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: 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!


Ah, Siena. Ah, Spannocchia. (A Wiley Report)

At an hour and half away from Panicale, Spannocchia , is just far enough away to feel like a mini vacation and just barely far enough away that you can rationalise spending the night. The drive there is easy and really it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t. We’d go anyway!

SIENA, TUSCANY—How do I love Siena, I couldn’t possibly count the ways. So when Erin, our friend at Spannocchia, just outside Siena, invited me to come stay the night I was beyond excited. Erin is the director of the foundation there. She is also our neighbor in Italy and in Maine!

At an hour and half away from Panicale, Spannocchia , is just far enough away to feel like a mini vacation and just barely far enough away that you can rationalise spending the night. The drive there is easy and really it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t. We’d go anyway!

This grand AgriCultural estate sits atop over 11,000 acres and includes a castle, a major villa, a chapel and lots of interesting and original farmhouses, a classic Medieval Tuscan hilltop community, in short. We have definitely written about Spannocchia before. Here is a Siena/Spannocchia blog from this time last year. But it is just so amazing I want a whack at it, too . . .

Note from Stew:
the photo above can be clicked on to see it in enlarged form.

When I was 13, my family went to Italy for two months. As I said, I was 13, it was the end of eighth grade — I would be missing eighth grade graduation!! Now I was not completely upset about the missing school situation, but foreign countries are scary and/ or boring when you have no idea what you’re doing, where you’re going or what you’re looking at and what people are saying.

But something special happened in Sienna and at Spannocchia. It was all just so pretty, so calm and dream like in its simplicity and elegance, with such amazing history and a great sense of fun. In Sienna it was the Duomo’s Piccolo Uomini Library that captured my heart, at Spannocchia? Pizza Night!

Now, nearly 10 years later, I had never been to Spannocchia for any other night except for Pizza Night. So when Erin emailed and asked if I would come on a Monday (pizza nights are Wednesdays) of course I said YES!

Between Italian class, webpages and phone calls that followed me literally up to the gates of Spannocchia I was definitely ready for some of Spannocchia’s white wine to empty my mind on the terrace before moving on to the official pre-dinner drinks, -Red, this time- in front of the fire.

Then dinner. It started out with Ribolita, a Tuscan, twice-boiled, vegetable and bread soup that seems to warm your insides as soon as you look at it. Of course totally enough for a meal on its own, but true to Italian form, we were literally just getting warmed up. It was followed by their own thin, succulent, pork filets, little cakes with pine nuts, limoncello and huge amounts of laughter.

After dinner we gathered back in front of the fire to see all the pictures from Spannocchia’s last batch of visitors, this is an annual group that includes Erin’s parents Gail and Peter, that goes to Spannocchia in order to continues the rescue and restoration work on “The English Garden”. This year a highlight was a woman from Maine helping everyone make animal statues out of pine needles and branches including a set of wild boars.

Then it was time for bed, but I’m sorry, I just can’t sleep. Why? Because it has started to rain, and when I say rain I mean it is pouring buckets out there. Y’know how you count between the thunder and lightning to see how far away the storm is? Well, that storm was right over us, directly over us, and it just would not budge. The windows were rattling, the shudders were shaking, it was loud and it lasted all night. But it felt kind of nice to be in this big all- weather, weathering castle and snuggling under the duvet listening to the rain as I eventually drifted off to sleep.

After breakfast the next morning of yogurt and muesli, hard boiled eggs and coffee lots of coffee, I swam down the road and back to Panicale, canceling house viewings along the way, and wishing I had another week, another lifetime to stay at Spannocchia.

Celebrating Spring in Siena

The first of May, primo di Maggio, embraced the crowd gathered at Spannochhia, an organic farm outside Siena. Yellow roses and purple wisteria climbing the villa’s walls, new black and white belted Sienese piglets in their chestnut log huts with their moms, wooly white sheep and lambs frolicking in the meadows. It just made us want to dance. So we did.

The latest foreign correspondent is Midge Vreeland. Why, yes the last name IS similar. When I left Italy she was just arriving for a board of directors meeting at the Castello di Spannocchia outside Siena. Here’s her report from high on that Tuscan hilltop.

