Monthly Archives: October 2022

A Few Days in Tuscany

I would love to live “Under the Tuscan Sun”, but on this trip we are only here for a few days. The beautiful hilltop town of Montepulciano is our home base to visit a few Brunello wineries and enjoy the wonderful Tuscan lifestyle. After a seven-hour car trip from Puglia to Montepulciano on Friday, we were happy to settle in, eat dinner on the terrace and enjoy the beautiful city views. On Saturday, we visited two Brunello wineries.

Fattoria Dei Barbi

In the morning we went to Fattoria Dei Barbi, a lovely winery with great wine and food.

Vivianna, our tour guide, recently graduated from college in the US. She missed doing a study abroad due to Covid so took advantage of her family connections to Frattoria Dei Barbi to work in Italy and learn about the wine business.

In business since 1790, this winery has an impressive history. In 1985, Wine Spectator included just two Brunellos in their list of the 100 top wines, and the Barbi winery produced one of the two.

I especially enjoyed learning about Mamma Francesca Columbini who did much to promote and build the winery. She was among the first Italian producers to understand the importance of wine-related tourism. In 1993, she founded the nonprofit association Movimento Turismo del Vino, which translates to “wine tourism movement.” Known as Lady Brunello, she wrote a book called Wine Gives You Pretty Legs about her experiences.

She had four sons who carry on her legacy. We met the owner of the winery, one of her descendants, as we were entering the tasting room.

On the tour we learned about the contributions of the different soils and how to determine if a bottle is aging well. Evaporation, color change and sediment are all indicators of how the wine is aging. Brunellos can age for fifty years, but they may need to be re-corked. We visited the cellar where they keep their oldest bottles. Most of them are collectable-no longer drinkable but valuable.

We loved their approach to tasting which was different from other wineries we have visited. In their restaurant, we ordered lunch and the wines we wanted to taste.

We were excited to learn that we could ship wine home for the same price we paid when we visited Italy in 2018. I am not sure why it is different in Puglia. It may be that Puglia is emerging as a tourist destination and has not yet figured this all out.

Santa Giulia

In the afternoon we made a return visit to Santa Giulia, a small winery we discovered in 2015 that produces about 20,000 bottles a year. We love their wine and their winery was number one on our list to visit.

Maria Angela was a great tasting host. She brought out a bowl of beans and vegetables for me because she said vegetarians need to have protein when they taste wine. When I thanked her for her thoughtfulness, she told me she had been a vegetarian for thirty years.

We met the entire family on our first visit-grandma, grandpa, mom, dad and baby. Now the baby is a young child with two siblings and another on the way. But the winery is just as beautiful as I remember.

Visiting Santa Giulia is like finding an undiscovered treasure, but it may not stay that way for long. Next week travel writer extraordinaire Rick Steves is bringing a group to visit this lovely little winery.

Sunday in Montepulciano

We had a very Italian Sunday-relaxing, eating well, and enjoying Montepulciano and the company of friends and family. After breakfast, we leisurely strolled the medieval hilltop city streets and paused for a cappuccino and great people watching.

The views were inspirational.

Since I have been in Italy for a week and haven’t visited one church, I had to pop in to the two churches we passed on our stroll.

We ate a great lunch at Restaurant La Briciola. An adorable young man served our wine in a way I had never seen before. He poured a little in the first glass, swirled it, then poured it in the second glass while rotating the first glass. He then poured the wine into the third glass the same way. Finally, he poured the wine from the third glass into a small snifter before pouring our wine. He told me his process was to improve the bouquet and wash the glasses with wine. It was lovely.

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped at a fantastic little enoteca and talked with Alberto about some of the great wine he carried.

Last Night in Montepulciano

As to be expected, our time in Montepulciano went much too quickly. We celebrated our last night with a wonderful dinner at Restaurant La Grotta. It was about a 3/4 mile , very hilly walk from our apartment, but it was a good workout and gave us the chance to new parts of Montelpuciano.

The food was delicious and beautifully presented. I had a “vegetable selection of the season” main course that was so simple and so amazing.

Tomorrow we leave for Rome where we will drop off our rental car and fly to Sicily and Scott will fly home.

Wine Tasting in Puglia

Today we toured two wineries in the Martina Franca area of Puglia. Both wineries produce about 850,000 to 900,000 bottles of wine per year, mid-size wineries for the area.

Terrecarsiche Winery

Terrecarsich Winery is in Castellana Grotte, about a half hour from Martina Franca. Anna, our guide, was enthusiastic and fun. Although not much was going on the day we were there, she walked us through the process and explained the machines they use. The winery uses oak barrels from different countries to impart different flavors.

