Introducing Tiny Farmhouse Tours: Culinary Tours in Italy

Four years ago today, the first post on Poor Girl Gourmet went up, with me not having any clue where it would lead, but very happy to be combining photography, writing, and the sharing of recipes, stories, and thoughts on food and wine all in one place.

Prior to starting Poor Girl Gourmet, there were three things that I was passionate about, and wanted to work into the way that I was making a living: making art, sharing information on great wine and food (and the wine and food itself, of course), and travel, particularly travel to Italy.

JR and I have been traveling to Italy since 2001. We were married in Montepulciano, in southeastern Tuscany, in 2003, and have visited there nearly every year since. As it turns out, most of my artwork and most of the sharing of wine and food obsessions was directly related to those travels to Italy.

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to write a cookbook as a result of starting Poor Girl Gourmet, and have had an incredible time meeting people who are passionate about food, wine, gardening, and farming through blogging.

And now, it feels like a good time to put some of those pre-2008 goals in motion, and this one combines the Italy obsession with the food and wine obsession.

Oh, hey, look! wine and beer in the Val d’Orcia. There’s some salumi and Pecorino di Pienza cheese behind the drinks, but clearly they weren’t the focus of this shot.

Italy absolutely draws me in, particularly the Val d’Orcia and Valdichiana, and while I’m there, it feels like a second home, only maybe a little better because of the food, wine, and scenery. Oh, and the being on vacation part, too.

Each time that we leave the Val d’Orcia, I cry. Fortunately, JR is able to keep it together a bit better than am I, which is nice, because it’s critical to have at least one person in your party who is able to deal with the handing over of tissues to the person sobbing her goodbyes. Goodbye Monte Amiata, goodbye valley, goodbye olive trees, goodbye view. Waaaaaaahhhhhhh.

That’s actually Radicofani in the distance. Monte Amiata is off to the right.

Shortly after JR’s car accident last year (when we knew that he would be okay, of course – there weren’t really any other thoughts besides those pertaining to his recovery at the start), I felt an incredible need to return to Italy – partially a response to the “you-only-live-once” reflex that we’re prone to have after a loved one’s near-death experience, and partially driven by a need to have a change of scenery once JR’s healing was complete.

As soon as JR’s doctor gave the okay, I booked a trip to our favorite spot, La Foce, where we stayed when we were married, where we had our wedding reception (for all 21 of us) on the lawn, and where we return as often as possible.

Chiarentana at La Foce, site of our wedding reception, and also our home for the week of the tour.

As you might imagine, JR’s accident inspired more than just a trip to Italy. It caused us to really look at what we were doing and determine what we wanted to be doing. Another part of the life-is-short wake-up call.

For JR, a big wish was to raise heritage breed animals. We made a plan, and, as you probably know, we got ourselves some Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs. We’ll be breeding them soon, and while Prudence, Rebecca, and Zeke will have a long, comfortable life here (very likely being buried in the meadow with headstones when they pass, if our current treatment of them is any indication), some of their offspring will be sold to farmers to breed, while we’ll raise others for market and for our own consumption. It’s the old “eat it to save it” concept in action here.

For me, my desire was to get back to those things I had been only half-focused on before the economic downturn: my own art, photography, and design work, and sharing the food, wine, and the places I love with others, namely, our tiny farmhouse, Italy, and the beach.

Each day, these goals are closer to being realized, and it started with that post-accident trip to Italy last November and a nascent idea of hosting tours in the place that I weep over when I leave.

Don’t worry. If you do come on a tour with us, I promise not to cry until after you’re gone.

When we arrived in Italy, we spent our first couple of days in Florence, staying at Hotel Torre Guelfa. Our friend, Christina, an expert in Chianti, runs the wine bar on the top of the Torre, as well as winery tours in Chianti (but of course), and we started talking about tours.

Side note: I could speak with Christina for hours on end, she is so fascinating, personable, and funny, and I recommend that you do a tour with her if you have the opportunity. In any case, I told her that I would like do tours in the Val d’Orcia, which got a rousing “do it!” from her, and the offer of help and advice if needed.

When we left Florence, our time at La Foce was spent participating in their olive oil harvest (raking olives out of trees is more work than you might think, by the way, but damn, that oil is good), and trekking around the area meeting with farmers, restaurant owners, and vintners to discuss the tours that only existed in my mind at the time.