SIENA,Tuscany—The first of May, primo di Maggio, embraced the crowd gathered at Spannochhia, an organic farm outside Siena. Yellow roses and purple wisteria climbing the villa’s walls, new black and white belted Sienese piglets in their chestnut log huts with their moms, wooly white sheep and lambs frolicking in the meadows. It just made us want to dance. So we did. The Farm Manager and a young American intern working on the farm charmed us, performing with a traditional folk music group. Our luncheon buffet served outside in the courtyard displayed the wonderful Tuscan dishes that are provided by Spannocchia’s fields and animals. Talk about Slow Food. At Spannocchia, they first raise the food and only then do they get to prepare it. From Maine, Colorado, Wisconsin, Arizona we lucky Americans joined local Italians to applaud May, Spring, Italy.

When you are in the Siena area we hope you will plan to visit and enjoy Spannocchia’s environs and its bounty. By helping keep this medieval castello with its chestnut groves, olive trees and vineyards moving into the 21st century, we feel like we are paying back the country that through centuries has nurtured travelers from abroad. Here ancient grains are resurrected, almost extinct breeds of farm animals being brought back from the edge of oblivion. At Spannocchia it is all about sustainable agriculture in an increasingly plastic, rushrush, throw away world. The farm is a non-profit educational center staffed by a loyal mix of native Italians and enthusiastic interns from all over America.

On Spannocchia’s 1,200 hilltop acres you’ll find residential art, history, and cultural programs, hiking trails, a bed and breakfast and houses to rent for your family. You’ll also find a way to support, in even a small way, the cultural landscape of Italy that has filled a portion of our hearts — with beauty, romance, history, and peace. You can belong to this special place in Italy as a member of the Spannocchia Foundation. One of the great benefits of the nominal membership here, is that you can then rent and stay at this lovely retreat high in the Sienese hills. And, of course, be able to drop broad hints that during your vacation you will be off visiting friends in their castle. Oh, the Trip Envy your friends back home will have!

There are presently two Web sites about the estate: — to become a member, learn about the farm and the foundation that supports it. And at — you can view the traditional Tuscan accommodations that you will find there.

Ok, I’m back now.

First it rained for a few days here in Umbria while we jetlagged about the house and test drove the wood stove. Then we had what are now referred to as the days of wild sunsets.

Been crazy since last blogging. First it rained for a few days here in Umbria while we jetlagged about the house and test drove the wood stove. Then we had what are now referred to as the days of wild sunsets. I have a photo, in fact, several photos that will attest to swell levels of weirdness. Then we started Italian gardening in spades. And of course it was necessary to take pictures of new flowers in bloom. I call this Wisteria in the Wind Is anyone buying any of these lame excuses. Anyone, at all? And seeing houses and meeting friends and making up for serious lost time. So, it has been just an Italy bit busy around here these last few days. Our town is called Panicale. It is so fun and social and full of things to do we affectionately call it Panic Alley. Having entirely too much fun, too much food, coffee and gelati. You know. . . That does sound pretty good. Wait right there.

Ok, back now. I must just be an urban kind of guy I guess. Popped my head out, popped right back in for umbrella and off to Aldo’s for gelati with “the family”. Nocciolo and almost black chocolate gelati. Aldo and Nico are talking plants and watching Italian movie sort of. Late at night these town cafes get more like being in someone’s living room. Where you can drop in as late as you want like bad teenagers. We get right into the fertilizers and cosmic issues of light and shade. Should we try to raise lemons in a pot or not? Big issues, weighty thoughts. And the good part is Aldo is sitting and gossiping like all the people he waits on all day every day. Is it obvious why I have trouble getting blog up? Easily distracted here in Umbria. Two stores up the street, and half way to our house is Masolino’s Restaurant and it finally looks like I can get in there. To see for sure if they are open Wednesday when friends from Colorado are racing up from Rome to eat there. Tuesday is still the day of reposo. Plan accordingly. Andrea says “you came in twice before and went back out” I said “cripe yes, era un cassino qui”. Somehow saying something was a bordello evokes crazy busy. Huge crowds every time I went by earlier and decided to pass on that even after I had actually stepped in. “Nobody but Americans still here now” he said without too much irony pointing towards the last couple tables lingering over coffees. Then he poured me a grappa something and we talked about fun things to do in Miami. Did I mention Miami is next month? I do too have a good excuse. Family member has a birthday and they insisted we party like Foridians. What could I say? And I will be reporting in “live” from Caffe Milano there thanks to Andrea’s heads up on that touristic front.

