Italy

Ejo #54 – Adine: A Beautiful Place To Stay In The Tuscan Countryside

There is a place, deep in the Tuscan countryside, that surreptitiously stole a little piece of my heart 12 years ago. It’s a piece I don’t mind having lost, because I am compelled time and time again to return to the scene of the “crime”, leaving behind a little bit more on each visit. It has been said that home is where the heart is. And I believe this to be true.

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The hills in Tuscany really do roll!!!

To wit, I am a 100% Greek-blooded, born-and-bred Australian, living in Dubai for the last several years. I am sad to say that I have never felt (or in the case of Australia, no longer feel) at home in any of these places. Don’t get me wrong – I love Australia and I will always have a home there (thanks Mum), and I’m sure that if I was to move back, the feeling of being at home would return. But I’ve increasingly started to feel like a tourist whenever I visit my own home town. And Greece? Forget about it – I’ve never belonged there. It’s nice to visit, but that’s about it. So, what about Dubai? Well, my heart simply doesn’t think very much of the place, so even after more than 5½ years it still doesn’t feel like home.

So why do I stay in this place that my heart holds in such contempt? One reason, and one reason only. It’s the travel. It’s the opportunity to explore this magnificent planet of ours and discover places in the world that feel like home, not because I live there or because it’s where my family are from, but because they resonate with me. Home becomes the place which embraces me as I am and the place I actually feel I belong.

In 2012 we travelled 100,032 kilometres in the air. In 2013 it was 106,097km. And 2014 is shaping up to be a 104,365km kind of year. You would think that with all those airmiles we would have travelled to some pretty amazing places. And you would be right. Absolutely spot on! I give you full permission to hate on me for a few moments. I mean, shit, I would. But, I would like to point out that amazing places don’t necessarily equate to places you could spend the rest of your life. Of all the incredible cities, towns, and one horse villages we’ve been to, only a couple have fulfilled that criteria for me. Of course, it is no secret that I am helplessly in the grip of a torrid, passionate love affair with Amsterdam. Enough said about Amsterdam. Today I am going to introduce you to my other happy place. A place that envelopes me with love whenever I visit.

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Avenues like this are a mainstay of the Tuscan countryside. What’s not to love.

Let me tell you about Adine. Adine is a tiny hamlet nestled in the rolling hills of Chianti, about 25km north of the beautiful city of Siena. Consisting of less than a dozen properties, it has been standing watch over picturesque vineyards and fertile olive groves since the 11th century. Next time you think about updating your iPhone to the latest model, have a think about how old that really is. These houses made from rough-hewn stone have been standing their ground since the Middle Ages. Literally.

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The chapel at Adine. Did people really congregate here 1000 years ago? Yes, they did.

I first stayed at Adine in 2002, with an ex-boyfriend and some friends in a villa apartment owned by the lovely Simonetta Palazio. I admit that I fell in love with Simonetta the moment I saw her. And I swear it wasn’t because she’d baked me the most incredible apple cake as a welcome gift (well, maybe it had a little bit to do with that). With a halo of white hair surrounding soft eyes and a gentle smile, she is easy to love. She is “simpatico”. After a week spent in Il Ghiro (one of the two villa apartments owned by Simonetta), we became firm friends. It’s been a friendship that has lasted great swathes of time and distance, to develop into something akin to family. Perhaps Simo is the reason I feel so at home when I am in Adine.

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The kitchen in Il Ghiro. The sink is the original (yep, from the 11th century). Mindboggling. The flan is blueberry and yummy (compliments of Simonetta!!). I can always count on a delicious welcome gift from my friend’s kitchen. Delizioso!!!

A little bit of history. Simonetta bought her villa in the hamlet of Adine 20 years ago. When she first moved in there was no heating, and she and her youngest daughter Manu would sleep in front of the fireplace wrapped in blankets, with woolen hats on their heads to keep warm. After separating from her husband (whom she’d been with for 38 years), Simonetta fell into depression and loneliness. She decided to rent out one of the rooms in her home for some company. Though the idea was spawned from necessity (some company, and a little extra money) she loved it. She enjoyed meeting people, and made friends with many of her guests (including me).

