Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 16

Saturday, June 17, 2023

This morning was an early morning for us because we were heading home. ☹️

We were very fortunate that when the owners of Torraccia di Chiusi found out we had to leave before breakfast time, they set up food in the sitting room of the building where we stayed. It was very kind of them.

One of the young ladies, Karol, who served breakfast each morning left a note for us. She was from Peru but working at the villa. Her English was very limited but she communicated with us using her phone to translate. Her note meant the world to us.

After breakfast we packed our bags and headed for the Florence airport where we had to turn in the rental cars. Then we took an airport shuttle to board our plane that would take us from Florence to the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. Today was going to be a long day with three flights! (Florence, Italy ➡️ Paris, France, then Paris, France ➡️ Detroit, Michigan and from Detroit, Michigan ➡️ Columbus, Ohio)

Our shuttle ride to our plane that was in the background.

We changed planes in Paris for our second flight which would take us to the Detroit airport. We flew Air France. The boarding for Detroit went smoothly but we sat on the plane with no air conditioning or any air flow. After about half an hour the captain announced that the air wasn’t working (duh) and the mechanics would do a fix that wouldn’t work until the engines were started. We sat in misery for a very long time and it was the worst airline experience we’ve ever had.

We landed in Detroit, went through customs and then boarded our flight for Columbus. It was a long day but we made it home on time!

Our Italy adventures were many and new memories were made by all of us. Cheers to a great vacation!

Addio amici! (Goodbye friends!)

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 15

Friday, June 16, 2023

After breakfast the owner gave us a tour of his property, Torraccia di Chiusi where we had been enjoying our stay. He and his wife have renovated the agriturismo (farmhouse) and the buildings on the property into their personal home, a hotel with rooms and suites, restaurant, a small spa, and also made their own organic wines.

The owner talking to us on our tour of his property.

Below was one of the buildings on the estate that wasn’t renovated. The owner told us that the building below demonstrated what all of the buildings on the estate looked like when he and his wife purchased it in 2002!

The building on the estate that our group stayed in was about 500 years old. They did an excellent job with the renovations.

Our rooms in the 500 year old building.
The side of the estate.
Another view of some of the property.

The Tower was over 1,200 years old and the home of the owners. Our tour included their home.

The tower that was over 1200 years old.

At the top of the tower you could look out over the countryside and see anyone who approached along the Via Francigena, the route from Canterbury to Rome and onto the seaside city of Apulia, Italy.

From the tower I was able to take a great picture of San Gimignano!

San Gimignano

Stefano, the owner spent a lot of time showing us around and explaining the history here. When they were doing repairs to a sewage treatment plant on their property his wife saw something and had the workers stop and she dug and found an Etruscan bronze statue that dated from the 3rd century B.C.! It was speculated that an Etruscan temple was once here. The statue was now in a museum as well as the other items that they have found. Below is Donatella, the wife of Stefano, and a picture of the poster with her and the statue.

Etruscan Bronze statue with Donatella

There also was a chapel on the property.

Stefano took us to the ancient wine cellar that he accidentally found. It was covered by layers of soil.

After our tour we wanted one more chance to visit San Gimignano. It also had been nicknamed “the Manhattan of the Middle Ages” because of its many towers!

Walking into San Gimignano

Today we explored other areas of the city and past the main square, Piazza del Duomo.

Piazza del Duomo

Along the border of San Gimignano there were some fantastic views that looked out over the countryside.

On our walk we found a local woman sitting outside her home just relaxing.

One of the quiet side streets.

When we left San Gimignano we stopped at a winery for one last tasting. Pietraserena Winery was the fourth generation of winemaking by the Arrigoni family.

The wine tasting patio had wonderful views of the vineyards and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.

When we got back to the villa we enjoyed some time at the pool.

At dinner we had the sparkling wine because we were told by our chef at our cooking class how Torracccia di Chiusi was known for their sparkling wine and how delicious it tasted. Julia opened the Goccia D’Pro Spumante Classic Method.

None of our group were champagne drinkers but we all enjoyed this sparkling wine.

It was our last dinner at the villa and Bruno, the chef, came out to serve us our last shot of Grappa after our delicious meal that he had prepared! Grappa was an alcoholic pomace brandy from Italy that had a high alcoholic content. It was served to help with digestion after heavy meals.

Cheers to our amazing meals and time together!

We will miss the hospitality, delicious meals, outstanding staff, and owners at Torraccia di Chiusi!

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 14

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Today we had booked in advance a wine tour and 4-course lunch with wine pairings at the Banfi Winery. It was an hour and a half drive from our B&B to the winery.

The entrance drive to Banfi Winery Estate south of Montalcino.

