: in 2013 we went back to Vahine Island and some things had of course changed, but that'll have to wait for another post!  Hopefully less than three years from now!!)

Meanwhile, welcome back to 2011:

We just returned from 15 nights in French Polynesia! This was my 5th time visiting this country, and my husband's 4th! (Yeah, we like it there.) We visited 3 islands, and stayed at 4 different resorts (three of which we hadn't been to before). We came back tan (well, I did anyway, my husband avoided it), happy and very relaxed, and are already planning our return for two years from now!

Our first stop was a small resort of only 9 bungalows off the island of Taha'a called Vahine Island Resort. We stayed for 4 nights in an overwater bungalow which showcased a beautiful view of Bora Bora in the distance. The bungalow was nicely appointed, with a king sized bed, glass coffee table with hinges to open to the water, and a huge deck with two sets of chairs (one set under the roof and one out in the sun), and a ladder so you could join the fish...
ours was the one on the left

Besides the bungalows for the guests, there was a restaurant bungalow where we ate breakfast and dinner (with lunch on the palm-lined beach outside), and a two-walled clubhouse bungalow where you could sit on couches and enjoy a drink from the bar.

The rest of the island was beautiful. Lush grass that looked like a golf course, studded with palm trees. The ocean side of the island, all coral and volcanic rock, was similar to the "lunar landscape" we saw at Raimiti in Fakarava. This was were the best coral was. Snorkeling was amazing. A 5 foot black tip reef shark was a thrilling highlight, probably twenty feet away from us. We had been in the water with them before, but only on guided tours, so this was both exciting and a little nerve-wracking. We know that that species is widely considered non-threatening to humans, but.. they're sharks, after all! We snorkeled every day, and it turned out that this was probably the best snorkeling of the entire trip.

love this yogurt!
Vahine Island had a mandatory meal plan that included a bountiful breakfast and a three course dinner. Breakfast consisted of a big basket of breads and croissants, several homemade jams, fruit, eggs any style, and best of all, the most amazing homemade vanilla yogurt! Near the end of breakfast each day, the server would come over to take our dinner order from a scrolled printed menu tied up with raffia. Most dinners included a chef's amuse-bouche, a salad option, a meat or fish option and a dessert. Our favorites were an excellent mahi mahi prepared with vanilla sauce and a coconut cake with a pot of melted chocolate. Bruno, the chef-owner, does a great job with the meals.

Lunch, not included in the meal plan, sports a diverse menu. We usually stuck with one of several preparations of local fish, a very good poisson cru (a Tahitian staple of ahi tuna cooked in lime juice with coconut milk), or a burger and fries. Our favorite meal, though, was definitely off the menu. Another guest asked us to join his table with his family of four, including two young children. It seems he had just that morning caught 3 barracuda, and needed some help eating it all! The chef did a terrific job with the fish, serving them whole with a soy glaze and sauteed shallots. It was one of the best and most memorable meals of the trip. Not every day you get fresh barracuda... and for free...

We didn't do many excursions on Vahine, but we did enjoy an island tour of Taha'a, visiting a vanilla plantation and a pearl farm, and another more adventurous afternoon taking a small motor boat to a nearby motu to snorkel. It was not so pleasant, sadly, since the boat was a little harder to operate with than we'd thought it would be. Tough to keep it from stalling, and tougher to keep the blades from scraping the coral below. It was like floating through a maze whose walls you can't really see... Also, I put our little compact camera in its underwater case wrong, and... well, water got in and killed it. Oh well, it was definitely an adventure!

Since there were never more than 12 or 14 people on the island at at time, one of the nice things about such a small resort, we ended up talking to most of the other guests at one point or another. One of the other couples lives about 10 miles from us back in LA, and in talking to them we found out we had a lot in common, not least of which was our next resort, the Four Seasons in Bora Bora! We had dinner with them one night at Vahine Island, then they followed us over to the Four Seasons a few days later.

