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biking La Strada del Vino & the Italian cooking lesson

 

coastal maritime pine forest

Today would be an easy cycling day … which was probably a good thing, considering that it (ultimately we) would be filled with amazing food and wine.   We would be riding to our next hotel, the Tombolo Talasso Resort in the coastal town of Marina di Castagneto, and on our way, riding up into the hills to visit the tiny and beautiful village of Bolgheri.

We were told that the cycling Olympic gold medalist (2004) and two time World Champion Paolo Bettini is often seen riding these roads, and while I don’t think we ever spotted him, we did see some pretty incredible (and incredibly fast) guys heading up into the hills.

 

we were told there were over 2500 independent vintners throughout Tuscany
definitely not Tennessee

We arrived in Bolgheri late in the morning, allowing us time to walk around the village before enjoying lunch.  Bolgheri had, for a time, been home to one of the most celebrated Italian poets and Nobel laureates (1906, Literature)  Giosuè Carducci.  While we did not find any books of his poetry, the little village offered some of the most famous regional wines, a small market selling pastas, olives and other Tuscan treats, as well as a shop filled with beautiful hand-painted pottery.  We had lunch at a small restaurant in the heart of the village, and the porcini ravioli was to die for.

 

entering the village of Bolgheri
it’s a good thing I was on a bike with only a small bag for camera & rain gear – I could have gone nuts buying food
don’t worry … I didn’t drink all of these
inside the small market; I broke down and bought some pasta

After lunch, we left Bolgheri to continue cycling along the slightly rolling and shady Strada del Vino “Costa degli Estruschi”.  Basically, it is the road of famous “Super Tuscan” vineyards – names like Tenuta San Guido, Ornellaia, Le Macchiole, Michele Satta, Grattamacco, Guado al Tasso, etc.  (I figure if you know your Italian wines, you will like know these names.  I can only plead ignorance; to me, it was all amazing – the cycling part as well as the wine part.)

Mark and I took a little detour into one of the smaller vineyards along the way, and were treated to a tasting and picked up a wonderful vino rosso for later.  Apparently, it was the height of the last grape harvest of the season – the Cabernets were ready.  There were people gathering grapes in nearly every vineyard we passed, and at the Chiappini vineyard where we stopped, we got to see them loading the grapes into a big de-stemming contraption by the crateful.

 

the Cabernets
he actually didn’t have to ditch his rain gear…
riding the cedar-flanked drive of Chiappini Vineyards

We continued riding to our destination of the coastal town of Marini di Castagneto and our hotel.  The Tombolo Talasso Resort was modern and very lovely, but I think we both preferred the more relaxed and simple atmosphere of the small rural agrihotels, like Elizabetta.  But we had some time to relax and take a walk along the coast before heading off to one of the highlights of our trip – a visit to a local home where we would participate in preparing our dinner.

The best way to appreciate the Italian food, is by cooking and eating it … Cook with simplicity, with good and local ingredients, and mostly with the heart!

~ Chicca Maione

So, here we were – in Chicca’s kitchen. A charming and vivacious young Napolitan woman, and an accomplished cyclist in her own right, she invited us into her home and her kitchen to teach us some of the recipes that had been passed down through her family.  It was remarkable.  We gathered around her kitchen island, chopping parsley, crushing garlic, learning the stories behind her recipes – from pasta to baked fennel to semolina gnocchi.  It was divine.  And dinner was even better.  Thank you, Chicca!

 

 

in Chicca's kitchen

 

 

preparing the Prostitutes Spaghetti ... don't ask me for the story behind this one

preparing the Prostitutes Spaghetti ... don't ask me for the story behind this one

 

 

a perfect day of cycling, and a spectacular home-cooked dinner - could you ask for anything else?

 

Posted by savaconta on October 9, 2010
12 Comments
  1. 10/9/2010

    I miss Italy. It has been ten years to the day that I was last in Tuscany. Too long. I must go back. Thank you for sharing and I am glad to see it hasn’t changed.

    • 10/11/2010

      Thank you, and I hope you get to go back soon… it’s nice to know the good stuff hasn’t changed.

  2. 10/10/2010
    Tim

    sal·i·vate (sălˈə-vātˌ)

    verb salivated sal·i·vat·ed, salivating sal·i·vat·ing, sal·i·vates
    verb, intransitive
    1.To secrete or produce saliva.
    2.Informal To be full of desire or eagerness for something: salivated at the idea of winning the lottery.
    verb, transitive
    To produce excessive salivation in.

    • 10/10/2010
      Jeff

      Right on, Tim. You nailed it.

    • 10/11/2010

      Haha – I was thinking the exact same thing. I’m sitting here practically drooling over those food photos!

      • 10/11/2010

        Thanks, T … I have been contemplating trying to cook up a big Tuscan meal to serve outside while this weather is so nice. If I do, you guys are all invited! ;))

    • 10/11/2010

      Hah!! I am laughing over this – I think your comment said it better than anything I could post! 🙂

  3. 10/10/2010

    Man! I am lovin’ these photos!! I really hope you’re going to submit something to the photo contest? Thanks so much for sharing, it’s a bit like a virtual vacation. 🙂

    • 10/11/2010

      M, thank you so very much – you have no idea how much it means to hear this from you, whose photos always have me awestruck. I’ve been following the photo submissions for your contest, I am afraid they are all out of my league – you’ve had some incredible entries! But thank you for taking time to visit and following along; I’m most grateful.

  4. 10/11/2010
    Kevin

    Terrific pictures. My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to Tuscany (Florence) next year (late September) so hope to read more about your adventures. Today’s post makes me want to eat, drink and ride my bike… in no particular order…

  5. 11/5/2010

    Bonjour, Chicca gave me the link to your nice blog. I think she will write to you soon (just after the harvesting of her olives) to thank you about that. I made the pictures of her little cook book, home made production! I wanted to tell you that your pictures are beautiful.
    Bravo Madame !
    Et vive le vélo, le vin et la cuisine !

    • 11/5/2010

      Bonjour Arnaud – what a wonderful surprise to hear from you, and thank you so much for your generous and kind comments. I adore Chicca!! (And her amazing food, of course 🙂 The photography in the cookbook is absolutely wonderful – I am enjoying it so much, and have made many recipes. I cannot wait to return to Tuscany for both the biking and the food. Thank you so much, again – Cassi

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