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Locanda la Pieve- Home in the heart of Tuscany

Locanda la Pieve- Home in the heart of Tuscany

Anjali Venugopal October 9, 2018 3 COMMENTS

Travel for us, I realize, is not all about discovering the untainted slices of nature or about the secluded spots in the old towns; not just finding tiny coffee shops in quaint alleyways with the scent of finely brewed coffee and freshly baked cookies wafting out of the door; not just about exploring the woods where the birds sing and the leaves rustle in the cool afternoon breeze; and not just about the long drives through the countryside, by the fields of barley or the golden sunflowers, by the turquoise ocean or through the plains under the starry midnight sky. As much as we love each of these little joys associated with the kind of travel plans we make, I realize there is one other major factor that has made each of our little trips to various corners of the world happier, warmer and more memorable. The people.

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When we planned our trip to the south of Tuscany a few months ago, we knew exactly what we wanted. A little boutique hotel in a tiny village somewhere far away from the Chiantis and the Sienas and the Florences and the herds of tourists associated with those names. Somewhere we could celebrate my 29th birthday in peace. Somewhere simple, fuss free and unpretentious. Somewhere happy. After going through a heap of suggestions (you know there is never a dearth of hotels and wineries in the region), we found this one suggestion that somehow felt like it was beckoning to us. Locanda la Pieve.

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Nuzzled in one of the narrow lanes of the quiet and pretty village of Semproniano in the Grossetta province of Tuscany, Locanda la Pieve is a quaint boutique hotel run by the sweetest couple, Enrico and Angela. Enrico manages the kitchen and is the head chef while Angela wears the many other hats. Just as we arrived, Angela was there to welcome us and we could sense the love and the warmth that goes into the running of this hotel. Somehow, we knew straightaway that this place spelt out H-O-M-E like no other.

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Location: Semproniano is the perfect spot if you want a quiet nook to spend a few days while you roam around the region tasting wine, relaxing under the trees, exploring the villages nearby or driving around the countryside. It is about an hour and a half away from Rome and is equidistant from the Tuscan mountain towns and the seashore. The proximity to the thermal spa at Saturnia adds to the advantages picking this spot for your glorious Tuscan holiday.

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Décor: Locanda la Pieve is all about an experience reminiscent of your own home. The décor is simple, warm and comfortable. Be it the cozy furnishings at the entrance or the pretty dining area with the morning light streaming in through the thin white curtains, or even the cozy living corner where you can read a book or chat while sipping on a glass of Prosecco which Angela lovingly offers to bring for you, when you loiter around the kitchen, while you wait for the yummy dinner to be served. The rooms, again, are unpretentious, comfortable and leaves nothing to be desired, with the windows opening into the quiet lanes of beautiful Semproniano.

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Food: Good Lord the food! Enrico weaves magic with his food, I kid you not. Locanda la Pieve uses only fresh, organic and seasonal produce (this is a philosophy that they swear by) and this becomes evident with every bite you take of the food that is served with love that is not experienced very often outside our homes. Both breakfast (complimentary) and dinner (upon request) is provided to the residents. There is no menu to choose from and I felt this was the best part about our meals there. Dinner comprises anything Enrico whips up using the freshest produce purchased from the local farmer; surprise antipasti, first course, second course and dessert, every day, each vying for the top spot in every meal. It has been two days since I last had a meal from their kitchen and believe me, my mouth is flooded at the mere thought of their handmade Pici in garlic and tomato sauce or my birthday dinner there. Yummm. Oh and ask Angela for wine recommendations!

People: If there is absolutely anything that the food at Locanda la Pieve would take second place to, it’s the kind of people that run this little place. It is their home that they open up to the public and they make you feel so welcome that it’s difficult to say goodbye and return to normalcy. I still remember what Angela said when she came with a steel tray laden with two glasses of Prosecco, some beautiful olives and some munchies. She set the tray down and said with a warm smile “Welcome! But this is the last time we say welcome and you say thank you. Familia, okay?” and she meant every word.

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We have stayed at a number of hotels, home stays and the like in many different corners of the world. But somehow, Angela and Enrico will forever have a special place in our hearts. Something about the way she looks at you when you struggle to finish the plate of food (only because I have a tiny stomach and the portions are super generous haha), something about the way they greet you first thing early in the morning, the stories, something about the care they took to make sure my birthday was perfect, the little bag of cookies she baked specially for me, the “no munchies with your Prosecco today, or you will not eat dinner”, everything.

