Our Stay at a Vineyard Retreat near Gaiole in Tuscany
Bob’s and my sense of adventure was high the day we set off from Rome into the rural region of Tuscany. After picking up our rental vehicle at the airport, beneath damp, grey skies, we negotiated the ring road out of Rome and soon found ourselves scooting along narrow country roads that would lead us to our farmhouse retreat at a winery near Gaiole.
The landscape soon became very hilly with well-forested slopes. Fields of brown corn stalks and withered stems that supported faded sunflowers sprawled across the upper reaches of the terrain betraying the end of the summer season. The mountains in the distance were completely shrouded in fog or rainfall even as huge drops of water started to explode against our windshield.
Intermittent showers were the order of the afternoon, but between downpours, we claimed our first impressions of Tuscany as a region of prosperous vineyards, idyllic rolling countryside and sinuous, narrow lanes riddled with potholes. It made for exhilarating driving and spawned in us the desire to roam the hillsides and absorb the charm of the lyrical landscape.
All was not a walk in the park, though. With torrential rain battering the car, and a GPS unit that refused to locate the vineyard where we would be hanging our hat for the next few days, things were getting pretty tense as the afternoon drew to a close. Finally, with the help of the internet on our cellphone, we were guided off the main road and up a steep, narrow, rough gravel road that ended at an iron gate. In the distance, through the blinding rain, we could see a prominent brick building with a red-tiled roof, but the intercom failed to elicit any response. The photo above was taken the following morning.
We could not get a connection using the posted phone numbers so retraced our tracks back down the rutted gravel road to a simple intersection where we turned left. A few twists and turns later, our faces lit up when we espied the very lovely rustic stone cottage at Il Colombaio di Cencio, that Bob had booked for our stay.
By this time, not only were our faces beaming, but the sun had chased away the rain clouds, and warm autumn sunshine bathed the heritage building in a rich golden glow. This place was meant for us, and we would have it all to ourselves.
Immediately, I was struck by a bushy pomegranate tree sagging under the weight of several plump red fruits, this tucked around the corner of the building from the patio.
After a cursory investigation that revealed no staff on hand, we were getting a bit antsy but finally were able to reach the manager, Sylvan, on the phone. He arrived on site in less than 5 minutes while we took a look around.
Our ground floor apartment, Giraffa, looked out onto one section of the terraced lawn where whimsical details such as a crude wooden chair tucked at the base of a shade tree tempted guests to sit a spell.
Our suite was simple of furnishings…a delicate cotton curtain served to separate the bedroom from the kitchenette…
windows that rim one kitchen wall had the dining space drenched in sunlight, and a massive wooden door, the likes of which you’d find in a castle bed chamber, stood between the sleeping quarters and washroom. No lack of privacy there!
I was awake at 7 a.m. the following morning and promptly cracked open the door to hear the rustle of fallen leaves as they tumbled across the stone patio ahead of a chilly breeze. Within minutes, a bit of rain dampened the flagstones, and before breakfast was over, the September sun was shining brightly.
After yesterday’s long drive, a little downtime was in order so Bob and I intended to investigate all corners of the estate property. Sylvan invited us to pick any of the fruits on site which happened to include purple plums, Bosc pears, Prickly pears from the cacti, and produce from the cottage garden. The season was right for fresh walnuts that liberally dotted the ground though the green olives were not at all a tasty treat.
The mercury was slow to rise, but the humidity had us feeling very warm as we strolled around the private pool and pondered a dip later in the day. Given the moist air and remnants of the nighttime chill, our window onto the vineyard provided an alluring perspective of the farm shrouded in slowly-rising fog.
Our curiosity had us retracing the laneway down the hill where we came to a modest wooden gate controlling entrance into the vineyard. Sylvan indicated that we were free to roam amongst the vines but to watch out for wild boars that love to gorge on the sweet fruit. Hence the fencing! Given the threat of persistent showers, Bob and I had donned our rain ponchos, and they did not go amiss.
Just the other side of the barrier, we could get lost in the endless parallel rows of grape vines that marched up the slight slope in one direction and receded into the valley the opposite way.
Not only did we find signs of the boars that had breached the perimeter fence, but indications of autumn were everywhere in rich red foliage on some bushes,
ripe berries on other shrubs,
and the hefty thrushes of sweet purple grapes just begging to be harvested. The rain forced a delay in the reaping of the fruit that day.
It was easy to spend hours wandering among the tidy rows of vines, sampling the odd grape as we moseyed along,
but what really took up most of our time was photographing a plethora of different butterflies all driven to rest on the wildflowers and plants in order to dry their wings. More than once, a heavy downpour swept through the area, so Bob and I were grateful for our ponchos even if we were a bit too warm when the sun came out.
With our bellies beginning to grumble, it was time to retreat to the upper reaches of the vineyard where our humble cottage sat waiting for our return. Bob and I had completed a circular route that brought us to a swinging gate, a rear entrance to the cottage garden of the farmhouse.
A quick turn around the kitchen garden had us returning to our kitchen with an armful of produce that would be added to our simple lunch ingredients.
The path led us up past the swimming pool and gave us an alternate view of the charming stone buildings. We passed on lunch al fresco since all the furniture was sopping wet,
but afterwards took a dip in the pool to refresh ourselves before settling into the chaises longues for an afternoon nap.
Il Colombaio di Cencio is the name of the winery that includes the accommodations that were the basis of our retreat. It is a vineyard that marries world-class wine production with hosting guests in the centuries-old stone farmhouse adjacent to the winery. We thoroughly enjoyed our 4-day stay there wrapped in the golden September sunshine with only the sounds of nature around us. It was delightful!
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