Nom de Plumage

June 18, 2012

Chianti, Olives, Pasta and Espresso – I’m in Heaven

Have you every smelt the intoxicating aroma of olives pressed into olive oil? Today, not only did I watch the process and stand glorifying in the smell, but I had the pleasure of dipping crusty Italian bread into the first and most aromatic of oils. Orgasmic!

A tour to the surrounding hills of Florence, is best shared with friends. Although, at the start of the tour the small group of twelve did not know each other, but by the end of the day, we were all firm friends. Hosted by a crazy and very fun-loving German guide by the name of Stefan and co-hosted by a beautiful young Lithuanian girl called Laura, it was to be a perfect day.

The tour started at 8:30am and from here the small group walked to the nearest bus stop for a twenty minute journey to a town called Fesole. It was a magical journey, for once the bus left the hustle and bustle of the crowded city, it was a steady climb via a narrow road with many sharp corners. The view was amazing and the fact that the sun shone and not a drop of rain in sight, we were in for a treat. The last stop for the bus, was also our starting point. But first things first, the ever important toilet break because we would not see one again for a few hours. The women went into a local cafe to use their lavatory, but the host did not take to kindly to being swamped by so many needy women in search of a loo. So to appease him, we all brought something and left with a clear conscience.

And so we climbed, steadily and slightly out of breath, the walk was first through the village of Fesole, past homes and lovely gardens and onto the hills. We followed a narrow dirt track that slowly opened up and what lay before us was Florence directly below. Nestled in a valley, the picturesque city is dominated by the high dome of the Duomo. To stand and look out at the hills, what is apparent is the haze that hovers gently over the hills, giving them a mystical look. It is the same haze that Leonardo Da Vinci saw and painted as he sat at the same spot and painted what he would inadvertently make his own personal trade mark. It was also in the same hills that he would test his flying machines but not very successfully. Unfortunately, he was way ahead of his time.









Who among you is fan of any of these two classic movies – “A Room With A View” or “Tea With Mussolini“? If so, then this is the place to visit, for what lay ahead was three hundred  hectares of prime land that has been in the same family since the 15th Century. Villa di Maiano and the surrounding landscape was used in both movies and it was to be our next stop for sight seeing and lunch. The group was lucky enough to visit the annual olive harvest. The growers have nets positioned under the old gnarled tree and with a strong shake of the branches, the olives fall. We could here the farmers singing, laughing and talking through this laborious task and it was a pleasure to witness something so Italian. The two main types of olives grown are Frantoio and Moraiolo, once picked, they are placed in wooden carts and taken down the hill to the villa. And it was here that we would go and watch the process of olive pressing. To eat an olive straight from the tree , is disgusting and you cannot quite fathom how then it would be pressed into liquid gold. Well, mother nature works in mysterious ways and it is a bonus for me, for what came next was sublime.









Our host and owner of Fattoria di Maiano  is a lovely man named Francessco and he spoke perfect English. His property has a few extras added just for the heck of it – safari, restaurant, accommodation in rustic homesteads, convent, winery, olive press, tours and a few villas. He escorted us, but I followed my nose, to the olive press room and it was here the local growers bring their olives and let the machine complete the magic. I tell you, I was gulping in the air and had no idea that the smell was so intoxicating? I could have quite happily stayed all day, but alas it was lunch time and better things awaited us.

My group sat at a long rectangular table, with Stefan at the head and playing perfect host. The starter was fresh bread and olive oil. I had no idea of the intensity of oil that has had only the first press. The colour was a milky pale green colour, smooth and delicious. Then came the more hearty food of cheese, salami, bruschetta, olives, tomato and bread soup, spicy tomato pasta, delicate biscuits and espresso. I ate and ate until I could eat no more and all washed down with chianti. I love Italian food and can only say, that I paid for my over indulgence for the next two days. Espresso is the national drink in Italy and so I thought I should give it a go. In Australia I normally drink something more milky i.e. latte or cappuccino, as espresso can be bitter. But, I was pleasantly surprised on the rich pungent flavour and there was no hint of any bitterness. Delicious!

With our bellies bulging, we continued our tour of the villa and we went to the famous Villa di Maiano and stepped straight onto a movie set. The gardens were meticulously shaped and pruned, overlooking Florence. The elegant villa with it’s pale yellow facade and palladian pillars, was before us. We entered the foyer from the back entrance and there before us, was the very piano from the movie “A Room With A View”. Each room was simply decorated, but retained it’s old charm and elegance and a smell so synonymous with heritage buildings.
















And so the day was slowly coming to an end. We bade our farewells to Francessco and made our way slowly down the hill back to Florence. It was by no means without laughs or just reliving the day over with my friends. We all had such a great time and Stefan’s humour and jokes, made the way home even more pleasurable. Past more villa’s of the wealthy and lovely gardens and a village, we arrive at the bottom and funny enough, at the front entrance to my hostel. So, I said my good byes and walked the long dirt road to my hostel, looking up towards the hills in a vain hope of seeing Villa di Maiano.


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