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Siena Palio – 2nd July and 16 August each year. Our guests and neighbours say this is a difficult Palio to go and see, apparently you have to wait for hours in the baking sun in the central piazza of Siena if you want standing tickets, or the seated tickets reportedly cost a lot of money. The race itself is 90 seconds. We haven’t been so we can’t confirm that but we have been the day after the race and there was a parade in full medieval costume with drums and flags, with the winning horse, its hooves painted golden, taken  through the streets of central Sienna to show to everyone then led into the packed and very silent church of the winning contrada to be blessed. A great ocasion in itself, and Colin Firth was spotted in the crowds watching this, so join the celebrities and go along for the spectacle.

Palio delle Barche, Passignano – held on the last Sunday of July, in 2012 on Sunday 29th July at 18.30. The citizens of Passignano on Lake Trasimeno line the streets to watch their champions compete in a medieval boat race with a difference, the first part is on land. It involves teams of strong men carrying the boats on their shoulders in a fast and hair raising running race through the streets, then launching their boats into the water and rowing around to the beach, with loud cheering from the crowd. Afterwards there is a meal in the square on trestle tables with live music. There are processions in medieval costume and ceremonies before the race too. The evening is finished off with fireworks at midnight over the lake.

Umbrian Jazz Festival – a world class jazz festival attracting big names every year, including in the past Wynton Marsalis (playing for President Obama who was in Italy for the G8 summit),BB King, Chick Korea, James Taylor, and many other well selected lesser known artists as well. In 2012 the dates are 6-15th July. In 2009 we went to one of the free concerts in the main square in Perugia, it was packed out and great music. The website for info is: http://www.umbriajazz.com

Festival of Folklore – Ronzano (the next village towards Fratta). In 2012 this is 27, 28 and 29 July – check posters on the walls in Camucia for the exact details.The main event is a dinner at one of the local farms on trestle tables, with duck and fried rabbit as their speciality, and dancing under the stars afterwards. We turned up on the night to join in but it was absolutely sold out, not a seat to spare and no cancellations. Booking ahead is a must, look out for the posters around Camucia with the booking phone number on it.

 

The Fondazione Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte di Montepulciano invites young musicians from all over the world to participate in a festival of music held in Montepulciano in July. The chosen students are subsidised by scholarships from the Foundation and a series of concerts are put on in Montepulciano in which the students participate and learn, under well known artistic and musical directors. The quality of the concerts is excellent, held in elegant renaissance palazzi and well worth going. In 2012 the concerts are being held from 19- 29th July and the Royal Northern College of Music is performing. http://www.fondazionecantiere.it/cantiere/programma

Sagra dei Cinghiale – Pergo (a little village below Cortona, it is signposted from the windy road on the way up to Cortona). For the last 30 years Pergo has held a wild boar sagra on their soccer field in this quiet little borgo on the last weekend in July or first weekend in August. In 2012 it is being held on 4th and 5th August. Wild boar is widespread in the wooded hills around Arezzo and Cortona. At the sagra you can sample usually a wild boar stew (the boar is marinated beforehand according to the age of the animal, between 6-18 hours in wine, vinegar, garlic, herbs), and wild boar pasta with wine followed by dancing. Check the Cortona tourist office or look out for the wall and street posters around Camucia for exact dates and times.

Sagra dei Piccione – Montecchio, a village between Il Pino and Cortona, (one of Pagus’s first developments in this area is located there). Every year they have a pigeon sagra which is reported to be very good. Held on the last weekend in July or the first weekend in August. In 2012 it is their 39th sagra and is held on 1-5th August, and there will be an orchestra to play while you dance under the cupola of the stars.

Trasimeno Music Festival – classical concerts held every year for the last 8 years in the Knights of Malta castle in Magione near Lake Trasimeno, which is still owned and run by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and dates back to the 12th century.  In 2012 it was held on 30th June -6July. For details go to: www.trasimenomusicfestival.com

Tuscan Sun Festival – This has moved to Florence in 2012 and is now held in June.

