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Country Roads:Scorgiano
Country Roads:
A Dark and Foodie Night

Story and photos by Tom Weber

evening at the hamlet of Scorgiano overlooking the Val d'Elsa

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

These seven words, joined at the hip, form an often mocked and parodied phrase quilled by English novelist Edward Buwler-Lytton in the opening sentence of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.

Literary criticism aside, Buwler-Lytton's narrative just happens to set the stage perfectly for what I'm about to transcribe.

With my umbrella at the ready, the skies above a foreboding preamble of what's to come, I join my band of merry media – special guests of Insight Vacations on its abbreviated Country Roads of Italy journey – for a dark and stormy night of wine tasting and regional food in the piccolo borgo (little hamlet) of Scorgiano overlooking the Val d'Elsa in the Bel Paese's Tuscany region.

the Tenuta Bichi Borghesi estate at night

It is here, in the heart of Chianti wine country, that our Insight motorcoach comes to a full stop.

We dismount and head inside the renovated scuderie (stables) of a 17th century villa on the grounds of the Tenuta Bichi Borghesi (TBB) estate.

Niccolo Simonelli of Tenuta Bichi Borghesi estate

Welcomed by our gracious host, Niccolò Simonelli, we get down to serious business straight away underneath the barreled, brick stable ceilings, where horses and farm equipment once stood.

glass ofred wine at the Tenuta Bichi Borghesi

Around crunchy bruschetta drizzled with delicious extra virgin olive oil, and locally made salami and cheeses, the vintner-owner-general manager describes in detail the estate's trio of superb wines, all grown in the family's vineyards and blended and aged on site.

the Tenuta Bichi Borghesi estate's trio of wines

glass case of wines at the Tenuta Bichi Borghesi estate

As each label is announced, eager attendants appear and pour generous portions of the grape into each of our glasses.

Coppiole Riserva DOCG. Swirl. Smell. Sip.

Bonico IGT. Swirl. Smell. Sip.

Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG. Swirl. Smell. Sip.

Two hours later and way too much wine consumed, but thoroughly enjoyed, we thank Niccolò and staff for their hospitality, exit the scuderie of TBB, passing well-lit glass cases along the way spotlighting bottles of long-ago vintages, and step out into the rain.

Our dark and stormy night of epicurean delight continues as we make our way on foot through the hamlet, clutching at umbrellas struggling to stay open against the windy downpour, and make our way to the launching pad.

the Tenuta Bichi Borghesi (TBB) estate at night

It's Ristorante L'Astronave, or Spaceship Restaurant, a former disco turned eatery, where the locals come for authentic, regional dishes. Nothing more, nothing less.

the kitchen and the family owners of Ristorante L'Astronave

writer's group at the Ristorante L'Astronave

Nary the look of either the Kennedy Space Center or NASA's mission control, L'Astronave is a simple, straightforward, family-run trattoria. Mamma Flavia's the chef, son Marco's the headwaiter, and younger brother Franco and English fiancé Sarah bring up the rear. To be frank, the ambience is bare bones, but the kitchen's why we're here.

Already about half tossed from the wine tasting over at TBB, our band of merry media takes their places at one very long tavola, covered in lily-white tablecloths and accented by candlelight, that runs the length of the restaurant.

We've been promised authentic down-home Tuscan cooking by Belinda, Insight's tour director-slash-storyteller, and, by golly, we're going to have it!

Bottles of local red and white jump-start our dinner party, as Marco, brother and fiancé begin the parade of our five, count 'em, FIVE-course meal.

Ristorante L'Astronave's olive Ascolani

Gigantic trays of antipasti arrive filled with cold cuts, cheeses and olive Ascolani – minced meat-stuffed olives Ascoli Piceno style, battered and quickly deep-fried.

risotto and pici in a white pork ragu

Our primo (first course) is a bis (two) of pasta: risotto and the Tuscan classic, pici (thick, hand-rolled strands) in a white pork ragù.

meat being grilled, roasted new potatoes and main course of pork chops, chicken and thin cuts of Tuscan beef cooked rare over open fire with baby greens and roasted potatoes

Next, a mixed-grill main course of pork chops, sausages, chicken and Tagliata Toscana (thin cuts of Tuscan beef cooked rare over an open fire), complimented with roasted new potatoes and market-fresh baby greens.

the writer's group at the Ristorante L'Astronave

At this stage of our version of La Grande Abbuffata (The Big Feast) – the Franco-Italiano flick about four BFBs who gather at a country villa and gorge themselves into oblivion – a short pausa (break) is needed to allow the wait staff time to clear the table of spent dishes and prep for i dolci (desserts). Why don't we take five, too, and see how some of the band of merry media are holding up.

biscotti and strong espresso at the Ristorante L'Astronave

The best part of la cena (dinner) arrives, desserts in the form of the classic Torta della Nona (Grandmother's cake) and cantucci (or biscotti, twice-baked cookies) served with cordials of vin santo (sweet "holy" wine). And we close the book on this rather long feedbag with cups of strong espresso – Macchiato, per favore – all around.

Bellies full and heads slightly a buzz – no surprise there – we pub crawl our way out of Ristorante L'Astronave, through the still "dark and stormy night," clamor aboard the motorcoach, and head for our temporary abode, Borgo San Luigi, the sprawling Tuscan villa-estate, just over the hill and around the bend.

On the way, Belinda gives out tomorrow's marching orders: Luggage packed and standing outside your doors no later than 7:00 a.m. as we MUST depart for the Ferrari Museum in Maranello by 8 o'clock sharp.

YES, DRILL SERGEANT! someone anonymously yells out from the back of the motorcoach.

For complete information on Insight Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, where you'll savor great wines and fine dining along the way, and over 100 journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

Ferrari wheel

See you tomorrow inside the Ferrari Museum where we'll kick the tires on a few redheads.


Related Articles:
San Gimignano: Scraping the Tuscan Sky; Paparazzi at the Osteria; Chianti Pours Forth from Fonterutoli; Cortona: Under the Renovated Tuscan Sun; Linnertime in Spello; Take Me Home Country Roads

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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