We arrived early so we parked our vehicles and had time to look around the castle.

The Castello Banfi was originally the castle of Poggio alle Mura and was reconstructed in 1438. It was dated back much farther, between the 9th and 13th centuries. They also believed it once was a settlement of the ancient Etruscans because excavations have found some stone urns and ceramic vases that dated to that time period, so even further!

It was damaged during WWII and when it became part of the Banfi estate in 1983 it was restored to its beauty. The estate had a hotel, 2 restaurants (one with a Michelin star), an enoteca (wine shop), the Balsameria, and a glass museum.

The hotel and restaurants were very expensive. One night at the hotel would be over $1,000.00. Definitely out of our budget. But the grounds were beautiful and the buildings elegant, even in the wine cellars!

We met our guide and followed her to the Balsameria!

Our guide

When we walked in the Balsameria building we could smell the balsamic vinegar!

The balsamic vinegar barrels are made from different wood and as the vinegar ages it goes from a larger barrel to a smaller barrel. The order of the barrels were oak, chestnut, cherry, ash, and lastly mulberry. The entire process took 12 years. We had some of this balsamic vinegar at our lunch wine tasting and it was delicious. A small bottle sold for fifty Euros ($56.20)!!!

We then went to our vehicles and followed our guide to head to the processing plant and wine cellars. The view from the estate was beautiful.

Brothers John and Harry Mariani founded Banfi in 1978. Banfi got its name from the brothers great Aunt’s name. The estate included 7,100 acres of land. One third was single vineyards and the rest was made up of olive groves, fruit trees (mainly plums), woods and scrub.

It took about fifteen minutes to get to the plant and cellars.

When we got to the winery processing area we were quite impressed with its state of the art technology.

There were 7,000 customized barrels here. We saw beautiful chandeliers and glass displays as we walked among the wine barrels.

After our tour we drove back to Castello Banfi for our 4-course tasting menu in the La Taverna restaurant. It was located under the vaulted arches of the former barrel cellar of the castle.

When we walked out of the restaurant we saw a lot of classic convertible cars lined up along the entryway of the estate.

After our day at the Banfi Winery we drove back to Torraccia di Chiusi and read and/or relaxed by the pool.

We enjoyed the evening with some wine, cheese, and snacks together.

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 13

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

We began today with a visit to the mountaintop walled town of Volterra. With the clouds, it was quite foggy.

A view of Volterra in the morning fog.

The city had been inhabited since the 8th century BC, first by the Etruscans and later by the Romans. You could see Roman ruins and Etruscan artifacts in the museum.

Volterra had narrow medieval streets, ancient walls and fortress.

The guys dropped us off at one of the entrances to the town and they went to find places to park. At this entrance was a memorial to WWII and the liberation of the city.

Below was the Porta (doors) a Selci which was a rounded arch that was built in the 16th century and it replaced a medieval gate. This gate was located at the boundaries of both the Etruscan and Medieval defensive walls at the east end of Volterra. You could see the round watchtower and the fortress walls.

Porta a Selci

The Porta Fiorentina was located on the north side and this gate exited to the Roman Theater.

Porta Fiorentina

The San Michele Arcangelo’s Church was from the 13th century in a Romanesque-style with marble embellishments.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was consecrated in the 12th century and then renovated in the 16th century.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
San Pietro in Selci was an ancient church that was first established in 1005! Part of the building is from the 12th century.

The Baptistery of San Giovanni was an octagonal building with green and white marble stripes. It was consecrated in 1120 and was rebuilt in 1493.

Baptistery of San Giovanni

The Palazzo dei Priori dated back to the 13th century and was three stories. It was located on the Piazza with the same name.

Palazzo dei Priori

The Piazza dei Priori was the main square that was located in the old town of Volterra.

Piazza dei Priori

Please scroll through the slideshow to see more of the medieval town, streets, and sites.

We had lunch at a local Tuscan restaurant that was located on a main street in Volterra. The food and wine was delicious.

Since Volterra, like the other towns in Tuscany, sat on a hill the views of the countryside were incredible.

The parking garage in Volterra had very tight parking spaces! Have you ever had to climb between your car and another car to get into your car?

After Volterra, we headed back to Torraccia di Chiusi to get ready for our cooking class at the Montese Cooking Experience. Our class was just down the road from our villa!

Our view as we cooked was awe-inspiring!

Our view

Mauro was our chef for our four-hour cooking class.


There were the ten or us and a newlywed couple from Germany. The twelve of us worked well together and had many laughs.

The twelve of us with Mauro and his assistant Alberto

We were divided up to make the pork loin roast, bread, bolognese sauce and dessert which was a jam tart. We each made dough for our pasta. We made a stuffed pasta, ravioli and long noodles, spaghetti/fettuccine. Dave and I made a gluten free bread and gluten free ravioli and fettuccine noodles.

