The bag of eggs I bought today – yes, a bag – comes with a picture of the hen that laid them and a poem.
I am very pretty Gina
In the henhouse I am queen
I am envied by roosters and hens
for my colored feathers
I make healthy and authentic eggs
make sabayon and cream
This is not a sketch of Portlandia, but rather the way they do things at the ortofrutta (fruit tree) in Colle di Val d’Elsa. South of Florence and half an hour’s drive from Siena, the ancient Tuscan city is renowned the world over for its crystal glassware, neoclassical-fronted cathedral and grand medieval palaces, but to me it will remain always remembered for her eggs. .
I might never have heard of the grocery store, accessed by what looks like a residential driveway, if I hadn’t had a concierge team to help me plan my vacation before I arrived. Granted, most people who travel through Exclusive Resorts’ private members travel club, like I am on this trip, probably don’t share my interest in no-frills grocery shopping.
Exclusive Resorts isn’t exactly a budget travel experience. Joining the club starts at $175,000 (US) for a 10-year membership, and that doesn’t factor in the cost of accommodation (members need to travel 15-30 nights a year). This provides access to a portfolio of 400 vacation homes in 75 destinations, as well as a team ready to help you make your trip effortless, from a personal concierge to an on-call chef and full housekeeping.
In the 5,000 square foot villa where my family is staying, it’s tempting to spend our entire vacation between the heated onyx pool, the vine-shaded courtyards, and the impossibly comfortable bed. But I want to see more of the area so the concierge team suggest we visit nearby Monteriggioni, a perfectly preserved medieval fortified village with towers so impressive Dante Alighieri called them in his Divine Comedy “horrific giants” .
Monteriggioni was built by the Sienese as a frontline in their wars against Florence in the Middle Ages. My son and daughter, aged almost 3 and 7, are more interested in the ice cream than the rich literary history of the village, but they enjoy walking along the old fortified walls, imagining themselves defending the town against the invaders.
They also befriend a local cat who lives next to the 13th-century Santa Maria Assunta church in the main square, Piazza Roma. Unfortunately, the “Monteriggioni in arms“The museum is closed when we visited, but they kindly left a mannequin in full armor out front to scare everyone away.
We say arrived to the local chat and come back for a private pasta making class at our villa. The chef, Rita, is patient and encourages the children, who create something akin to fresh pasta dough, but find the most success simply by turning the crank of the pasta maker.
The ravioli, along with the roast lamb and sautéed rapini, are phenomenal, exactly the kind of home-cooked Italian meal you dream of on your travels. Almost as exciting, however, is the fact that by the time we finish the last bites of baked fruit with ice cream, the dishes are all done and the kitchen spotless.
The next morning, Rita is back and has prepared a breakfast that seems intended for a family of eight: pastries, fruit salad, choice of juice, toast, hand-sliced prosciutto, various cheeses, eggs prepared to order. We do our best and then pack up the rest for snacks during our day in Siena.
Half an hour from Casali di Casole, the 4,200-acre estate where our villa is located, the brick tower of the 800-year-old Basilica of San Domenico comes into view. We’re here to meet Stella Soldani, a tour guide with ToursByLocals, a Canadian company that started in Vancouver in 2008 and now employs nearly 4,500 guides in 191 countries. Our tour is designed for families, but we know little about it.
“Siena is divided into 17 different upset, or neighborhoods,” she explains, as the children struggle to pay attention. “Each is represented by a different animal or characteristic.” Now she has their attention. Handing out printed sheets, she asks the children if they can identify some of the symbols.
“Unicorn, owl, giraffe, panther, wolf. Dragon!” they shout, eager to find these creatures. Soon they spotted a porcupine relief on the wall of an old warehouse, a dragon statue in a courtyard and, in the Jewish quarter, a mural of an elephant carrying a tower on its back. “It is the tower countered,explains Stella, “my neighborhood”. We all agree that this is the best.
In the Goose Quarter we find the medieval Fountain of Fontebranda, so old it seems natural rather than man-made, with massive, colorful koi carp gliding through its crystal clear water, its ripples reflecting in a series of vaulted arches.
Nearby, children practice for the Corteo Storico, the costumed parade that precedes the famous Palio di Siena horse race, which takes place in the main square in July and August. Although they are dressed in civilian clothes and their drums and flags lack synchronicity, we watch them delighted, while trying to stop my son from jumping with the koi.
Our tour ends, as all good things in Tuscany seem to do, with ice cream. There are dozens of options, but Stella prefers Grom above all others and I understand why. The purity and intensity of flavors, including pistachio and gianduia, are matched only by the silky texture.
As we say goodbye to Stella, my son, who played shy at first, gives her a big hug, and I realize how exceptionally smooth this family trip has felt, thanks in large part to someone another who takes care of all the planning and accompaniment. , so that we can actually vacation.
On our last day in Italy, we have a few hours in Florence before our flight, so I ask the concierge at Exclusive Resorts to compile a map of the city’s highlights for a quick walking tour. Our first stop, of course, is at the Duomo, a building so grand and spectacular that it’s hard to fully comprehend.
In Piazza della Signoria, we eat Frits of San Giuseppe, rice fritters fried in olive oil — it’s Father’s Day in Italy and it’s the traditional Tuscan high tea for the occasion — near the Fountain of Neptune and watch the pigeons disturb the replica statue of David.
My daughter, obsessed with Greek mythology, however, is drawn to another statue. “Daddy, it’s Perseus,” she exclaims as she rushes over to Benvenuto Cellini’s 500-year-old bronze sculpture of the demigod holding aloft the Gorgon’s severed and twisted head. I don’t know who is more delighted by this unexpected spectacle.
For all the luxury of this trip, it is this fortuitous encounter, totally gratuitous and totally unexpected, that I will cherish forever. Well, that and a special bag of eggs.
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