Spring ahead. Thinking Italy, Cortona & Umbria

Looking at the deep snow parked outside our windows here in Maine. Hoping it keeps melting. It has about three feet left to go. I know, “piano, piano” this too will pass. Our neighbors in Panicale, Umbria don’t see snow on a regular basis so it has a certain novelty to them. And after a snow fall, you can depend on someone to be grumping about it and you can also depend on someone else to say brightly “ricordi, sotto le neve c’e pane.” The corollary and only sometimes used as the rhyming finale is the less romantic, darker “sotto l’aqua c’e fame.” Snow does melt and feeds the crops which feeds everyone and of course it is better than too much water. So. Snow, good thing. In moderation.

Snow has melted enough here in Maine, that even though it is still deep – so deep you can’t slog thru it with boots – you still can’t snow shoe on it. Funny time. Time for it to go. And speaking of going. . . we are. To Italy next Saturday. March 19th. We’ll be in Panicale, Cortona, Siena for a couple weeks. Yay! Non vedo l’ora!
Every where I look we see things that point us to Italy. At lunch at my sister Gin’s next door today, we saw her Araucana chicken eggs in ceramic egg cartons we brought her from Cortona one time. Love the soft cream color that seems to be The Color of Cortona in the ceramic dept. And aren’t the eggs great? Not dyed. Just how they are. Almost too pretty to poach. Yes, we are ready for Italy and even Easter it appears from these eggs.

OK, See you in Italy! And soon!

Stew Vreeland

Getting in Hot Water: A day at a Tuscan Spa

“I’M WET! I’M WET” Gene Wilder’s character in “The Producers.”

RAPOLANO TERME, Siena, Tuscany, Italy—Oh, we’re headed for adventure today. For years I’ve been trying to work up the courage to go to one of Italy’s many spas. Today’s the day. Midge has an appointment, buddy Steve has an appointment too and we’re on our way.


Do try this. It’s hard for me to imagine a finer way to spend the day. Even in famously idyllic Tuscany. And it was about half reasonably priced. The spa we picked charged 11 euros for an all access pass that let you into all the many thermal pools indoor and out. For the whole day. The place is great, clean and polished, chaise lounges surrounding pools of every temperature. With a slack jawed look of contentment, bathers were positioning themselves under the splash of wide mouthed spigots and letting the relaxingly hot, mineral rich waters whoosh over them.

Once in a great while you can pick up a hint of the sulfur in the water. But not in a disagreeable “What the Heck was that?” kind of way. You just note it and maybe think to yourself “Hey, Farmboy, you’re at a Spa in Italy. How about that?”


There are pools of every size and shape but the pecking order for temperature seemed to be: the closer to the building, the hotter the water you were into. The further away, the cooler the waters. On a spring day when the temps are still a bit cool in the shadows of the pines, you can tell where the heat is by where the bathers are ganged up.

This was better than I imagined. There is food of every kind and a full bar just inside the pool area. Pastries, coffee, they’ve got all the necessities critical for a day at the beach. Except towels. Who would have thought? Believe me, they just don’t have them. How can that be? Oh, and they don’t have directions. Even sitting up real close to the computer screen it was vague/mysterious about how one was to go about arriving here. I should have asked Andrea. This is all his doing.

I was hanging out, bothering him at Masolino’s between lunch and dinner crowds one day and broached the subject of this particular spa with him because we have a major villa for sale right beside it. So I asked if he knew about Terme Antica Querciolaia. Knew it? He, literally, has a season pass to it. He and his family are on their feet, I don’t know, 12 hours a day feeding half of Umbria and keeping their coffee cups and wine glasses full six days a week. But on the seventh day they rested. Clicking the numbers off on his fingers, he said “on our Torno (our turn to take a day off) we first get the kids up, second we feed them, and point them to the door. And we run to the car to get as much spa time as we possibly can.” He named spas big and small for miles around. He has different subtle seasonal variations he explores constantly but as a Brit would say about their favorite pub, this is “his local.” His main spa.