Mauro had one rule for our cooking class: your wine class couldn’t go empty. Little did he know that our group would take him seriously! He ran out of white wine and most of our group switched to drinking red wine!

Our bread!

Making pasta from our dough!

Some of our prepared food!

Our desserts!

Cooking at the Montese Cooking Experience was definitely a highlight for all of us.

Smiles from all of us! (photo credit: Chris)

The sunset was beautiful as we headed back to our villa.

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 12

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Our first stop today was the medieval village of Radda in Chianti. It had been inhabited since the 9th century. It was built as a fortified town to protect Florence from its enemies. The last invasion was in 1478 and much of the town was destroyed including its castle. And of course Radda was famous for its wine!!!

The black rooster was a symbol of the Chianti region. The rooster was adopted as an official emblem by the League of Chianti (an anti-Siena political/military pact the united a league of rural towns. Radda in Chianti was on of them) in 1384 and was officially adopted by the Chianti Classic Wine Consortium in 2005! We saw the rooster symbol all over town.

The government building, the Palazzo del Podestà was destroyed in 1478 but was rebuilt. It was the town’s seat of power and was decorated with the family crests of the once-ruling nobles.

The Propositura di San Niccolò church had origins to at least the 1200’s. It was seriously damaged during WWII. The bell tower was reconstructed in the 1950’s and they used one of the ancient castle towers as its base. Its last renovation was 1969 and today it was being renovated but the entrance was still opened to visitors. This church was the main place of Catholic worship in Radda.

Late morning the rain cut loose and several went down into the medieval tunnel area of Radda. Of course we found a wine bar, Casa Poriciatti Enoteca, that was opened and we had a glass of Chianti while we waited for the rain to stop.

Walking around town and enjoying the narrow cobblestone streets. On a rainy day there weren’t many locals or tourists around.

Radda like all the other villages in Tuscany sat on a hill so the views looking out were beautiful, even on a cloudy, rainy day.

As we left the town of Radda the rain really cut loose! We even pulled over and waited for the rain to slow down.

When the rain let up we headed to the small town of Castellina. It was located on the main tourist route through Chianti. Our first stop was to find a restaurant for a late lunch. We found the Il Cantuccio Wine Bar. We enjoyed a good meal with Chianti wine from the region.

Boar meat was popular in the Chianti region. You would find Boar was a popular dish on many menus.


Castellina had a historic center and one main street. The Church of San Salvatore was located in Castellina. It was medieval and rebuilt in the Romanesque Revival style because it was heavily damaged in WWII.

In the central piazza of Castellina was a 14th century fortress and tower.

The vaulted alley was called the Via della Volte and it was once part of the city walls.

Via della Volte

After the rain stopped we walked around the town.

After visiting Radda and Castellina we headed back to Torraccia di Chiusi, our B&B, for the evening. Dinner was inside because of the wet weather.

Even though it rained off and on it didn’t stop us from having a wonderful day in Tuscany.

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 11

Monday, June 12, 2023

Our adventure today took us to the medieval walled town of Montepulciano. It was a town known for its wine, the Vino Nobile. The wine was made from sangiovese grapes that were grown there.


We parked the vehicles and walked up into the town. Montepulciano’s medieval architecture hasn’t changed since the 1500s.

We stopped at the historical town center, Piazza Grande. It was a large square in the center of town and flat. All of the other streets from this piazza slope down the hill.

A portion of Piazza Grande

The Nobili-Tarugi Palace was located on the Piazza. It was built in the early 16th century as the residence of the De Nobili family and later by the Tarugis.

Nobili-Tarugi Palace

The Town Hall, Palazzo Comunale, was also located along the Piazza. It dated from the late 14th and early 15th century. It was built originally as a palace and then later became the city hall.

Palazzo Comunale
The Town Hall was in the background.

The Well on the Piazza had the Medici coat of arms as well as Griffins and Lions. The two lions sitting on top represented Florence and on either side of the lions sat a griffin that represented Montepulciano.

The Cathedral Saint Mary of Assunta was consecrated in 1712 and sat on the site of an ancient church of Santa Maria. The bell tower was from the 15th century. The outside of the church was very plain because the marble was never added as planned. Inside was a 1401 gold-hued altarpiece by Taddeo di Bartolo.

Cathedral of St. Mary

The Medici Fortress was located at the highest point of town and had been rebuilt several times. It was first built in the 8th century and what we saw dated from 1261!

Part of the Medici Fortress & wall

On the facade of the medieval Benincasa Palace was a bust of Gian Gastone de Medici (1671-1737). He was the 7th and last Grand Duke of Tuscany.

