On my trip to Italy last summer, my friend Milos, a native of Bracciano, (a beautiful medieval city 30 km north of Rome and my new favorite place), took me on one of his Taste&Travel food, wine, and culture tours.
Hmmmm… a tour through the Roman countryside to meet purveyors of local, artisanal foods and wine, discover medieval fortresses and castles, wander among the ancient ruins of an Etruscan city of the dead, and take a dip in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Ummm, ya, count me in.
Milos picked us up in his dusty red Honda and we set out on the road. Several miles outside the city, pavement dwindled into a gravel road lined with olive groves, mountains looming in the distance, sun-kissed grasses swaying in the light summer breeze. So, this was the countryside of Lazio. It was gentle and pastoral, reminiscent of Sonoma County, another favorite place.
As we turned into Formaggi Valleluterana, the “slow food” pecorino cheesemaker, we were hit with the rich, musky aroma of sheep’s milk. We were greeted by Giancarlo Gentili, the third generation owner of the tidy farm. I was told he’s also a fan of Bukowski. Random.
At Gentili’s command, the herd of 600 bleating sheep that produce 250 liters of milk per day, filed in an orderly procession to be milked. After the work was done, Giancarlo sat with us sipping a dry red as we sampled three types of house made pecorino. He surveyed the beautiful landscape with his eyes, lifted a glass and smiled, “Siamo in grazia di Dio.” We are in God’s grace.
How do you follow that? You move on to the gates of heaven, of couse! We arrived at Tenuta Tre Cancelli next, an elegant winery at the foot of a volcano, with coastal breezes coming in from the eastern sea. The “tre cancelli” or “three gates,” refer to the moon, sun, and heaven. Here, on another divinely-inspired swath of land, Liborio De Rinaldis and Silvio Pulcinelli continue the Estruscan tradition of eating and drinking with gusto and refinement. Their luxurious ruby red Pacha is a blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Merlot, named for the deity identified with Dionysus and Bacchus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine.
After walking among the vines and sipping delightful wines, it was time to make a pilgrimage to the Etruscan ruins — the “cities of the dead.” Here I learned about a civilization my American, public school education never mentioned, the sophisticated pre-Roman civilization that existed from 700 BC until it was assimilated by the Roman Republic in the late 4th century BC. One of the many things the Etruscans are known for was the unique way they honored their departed. We visited the archeological museum as well as the fascinating necropolis, permanent homes for the dead — little houses where tombs are carved to resemble residential interiors, lavishly designed with stone couches and chairs, sculptures and frescoes.
Our custom tour finished with a bottle of rose on the beah beside the Santa Severa castle (that was also a shelter for cats, much to the delight of my nine-year-old daughter) and a dip in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Taste&Travel offers three organized tours — Etruscan Coast, Ghost Towns, and Lakeside Villages each with a gourmet lunch at a local restaurant. Or, you can customize a tour based on your interests.
Abbondanza i miei amici!