Well I can officially say that Italy is a big hit! We have a fantastic group and they are all loving this place as much as I do, which is so completely satisfying. Yesterday was day 1, we went into the walls of Cortona and had about an hour to wander the streets and shops. Then we met with Ivan (Ee-Vahn) at his shop il Pozzo (the well) and got the most interesting history lesson, complete with visual aids of pottery relics found below his shop and more. We enjoyed his bread with hot toppings: tomato/juniper, pesto and chicken liver ‘pate’. He makes the best! Some wine, sheep cheese and nuts.. and his charming shop filled with beautiful local art, ancient maps, handmade stationary and leather goods…

Our Cortona guide, Giovani, picked us up and escorted us throughout the hill town explaining the architecture, art, history, culture and traditions, helping us to see everything through the eyes of the ancients. We cannot post pictures until we get home, I’m sorry to say, but you will get lots of them, indeed. There is not much point in me taking a few shabby pics to show you when you will be in for such a visual treat with Mark’s pics when we get home.

The weather was lovely, sunny and mild, and it felt really good to be out and traipsing up and down the hills of my favorite hill town. Fabio picked us up in the van and took us almost all the way up to the top to see the Basilica, the beauty of which stunned everyone in the group. We visited le Celle, where St Francis stayed (it was one of his homes away from Assisi because his family was here) and this, by the way, is still a working Franciscan Hermitage. There are a couple of older Friers who are always there, and a few younger ones who cycle through. We didn’t see them, but we enjoyed this beautiful place.

Next we visited Signore Landi at the olive pressing mill. Harvest is just starting and it is still quiet at the mill, so we got a nice tour and explanation and then the best part: Olive Oil! Sr. Landi toasted bread on the fire, topped it with a little salt and drenched it in fresh, new olive oil. It is the best in the world! Everyone was lapping it up and of course the farmer’s wine to go with it made it even better.

On the way back to Poggio al Sole for our dinner of Chianina beef, a specialty only in this area, I asked Fabio to stop at Alimentari Claudio, which is a little grocery store. Now I know that sounds boring, stopping at a grocery store, but trust me, it is not. They have a fantastic ‘deli’ counter with cured meats that they produce right in the store, local and other cheeses, and oh so much more. The entire group loved exploring the aisles and picking up goodies for the week. At dinner it was apparent that everyone enjoyed this first day in the most special of ways, as we always hope and intend. We were all tired and ready for sleep by the end.

Dinner was simple and elegant, prepared by Benedetta: toasted bread topped with prosciutto-wrapped, warm local sheep cheese and olive tapenade; then farro and white bean soup, then the delicious steak with roasted potatoes, quince and onions. We ended with a lovely, light dessert of lady fingers sandwiching cloudlike mascarpone and macerated local berries. Their wine accompanied, of course! We are all feeling so nourished and happy!

Today we head to Pienza and Perezetta… I must get ready to go whisk them away! Ciao for now!