Even though the directions are not obvious on the Terme Antica Querciolaia web site, it’s easy to find. You know where the main North South autostrada A1 hits Bettole? That is where we jump off to get to Castiglione del Lago or Panicale or Cortona etc when coming from Florence or Siena. Anyway, it is right about there not far from the Bettole autostrada exit/entrance. As their site says it is just “due passi” two steps from Siena, Pienza and Montepulciano. When you get near Bettole, just start looking for Rapolano Terme. Follow the signs and in short order you are there. And bring a towel. I know, I’m back on that again, but why wouldn’t they sell, rent or give you towels? Do not know. Must be a cultural thing. But it was funny because we called to make an appointment for different treatments and massages and the nice voice on the phone made a special point of saying to “be sure to bring a bathrobes and flip flops.” Oh, well, they don’t and once you get over that you see it for what it is, very clean, organized, newly renovated and lazygoodfun.

Plenty of ways to get upgraded and up-charged. Pick your poison. Weight rooms, workout center, massages, facials, mud baths. A whole menu of treatments of various lengths and Steve says compared to San Francisco they’re all great bargains.

I’m not emotionally prepared to go for all the treatments that Midge and Steve are signed up for. People I don’t know pounding on my naked body? Remember Spring Break in Biloxi?


And hanging by the general admission pool waiting for more Panicale friends to join us is not half bad way to pass the day, either. Give me a low brow beach book, a good cup of coffee and I’m all set. Midge, coming out of her second or third treatment of the day finds me on the same chaise where she left me earlier and wonders “Isn’t it hard not to be distracted here? You know, by the topless 25 year olds on either side you?”

“Hmmm? What was that dear? Oh, you mean like the one in the tiny orange bikini bottom whose chaise is right across from us? The one rather affectionately applying more suntan lotion all over her bronze bossom every half an hour?”

“Nope, nope never noticed.”

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Two daughters. Two weddings.

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Well, yes. But then again, no. Yes, in the sense that both of “our Italian daughters” did visit us and we did go to two Italian weddings that same week, but no in the sense that neither of our daughters got married during that week. Not that we know of.

But still, we did two major Italian weddings in 36 hours. In two different towns–in two different provinces, even. Yes we can. And yes we did.

SIENA, Tuscany. We had a lovely cup of coffee with our Italian daughter from Torino, Roberta, and her boyfriend, Stefano. Then they took off for a day cruise of Lago Trasimeno and the islands. And Midge and I fooled around in the garden and did laundry in the hot sun and the next thing we knew OMG it’s time to leave for the long awaited wedding at Spannocchia. Our friend Erin Cinelli is the director of the foundation there and we’ve known her since she was Only This Tall.

They started this wedding right, with an awning over tables of Prosecco. Then a beautiful sunset ceremony at one end of the rose covered villa. The bride and groom said their vows and strolled through their friends and family as newlyweds and the wine began to flow and the food too. Very fun food. They had an almost happy carnival like device that fried every kind of fresh vegetable, zucchini blossoms on down. They were served in paper cones for your walking and talking pleasure.

I said sunset didn’t I? But somehow it was really more than that. This was a nuclear powered sunset. Must have been something in the air this particular week because once again on this trip we were brushed an unreal shade of gold. Literally living in a gilded age. The perfect end to a perfect day. But wait. There’s more? A sit-down dinner in the lemonaia and white tents stretched out around it. The tables were set up in white linen and a sort of tan tapestry brocade on the chairs. But the luxury of this was wonderfully broken by the skirt under the linen flowing down to the ground. It was made of burlap. Just the right textural touch. This IS a working farm. Sure it’s a farm with villa and chapel and towers from the 11th century, but make no mistake, Spannocchia is a working farm. Texture was a knockout. And so was the infinity of food and good company.

Wedding dinner in tuscan limonaia complete with swallows. In the air. Not on the menu.
Wedding dinner in tuscan limonaia complete with swallows. In the air. Not on the menu.