Back after a Long Break! Quick Boston Trip.

After a long hiatus, I wanted to get back into posting about travel, restaurants and other fun things. I thought I would start with my recent trip to Boston. I was there mostly for a work conference, but was able to try out three impressive restaurants. First was Deuxave, a new-ish restaurant not far from Fenway Park, at the corner of Mass Ave and Commonwealth Ave. The room is swanky and beautiful, but still warm and inviting, and the service was perfect. I have to say, for a restaurant that nice, I thought the wine list was pretty well priced. We stuck to French wines, a Sancerre and then a Burgundy from Cote de Nuits. The stand out dishes were the seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras (being from California where this delicious item is banned, I order it as much as possible when I travel), and the Fall Harvest Trio of Pork.

The next restaurant that we tried on this trip was Petit Robert Bistro in Kenmore Square. The restaurant is cozy and narrow, but very welcoming. The menu was quite varied but we stuck to classic bistro dishes, and were so glad we did. The french onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and tarte tatin were all excellent examples of what these favorites should be. I was very impressed with the deep luscious sauces, incredible flavor, and excellent technique that was evident in every dish. The wine list, as well as the menu prices for the food, was so reasonable. This place would be my weekly date night place if I lived in the neighborhood, no question.

The last place we tried of note was a brand new restaurant called Bastille Kitchen in the Fort Point neighborhood. It was an easy walk for me from my hotel near the Children's Museum to get to this very cute neighborhood. The restaurant was on a quiet side street, just past a small bridge that you walk under where the underside of the bridge is lit up with thousands of tiny blue lights (see picture below). What a nice surprise while walking to dinner! The restaurant is meant to look like a old brick warehouse, and the effect is quite good. We had drinks in the bar to start, and the cocktails are interesting. I think my drink was called St. Germaine and it was excellent.
Since I was there with 10 people, we had a private room with a set menu. The host of the dinner asked me to pick the wine, which I was happy to do. We did a few bottles of Sancerre to start, a Burgundy from Pommard, and then a magnum of an incredible Chateauneuf du Pape that was recommended to me by our very friendly and efficient server. The menu had two options for a starter (beet salad or lobster bisque; I got the bisque which was very tasty), three options for an entree (salmon, chicken or beef short rib wellington; I got the wellington, which was incredible, especially the sauce) and two options for dessert (apple tarte tatin or chocolate mousse tart; I got the apple, but was so stuffed I only had a few very delicious bites). The host also had them bring us several servings of their ghnocci a la parisienne along with our soup or salad, which was the star of the night. Seriously, this dish was so amazingly good, I couldn't stop eating it (hence my inability to eat very much of my dessert later)! It is a close call, but I have to say Bastille Kitchen was the best meal of the trip. If I only have one night in Boston in the future, this is where I would go. Especially so I can try more things from the regular menu!

One final note, but not about food. We haven't stayed very many places in Boston over the 5 or 6 times we have been there in the last 10 years or so, mostly because we absolutely love the Boston Harbor Hotel. Yes, it is pretty pricy, but the level of service, the beautiful rooms and comfort level of all of the public spaces as well as the guests rooms, make us return again and again. We tried another hotel just down the street from the Boston Harbor hotel this time because I was there for a work conference and the hotel we stayed at had a conference rate. I figured since I wasn't paying, I couldn't justify the additional cost of going to the Boston Harbor again. That was a mistake. From the moment we arrived at the other hotel, we regretted not going with our favorite place. Next time, I would just book the Boston Harbor and pay the difference!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Italy Trip Day 16 - Rome

We began our only full day in Rome with breakfast at the Hassler, which is included with the room when you stay at Il Palazzetto. The Hassler is pretty fancy, and the service inattentive, bordering on snobbish, a big change after all the enthusiastic service throughout Umbria and Tuscany, but breakfast itself was fine. The idea was to not walk very much because of Steve's leg injury. We found though, that it was just easier to walk around than to worry about cabs, so we visited the Trevi fountain and the Colosseum on foot. For lunch we went to Enoteca Antica, near our hotel, a small casual place with outdoor seating. We shared a simple lunch of gnocchi with tomato sauce, pizza with prociutto, egg and olives, and a couple of glasses of Vino Nobile.

