By Bryan S. Smith - for Freed’Amour Travel
Travel plans of savvy adventurers include Italy. The fashionable destination is and has been Tuscany. Tourists are flocking to Tuscany cooking schools. Many of these so-called ‘authentic’ Tuscan experiences are created around luxurious travel packages. They offer beautiful settings in the northern Chianti region. Lots of cooking courses take place in hotels or villas and are a return to dormitory-style accommodations and sterile institutional cooking. Imagine that, Italians practicing capitalism.
The southern region of Tuscany is authentically tucked away from the ‘glamour’ of its northern namesake. It protects a rich Etruscan history, considered to be the cradle of the Renaissance and civilization. The Etruscan’s were an enchanting civilization, much like the Egyptians. Little is known of their history. Many of their tombs remain and were once filled with treasures from their existence.
Freed’Amour Travel has created a once-in-a-lifetime, truly authentic immersion into a Tuscany vacation experience like no other—minus the crowds of tourists.
Carlo Innocenti and his son Romeo play host to you in their home located in Arcidosso. This breathtaking, mountainous region is where the passion of Tuscan life begins.
I hope you will be inspired to go. It will truly transform your life.
My adventure began upon arrival in Rome. Romeo was there to greet me at the airport. His outgoing, social and sincere presence will assure you that the two-hour drive to Arcidosso will be enjoyable.
Driving north along the west coast, the Tyrrhenian Sea is part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy. It is named for the Tyrrhenian people, identified since the 6th century BCE with the Etruscans of Italy. Skipping around the outskirts of Grosseto, my mind began to unwind after the long flight from New York. Stopping for an espresso at a local cafe, I commented on how much sugar Romeo added to his espresso and received his response, “Life is bitter enough, why drink bitter coffee—add sugar.”
Once we were on the road again, we began our ascent deeper into the Alta La Maremma region. The topography began a noticeable transformation. We were engulfed in greenery that displayed the late-May, early June enthusiasm of perfection.
Hurrying through the medieval town of Paganico, the main entrance welcomed us through a massive stone arch. Eons ago it supported monstrous hinged doors that secured the town from the invading Romans, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards and Franks. Once we passed through the arches, I was instantly overwhelmed by the magnificence of beauty the surrounded us. It was as if I awakened from a restful sleep. Like Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz,” the front door of my senses opened to an Oz-like splendor. The hills displayed the rich beauty of Tuscany’s spring flower, Ginestra, in full bloom. These wild bushes flourish alongside the roads emitting a fragrance from their yellow flower that invigorates your attitude and prepares your heart for what you anticipate to be an incredible encounter.
As the car navigated the winding road, chestnut trees and Roman pines challenged each other for visual attention. Then, without warning, right there in front of us loomed Arcidosso in all its majesty. What a sight. It has an objective beauty that draws you to it.
Arcidosso is a medieval city dating back to the 11th century. It sits on top of its own mountain peak dwarfed by the protective presence of Monte Amiata. At 1,750 meters above sea level, Monte Amiata is the second largest mountain in southern Tuscany.
Carlo greeted me at the front door of his five-story, 20-room home. It is located at the highest point of the city, excluding the castle of Arcidosso. The castle was built in 900 AD. It just so happens that Carlo’s home is attached to the castle, once part of its fortifying wall that was home to the castle guards.
The oldest section of the house is over 850 years old. Carlo said, “My wife and I restored the house in a manner that is traditional to this area.” They filled their home with antiques, furniture and ceramics, various objects of wood and iron and original artwork. It has all the amenities of restful comfort.
Carlo is a man of any resources. His handsome maturity evokes the artist and entertainer in him. Born in 1940, he lived in Arcidosso until the age of 12. He was sent to superior school in Rome and returned to Arcidosso at 18. At 23, he returned to Rome where he met his English wife, and returned with her to the Arcidosso area for 30 years.
Carlo’s passion for cooking is fueled by his identity as a famous restaurateur. “I owned a restaurant in Punta Ala, about 100 kilometers from Arcidosso,” he said. “I featured traditional dishes of this region in Tuscany.” In the 1970’s, Carlo opened a discotheque in Arcidosso called The Jolly Club. Its success inspired him to design and develop La Cantina in the basement of his home. The restaurant opened to a beautiful garden with native chestnut trees and flowers. It was unique in that patrons could enjoy the superb food and Carlo’s educated selection of vintage wine and liquor. Carlo’s personal success continued as proprietor of the famous Harry’s Bar. There he entertained the likes of Marcello Mastroianni, Roger Moore and many of the worlds rich and famous. The man is gifted with the ability to transform anything he touches into a memorable experience.
Tuscany is known for its culture, art, history and food and wine. Included in my trip was a tour of the nearby towns of Pitigliano, Sovano and Saturnia. Pitigliano rests on tuffo stone that can be easily carved with a hammer and chisel. The medieval town casts an illusion as if growing from out of the tuffo stone. It features a fascinating Jewish ghetto with its own Synagogue and cemetery. Sovano was the birthplace of Pope Gregory VII. It dates back over 1,100 years. We walked its hand-laid cobblestone streets and visited its shops and cafes. Saturnia is famous for its spa. The natural hot sulfur springs attract visitors from all over the world.
Tuscan food of this region is very provincial. It is the poor Tuscan food. “I had the idea of developing the cooking school because I have always wanted to cook very simply, the way I was taught by my mother and grandmother,” Carlo shared. “It is simple food, full of flavor.” Natural, fresh, local ingredients are staples of every Tuscan dish. The olive oil is pressed from the regions own olive trees. Carlo explained, “I don’t teach you how to make sophisticated dishes or nouvelle cuisine. The taste is natural, good, long, rendering the gusto of the palate. You will learn to make meals that were always prepared by the farmers of the local villages.” Eating in Tuscany is an experience to be savored by time, pleasure and ones own temperance of indulgence. The simplicity of every dish I prepared and tasted during my visit manifested pure joy within me as I engaged in enthusiastic conversation.
The wine of this region has no competition in flavor. Carlo said, “I live 30 kilometers from Montalcino where they produce the famous Brunello.” Arcidosso is a stones throw from Montepulciano where Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is produced. Optimum quality wines are also produced in Scansano, home of the famous Morellino di Scansano. I tasted every one of them. I also had the extraordinary experience of enjoying Carlo and Romeo’s local vintner friends’ private selections during a festive evening that featured my culinary creations.
The people of Arcidosso are outstanding. Carlo said, “The gentleness that all Tuscans have is a reflection of this beautiful place we call home. The people are gentle and always willing to introduce themselves and talk. If you ask them a question, they respond to you without losing patience.”
The intimacy, the personal attention and staying in a home instead of a hotel made my trip unique. It was wonderful. The itinerary was very flexible. Decisions of daily activities were decided over a traditional Italian breakfast, including espresso, fresh fruit and pastries bought fresh from the local bakery in the early morning hours while I was still sleeping.
If you go, Carlo and Romeo will take good care of you. Carlo shared his hope that when you visit, “take back home with you the pleasure of cooking our foods, drinking our wines and visiting this magical place—Arcidosso.”