We got a warm response from Sandra at Podere Il Casale, an organic farm specializing in cheese, pasta, olive oil, and honey, and from Susanna Crociani, a lovely woman and talented winemaker running her family vineyard in Montepulciano, hosting tastings amongst the wine casks in the winery’s Medieval cellar, while Marta, at Cantina Il Borgo in Rocca d’Orcia discussed vegetarian options for meals with us, even though she knew that our primary goal was to share their outstanding Bistecca Fiorentina made with Chianina beef from the valley with our guests.

The view from our favorite bar in the world (in Pienza).

I sketched out various itineraries, thought about the best places to go, and what are the must-see parts of the Val d’Orcia for first-time visitors. Or heck, for even second- or third-time visitors.

La Foce graciously agreed to serve as the base camp, and to allow our guests to harvest olives during the autumn tour dates, provided that the olives are ready for picking. We arranged for kitchen space to teach a pasta-making class, and planned for daily breakfasts in La Foce’s Chiarentana restaurant, in addition to the field trips to Podere Il Casale, Cantina Il Borgo, and Crociani, among others.

I could never give enough thanks to our friends in Italy for all of the support and guidance they’ve given as we’ve worked toward launching Tiny Farmhouse Tours in Italy, and now that we’re making it official, I hope that you’ll join us.

Tours are one week in length, with arrival at La Foce on Saturday after 3pm. We’ll have a welcome dinner together that night at Chiarentana’s restaurant, and will spend Sunday through Friday visiting wineries, watching a cheese-making demonstration at Podere Il Casale, making pasta, and eating in some of the finest restaurants in the area. We’ll visit Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Pienza, and will sample the olive oils of Chiarentana at a special olive oil dinner.

Lodging in apartments at La Foce’s Chiarentana is included, as are all meals, wine with meals, and all ground transportation, including transportation from the Chiusi rail station, which is about equidistant from Rome and Florence. Flights to Italy are not included.

We also worked to keep our pricing in line with other culinary tours in Tuscany, which are around $3,750 to $4,000 per person. The price for one week is $3,800 per person, and full details and itinerary can be found here.

There is a minimum of 6 people per tour, and a maximum of 12. Tours are available on the following weeks in 2013:

April 13 – 20
April 27 – May 4
May 4 – 11

September 28 – October 5
October 5 – 12
October 12 – 19
October 19 – 26

If we don’t fill the week that you have booked (with the 6 people minimum), we will suggest other dates to you, and if those do not work for you, we’ll refund your deposit in full.

If you have any questions, please email me at amy {at} tinyfarmhouse {dot} com.

And thank you for all of your support. This dream would be difficult to chase if it weren’t for all of the encouragement I get from you.

Mille grazie!

6 Comments to Introducing Tiny Farmhouse Tours: Culinary Tours in Italy

  1. Sunchowder says:

    Oh Amy, I love what you are doing! I so wish I could come with you on one of your tours :) I will wish and hope that I can and for now admire from afar. XXX

    • Amy McCoy says:

      Wendy, you are so sweet! Thank you!!! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll come with us on one of the tours down the line. It is really amazing there! xoxo!

  2. This sounds like so much fun (and how did I miss this posting?!)! I have never been to Italy… right now that’s a dream, but perhaps I can make it a reality sometime in the future on one of your tours. My stomach is grumbling from the thought of all that good food and wine!

    • Amy McCoy says:

      Hi Sara! I think I need to do a better job of talking it up! It would be awesome if you came on a tour with us someday! We’re planning to do this for a while, so whenever you’re ready! :) Italy really is a magical – and delicious – place!

  3. cowstein says:

    Amy, a photo in this post is labeled "the view from our favorite bar in the world (in Pienza)." What's the name of the bar? The view is awesome.

    • Amy McCoy says:

      Hi Cowstein. The view is really incredible. It's the kind of place where you could spend the whole day just watching the sky change over the landscape. The bar is called Bar Il Casello, and if you walk the outer lane along the fortified wall from the main piazza, you can't miss it. "Bar" is used pretty loosely here, too. There are about a half-dozen tables outside, and if you

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