Sagra della Bistecca – Cortona. This excellent beef steak festival is held on the Ferro Agosto weekend. In 2012 the sagra will be 14th – 15th August. It is held in the lovely public gardens overlooking Lake Trasimeno. You buy a ticket at the gate, which gives you a bottle of robust red local wine, an almightily huge Chianina beefsteak done al sangue (pink in the middle – and no, they don’t do well done), local bread and a little dish of beans and a ripe juicy peach for desert which you eat on the trestle tables with local families in the cool of the evening under strings of lights on the trees in the gardens. The barbeque where all the steaks are cooked is enormous – 14 metres square, and they cook several thousand steaks during the sagra, worth seeing just for that. It is getting popular so go and eat english time around 7 or risk standing in the queue for a later supper.

Sagra del pesce (fish festival) – Passignano. We haven’t been but its on every year, this year 2012  it is  23-26  August, local fish are cooked on a giant frying pan which is 4.30 diameter, check with the tourist office for exact dates.

Bravio delle Botti – Montepulciano. The Bravio is a race to push massive 80kg wine barrels up the steep hills of Montepulciano’s streets. Each contrada competes for the honour of their quarter of the city. Specialist athletes “spingitori” are brought in to do the race, as it is extremely difficult and large sums of money are paid for the best. The race is  held every year on the last sunday of August, starting at the Lion Column but there are processions and other celebrations beforehand as well. If you can’t make the race, it is still worth going during the week for the other events.

On the last Thursday in August there is a procession starting at 9.15pm (ish this is Italy afterall) for which all the electric lights, street lights, restaurant lights and signs – everything are extinguished leaving the city in medieval darkness lit only by candles and flaming torches lining the  path of the procession. It is a spectacular sight with renaissance princes and princesses and loads of men in tights with drums finishing with a show in the main piazza of music, traditional flag throwing and fireworks, starting at 10pm. The procession starts at the lowest point of the town and works its way up to the main piazza, a good place to watch is on the flight of steps of the church halfway up the hill, where locals pass around glasses of wine to whoever is sitting next to them.

Every evening from that date onwards the contradas, or city quarters, hold outdoor”pop-up” restaurants which spring up in various locations, under the stars in courtyards or on the terrace of an ancient palazzo, where you can eat their speciality dishes handmade by the nonnas and mammas of the contrada, at trestle tables with a bottle of Vino Nobile  alongside crowds of locals, before the evenings celebrations begin. We went to this last year and had a great evening. The menus for this year are postively gastronomic and  include pasta with chick peas and saltcod, roast pork, steak Fiorentina style.

For more info: http://www.braviodellebotti.com

Sagra del fungo porcino – mushroom festival held in Cortona. It is held around 22nd and 23rd August but its best to check the dates with the tourist office before you go. The mushrooms are imported for this sagra, as its not mushroom season.

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The Medici Fortress at the top of the hill above Cortona is worth a visit in it’s own right, if not just for spectacular views, you can see Il Pino with a good camera lens on a clear day.

They also have art and other exhibitions on, this year they have installed a multimedia exhibition on life in the Val di Chiana, which is worth dropping in to see. There are lots of old photos from the last century of the local way of life juxtaposed with photos of modern life in the valley with the same communities, fascinating to see how much and how little has changed and you don’t need to speak Italian to understand or appreciate it.

There are some excellent historical itineraries of art and castles and fortresses in the valley which are up on display alongside short films which give you an idea of the little known treasures to be found in the area around Il Pino.

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Avignonesi

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The Avignonesi vineyard has produced many award winning and famous wines, including their Vin Santo which is rated among the top three “desert” wines in the world. Several of the wine conoscenti here at Il Pino have tried and bought Avignonesi wines and have recommended them so we decided to do a tour and tasting at their Fattoria Le Cappezzine vineyard which is only 15 mins drive from Il Pino, near Centoia.

We were not disappointed, for €35 we were given a two hour knowledgeable and interesting tour of the cellars and vines and tasted four of their wines including their Vino Nobile and Desiderio Merlot. We decided at the last minute to have lunch at the vineyards restaurant which was €50 a head but included 4 wines, three courses (with organic produce from their garden) and coffee, on their beautiful terrace, and the service was excellent. Although there was no discount for lunch for non drinking drivers they very kindly waived the tour and tasting fee for all of us when we bought cases of their wine as well!