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One of the most incredible spots on earth – Simonetta’s terrace. Overlooking Tuscan landscape, there is nowhere better to contemplate life, drink a glass of red wine and unwind. Bliss. Simonetta started off serving breakfast to her guests on the terrazza – her guests are welcome to sit out there whenever they like.

 

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Sit down with a book and a bold red wine. What better way to spend an afternoon.

Simonetta, apart from being a loving and hospitable host is also a very talented cook. She took this skill and expanded her homestay experience to include cooking lessons. She was actually so good at it that for many years she was part of a group that travelled the world giving cooking classes (Max, from Red Hill Estate in Victoria, Australia is a fan and a friend). She has given that up now but still takes bookings for her two beautiful apartments and will also give cooking lessons if you ask her nicely. I have such fond memories of being invited to watch as she has whipped up some fresh pasta, or a red pepper marmalade or delicious dessert. And I’ve been luckier still to have feasted with her and her family on special occasions. Oh my god, the feasting. My mouth waters at the memories. Her specialties are focaccia, trenette al pesto and hazelnut ice-cream (my absolute favourite!!!).

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Il Ghiro’s patio overlooking a courtyard and Adine’s chapel. Perfect for breakfast under the Tuscan sun.

 

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Buon Appetito. I NEVER cook on holiday. Except when I am in Tuscany. Who needs room service anyway!!!

 

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Our effort at one of our favourite dishes: spaghetti con funghi, aglio e olio. Not too shabby!!!

So here’s the thing about staying at Adine. It is a beautiful place, but there are a few things it’s not. It’s not a 5 star hotel. It’s not an expansive, lavishly furnished villa with a swimming pool and daily cleaning service. There is no big screen TV, no air-conditioning, no room service and no gym. So if you’re looking for that kind of experience, perhaps Adine is not for you.

So what is it? It’s genuine, it’s rustic and it’s charming. It’s eating simple foods, the freshness and quality of which burst into song on the plate. It’s history and warm friendship and long walks in unspoiled nature. It’s a heart-expanding sun, made golden orb, settling in for the night over velvety hills. It’s a peace so deep, it actually takes a couple of days to get used to; to unplug. But when you do, the reward is profound. It’s looking outward toward the gorgeous countryside, and finding something special within yourself. It’s wine (we are in Chianti after all). It’s fireflies on a late-summer evening. It’s the cleanest air you’ve ever breathed (unless you’ve been to Antarctica). It is heaven on earth. And if you’d like to experience this little piece of paradise (before Simonetta sells up and moves to Rome to spend more time with her grandson) go to Adine now. Tell Simonetta I sent you. She will surely welcome you with open arms.

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Pici is the thick, hand-rolled regional pasta of Siena. I’d have to say it’s my favourite pasta in the world.

 

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The walled city of Siena is a labrynthine, cobble-stoned wonderland. Here is the Piazza del Campo at twilight. Magical.

 

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A week’s worth of imbibing. Somehow we never suffered a hangover.

 

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Simonetta’s gorgeous garden.

 

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Siena has some of the best gelati I have ever eaten. My favourite is nocciola!!!!

 

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This was taken in 2006 when I visited Adine solo. I was so taken with the countryside I had to stop the car and take a photo.

 

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Simo and her beautiful daughter Manu. And one of my favourite puppies on earth, the sadly departed Lyuba.

 

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When I see this sign, I know I am moments away from home.

Note: In writing this ejo, I’ve been reminiscing about my previous visits to Adine and poring over old photos.  It has ignited the need to “go home”, as it’s been over three years since I’ve seen my friend Simonetta and spent time in her house.   Yesterday, I booked my ticket for a quick five day visit next month.  That’s how powerful the pull of Adine is.  If you don’t believe me, why don’t you go and see for yourself.  For more photos, please click HERE!

 

Adine – A Portrait

My friend Simonetta’s Tuscan guesthouse, Adine.  These beautiful photos were taken by very talented local photographer, Martino Balestreri.  Whilst they certainly capture the essence of how lovely Adine is, it is no substitute for going to visit yourself.  You can contact me about staying at Adine (and I will put you onto Simonetta), or you can contact Simonetta directly through the Adine Facebook page or the website.