Something tells me that we have left a piece of our souls in Semproniano, and that we have found for ourselves a home in Italy that we will need to keep going back to and friends to keep for a lifetime. Thank you Angela and Enrico for the absolutely lovely experience! Cannot wait to come right back 🙂

PS: This is not a paid post or an advertisement. I mean every word and I feel the world deserves to experience the warmth and hospitality Locanda la Pieve has in store.

 

 

 

Montelparo: A slice of Italy’s best kept secret

Montelparo: A slice of Italy’s best kept secret

Anjali Venugopal August 21, 2017 2 COMMENTS

Being two souls who have never taken to the glitter and the glamour of city life (honestly quite repulsed by it) or the crowd and noise that comes along with it, the Husband and I are eternally in pursuit of places where we can be in sync with nature, far, far away from the madding crowd; where we can sip on some wine, under the blue skies or just as much as while away time under the trees while the sun shines, listening to the sparrows chirping away. If not for these spots that let us be one with nature, it has to be the timeworn, quiet townships with majestic buildings, their grey walls that have stories to tell from the innumerable winters they have witnessed and withstood; with the narrow, cobbled streets that make for countless alleyways. We have invariably turned to the peace, the quiet and the warmth of the countryside whenever we have felt the need to unwind or to get the calm in our systems restored.

It was during one of those erratic work weeks that the Husband and I chanced upon, on the internet, this tiny village somewhere on the hills in the lush Italian countryside; Montelparo. Nestled between the sprawling Apennine Mountains and the calm Adriatic Sea that reminds you of a sheet of cornflowers in full bloom, in the eastern Italian region of Le Marche, Montelparo deserves a lot more literature dedicated to her beauty and serenity than what exists currently. Here we got our share of the countryside with a side of the old, rustic, old town feel. It is not without reason that the insiders refer to Le Marche as “Italy’s best kept secret.”

A quick survey on the internet told us that the fastest way to get to this quaint village on the hills is by car, and voila! We flew to Rome and then rented a Fiat Panda, all set to discover parts of lo stivale which seemed to be unheard of even by the locals. So, with our small suitcases stowed away in the boot, a full petrol tank, route downloaded on Google maps, sunglasses and a bottle of water, we set out on our own mini adventure as early as 7 in the morn. The drive was not supposed to take us any more than three hours as per Google maps. And lo and behold, the drive was one right out of the movies; where the lead characters drive their supercars through the highways lined with the lush green grass, with the towering mountains in the background set against the azure skies with clouds that remind us of cotton candy from the carnivals. The sole difference in our case was that, we did not look anything like the said lead characters; sporting our just-out-of-bed looks, in oversized tees, sneakers and worn out pairs of shorts. So glamourous.. NOT!

The drive was easily the best we have done to date. It was my first time in Italy but no book or research on the internet had me prepared for the beauty that she is. There was this point during the drive that we realized that we were not even talking and instead we were both just gazing endlessly out of the windows as though out of the sheer desperation to hold on to every moment that was flashing by, right in front of our eyes. Talk about living in the moment. There was a stretch of the highway that ran adjacent to the coastline to the Adriatic Sea; the water so blue that it almost made us feel like we were cast in an animated Disney flick. We stopped at one of the quiet coves at Pedaso, for a short break in the sun before we started to ascend the hills to get to Montelparo. We sat by the cove with our feet in the blue water, while the warm sun shone on our bare backs. With our batteries charged, we were ready to get back on the winding road to the village we had been reading about.

We drove by vast fields of golden sunflowers (remember Sting and his gruff voice, although he was referring to fields of barley, what a pity) smiling away at us as we whizzed past, through the narrow hill roads, by the white wooden board with ‘Montelparo’ painted on it in black. We had arrived.

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A tiny village on the hills, with houses, the lone church and bungalows, all built in an identical stone that was a light brown in colour; dark cobbled streets running past all these dainty structures; a piazza to serve as a parking area for the entire village (just to shed more light on how tiny the village is); and the utterly breathtaking view. The whole village is so high up that you can see the vast expanse of the countryside laying in front of you for as far as your eye can reach; the green of the surrounding hills, the sunlight bouncing off the valleys, the stone chapel in the distance, the trees; all set against the canvas lent by the blue skies.

We had already made reservations in a cozy looking hotel going by the pictures and the reviews on the internet; Boutique Hotel Leone. Run by the sweetest British couple Madeline and Tim, our experience at Leone was not a step behind perfect, right from the moment we set foot in that cool, airy, stone structure that houses the hotel that fits the picturesque background like a well-fitting glove. The holiday hangover that I am currently experiencing, even after a good one week after the Italian sojourn does not let me keep for later the fact that the whole show behind this luxury hotel is put up by none other than these two adorable individuals. A luxury hotel, with just 8 rooms, the amount of research that must have gone into each of the factors that makes this charming little place an experience in itself, seems unfathomable.

