I didn’t always like wine. My family is Puertorican and ours is a rum culture, not a wine culture. Living in Italy for the past 17 years, I have definitely gained an appreciation and love for wine and I try to learn what I can usually from knowledgeable wine expert friends in Rome like #winelover Sarah May Grunwald of Antiqua Tours or Hande Kutlar Leimer of Vinoroma.
This past March, I was invited by my friend Coral Sisk of Curious Appetite who is based out of Florence to join in on a group wine tour being led by her and We Like Tuscany specifically visiting small, independent producers of Montalcino wine in the Val d’Orcia area of southern Tuscany. The whole area became a designated UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 and it is a stunningly beautiful part of Italy.
We had an early start and while the day was grey and drizzly, our group was small and in good spirits – we were in a beautiful place in excellent company with lots of great wine in our near future – who wouldn’t be! Our first stop was at the Casato Prime Donne winery. Donatella Cinelli Colombini is an inspiring entrepreneur who started this first all female winery in 1998.
At Casato Prime Donne each part of the winery during tastings is a multi-sensory experience with music specifically and expertly selected in each of the rooms to correspond with the wine being tasted.
A red heart on the barrel signifies the top of the top at Casato Prime Donne winery – wine made from the best grapes grown in the best part of the vineyard and an extremely limited quantity produced. After our visit, I had to buy a couple bottles to remember the experience. The red heart bottles were out of my price range, but they have a wide range of differently priced options to choose from.
I’m not used to drinking wine so early in the morning so I took very small sips at Casato Prime Donne and saved most of my wine drinking for our second stop at Santa Giulia winery which despite the wet weather had gorgeous views.
We toured a bit of the winery, but primarily did our wine tasting with lunch. It was a wonderful spread including a thoughtfully prepared first and second vegetarian course for me as the lone veggie in the group. I don’t ever expect a special meal so this was very much appreciated. Gianluca Terzuoli poured the delicious wines from his family’s vineyard that is run by him, his wife and parents. At mealtime is the traditional way to drink wine in Italy and my preferred way as well so this was perfect.
After a delicious meal which was prepared by Gianluca’s mother, we headed to our third and final stop of our wine tour at La Fornace winery. Founder and patriarch Franco Giannetti passed on the family business to his son Fabio and it was very obvious that he inherited a love for their land and passion for their product. Both father and son were there to pour the wines and tell us about their winery and the history of wine in the area.
As a small independent business ourselves, I feel strongly about supporting other small, family run businesses like the wineries we visited. In the internet age, their product is now available to everyone so if you don’t live in Italy there’s limited quantities you can take back home with you, but they can ship and then thankfully, it’s always possible to order more. Wine tours or a wine tasting are definitely a great idea when in Italy as it’s such an integral part of the culture here. So much wine and so little time!
The wine I brought home didn’t last very long, but I still have a bottle of a 2009 Santa Giulia Brunello di Montalcino that I’m saving for a future special dinner. Thanks so much to Curious Appetite and We Like Tuscany and all the wineries we visited for a very memorable day.
Adam & Anna are brother and sister, on their first trip alone together and first time to Europe. This time I have a special guest helping me interview them – Viola (my youngest daughter)!
The last time I had been to the Vatican Museums was on our honeymoon in 1998 and to the Basilica with my mother in 2006. In 1998, my husband Steve and I went to the museums before there was an option to book on-line, but I don’t recall standing in a queue or if we did, the wait not lasting very long. It was September, but so incredibly hot. I remember being overwhelmed as well as underwhelmed inside the museums as I sweated from room to room. Weeping Madonna, weeping Madonna, weeping Madonna. I just didn’t understand the appeal. I missed a lot and understood even less.
Fast forward to 2016 and this time Through Eternity invited us on one of their tours. We work with several long-standing reputable walking tour companies in Rome and Through Eternity was one of the first we worked with as they started the same year we did in 1999. Despite very positive reviews from past guests over the years about their tours, we had never actually been on one so I happily accepted their offer. After looking at their many tour choices, I decided on the Vatican. We have many guests who have the Vatican on their “to see” list and so I thought I would like to experience it again, but this time with a well-informed guide.
Of the two Vatican tours they suggested, one was an extensive 5 hour tour and the other was a 3.5 hours. I wanted the full experience so I opted for the 5 hour tour. Mario was our guide, a Dutch transplant who has been living in Rome for several years and has a background in art history and theatre. He was very knowledgeable and friendly and definitely knew his way around the Vatican.
Tickets are available in advance on-line, but it’s amazing how in 2016 people still queue up to purchase tickets. The queue for this is extremely long and you’ll find yourself standing for at least an hour if not longer before you’ve even entered the museums. Thanks to Mario, we passed all the queues and went straight in. We only had to wait a few minutes while he went to pick up the pre-arranged tickets. After that, we followed the masses up into the museum.
The Vatican Museums are not just one museum, but many museums within a museum. It’s simply impossible to see each and every work of art here. Mario explained that if you were to just spend a few seconds in front of every work of art in the museums, it would take you many years to see everything! I could have easily spent an hour alone just in the The Gallery of Maps seen here:
Mario led us through to the more important artworks and even so, it still took us 4 hours to get through and we even bypassed several areas such as the Egyptian Museum. The Vatican Museums receive an average of 25,000 visitors a day, but its rooms, doorways and corridors were not constructed for this kind of traffic so in peak season when the place is packed, it’s slow-going.
There are several outdoor courtyards throughout including the Cortile della Pigna seen here. These are great spots to get some fresh air and escape the close quarters.
The Sistine Chapel is found within the museums and it took us at least an hour to get there from this courtyard. It’s very difficult if not impossible to make a direct bee-line from the entrance of the museums to the Sistine Chapel, so keep that in mind. I don’t have any photographs here of the chapel because it’s a no-photography zone. I still saw people trying to take photos and who were probably able to get away with it because of the crowds, but don’t be a jerk and respect the few rules they have.
From the museums, you are able to go directly into the Basilica. Despite being the largest Catholic church in the world, it still felt manageable. Mario explained that this effect was due to perspective and that in fact the statues and lettering in the church were all incredibly large.
Our 5 hour tour ended 6 hours later and my husband and I were utterly exhausted, but despite that we immediately were eagerly thinking about a future Vatican tour we would like to take. Once was definitely not enough. Although next time I think we’ll opt for a 3 hour tour so that we can also fit in climbing the dome again – something we didn’t have an opportunity to do this time around.
Some of my tips on touring the Museums & Basilica:
Thanks again to Mario for his insight and knowledge and Through Eternity for their generosity and for allowing us to see the Vatican with new eyes.
Over a cappuccino in the cafe, Mary Ann revealed her secret identity to me (she’s a sarcastic, sassy yoga teacher in disguise) and told me a bit about men her age who she meets on-line just wanting to network. She agreed to do a “conversations with guests” and tell me about the last time she was in Italy, 30 years ago.
Hattie is a young and brave Australian girl, living in Rome on her own. She had a long stay at The Beehive (about 2 weeks in total) while waiting to move into an apartment. I ran into her at a food event, Easter Pop-up kitchen, at the Latteria Studio in Trastevere, where she works and got a chance to talk to her about her stay at The Beehive and how it compared to other hostels, as well as her interest in philosophy (which in Melbourne they don’t teach in girl’s schools for some reason). Here she is telling me a bit about what she’s doing in Rome.