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You can buy their superstar wines for your cellar if that’s what gets your cork out but they have good quality affordable wines for the dinner table as well.

In all it was a lovely leisurely well organised day out with the added bonus of some great wines to take home and we thoroughly recommend it. Take a good map though, it’s not easy to find.They advise you to book for their tour and or tasting as they limit the numbers.

Ph: 0578 724304

http://www.Avignonesi.it

Poliziano vineyard

Poliziano is one of the more well known wines to come from this part of Tuscany, you can find it on the menu at Pizza Express and at Majestic Wines. Don’t assume that well known equals mediocre however. The award winning reds are worthy of any dinner party table and the Asinone, made from the sangiovese grape, is especially good. After a tour of the vineyard and a tasting we bought a case of the Asinone and a case of the white Ambrae, named after the title of a poem by the Italian poet Poliziano from which the vineyard takes its name, which makes nice everyday company for fish or chicken. We also bought their Vin Santo which was pricey but excellent.

The vineyard is about 15mins drive from Il Pino and worthwhile visiting . If you want a tour and a tasting, ring and book ahead as they restrict the numbers on each tour and tasting. When we went we were in the company of a restauranteur from Boston US and his family, who was looking at Poliziano wines to make up his wine list, so people seek this place out from much further afield than Il Pino! http://www.carlettipoliziano.com/eng/azienda_montepulciano.php?id_menu=2

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Alessandra runs Tuscan cooking classes in Cortona on Saturdays. It is a day class, the morning is spent in the market where she gives you top tips on good places to buy your ingredients and your learn about the food, like the steak sides in the butchers being labelled as to the cow they came from, where it was born and raised and when it was slaughtered.  Students, not the best word for a bunch of people drinking a lot of wine and having a laugh, then cook their lunch and eat it together. My husband went with two mates and learnt how to make pasta, ragú, roast potatoes in rosemary (yum), insalata di bresaola con rucola, tiramisu (it is a sin worthy of imprisonment in Italy to put cream as well as marscapone in it), and other dishes. They all enjoyed their day and went home with a book of the recipes of the dishes they made so I’m still enjoying the fruits of his “lesson” and Alessandra was great fun.  http://www.il-girasole.com/cooking.htm

Wonderful food done in an old fashioned way that is fast disappearing under the glut of tourist restaurants. Massimo who owns the Hosteria, is passionate about real Tuscan food, greets his guests and watches over the tables himself every night, does the cooking along with his wife in a wood fired oven and grows the ingredients for the dishes at his fattoria/ farm.  We had tripe cooked in saffron, which completely changed our rather English expectations of how tripe should taste, it was  superb and the saffron came from one of the only two saffron fields in Tuscany. We also had piglet roasted in fennel, which was sublime. Kids are welcome – they were happy to  do just a plate of pici al ragu for our son, who liked it so much he had another. The panna cotta was done in a quince sauce, which was sweet, so if you are not sure about a sweet sauce with panna cotta, have the marscapone desert instead which was delicious. In summer the tables are set outside in the pretty square under the stars. This is a place to linger over Slow Food, don’t miss it. 

Booking is essential if you want to be sure of a place, call 0575 845362. Its closed Monday and Tuesday and two weeks in June for holidays. The Hosteria is in Marciano which is about 15 mins from Il Pino, but not easy to find first time, to get there from Il Pino, head for Foiano, go through Foiano towards Lucignano, and follow the signs through Pozzo, bending sharp left to Marciano. As you enter Marciano, you will see modern houses on the left – look out for a high old wall and tower on the right and turn right immediately in front of that. Follow the road around the wall as it curves left for 200 metres until you see a carpark below the wall with a pizza place opposite. Park there and walk slightly uphill, you will see the  main town gate on your left, go inside and the Hosteria is in the little piazza in front of you.

Walks and hiking

From Nicola:

Circular Walks in Tuscany & Umbria
I have found a website where you can download for free detailed directions for a circular walk around Cortona plus others:
www.tuscanyumbriawalks.com/buy-walking-book.html
I haven’t tried this yet, but the more energetic of you might like to try!