After the tour, Anna took us to the tasting room, always a wine tour highlight.

We loved the wine and wanted to order some but discovered that shipping wine home now was very different from when we visited in 2019. At that time we could ship home a case of wine for about 10 euro a bottle. Now, it is about 400 euro to ship home a case of wine. So, sadly, we only bought one bottle of our favorite to drink while we are here.

Anna invited us to an Italian wine show in Miami in April, so hopefully we will see her again and be able to buy some of her wine.

Coppi Winery

Coppi is an organic winery in the Turi area. Roberto, our guide had just gotten off a fourteen-hour flight from Tokyo but still was energetic and passionate about wine, food, family, and the environment. Much of our tour was outside and Roberto talked about the unique aspects of Puglian climate that contribute to producing great wine.

Coppi has their own solar farm that generates more power than they need during the day. Because they don’t have a battery to store the power, they sell the extra and buy power in the evening.

All of the grapes are carefully picked by hand. When we tasted the only grape variety that had not yet been harvested, I was surprised to find the grapes sweet and tasty. Most wine grapes I had tasted in the past were sour.

The winery was such an interesting combination of large-scale production and small-scale family values. Members of the family run all aspects of the winery and each generation carries on the name of the founder, Antonio Coppi.

During the tasting, Roberto talked about the family’s dedication to quality. And not just to producing quality wine-also quality relationships, family time and food.

Before we tasted our final glass, a wonderful sparkling wine, Roberto showed us the family’s other passion-vintage cars. There were at least thirty cars in another area of the winery.

I left Coppi Winery totally enchanted with their culture, lifestyle and values.


Puglia is known for its many caves. Because you need to reserve in advance, and I wasn’t sure how it would fit into our schedule, we didn’t have tickets for a visit. I told Anna this when she related how the winery used to store their wines in the caves for the constant temperature. She offered to call Grotte di Castellana and set up a shortened tour for us so we would have time before our next winery visit. She wrote a name on a piece of paper and told us to bypass the ticket line and ask for Francisco. When we arrived Francisco was waiting for us with a big smile and welcome.

We climbed a lot of steps to get to the caves located 70 meters underground.

There was not enough time to see all 3 km of the cave system, but we saw enough to appreciate its beauty.

Last Night in Martina Franca

Dinner at Gotha was a lovely ending to our time in Martina Franca. The restaurant, service, food and presentation were excellent. My favorite part of the evening was the waiter bringing a tray of fresh-that-day, local porcini mushrooms to our table and describing the salad they were making with them. Of course, we ordered the salad, and it was amazing.

I am sad to leave Puglia and the wonderful people we met here. We definitely did not plan enough time in this beautiful area and are already talking about a return visit.

Orecchiette Cooking Class

Today we drove about twenty minutes outside Martina Franca for an orecchiette cooking class. More than just a cooking class, it was also a chance to to spend a beautiful day in the country, meet people from other countries and learn about Puglian history.

In addition to teaching us how to make oriecchiette, the signature pasta of Puglia, Simona, our instructor taught us about regional pasta differences, the history of poverty in the region, and vegetables unique to the area.

Our fellow students were from Australia, France, Chile, Canada and the US. We had fun using our varied language skills from each other’s home countries.

Making pasta

We started by choosing an apron and learning about the different types of flour we would be using.

Making the dough was the first step. Some of us made white pasta and some used spinach or beet root puree to make colored pasta.

Kneading is a critical step in making good pasta dough. It also was an excellent workout.

Once I kneaded the dough to the perfect consistency, I thought the hard part was behind me. Not so. Forming the little ear-shaped pastas was more difficult than it looked. Two Italian grandmas assisted Simona and made the process look so easy.

We all improved with practice and produced an impressive amount of pasta.

Pasta made by Paul, Scott and Debbie
Pasta made by the class (including ours)

After our pasta-making efforts, we enjoyed a wonderful meal. Frise, a traditional Puglian appetizer of twice-baked hard bread topped with tomatoes was the first course. The bread is so hard that you soak it in water before adding the topping. It was kind of like a Puglian bruschetta.

Then Simona and the grandmas brought out the beautiful oriecchette we had made earlier.

Homemade (by us) pasta, nice wine, great company and a beautiful setting-perfection! Or perfettto, as the grandmas would say when we got our little oriecchettes just right.


Learning about the trulli that is Simona’s home was an added bonus of the day. I was curious about the trulli after reading about them before our trip and seeing the unique conical structures around Puglia.

Simona shared the history of the family who had lived in her trulli more than a hundred years ago and gave us a tour of the inside and top of her home.