We happily shared the gastronomic moment with resident swallows who flitted in and out the whole night like they owned the place. Which they really do. After all, they are here saving the world from bugs one mosquito at a time, every day of the year. I’ve given up mouth-open dives off castle heights hoping to catch fresh nutrients on the wing. You can be in the same room with them. They aren’t like gulls. We really don’t compete for the same food. So they were just lovely visual ornaments for a dinner that needed none at all.

The bad news was we had to duck out early, pre-dessert even. Being Italy, that meant about 10:30 or 11. About that time we decided that if we really were going to go to another wedding that started first thing in the morning – in another province, we’d better get going.

Working our way across the lawn we came up a set of stone stairs to the door of the villa, whose hallways we’d follow out and to our car. My hand touched the massive studded doors and I said to Midge, “Oh, we have to stop a moment. Look at this. Look where we are.” A sky full of lucky stars. Cypress in full moonlight. White roses reaching almost to the top of the villa’s roof bathed in the light. The musicians were just out of sight around a corner of the tent, we could see their silhouettes through the white canvas and could hear the squeak of the accordian and the whine of the violins tuning up for the dancing on the lawn that was about to start. And that we’d be missing. Drink it in, lap up as much as we can. Appreciate every moment.

Now lets get in that car and get back to Panicale before the next wedding starts. Like most of our “rest and relax” times in Italy, we’re having fun as fast as we can. Stay tuned. Wedding Two is the next blog.

Spannocchia on the cover of the Travel Section of this week’s Boston Globe

SIENA, Tuscany/BOSTON, Mass — In this blog you have seen us go on and on about the big Agri-Cultural estate called Spannocchia. Just outside Siena. Midge is on the board of directors of this non profit organization and has been for years. Our marketing company’s tech master has just done the NEW Spannocchia web site and released it to coincide with the mention in the article. We have done brochures, newsletters for them probono also for many years, so we are as proud as new parents. We have been going to Spannocchia since the 1980’s because one branch of the owners’ family are neighbors of ours here in Maine. And the foundation’s headquarters are just down the street in Portland.

This article on the cover of the Boston Globe and two inside pages tells the Spannocchia story better than any one of us could ever imagine it being told. The writer clearly spent some quality time there and his wife contributed the most excellent photos.

Here is the link to the story.
Spannocchia in Boston Globe Should this not work for any reason just simply go to the Boston Globe web site: http://www.boston.com/ and hit Travel and it is the top story there at least for the moment.

If you are planning a trip to the Siena area and want to get a bit of the flavor of the area, this article may be just what you are looking for. Author is so lucid and observant. What a magical way with words. Puts you right in the picture with every turn of the phrase. If you have not been there yet, you will feel like you have after reading this. If you HAVE been there it will be a virtual homecoming for you.

See you in Siena, Italy!


What is in your Dreams?

Well, this was a fun diversion. Our new friend, Kathy of Dream of Italy, Travel Newsletter quoted little old us in her latest edition which featured Tuscan Hideways. Her newsletter describes itself as the “Insider’s Guide to Undiscovered Italy: Newsletter and Resource Center”. And it does that very well based on her latest edition. She had a great cover story on an exotic estate outside Florence called Mangiacane. It was certainly undiscovered to me! And the story made me want to go there, even if I probably will not be able to avail myself of its helipad in the foreseeable near future. But I can Dream, can’t I?

This is SO not an ad. But Dream of Italy is a paid subscription newsletter, so I guess you will have to get take our word for it that we were in there. Or get a subscription. But there we are. Right on page 8 talking about Tuscany and Umbria. I made two points about finding something economical in Tuscany. The first one was that buyers need to consider southern Tuscany, the area around Chiusi. The other way to save money on Tuscan real estate is to . . . buy in Umbria! And why the heck not? Umbria is Tuscany is Umbria. Really. Those rolling cypress-topped hills do NOT have a clue where the border is. All the same to me. If you look at a map, Tuscany is on about three sides of Umbria anyway, driving down the road, even on a casual jaunt to Cortona, we find ourselves going across the border over and over. Tuscany, Umbria. Umria, Tuscany. Who cares? They are both great!

Anyway, Complimenti Kathy, nice to know about your publication. We were tickled to be mentioned in it.