The il Corso was about a mile long and ran through the historic old town. The Corso began at the city gate and ascends to the Piazza Grande. There were narrow streets in the old town.

As we explored the town we stopped into La Dolce Vita, a wine tasting, bar,restaurant and wine store. It opened in 2005 and was located inside an historic building dated to the 13th century. It was a cool place to look around in.

Because Montepulciano sits high on a hill there were some terraces that offered breathtaking views of the countryside!

You could also see the Temple of San Biagio. It sat outside the city walls of Montepulciano and was built by Antonio da Sangallo who was an architect from Florence. It was built between 1518-1545 and was considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

I used my Find Me Gluten Free app to find a restaurant with gluten free options. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at AI Quattro Venti. Locals ate here which was always a good sign. The gluten free gnocchi and gluten free bread was yummy. Those in our group who ate gluten really enjoyed their meals too!

After leaving Montepulciano we stopped at the Azienda Agricola Canneto winery for a glass of their wine. Canneto AG of Zurich purchased the estate in 1987 from a family that for generations had a great reputation of wine-making. The wines were certified organic since 2017. Of course we tried the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that was grown here.

We went outside and enjoyed our glass of wine as we looked over the estate! It was very relaxing.

There was some rain and then the sun came out when we were back at the villa. A beautiful rainbow appeared.

This evening some of our group read and others played Euchre and recapped our day.

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 10

Sunday, June 11, 2023

This morning when we woke up and looked out our windows we saw hot air balloons off in the distance.

Today we visited the hilltop town of Certaldo which was situated up the hill and had medieval walls and cobbled streets. After parking the vehicles we walked to the funicular which linked the Certaldo Basso (at the bottom of the hill and the newer part of town) and Certaldo Alto (the older part of the town). The funicular railway climbed up 200m (654 ft.) and we rode it up the hill.

When we got off the funicular we looked out over the amazing scenery.

This town was famous because it was the birthplace of Giovanni Boccaccio. He was an Italian writer, poet, and scholar. Boccaccio was born in 1313 and died in 1375 in Certaldo. He was best known as the author of Decameron which was a collection of tales told by 7 women and 3 men. He wrote this at the onset of the Black Death (bubonic plague). It was considered a masterpiece of classical Italian prose. I plan on reading this book.

Certaldo was a small medieval village located halfway between Florence and Siena. It was surrounded by its defensive walls that were built in the 12th century and a watch tower still stood.

Palazzo Pretorio or Vicar’s Palace was built in the late 12th century. It’s a museum but once belonged to the vicariate families that ruled in Certaldo. The front displayed numerous coat of arms frescoed in stone and of glazed terracotta.

Palazzo Pretorio

Below are pictures from our time in Certaldo. The town was pretty quiet when we first arrived.

After spending time in Certaldo we visited Palagetto Winery which was located outside of San Gimignano. We did a wine tasting here.

We purchased wine to drink back at our B&B later. 🙂

We enjoyed our tastings and then loaded back in the vehicles to go to another winery nearby. It was the Il Colombaio Di Santachiara winery in the very small village of San Donato along the Via Francigena. The Via Francigena was the ancient road and the pilgrimage route from Canterbury in England, through France and Switzerland to Rome.

The winery Il Colombaio Di Santachiara had room for us to do a tasting of their wines. The wine tasting staffer that did our tastings was so engaging.

Our wine tasting included bread and the wineries on olive oils that they produced.

Our wine tasting staffer took us outside to view the grounds.

After this last wine tasting in San Donato we drove back to our villa to get ready for dinner!

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 9

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Today we visited Monteriggioni that was a walled castle with only about 50 people living in the historic castle complex.

Looking at the countryside from the main entrance into Monteriggioni.

We walked around the town and a highlight was walking along the castle walls. The village sits on the hill Monte Ala and looks over the Chianti countryside.

The medieval city walls and its 14 defense towers are well preserved from 1213 when the fortress was built. It was built as a base against Florence for the Republic of Siena. The walls are up to 6 1/2 feet thick.

One of the best things to do was to walk on the medieval walls. You can’t walk the entire loop but there were two sections. The longer section was near the main entrance into town.

The views from the walls of the Chianti countryside were beautiful. Below were some of the pictures we took from the wall.

We also took pictures of the village of Monteriggioni as we stood on the wall.

The Piazza Roma was the center square of the town. On the square was the small church of Santa Maria Assunta which was from the 13th century. This church was built the same time as the foundation of the castle.

The famous Italian poet, writer, and philosopher Dante Alighieri even referenced the town in his Divine Comedy.

Our walk around town didn’t take long because the town wasn’t that large and it wasn’t crowded at all!