Then we made the mistake of trying to print out our boarding passes!

We had asked the front desk at the Palazzetto how to get our boarding passes printed, and she said to go to the Hassler's concierge, and he would print them for us. Not so, as all he could do, apparently, was point us to the main desk to ask for a key to the business center. The "business center" turned out to be a closet with two computers and a printer, which, we discovered upon trying to print, was out of black ink! After first calling back down to the front desk, then Steve actually GOING back to the front desk, they told us in their perfect English that a technician would be coming by to resolve the issue. The man they sent, though, spoke no English, and was NOT a technician of any sort we could determine. He spent some considerable time randomly clicking around in Windows, as if to discover the root of our problem, while the print queue (and the printer itself) flashed the answer at him in his own language! Sadly, we didn't know how to say "black ink cartridge" in any way that made sense to him, so we went BACK to the front desk, where THEY were unable to print out our boarding passes, because, on the airline's website, it thought they'd already been printed!!! We walked away with no boarding passes. It was very frustrating, and between the indifferent attitude and the incompetence, we will not stay there again.

(As far as we know, the legendary Hassler Hotel, favored stay for world leaders and movie stars, at the top of the Spanish Stairs since the 1800s, still has no black ink in their printer. Good luck.)

We hung out in the room for the later part of the afternoon before heading out to find La Tavernetta, a restaurant I had read about on Chowhound. It was in a little alley off a piazza not far from the Pantheon, and was very pretty. We sat at one of the outdoor tables and feasted on a starter of different crostini, radicchio risotto, then whole branzino with potatoes for me (picture below), and gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce (pictured above left) and then steak for Steve, our last bottle of Vino Nobile of the trip, and then tiramisu. This was an amazing meal from start to finish, and a great way to end our culinary adventure through Italy.

Italy Trip Day 15 - Hospital, Cetona & Rome

We were sad to leave La Bandita, but we knew it had to happen eventually! We spent the morning packing up, at which point we realized we really needed to buy another piece of luggage to get all the stuff we bought home. We did what we could with what we had, stuffed everything into the car, paid our bill, then decided to take one last look around the property to make sure we had pictures of everything.

It was at my urging that Steve dropped into the drained jacuzzi pool next to the swimming pool, neither of which were open for the season yet. We spotted a little frog at the bottom of it and realized that it wasn't going to survive the heat of the day! So Steve rescued the frog, but on his way back out met with an unfortunate accident! His leg was torn open, a hole slightly smaller than a dime, and pretty bloody!

The good part about taking language lessons is, if you ever end up in an emergency room in Montepulciano, you have a shot at communicating with the doctor! We found our brush with the Italian health care system to be just about as easy as you could imagine, even though nobody spoke ANY English! Getting to the triage station, waiting for the doctor, getting stitches and walking out? One hour. And Steve asked if he could pay, and they said no! Obama-care, eat your heart out!

After our amazingly quick and free trip to the emergency room, we were on our way to Rome. We stopped in Cetona for lunch, since I'd heard that Osteria Vecchia was not to be missed. I'm glad we made time to stop here, as the food was very delicious. We shared another lovely Tuscan crostini platter, then I had the pici with spicy tomato sauce (simple but perfect) and Steve had the tagliatelle with a flavorful meat sauce (picture below). We shared a half bottle of Brunello, as well.

