On a recent taste and travel trip I stayed in the village of San Giovanni d’Asso, in the heart of the Crete Senesi. The Crete Senesi (pronounced KREH-teh seh-NEH-seh) is a rolling panorama of wind swept hills and isolated farmhouses south of Siena where you can find the road less traveled. It is the parallel universe of Chianti and attracts travelers seeking the elemental Tuscan experience. The rolling hills are dotted with cyclists and the woods that straddle the Crete and the Val d’Orcia are the perfect place to find the legendary tartufo bianco, Italian white truffle.
San Giovanni d’Asso is the home of the Museo di Tartufo, Italys first museum dedicated to the truffle and you will definitely want to visit the unique exhibits that allow you to get up close and personal with the prized fungus. There’s even an “odorama” exhibit that allows visitors to experience the heady aromas of dozens of different kinds of truffles.
Located in a 13th century castle, the museum is next to La Locanda del Castello, a country inn with an equally powerful effect on your senses. Your sense of taste, touch, smell and vision are all heightened by the atmosphere created by the owner Selvana, her son Massimo and innkeeper, Fiorella who make your stay at the inn very special. You arrive at the locanda piazza where a series of contemporary sculptures are on display then walk through the Castello drawbridge and into the castle courtyard. The intimate ristorante downstairs from the inn (very convenient) is rustic-Italian chic with a private veranda that overlooks the landscape of the town and valley below. When ordering, I would willingly take the advice of chef Enrico whose Nouveau Tuscan cuisine and artful presentation were fantastici . I ate a delicious pici pasta with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) one night and another night wild boar ragu’ that was both delicate and bold. The caprese salad and assorted salumi included Lardo di Colonnata, a protected Tuscan delicacy that is particular to the region. My room was decorated with 19th century Italian country furniture combined with touches of French toile fabric to create what I would imagine to be the style of day when traveling from locanda to locanda.
My final day in Tuscany was spent at a terme. Terme is the Italian word for thermal waters. Popes, pilgrims, princes and everyday Italians have traveled to these natural hot springs seeking the beneficial virtures of the waters to regenerate the body and mind since ancient times. On last year’s trip I got “my feet wet” at Bagno Vignoni, a small medieval town south of Siena. This year I would go Terme Antica Querciolaia near the town of Rapolano Terme. There are other popular termes in Italy; Montecatini and Saturnia come to mind that are more tourist oriented, but I like to travel like an Italian so this type of terme appeals to me. It is small, family oriented (yes, Italian children come with their parents) with 3 large pools rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. I spent one memorable afternoon in September languishing in the thermal waters of Antica Querciolaia under the Tuscan sun knowing that this was another reason why Italy is the best place on earth.