Saturday, July 17, 2010

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.

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