After this tasty pit stop we were back on the road, and then the rain started again, and it was raining much harder than it had at the beginning of our trip. We hit traffic on the ring road outside Rome, so it took us what seemed like forever to get back to the airport. Check-in for the rental car was a breeze though (thanks again to the detailed article on Slow Travel). Once we returned the car, we went down to arrivals to wait for our ride, and since we knew we had at least 1/2 hour, I stayed with the luggage while Steve shopped for first aid stuff at the pharmacy for his injury, and bought us a new piece of luggage for all our extra stuff.

Our car service driver finally arrived, and we were on our way to Rome in rush hour traffic. I was afraid we would miss our reservation at Sangallo, so I called the hotel's concierge, and he was able to push our reservation back a half an hour. We finally arrived at the Hassler Hotel, which is where you have to check in if you stay at their sister property, Il Palazzetto, a small 4-room inn just down the Spanish Steps from the Hassler. Check-in was smooth, and we were shown Room 1, a nice sized room with a view overlooking the Spanish Steps (staircase to the rooms below). The becolumned decor was luxurious, featuring a spacious armoire stuffed with amenities at the foot of the enormous and comfortable bed, big bathtub and separate glass-doored shower.

We threw down our stuff, got changed and ran out to get a cab to Sangallo.

This restaurant had been recommended by a friend of mine, and it was fabulous. Since it was our 5-year anniversary, we decided to be decadent and do the tasting menu with wine pairing. The menu consisted of 8 delicious courses and EXTREMELY generous pours of each paired wine. An amuse-bouche was a small plate of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and eggplant. Next came prawns wrapped in phyllo strings with a fruit sauce, then buffalo carpaccio with truffles, ravioli with asparagus and mozzarella, tagliatelle with porcini sauce, swordfish with chickpeas and potatoes, buffalo steak with artichoke and spinach, and finally for dessert, an excellent tiramisu. Every dish was beautifully prepared and presented, and the service was top notch. We will definitely return. Our only regret was that we actually kept on drinking what they kept on POURING, so we had to stay up for a while after we got back to the hotel so we didn't get the spins! It's been a while since I've been that drunk!

Itay Trip - Day 14 - Montalcino

We spent our last full day in Tuscany in Montalcino, home of the mighty Brunello wine. We toured the high-walled fortress on the edge of town, and tried wines in the tasting room at the bottom of the castle. The wines were really good, but this place is packed with tourists, and we suspected that the wines were overpriced, based on the prices of Brunellos we had seen in the past week (the suspicion was borne out, as the same wines sold much cheaper down the street!). We only bought one bottle here, which seemed to really disappoint the people who worked there (they were a bit pushy trying to get us to buy a case to ship home). We then spent the rest of the morning exploring the town, which was pretty, but maybe not as quaint or picturesque as Montepulciano.

The restaurant for lunch, Osteria Osticcio, was a recommendation of Francesca at La Bandita. As always, Francesca had called ahead to make sure we got one of the best tables, which was along the back wall of the restaurant with picture windows and a magnificent view to the valley below. The restaurant was part of an enoteca (wine shop), so wines by the glass was a very big thing here. We had 5 glasses of different Brunellos between the two of us, and it was tough to pick a favorite! The food also did not disappoint. We started with a cheese and cured meat plate (we never get tired of the pecorino cheeses in Tuscany!), and then we moved on to fresh torn pasta sheets with an asparagus sauce for me, and pici with tomatoes and bacon for Steve (pictured above). We then walked down the hill toward the entrance of town and stopped in at a cute gelato place. After our daily gelato fix, we went back to relax before our last dinner with the other guests at La Bandita (view from pigsty below).

This night, every room was occupied, and everyone decided to stay for dinner, so there were 16 of us again. We sat next to a fun couple from New York, who were probably in their 50s (we are in our mid to late 30s), and at one point they asked our advice about something, describing us as the only other "adults" at the table. I hadn't noticed before, but she was kind of right. The guests at La Bandita had shifted to a younger group by the end of our stay (I'd say most other guests at this point were in their 20s). When we got there, most of the guests were in their late 30s or 40s. It was a little sad to be considered part of the older crowd! Oh well.

