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Welcome to MARK-itecture, a collaboration between ICONIC LIFE and Mark Candelaria, founder and principal of Candelaria Design, whose award-winning designs, visionary architecture and international reputation make him an expert voice on architecture, food and travel when you bring them all together. He will share his travels and perspective as a regular contributor right here.
Our time in Florence is short and concentrated as my travelers will learn there is so much to see and experience in Italy. With only 14 days, you have to keep moving! And so, we check out and head back to the Florence Airport where we pick up our rental cars. No tour bus on this Tour—we give every couple their own car, and they get to experience Italy in their own way with privacy and freedom. There is always some anxiousness at the beginning as we leave the airport but once we all get moving you can feel the excitement in my travelers through their texts of “Oh my God this is so beautiful and SO cool!”
Photo by Mark Candelaria
Now we don’t drive long, about 30 minutes, and we are at our first stop, the Antinori Winery just south of Florence in the heart of the Chianti Region where our tour of architecture in Tuscany begins. There is nothing short of awe when you visit this architectural feat and at the same time get to experience some incredible wine. The winery is contemporary with the vineyard on the roof, and the steel and reflective glass virtually morph the structure into the Tuscan landscape. We have a quick lunch and wine pairing, then a tour of the cellar, followed by a formal tasting and of course some purchases. Then we were off again.
Photo by Mark Candelaria
After about an hour drive, we make our way from Tuscany to our destination and home for the week the Altabella agriturismo in Umbria. This venue is truly off the beaten path, or at least it has been, but we see this area getting more and more discovered with some recent renovations of nearby castles which we will explore later.
We gather provisions for the week at the local market, wine, cheese, eggs, prosciutto—you know, Italian essentials. Then we hit the dirt road at the bottom of the hill and make our way up past vineyards, and through deer and wild boar-filled forests, whereupon we finally arrive at the farmhouses. So, from the formal venue of Villa San Michelle in Florence to the casual country vibe of the Umbrian farmhouses, my travelers have been transported to a completely different and unique experience that few people ever encounter. I love touring them through their accommodations for the week, and watching the excitement and amazement in their eyes as they explore the farmhouses for the first time!
From tartufo-filled deviled eggs, caprese salad, local meats and honey, then a simple but luscious lasagna finishing with panna cotta with local berries for dessert, we are now squarely in the country.
With everyone settled in, we all gather at the main house, LaPietra, for a welcome dinner prepared by our host for the week, Elizabeth Wholey, who is one of several investors in this property. The wine is poured, and we all settle in on the porch to savor the sunset and the fabulous dishes prepared by Elizabeth. From tartufo-filled deviled eggs, caprese salad, local meats and honey, then a simple but luscious lasagna finishing with panna cotta with local berries for dessert, we are now squarely in the country. Stories are shared, more wine is poured, and the bond between our travelers only strengthens finishing the evening with singing and dancing. Magical!
Villa di Piazzano
Our next morning, Sunday, we enjoy coffee and the morning fog in the valley below, and the sound of the forest awakening. We gather the troops, consolidate the cars, and make the drive to towards Cortona and the 16th Century Villa di Piazzano for a beautiful brunch on their terrace. We arrive at 11 am, and we enjoy the Villa and the Umbria/Tuscan countryside for our three-hour brunch with stunning views of the town of Cortona beyond and delightful food. We wrapped up with a tour of the Villa. The Villa is a fabulous hotel run by the gracious Wimpole family, who purchased the property when I first started the tours in the early 2000’s, and they have continued to restore the property over the last 20 years engaging our firm for some studies to further enhance the pool area which has been very exciting!
That evening we explored Cortona, made famous by Frances Mayes and her book Under the Tuscan Sun. A beautiful Etruscan hillside village, it is a wonderful town to explore with beautiful views, and quaint shops and restaurants. Although due to the book and movie, it is a bit overrun by tourists. Our travelers had some time on their own, and we finished our Sunday with a very light supper followed by gelato.
We had a fabulous lunch at the Enoteca Properzio of homemade pasta and white truffles combined with a wine tasting that was frankly unbelievable.
