day 2 :
monday, 15 may
We awoke to dozens of birds singing outside our window. The variety of bird songs and rhythms was like none we had heard before, nor since. It felt like we were in a magical place. Our breakfast included a flavorful homemade orange marmalade, made with oranges and sweet bay laurel leaves picked right on the property. As for the weather, today, like almost every day of the trip, was sunny, nearly cloudless, and around 80°F. We couldn't have asked for better weather.
Fueled up with several cups of stovetop espresso, we crossed the regional border into Umbria and spent part of the day in Orvieto. This beautiful walled hill-city has Etruscan civilization roots going back to the 9th century B.C. To enter the city, you park outside at the bottom of the plateau and climb a series of stairs and escalators to reach the top. The real draw of the city is the cathedral, which was built starting in 1263. The gothic structure's front façade is decorated with stunning mosaics and bas-reliefs, and inside are frescoes depicting the end of the world (influenced by Dante's Divine Comedy).
We had made reservations for lunch in Orvieto at I Setti Consoli based on recommendations from a few different sources, and we were definitely not disappointed. We enjoyed our very filling tasting menu in the open-air garden, underneath the shade of elegant white cloth canopies, listening to the birds sing, the church bells toll, and school children playing nearby. The meal included an appetizer of artichokes prepared three ways (raw with local pecorino and balsamic vinegar, roman-style, and fried); tortelli with pork, fennel seeds, chickpea sauce, and coppa; fettuccine with lamb and guanciale (pork cheek); pigeon prepared two ways with perfectly-creamy polenta; a white fish with spring vegetables; and a trio of desserts.
By late afternoon we were traveling through the Toscana (Tuscany) region, and made a quick stop in Montepulciano to get a feel for the town. As it turns out, we didn't have a chance to come back later in the trip, but it looked like a great place to sample the region's wine. There were enoteche (wine bars) on every street, where you can try hundreds of wines produced in the region.
We pushed on to our next bed and breakfast, Borgo Argenina, located in the heart of the Chianti wine region. In 1993, Elena (a former fashion designer from Milan) purchased this hamlet of abandoned buildings and spent years restoring them, selling some to pay for the renovations, and converting the rest into a beautiful rest haven for travelers from around the world. Her design skills are apparent in every room, in the hand-made curtains and hand-stenciled wall patterns. From every window you see vineyards, wildflowers, rolling hills, ancient buildings, and beautiful skies.
When we arrived, Elena's daughter Fiorenza sat down with us and gave an overview of the Chianti area, complete with sightseeing and eating recommendations. We settled on a light meal at a trattoria in nearby San Sano, and enjoyed excellent homemade pasta with a couple of glasses of Chianti Classico wine, which were very inexpensive. What a nice introduction to Tuscany!