Dinner that night was also fantastic! One of the guests who had eaten with us the night Steve and I did the cooking class loved the scallop dish so much that he'd asked David to add it to the menu again so that he could see how it was made. So we started with that dish, which was just as great as the first time, then moved on to clams with pasta (which was good but messy). For the main course we had salmon, which was expertly cooked and delicious, and for dessert, a lemon tart. We opened the brunello we had bought earlier that day for dinner, which was perfect with the meal, if a little young.

Italy Trip Day 13 - Bagni San Filippo & La Foce

Based on a recommendation from Simone, we went to the small sleepy town of Bagni San Filippo, another town with thermal hot springs near Pienza. Locals use it as a little day trip getaway. Wooded trails wind down and around a hillside, crossing and mingling with spring-fed streams that cascade downhill and create pools ideal for wading or lounging in. The water stayed mostly cool, so the heat dissipates at some point, but the tranquility and beauty make it a popular destination (seemingly ONLY for locals, we didn't see any tourists here). The big surprise of the area met us down the hill a ways.

Apparently, the water's calcium and other minerals combine over time to create what can only be described as an astonishing white mountain of mineral-made rock! Water trickles down and over this towering creation while Italians in bathing suits (at left) climb up it a hundred feet in the air to lay out in the sun and relax in its jacuzzi-size pools of collected water. Just an amazing sight.

After a little wading in the spring water, we had lunch at Lo Spugnoni, a rustic bistro in the center of this tiny town. We sat at an outdoor table under a huge umbrella and enjoyed half liter of wine and a massive antipasti of cheese with local honey and liver crostini. Both were excellent. We then moved on to handmade pasta with tomato and sausage, classically simple in that Tuscan way, and onion soup, which was delicious.

After lunch we went to La Foce, an estate near La Bandita made famous by Iris Origio's published diary titled "The War in Val d'Orcia" which chronicled her family's experiences during the end of World War II. The estate is beautiful, and there are garden tours offered to the public every Wednesday. We definitely chose the wrong time to go, as there were probably about 40-50 people in our English speaking group, and probably another 40 Italians in the group that started their tour 5 minutes before us, so it was maybe a bit too crowded to fully enjoy the experience. The best part was that from the estate we realized we could see the very same winding dirt road (strada bianca) we take up to La Bandita, which from this vantage point appears as perfect as a Tuscan oil painting, a zig zag studded with cypress trees, a bright white stripe against the lush green hillside (pictured below). Until this moment, we didn't really have an appreciation for the beauty of our road, we only knew it as a bumpy pain in the butt!

After our tour of the gardens, we went back to La Bandita to enjoy the patio yet again. We really loved just hanging out here, the views, the breeze, and the occasional sheep bell would relax anyone! Before we knew it, it was time to head down the hill for our last non-La Bandita dinner in Tuscany. Fortunately, as it happens, we saved one of the best for last! Il Rossellino is a tiny restaurant off the main street in Pienza. It has 6 tables, and is run by a cute older couple. The husband speaks more English than the wife, but that isn't saying much, so we got to practice our Italian here. The room is cozy and romantic and for most of our meal there was only one other table occupied.

We had a delicious and gourmet meal of a delicate asparagus souffle to start, wild boar pici for me (one of the best versions of this dish of the whole trip!) and stuffed gnocchi with a truffle cream sauce for Steve (very filling and rich, but tasty, pictured to the right). For our secondi, pork with vin santo sauce for me (one of the absolute best meat dishes of the trip, the sauce was wonderful) and steak for Steve, which was very tender. This all paired very well with a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and the owner/chef/waiter amused us by fastening the cork to the lip of the wine bottle using a strip of the foil! We'd never seen that trick before, and had to take pictures. We're such tourists. We shared a fine chocolate souffle for dessert with a glass of dessert wine.