Photo by Mark Candelaria
Monday, we explored two Umbrian hillside villages, first Spello and then Assisi. Spello is quiet and not as discovered by the masses. My travelers all love visiting this village. I think it is because it is so unspoiled and undiscovered. We had a fabulous lunch at the Enoteca Properzio of homemade pasta and white truffles combined with a wine tasting that was frankly unbelievable. Let’s just say, the Spello economy is now booming after our visit! Several cases of wine and olive oil ordered all of which we will enjoy once we arrive home.
Ristorante Simone Corsetti ai Girasoli
We finished our hillside village tours with a quick visit to Assisi, which is always a wonderful visit and the Basilica di Francesco is truly a spiritual experience no matter your beliefs. That evening we dined at the Ristorante Simone Corsetti ai Girasoli just a few miles from our farmhouses proceeded by, yes, another wine tour of the vineyard and cellar.
Tuesday was our wine tour day…..yes, we haven’t had enough wine yet! Hosted by sommelièr Rosanna Ravacchioli and our farmhouse host Elizabeth Wholey they toured us through three wineries including a fabulous lunch at Fattoria Colsanto. With more wine ordered, we were coming to the end of our wine time in Umbria and Tuscany!
Castello di Reschio
That evening, we explored a new venue, the Castello di Reschio. The Reschio castle is basically at the bottom of the hill from our farmhouses, and we drive by it virtually every day. The ancient estate of Reschio encompasses thousands of Umbrian acres of olive groves and oak forests. The estate is home to the Bolza family, who have been restoring the castle and ancient farmhouses into a master work of contemporary architecture and design since 1994. The restored property will feature a hotel, restaurant which we happily experienced, riding stables and equestrian center, spa and cooking class. Yes, our little hidden Umbrian treasure is being discovered.
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Wednesday is the middle of our trip—we are halfway done! Wednesday is the day we relax and chill at the farmhouses. We start the day with a quick visit to the nearby village of Umbertide and its simple but most lovely farmer’s market. The same vendors have been here over the course of the 20 years I have been coming, and I make it a point to always visit my porchetta panino vendor, a sandwich of layered, spiced, roasted pork consisting of pork meat and crunchy pork skin on a French roll. This year’s porchetta did not disappoint!
Porte del Passato
From there we did some antiquing at Lacole Casa Italiana and Porte del Passato. Fabulous furniture, building materials, antiques, and ohhhh, those doors! We have used both their reclaimed materials and newly manufactured items on many of our homes here in Arizona. We have become such good friends with the Belli family, whom we met on our first trip to Italy in 2000.
Then we returned to the farmhouses for the one evening that I think truly melds the group and binds them as friends forever—our cooking class in the farmhouses. I look back on the 16 tours thus far and so many of my travelers are still in touch with each other and have forged lasting and extremely close relationships and friendships. It is truly the best outcome of my trip! This year’s trip was no different other than this group formed that bond early at Villa San Michele on our second night. Further, our singing and dancing on our arrival evening at the farmhouses, and then consummated on this evening while making pasta and enjoying our wine finds!
The Duomo in Siena is my favorite church in Italy, and we finish the day with cocktails, a light dinner and a magical sunset in the Piazza del Campo of Siena, which is one of my favorite spots in the world.
Photo by StevanZZ / Shutterstock
On Thursday we explored the Tuscan towns of San Gimignano and Siena, both spectacular medieval treasures and definitely worth the visit. The Duomo in Siena is my favorite church in Italy, and we finish the day with cocktails, a light dinner and a magical sunset in the Piazza del Campo of Siena, which is one of my favorite spots in the world. So obviously, Siena has a special place in my heart.
Friday is another free day and our final day in Umbria. Most of us slept in and enjoyed the sounds and cool air of the country. Today was my wife, Isabel’s, birthday, and several of us went to Il Falconiere for a fabulous lunch. Il Falconiere is an absolutely beautiful hotel and has a stunning restaurant run by Silvia Regi Baracchi located in an olive grove at the foot of Cortona with panoramic views of the Tuscan landscape. A beautiful and joyous spot to celebrate Isabel’s birthday.
We finished this day by picking up some Bistecca alla Fiorentina and some sausages from the local butcher, clearing our fridges of our veggies and leftovers, and making a final dinner buffet in the farmhouses. We fired up the grille, did our best to finish some of the wine we had purchased, and enjoyed our final sunset in Umbria saying goodnight and goodbye to the countryside.
Stay tuned for my last installment in this series, The Veneto and Osolo. Bon Giorno!