We climbed very narrow stairs to get to the top of her trulli. Trulli are built without cement and stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Simona demonstrated how easy it is to climb to the top. No one took her up on her offer to climb it.

Five hours later, we left happy, full, more knowledgeable about Puglia, and ready to try making oriecchette at home.


Our flying tweaks worked! We arrived in Rome on time with all our baggage. Feeling a bit caffeine deprived, I was thrilled to see a beautiful coffee bar as we entered the terminal. Cappuccino and a fresh, warm pistachio croissant were the perfect welcome to Italy.

Martina Franca

My amazing husband, who can drive anywhere, drove our rental car seven hours from Rome to Martina Franca with no problems. Well, no problems until we arrived in what we expected to be the small, peaceful village that would be our home for the next four nights.

We had no idea Martina Franca was such a busy city, and the street signs were hard to find. After twice driving around what we were pretty sure was our apartment block, we called Martino, our host. He graciously met us at our car (we were so close), escorted us the apartment and drove our car to the car park a few blocks away. What great service!

Our apartment is part of a palazzo that Martino’s great-grandfather built in 1881. Martino’s family has lived in the palazzo since it was built. After creating an apartment in the palazzo (lucky for us) Martino and his wife Lucia live in the rest of the home.

Martina Franca will be our home base in Puglia. Located in the heel of the Italian boot, Puglia is becoming more well-known to tourists. Olive oil, primitivo grapes, gorgeous beaches, and the Trulli, ancient huts dwelling back to the Middle Ages, are highlights of this beautiful area.


Bari, the largest city in Puglia, wasn’t originally part of our plan. But we had two good reasons for adding it to our itinerary. A friend whose family came from Bari had talked about wanting to go there, and we had to go to the Bari airport to pick up our friend who is joining us for part of the trip.

I am so happy we added Bari to our list of Puglia stops. Thanks to Nicholas from Lokafy Tours we spent a delightful two hours exploring the city. Lokafy is a bit different from many other tours. As stated on their website, they believe that by “discovering the world through the eyes of the people who live here, we will see the inter-connectedness of it all. That we’re more similar than we are different.” Walking the streets of Bari with Nicholas was like exploring the city with a knowledgeable friend.

Nicholas met us at the Bari train station and we walked down the main road to the Adriatic Sea.

Bari is divided into three areas-the old old, the new old, and the new new. Like much of Italy, the old old is really old. This lion and pillar is from the middle ages. Sinners were lashed to the pillar and stoned to death.

A section of the Via Traiana, an ancient Roman road built by Emperor Trajan (98-117) is displayed under a newer roadway. Cart tracks are still visible.

The fish market was winding down by the time we got there. Only one fish stand was still open. Behind the stand one of the fishermen was tenderizing the squid by repeatedly throwing the pieces against a stone wall.

Orecchiette is the pasta of Puglia. Nicholas took us down pasta lane where the “pasta ladies” make and sell fresh orecchiette.

We talked with Nicholas about the mafia and crime in general in Bari. NIcholas credited the mayor with making Bari a much safer city. His response to our question about the mafia was a shrug and the comment, “This is Italy.”

Bari is a beautiful city, and we definitely spent too little time there.

Perfect Evening

Our friend, Scott’s plane arrived on time, so we are feeling like our travel karma is looking good. Scott is the reason we came to Puglia. After seeing Puglia on the wine label of a bottle he enjoyed, he thought it would be a good place for our next Italian adventure.

We had a wonderful evening at Coco Pazzo, the top restaurant recommendation from our host. The food was wonderful, and the staff was amazing.

Stephano, the chef owner, was excited to learn that we lived in Sarasota and kept returning to our table to chat with us. He has visited Sarasota to see his good friends who own two restaurants in the area. We loved listening to his insider stories about chefs and traveling the world.

I will go to bed feeling like the first day of our trip was pretty wonderful.

Italy-Revisiting Favorites and Exploring New Places

Travel drama on our June trip to Northern Ireland made us question if we would leave the country again any time soon. However, it didn’t take long for our love of travel to dim our travel drama memories, and we are excited to be leaving for Italy today.

We tweaked a few details on this trip that should lessen the chances for missed connections, over-booked flights, and lost luggage that frustrated us on our last trip. Driving to Miami so we can fly non-stop to Rome and taking only carry-on bags should improve our odds for a smooth trip.

I am looking forward to an uneventful flight with a nice glass of wine and a few good movies. Once we arrive in Rome, we’ll get our rental car and begin our adventures to Puglia and Sicily. In between exploring these two new areas, we will make a return visit to beautiful Tuscany.