Relaxing under the Tuscan sun and skies

Tuscan countryside early in the morning

While sitting under the tree and enjoying the cool breeze blowing off the 40°C heat, I can’t help but wonder why we’ve never gone to Tuscany before. Our next door neighbor in Holland has been going to Tuscany year after year, staying in the same place over the last 10 years and I used to wonder why they never go elsewhere when there are simply hundreds if not thousands of amazing destination in Europe.

The place is simply stunning and now I can understand why there has always been so much buzz about Tuscany and life under the Tuscan sun, why the place has been gloriously immortalized and romanticized in many books and movies (the recent and pretty popular one being “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes and its movie version starred Diane Lane).

At 360° around me and under clear blue skies, my vista consisted of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, blooms of various kind (geraniums, oleanders, roses, lavender, jasmines, etc.), which charm butterflies of incredible colors, bees and other flies, quaint old villages on which time seemed to have stood still, vineyards, olive groves and wheat fields gone gold.

We’re pretty far from the highway, the only sound that can be heard of are the birds and crickets, occasional cars in the dirt road and the churning of the combined harvesters harvesting the wheat.

Is this life under the Tuscan sun? Pretty laid back and the only thing we can do is sit down and relax, dip in the pool to cool down the Tuscan heat and let time pass by over glasses of chilled prosecco with those delish Italian cheeses on the side.

The place we are staying is an apartment in Agriturismo Pelagaccio. It is a typical Tuscan farmhouse with a small annex building divided into a total of 8 apartments on a 200-hectare property. There is enough privacy just as there is enough company, a perfect balance. (I remember staying on a Centre Parcs holiday home in Germany which I found to be extremely busy and on an isolated holiday home in Normandy which at Francesca’s age now, she would have found too lonesome as she loves the company of other kids).

The place is just ideal with a playground that meets Francesca’s approval and the perfectly situated swimming pool that I’ve ever seen – on top of a hill with a 360° panorama of the Tuscan landscape.

Everyone except me had already tried the pool this morning. I just had fun taking snapshots of everyone and everything – from Francesca, Siefko, Opa and Oma to the Tuscan landscape and those amazing butterflies which cast their spell on me and my cam.

After swimming, Siefko and I headed to Volterra for the groceries (Italian supermarkets are open on Sunday from 8-13 hrs) plus we needed to gas up because our car was running short on petrol. Good that in another village before Volterra (La Sperza) there was a petrol station where we can gas up but it was self-service and the machine would only accept small Euro bills and not bank or credit cards.

We reached the Coop supermarket in Volterra just in the nick of time. It was kind of weird to shop in another country given the language barrier. Doing the self-service thing on those veggies (weighing but the names are in Italian and most times there are no pictures on the weighing scale for the stuff) is like solving a riddle.

Dinner was such a very anticipated affair as the idea of barbeque became a foregone conclusion – grilled pork Pinoy style (in short, “inihaw na baboy” which were thick slices of pork belly marinated in garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper and a bit of soy sauce), grilled aubergine and paprika which I seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber with the simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper — served with steamed rice, beer for the guys and ice-cold white wine for the ladies. That was at almost 10pm as we forgot the passing of time under the Tuscan skies.

Tuscan countryside — view from the pool

View of Pelagaccio from the pool

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

The medieval village of Fabbricca as viewed from the pool — we go there each morning for bread and other supplies

Cypress trees

Tuscan countryside

The path leading to the swimming pool

Location-wise, no pool can be far better than this…on top of a hill with an unobstructed view of the Tuscan countryside

Perfect place to cool down the 40-degree Celsius heat

Fun in the pool for everyone

Father and daughter

Oma joined in the fun

Opa, Papa and the little girl

Enjoying the cool waters

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The family

Finally I joined in the pool party

Tuscan roses

Tuscan rose

Fiery red roses

Yellow blooms

Pink oleanders

Tuscan roses

Butterfly

Butterfly

White butterfly among the lavenders

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Unripe grapes

Tuscan horses

Pelagaccio

The barbeque man

Grilled pork belly

Tuscany

Tuscan countryside

Time to think of warm sunny days especially as the dismal Dutch spring this year is already making not just me but a lot of people edgy. Spring is already mid-way but the nice days we had so far can be counted on my fingers with the single best one being last 30 April when we celebrated Queen’s Day.

On this blog and the few more to come, I will take you to Tuscany, to those warm days that me and my family enjoyed under the Tuscan sun charmed by its amazing countryside and picturesque medieval towns and cities.

It was almost two years ago (early July 2010) when went to Tuscany for a two-week holiday. We stayed at an agriturismo (these are actually farmhouses converted into apartments). Staying in these farmhouses is the best way to experience Tuscany because we really had a good feel of the Tuscan/Italian way of life.

We made the trip from Holland to Italy in two days because my husband did all the driving (1,400 kms) and Francesca being still very young then needed more frequent stops for diaper change, feeding and drinks. My parents-in-law also joined us on this holiday which was also great — we had so much fun on the road. We spent the night in Lucerne, Switzerland staying in a Hilton Express Hotel not so far from the highway.

Weather was unbelievably warm so I really enjoyed the drive through and short stay in Switzerland. Hubby and I holidayed in Switzerland in the past and really loved it there except for the unpredictable weather which can simply dampen the country’s charm. To see this picturesque country under blue skies and with the alps glimmering in the distance was just amazing.

