Subject: Travel in Tuscany: Siena, hilltowns.
There is a restaurant just out of Asciano, which we rate as the highlight of 15 weeks in Italy. It is only open for dinner: they start serving a fixed menu at 8.00pm or thereabouts, and don't stop serving till close to 1.00 am. Non of the three ladies spoke English, we spoke very little Italian, but we had the most wonderful evening. Following is our journal entry:

Wednesday 12th July 2000 Another rainy cool day. We had decided to go to Da Miretta for lunch, so we figured a quiet drive through the countryside visiting all the small villages we had missed last week. Most of these towns are in the area known as the #Crete#. It is the area I spoke about last week, which has been heavily eroded over the past hundreds of years. We started however, by turning left off the main road at Rapolano Termi, and driving through fields of sunflowers and miles of vinyards, along a dirt road. We photographed the small villages of PoggioSanta Cecilia and Modanella, as well as the villas between. We crossed the highway again, as we headed up into the hills on our way to Trequanda. Not far into the hills, we passed by a semi deserted town, and a wonderful castle. I pulled off the road above the castle, into the long grass and weeds beside the road, and hopped out to photograph. The aroma that flooded in the door as I opened it, was overwhelming. I had driven over, and crushed, a clump of wild mint. Just sensational. Which reminds us that we just have to get hold of some walnuts, to make a walnut and wild mint pesto to stir through pasta. We have the recipe, and wild mint is everywhere. Now to find some walnuts. When I say that there is long grass and weeds on the side of all the country roads, the truth of the matter is that wild herbs and greens are everywhere. You get the feeling that pretty well everything is edible

We finaly made it through to Trequanda. It was worth it. A pretty little town, well away from the tourists. No churches to explore, just a pretty little village with kids playing in the park, townsfolk sittting outside the bar, and people just getting on with the everyday. We had a coffee and pastry, and retraced our steps in order to cross country to Asciano for lunch. Da Miretta is at Pievina (sometimes called La Pievina), on the main road between Asciano and Siena, 4 km out of town. It was recomended in a directory we found at our apartment. Cadogan Gourmet Guides "Lazy Days out in Tuscany" is a brilliant bit of publishing. From their regular guide, they have selected 20 restaurants in Tuscany, and then extracted the desctriptions of things to see in the immediate area of each. The reviews however, are fantastic. We had already been to two of the restaurants; Da Delfina at Artimino, and La Ceragetta at Isola Santa, because Mary had recommended it. We agreed with their reviews of both restaurants, so we trust their judgment.

We returned home for a late lunch and a snooze, before heading back for Dinner at 8.15 pm. What had been described in the review, unfolded before us as the night progressed. These three ladies not only provide a stunning meal, but put on a performance of hospitality that I haven#t experienced since Raphael at the Bella Vista, in Dee Why in the eighties. The hostess. She spent all night drifting from table to table (with the odd trip into the garden for fresh herbs and bits and pieces). She beamed and chatted with everyone, explaining what was to come next and everytime she passed our table, patted me on the shoulder and explained to Ches, what each dish was.We sat down to dinner at 8.15 pm, and the first of the antipasti was on the table within 5 minutes. We finished eating at 12.15 am. Four hours of non stop grazing. Now I know why they don#t open for Lunch. A 1.30 pm start would see them finishing lunch at 5.30, and just two and a half hours to do it all again. This has to be the dining experience to beat them all. Good food, the odd sensational dish, and great hospitality. I know they wouldn#t recognise one customer from another within 2 hours of everyone leaving, but for while you are there, they fuss over you and make you feel as though you are a long lost friend.

As for Umbria, we stayed for a week on a small farm on the slopes of Mount Subasio, five km or so north of Assisi. It was the best appointed apartment we had in 15 weeks in Italy, the hospitality was sensational, at it made for easy day trips to all the towns you mentioned.

Cheers gavin