Seeing delightful Italian homes in all price ranges up to 2 million euros. And as low as 55,000 euros. Trust me you get what you pay for so if Giancarlo takes you to the 55,000 no whining, OK? Its cheap, already.

Some lovely lovely houses all around this part of Umbria. Places with gardens, with pools, or both. Complete Italian villas with their own woods, fields, horse paddocks like Podernovo, fairy tale hilltop, private homes with garden on all sides in full flowers, near Citta della Pieve. Go to the This just in! section for the full tease and then write me for the photo galleries or more information. This is really just the tip of the Italian real estate ice berg. Hold my feet to the fire when I get back to make me keep sorting and get all these beauties up on the site!

I went to the theater last night (it is a couple doors down the other way) and saw an amazing production by a local group. High tech, high concept, just a wonderful thing even if it does take place in hell? Astaroth in: La Guerra Spiegata ai Poveri. War explained to the poor people. Written in Italy right after WW2 but relative today as well. We knew several people in it. I loved getting my ticket. I was grocery shopping and my friend Dily wanted to know if I was going to the play and what night and we discussed and she said a ticket would be waiting and it was. Second row, middle, sold out show. I love how everything works here in Umbria.

The night before I walked to a friend’s house just outside the castle gates by full moon light. Chairs packed around the dinner table. A dog under the table. Some of the British people at the table kept exclaiming with great joy “It’s a Lurcher, it’s a great bloody Lurcher’. Which I guess is a breed of dog we silly Yanks don’t know about yet, big thing, mottled like a great dane. No, wait again, make that two dogs, I think there was a Jack Russel under the Lurcher, and if you stood up to get seconds on something a cat would doze off in your chair. Well, one did in mine. We wined and dined. And wined. Prosecco, local white Umbrian wine, Vin Santo, two kinds. Anti pasti, pasti with fresh rape, artichokes baked in a torte, fish (its head was nearly as big as mine) mouse, cookies. As the Egyptians say if I wasn’t standing deep in de Nile, I would admit to a bit of a “morning after” syndrome from all the wonderfulness.

The day before that party I really and sincerely found myself lost in deepest Tuscany. Ok, THERE is the map – at the BOTTOM of my computer bag. Boy, I could have used THAT a few hours earlier. Roads were out. Word of the day: Deviazione. Deviate indeed. I was lost. I was on roads that I later saw on maps, and they resembled nothing so much as twisted entrails. My own personal stomach was not doing a bad impersonation of same. If I only had a brain. Or a co-pilot. Or the map. A normal person could do it quite easily with any of those above.

It was worth trip I will admit. Podernovo, was my photographic goal of the day. Acres and acres of Tuscan woods being meticulously manicured and groomed, the pool and its terraces being readied for summer. Multiple stone buildings, all rooms freshly painted in the most luscious and tasteful pastels, old details cared for, restored and flattered with accessories, flowers and vines ready to burst into color. From the villa and grounds you look over at the town of Monticiano. Or you can canter through your own Italian woods to the Monticiano’s horse track where they train horses for Siena’s famous Palio. How many small towns have a horse track. How cool is that?

Wait. How far out of whack am I on this blog? Have I been so blogged down that I dropped the ball and didn’t report on seeing Siena again? I’m here again?

Appears so. The clouds parted and we had run to Siena between the raindrops. By late lunch time we were eating outside in the sun beneath scudding clouds that would have us in coats one minute and down to Tshirts the next.

Its all about food and books and people watching for me in Siena.

Food: pizza, ravioli and salad in il Campo. Porchetta and wild boar sausage in a sack from the deli a few stores away. Dinner solved.

Books: Ones with pictures and even one without: “The Reluctant Tuscan, or How I discovered my Inner Italian” by Phil Doran. We’ll see how that turns out. Had to like the title.