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Ejo #49 – Before The Ejo (A Travel Disaster Trip Down Memory Lane)

 

I’d been tossing up a few ideas for December’s ejo, but they were all cast aside when I discovered this old gem lurking in the depths of my computer. I do believe I am about to present to you my very first ejo, written over seven years ago. My first travel essay, written about my first travel misadventure, on my first solo trip abroad. Some of you will remember it. For others it will be new. I present to you the abridged, Editor’s Cut version of the essay for your holiday season reading pleasure.

 

Buon giorno tutti,

 

I am about to regale for you, a tale of travel misery and woe.

 

It all started when I landed at Milano Bergamo airport on the 28th April 2006. I’d caught an early flight from London, so had been up since 4.30am. When I landed in Italy, I took the shuttle bus from the airport to Milano Centrale Stazione where I was to catch another bus to Milano Garibaldi station to catch a bus to Siena. Simple, right?? Sure, except that someone told me there were no buses at that time. No problem, I caught a taxi (for €10, which was a bit of a rip off, but hey, I was excited about being in Italy). When I got to Garibaldi, I went to the ticket area and asked about my planned 2.15pm bus to Siena only to be told that it had been cancelled because of a national transport strike due to finish at 3pm that day – crazy Italians and their crazy striking. I asked about the next bus and was told that all buses to Siena that day were booked out. “OK”, I thought to myself, “there are other avenues for me to take”. I’d go to the train station across the street and catch a train to Siena. Who needs the bus! So I schlepped across the road with my two suitcases and my heavy handbag thinking, “Wow, this is shaping up to be quite the adventure”. Oh, little did I know! I got to the train station ticket area and waited in line for 45 minutes before being told that all the trains to Siena were booked out for the day. No more seats to Siena.

 

I started to panic internally, but tried to keep a cool facade. ‘Keep It Together’ became my mantra, whispered under my breath over and over again. My problem was that I’d booked a car rental in Siena that had to be picked up by 11am the next day. If I didn’t collect it, the reservation would be cancelled. I figured (after a bit more thought) that the best solution would be to hire a car from Milan to Siena. I walked 20 minutes into town carrying my cases and my big, fat, stupid handbag looking for car rental offices. I eventually found a Thrifty where they told me they had only one car left – a Smart car (you know, those ridiculous little boxes that seat two people and not much else). It was €55 for one day. I suspected they were trying to rip me off, and (thinking myself the rather savvy traveller) thought I should be able to get a better deal somewhere else (oh, the naivety).

 

I walked around town for another half an hour (yes, lugging my luggage) to discover that I’d somehow managed to arrive in Italy on a long weekend (who knew!!!), so all the cars were gone. ALL OF THEM! I hurried back to Thrifty and was relieved to find the Smart car was still available. However, because I was going one way I would have to pay an extra €45. This seemed quite ridiculous and, at that stage, unacceptable, so I figured I’d spend the night in a Milan hotel and get into Siena first thing in the morning to pick up my Siena car rental (are you following all this??).

 

I haughtily turned my back on Thrifty and returned to the bus station to ask about the earliest bus into Siena the next day. It didn’t arrive in Siena until 2.45pm, so I rang the Siena car rental office to change my booking pick-up time from 11am to 3pm. They told me that they closed at 12.30pm and that if I didn’t pick up the car before then I would forfeit the rental. ARGH!!!!

 

So I trudged across to the train station to find out if the trains left any earlier than the buses. But no, it was the same deal with the trains. The earliest didn’t get there until 1pm. Too late for me.

 

I had now reached desperation stage. Melting under the Milanese sun, I dragged myself – hot, shitty and sweaty – back to the Thrifty car rental place, resentfully forked out €100 and signed the paperwork on the bloody Smart car. It was the only way I could get to Siena in time to pick up my Siena rental. When they pointed out that Thrifty didn’t have an office in Siena, I waved the problem away. “You have an office in Firenze, 70km north of Siena?? No worries. Please just give me the car keys. Now!”