We finally arrived in Tuscany at around 5pm, with some confusion at finding our agriturismo because we realized then that even with the recently upgraded navigation system information, it was hard to find the place because the dirt road leading to it was not on the map (holiday makers staying at agriturismos in Italy can always be recognized through their dusty cars compared to those staying in hotels). There were 3 agriturismo locations that belong to the chain that we booked and the reception/registration was at Diacceroni (we were booked at Pelagaccio). We had to wait for about an hour to get our registration sorted out, the caretaker of Pelagaccio took some time to come over and lead us to our apartment.

I was happy to take some pictures while waiting. The vista around me was amazing — Tuscan hills carpeted with wheat turned gold and ready to be harvested, vineyards, olive groves, distant hilltop villages from Medieval times, cypress trees lining up dirt roads leading to Tuscan hamlets.

Francesca found an instant playmate in an English boy whom she was able to convince that stone-throwing was a fun game.

We were told that there was a free Italian party that night at 7pm for all the guests. We only have to pay for the drinks. What a great surprise! We followed the caretaker to Pelagaccio and the drive took about 15 minutes. We took out our stuffs from the car and headed back again to Diacceroni. There was a very festive atmosphere and guests of various nationalities (Europeans as I was the only exotic-looking creature there) were engaged in friendly getting-to-know chitchat.

Food was great consisting of Italian dishes which were surprisingly vegetarian — pasta in tomato sauce, breads, bruschettas with toppings of fresh tomatoes, anchovies with mushroom and garlic, omelets with vegetables, and tempuras of aubergine, courgette and courgette blooms.

Tables were scattered at Diacceroni grounds planted with olive trees, hibiscus, pomegranates, lavenders, oleanders, cypress, figs, etc.

The kids had a great time running around and playing at the playground. Francesca’s fave was the “spring kussen” or the jumping castle as the Scots’ acquaintance of ours call them.

Diaccerroni agriturismo

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside – view from Diacceroni

Tuscan countryside

artichoke

Pink oleanders

Peach colored oleanders

Red oleanders

White gardenias

Pink Tuscan rose

Pink hibiscus

Pomegranate bloom

Francesca and a new friend

Stone-throwing game

Adventurous girl looking out at the pigs down the hill

A black bird in the olive tree

Dinner under the Tuscan sky

Tuscan food

Courgette (zuccini) omelet

thinly sliced bread topped with fresh tomatoes mashed with olive oil, salt and pepper

Potato omelet

thinly sliced bread topped with anchovies, olives, basil leaves

Courgette tempura

Eggplant omelet

freshly made pasta with tomato sauce and basil leaves

thinly sliced bread with olive oil, salt and pepper

Tuscan sunset

El Nido, our little paradise on earth

El Nido at dusk

With the snow and ice gone, this last bit of winter is just such a drag. There is still more than a month to go before the official start of spring but I can hardly wait to move on into the new season. Even my little girl is already longing for the time when she can go outside and pluck some flowers because at the moment, there is hardly anything of color anymore.

The weather is not helping either to cheer me up. Today it is wet, windy, cold and grey. Thus, I am going down memory lane to a wonderful holiday we had way back in 2006 in the Philippines. This particular place is called El Nido (or the nest) in Palawan and is so-called because of the limestone cliffs that are so typical in this area which are home to a special type of swift, the cave swift that are renowned for building the saliva nests used for the Chinese bird’s nest soup.

This place is special to me and the Mr. because this is where our love story started with a coincidental meeting on its shores over 15 years ago. We call this place our own little paradise for being here is like no other from the wonderful things to see — beautiful uninhabited islands, pristine beaches, scenic limestone cliffs to amazing things to do — island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving or simply relaxing on the beach listening to the gentle to and fro sway of the waves on the shores and the chirping of the birds and crickets in the trees (or at times being pelted with fruit stones by monkeys who do not like intruders). Add to that the pleasantly warm weather, the friendly people and the relaxed if not lazy pace of life which is a comforting interlude from the busy lives we lead back here in the west.

We enjoyed our almost one week stay in this paradise…island-hopping every day and having our simple meals by the beach. Though I have this fear of the deep water, I was caught up in the magic of snorkeling, oftentimes forgetting the time while observing the amazing world beneath the waters…schools of colorful fishes, beautiful corals, sea turtles, clams, and many more.

My husband when he first came to the Philippines has really made it his goal to see El Nido because Jacques Cousteau has remarked that it was the most beautiful place he ever explored. He described El Nido as having one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world.

I miss El Nido and I look forward to returning one day…that time with the three of us. I am sure that our little girl will in a heartbeat get fascinated by these islands and its limitless charm.

US on one of the many uninhabited islands

Early morning on the shores of El Nido town

El Nido at dusk

Island scene -- pristine beach, wild plants and flowers

Typical feature of the islands - white beach, coconut trees and limestone cliffs

Coconut trees

Mangroves

White sandy beach, coconut trees and limestone cliffs

Sea shell

a local fruit (not sure if edible)

Limestone cliff

Approaching an uninhabited island

Limestone cliff island

A local flower

Coconut trees

Wild orchids growing abundantly on the limestones

Fruit-laden coconut tree

A local plant

a lovely shell

Sea shell

Coconut trees along the beach

The limestone cliff up close

This monkey was maybe not happy with intruders to his world - he kept on pelting us with fruit stones ;-)

Lazy pace of life in the islands

An uninhabited island

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