People watching: Note to the fashion forward, pale pistachio is the new black. It is the color in Siena for Spring ’05. My wife took her credit cards and went one way and my daughter took hers and went another and both came back with green. Shoes for one and a jacket for the other and they matched. So I started noting. Once you spot it you see it everywhere in Siena: cloth, leather, silks, walls of stores, on posters and graphics. So now you know. You heard it here first. “Green is Hot”. Ok, some of the pre-schoolers hadn’t gotten the memo on that but aren’t they so cute when with their day glow back packs and umbrellas and they are holding hands two by two like that? Town was aswamp with them.

Been quite a good Italian adventure so far and different friends are arriving every day for the next three days. My, sigh, flight is on the fourth of those days. If only the roses will bloom for me before I go. I hear good things about them, and people even send me photos of them. Never seen them in bloom in person yet. Some day.

Happy Italian Liberation Day Monday, April 25th by the way. La festa della “Liberazione” We asked if they have fireworks and got blank looks. Guess not.

Ok, for at least the next few days we can still say,

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland


Siena did come to the West Coast for a few days. And it was good. The Spannocchia parties were a great success with the LA event even getting mentions in the LA Times.


Siena did come to the West Coast for a few days. And it was good. The Spannocchia parties were a great success with the LA event even getting mentions in the LA Times. Blizzard-bound Mainers, noses pressed to the windows of the Portland Jetport trying to see even a hint of the runway — well, we didn’t have a snowball’s chance of making that party. But we were all present and accounted for in San Francisco. We met up with Randall Stratton, from Siena, Italy and Gail Cinelli and Erin Cinelli, both from Maine at Alice Water’s famous CHEZ PANISSE in Berkley. How famous is it? Someone just gave me the book “1,000 Things to See Before You Die ”. (Morbid-ish title, if you ask me, which they didn’t) Anyway, under “San Francisco” in the book, there are basically two entries: Cable Cars and Chez Panisse. What a fine and legendary place that is. Oh my. That was a wonder. Freshest ingredients, freshest presentation, nicest people running it. And the building is so fun. Like a tree house for grown ups. Very funky, even for fun Berkley.

The Spannocchia estate outside Siena is all about sustainable agriculture, so an interesting side shoot of the visit to Alice’s Restaurant was that the manager encouraged us to make a few block jog in our trip around Berkley to visit a foundation started by Alice Waters called the Edible Schoolyard .

This was really a demonstration of what one person with a good idea can accomplish. With her vision and guidance the people at Martin Luther King Middle School dug up a concrete parking lot and made a one acre kitchen garden. The kids dig this garden. They dig, plant, weed, harvest it. Then they eat their results and compost anything left over. We took a nice tour with the director who had been a student there herself in the early days of the garden. Another fun part of the tour is when Rusty Lamar former Internship Program Operations Manager at Spannocchia biked over to join the tour. He’s traded the good life in Siena for the good life of Architecture School in Berkley. He’s show in the photo here, at the right, with Spannocchia Foundation executive director Erin Cinelli.

At the party later in the Noe Valley part of town near Mission Dolores Park at Incanto Restaurant, we wined we dined most excellently with old friends and new and then Randall Stratton introduced the newly translated book by Delfino Cinelli about life on a large Italian agricultural estate in the 1920s – with many parallels to today’s farm life. Randall is Spannocchia’s General Manager so he was the perfect editor of his wife’s grandfather’s book.

The book’s translator Archie Stone spoke and both he and Randall were signing copies later. They sold every copy they had with them before we could get to them. The books can be ordered by calling the Spannocchia office in Maine (207-871-5158), and they will ship them as they get shipments in from Spannocchia.

Eventually, Erin says they will have an option for ordering online, but not quite there yet. This is the first ever English language edition of the book: “Castiglion che Dio sol sa” – The Castle that only God knows. Midge later pulled the name of the lucky raffle winner out of a hat and announced that Berry Stafford had won a week at the Castello. Good times indeed.

In the photo here we see Gail Cinelli, Randall Stratton, Sarah Chironi and Erin Cinelli. Sarah is a Spannocchia intern program alum. She and Erin were interns together in 1994. Today, Sarah owns an olive oil production company and mail-order business in St. Helena, California called Elixir Olive Oil.