 

I devised a cunning plan (pay attention, now) to drive the Milan rental to Siena, sleep the night in my booked accommodation, drive the Milan rental to the Siena rental place, pick up the keys to my Siena rental, park it somewhere it wouldn’t incur a ticket, drive the Milan rental to Firenze, drop it off and then catch a bus from Firenze back to Siena to pick up the Siena rental from where I’d parked it and then drive to my villa in Tuscany. Brilliant plan, no?! Obviously I like to make life difficult for myself – but I honestly couldn’t think of another way around it. I had exhausted all other options.

 

I got directions out of Milan, but somehow managed to find myself a) in peak hour, long weekend traffic, b) going round in circles because the stupid signs didn’t make any sense, and c) driving like a maniac in order to avoid being murdered by what I had started referring to as Fucking Crazy Italians!!!!

 

It took me two, long and exhausting, hours to get out of Milan onto the highway for Siena. I literally whooped with joy when I was established outside of the city. It was, by now, 6pm and I had a 375km drive ahead of me, after having eaten NO FOOD for 14 hours, and being VERY TIRED INDEED and having a PRETTY BAD HEADACHE!!!! Still, things were OK. All I had to do was concentrate on the fact that I was driving a death-trap and that I was doing it on the wrong side of the road. Oh yes, and deal with the thunderstorm that decided to follow me along the highway dumping rain on me and my little jalopy, drastically reducing my visibility and traction on the road. And then, at about 11pm, I also had to contend with a 30km bumper-to-bumper traffic jam on the freeway due to roadworks into Siena. But I was heading in the right direction and I was happy.

 

So around midnight I made it to Siena, proper – absolutely exhausted and kind of hallucinating about going to sleep. I won’t even go into how many times I had just wanted to stop the car and transport myself back to Australia, back into my bed, safe and sound asleep. Let’s just say it was LOTS.

 

So, as I was circling the city it occurred to me that, whilst I had a street address for the small hotel I was staying in, I had no map and no directions. Minor problem after what I’d just experienced, quite frankly. “I’ll just drive around and find it,” I thought to myself. HAHAHA!!!! Have you ever been to Siena? It’s a city with a population of about 50,000. It’s freaking huge. Good luck finding a hotel if you have no idea where to look. This eventually dawned on me and I stopped at a large hotel to ask for a map. I found the street I was looking for on the map and realised it was inside the city walls, i.e. no cars allowed. So I parked close to where I thought the hotel would be and headed into the ancient city on foot to conduct a reconnaissance mission. I found myself delving deeper and deeper into the city, going into progressively darker and creepier little alleys – though by this stage the idea of being murdered, and my body being disposed of, was actually very comforting. Just as I was about to give up, resigned to spending the night in my “vehicle”, I looked up from my dragging feet and there it was. Hotel Antica Torre!! There was a note on the door with my name on it, with a key inside. I squealed a little and jumped up and down with sheer happiness at having found it.

 

I managed to find my way back to the car and dragged my suitcases along the cobbled street, probably waking up all the Sienese residents – but I wasn’t about to do anyone any favours by carrying them. I just didn’t have it in me at this stage. As I climbed up the stairs to my room, I could SMELL sleep!! I had a shower, and collapsed on the bed. I had very bad dreams that night!!

 

The next day was better. But I truly must be an arrogant and audacious individual, because I took the Milan rental car to Firenze with absolutely no directions, no map, and (even worse this time) no address. What is WRONG with me!!?? Once I got there, I just drove around in crazy circles (like a Fucking Crazy Italian – the streets of Italy no longer held any secrets for me). I stopped and asked for directions about twenty times, and then, lo and behold, I found the damn office and I dropped off the damn car, got on a damn bus to Siena, caught a taxi to the Siena car rental, drove to my villa and pretty much died of happiness.

 

Last year, David and I spent some time in Siena (still one of my favourite places in the world despite my traumatic experience). Why don’t you check out my photo series from our visit: Pedestrians Of Siena.