Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A month in Tuscany: Casa San Bernardo

We rented a house from the wonderful folks at Homebase Abroad (tell them we sent you!).

It was just 6km outside of Siena in the hills of Montebuccio (known locally as Montebucciano, the "-ino" suffix denoting its smallness and cuteness at the same time). Florence is about 45 minutes to the north of us (an easy 1 hour train ride), Rome about 3 hours to the south. "Il Chianti" (the famous wine growing region) is nearby, as are a plethora of hill towns, each more quaint than the next. Many of these destinations are chronicled here.

Our home away from home is Casa San Bernardo, an 18th century church near a small town called Montebuccio. Casa San Bernardo is really two structures connected by a breezeway. Casa San Bernardo is the original church. A small house known as Il Caminetto (the little walk?) finishes the property. It is turning out to be ideal for two families. We've taken over the old church and our friends are generally staying in Il Caminetto.

The church itself is built of massively thick stonework with few windows. This has the wonderful advantage of keeping our rooms cool even in the hottest of days. Small hallways and tiny staircases, also made of stone, connect the various rooms. All of the stonework had a minor disadvantage: Our 1-year-old (at the time) was still learning to sleep (quietly!) through the night. When he awoke, everyone in the church heard him!

Il Caminetto is a rustic structure of sand-color irregular rock with rough mortar. Inside, wood beams and painted plaster complete the perfection. Two frescoes, hand-painted by a friend of the owner's adorn the living and dining rooms of Il Caminetto.

Casa San Bernardo also has a wonderful pool which has been great on the hot days. Contrary to what we heard before coming, the weather is very lovely - not terribly unlike Northern California - warm (sometimes hot) days with cool, foggy nights. It does get warmer here and there are occasional rainstorms in the late afternoon, but all-in-all, very, very pleasant. As our stay entered early September, we noticed a definite change to "fall weather." The days became cooler and distinctly more windy.

Our views were magnificent. Castello Belcaro, a small (!) 17th century castle is on the next hill. We look at it each time we eat out on our vine-covered patio (we ended up eating nearly every meal there). Siena, while not immediately visible, is just on the other side of the castle. During the celebrations before and just after the Siena di Palio (more on this later), we could hear people singing the Palio songs - the sounds wafting in over the hills.

The land just around the church is covered with olive trees. Each November, the caretaker gathers the olives and presses olive oil for the owner and her guests (like us!). A beautiful fig tree hung just over the edge of the hill - our nanny made all sorts of wonderful things (including fig pie). Not immediately on the property was a small vineyard.

The place really "feels like Tuscany." You could not possibly be anywhere else. The construction, the views, the olive and cypress trees everywhere - the lights and smells are unmistakable.

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