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Madeline who was once an accountant is the one who seemingly runs most of the front desk and administrative work, while Tim is the head chef. Just as we entered we were welcomed by the two of them personally, with the warmth one would expect only from family or long lost friends. After a brief chit chat, Madeline showed us to our room and holy moly! Considering the perfection with which Hotel Leone operates, I cannot help but talk about each of the factors that made the experience arguably the best we have had in a long, long time. So here goes.

  • Décor: Boutique Hotel Leone spelt out two words for me right at the first instance; warm and tasteful. Normally, these are not two adjectives I would expect to go side by side in a hotel environment. But Leone had it all. The furniture, the rooms, the setting the cute little bar, the terrace overlooking the spectacular view, the restaurant, the indoor part of which gives you vibes from no less than an old Scottish castle with the white washed, stone walls and the beautiful dim lighting, spelt out ‘class’. Another aspect that quite caught my fancy was the common living area for the residents, painted in a beautiful hue of fresh green, furnished with a few comfortable armchairs and sofas and adorned with those classic lampshades; the bookshelves loaded with all sorts of books (cookbooks in particular) reminded me of a scene from a long forgotten storybook.

 

  • Rooms: Even if we choose to ignore the view out of the windows (as difficult as that might be), the rooms in this hotel are worth every penny you spend. It was almost like every single aspect in the rooms were taken with utmost seriousness right at the toddler stages of the hotel; be it the huge comfy beds, the classy furnishings, the spacious bathrooms or even the mini bar for that matter. I must mention the cute complimentary basket that greeted us in the room filled with fresh fruit and some homemade cookies.

 

  • Services: Out of the umpteen hotels we have stayed at, individually and together, Leone is the first place where the rooms were cleaned and the beds made, twice a day; once in the morning and once when you are out for dinner. I mean, how amazing is that! By the time you get back from dinner, your beds will be made, with a little chocolate left for you on the pillow, all ready for you to just snuggle in between the sheets for a good night’s rest.
  • Food & Drink: As I had mentioned, Tim is the head chef in this hotel and he’s a star (for want of a more apt term.) By now, if you have been following my blog for a bit, you must know as to how seriously I take my food. So, take it from me, the food Tim whips up is phenomenal. The Truffle Ravioli that made for our first meal there was just something surreal. The fresh mussles in a white wine, garlic and parsley broth, the Pumpkin Ravioli and the seafood risotto need to be given honourable mentions. As regards drinks, Madeline is a genuine case of wine connoisseur-ness (again might need to apply for an artistic license) and the most helpful of them all. The husband and I love our wine, but do not consider ourselves connoisseurs and for this reason, we kept describing to the lovely Madeline what we were looking for in terms of taste or flavour and the bottles she picked were always absolutely on point.
  • Amenities: Keeping aside the fact that Hotel Leone is situated on a gem of a property, the amenities provided leave no box unchecked. Be it the lavish outdoor pool by the trees, the terrace where you can spend hours gawking at the hills and the valleys in front of you while Madeline treats you to the finest local wine, the restaurant with a stunning outdoor area for the days when the sun is out as well as the cozy indoor area or the bar, Hotel Leone has it all.

 

I realise I can go on forever about this stellar experience that we got to experience out of sheer luck. We were unable to put our finger on even one minute flaw in the whole experience, and that I feel is the result of all the hard work these two lovely individuals have devoted into this project. They had just three staff members whilst we were there. Two lovely interns, who were so on top of their game, making sure every guest is comfortable, warm and friendly at the same time never overstepping the mark even the slightest bit and an efficient and (again) warm, housekeeper. I could not help but notice how even the music played in the restaurant was so on point. That is the attention to detail you can see for yourselves in this little gem.

In case I have left you wondering if all there is to experience in Montelparo is the silence and the beauty of nature, please keep in mind that there are a gazillion old towns in the area accessible by car which are absolutely worth a visit. Also, the beaches are not far at all. Trust Madeline to help you out with all that you will need including maps, directions, recommendations and what not to make your day trips as perfect as your stay.

If ever you do plan to make a visit to the lower part of Italy, and you are looking to spend a bit of time with your loved ones away from the city madness, under the blue skies, sipping on some good wine, head straight to Leone and let Madeline and Tim do what they do best. I promise, you will not be disappointed. 🙂