We have just returned from our adventures abroad, and despite the length of my to-do list at home I find myself yearning to be back. I dream of Highclere Castle, its grassy hills speckled with bleating sheep and loamy foot paths surrounding the Victorian residence where Lady Mary and Matthew finally professed their love. I think of London, its old cobbled streets and beautifully distressed architecture, elderly couples sipping tea, vintage bookstores and the creaky stalls of the illustrious Portobello Road Market. And of course I recall the patriotic pride surrounding the Olympics, flags of every color gracing the hands, bags and cars of each passerby. England is a most beloved country, and when I'm there I feel I am home.
We left the green isle of Great Britain to spend our final days among the tall cypress trees, russet colored villas and vine laden hills of romantic Tuscany. Our meals were amply filled with creamy cheeses, grilled summer vegetables, local meats and flowing glasses of crisp prosecco, a kind reprieve from the sweltering, dry heat. We took to the hills sampling the dreamy landscapes and small villages where espresso was sipped and pinochle was played by old men in suspenders, hands waving in exuberant conversation. Expressions such as "mamma mia" and "tutto bene" filling the air while fronds of homemade pasta and pearls of fresh mozzarella graced the tables of satisfied locals.
Sweet conversation flowed like the wines of Chianti. Our cheeks hurt with laughter while our bellies and hearts swelled with content. We read books, took long naps and idly swooned under the fervidly beautiful Tuscan sun.
Now I sit in the early morn, jet-lag tempting me to eat an all too early breakfast, admiring the memories and trying to bottle the tastes and sights of an unforgettable adventure.
Thank you to all who gave such wonderful recommendations. I have a very long list to keep for years to come!
*Several people have inquired where we stayed and asked for some suggestions....
- We rented a flat in London through AirBnB because we wanted a kitchen and to avoid crowds at hotels.
- Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey)- Take a train from Paddington Station to Newbury then hop in a cab to drive you the 10 minutes to the castle. You need to buy tickets in advance on their website. Also pack a picnic and enjoy on the beautiful grounds! Make sure you buy tickets for the gardens AND castle so you can be sure to get the tour inside.
- Notting Hill and Portobello Road Market- great antiques and every type of street food imaginable
- The Soho neighborhood and Hyde park area are fun places to walk and explore.
- If you are only there for a short time but want to see most of London hop aboard one of the big red buses with the open top. Yes, it is very touristy but a great way to see the sights of the city quickly.
- National Gallery, Tate Museum
- The tube and trains are extremely easy to use. Buy an Oyster card to get you through the whole trip.
- Most of year my parents live just 45 minutes southwest of Florence so we stayed in their villa.
- Restaurants in the area: Bottega 30, Osteria di Montegonzi, Villa Sassolini
- Wine tasting: Badia a Coltibuono, Castello di Briolio, Fattoria dei Barbi, there are many wineries in the Chianti region
- Towns to visit: Arezzo, Florence, Balogna, Siena, Volterra, San Gimignano, Volterra, Cortona, Montepulciano, Borgo San Felice (there is a BEAUTIFUL Relais & Chateaux hotel here)
- Cooking Classes: Badia a Coltibuono & La Petraia
*** You have also asked about eating out with a restrictive diet. In London we had a kitchen in our flat so we made our own breakfast and just packed some snacks for lunch and ate out for dinner. It was a bit tricky finding places just by walking around so we quickly got on our computers and searched for places that served a seasonal and fresh menu. All of Ottolenghi's restaurants were very accommodating and delicious!
Italy was much easier. Every restaurant has many meat and vegetable options. And because Italy is ranked really high for celiac disease there were many gluten free pasta options as well. A typical meal for us was cheeses, fresh veggies, cured meats (bresola, speck, prosciutto), fresh fruits, meat dishes (lamb, rabbit, beef). We were never left hungry!!