Giovanni Pascoli, our renowned Italian poet, wrote that Pienza, Val d’Orcia’s Renaissance City founded by Pope Pio II in 1462, was " Born from a Loving Thought and a Dream of Beauty". If your Tuscan Dream is a dream of Beauty and of Love, then here at Cretaiole, you will see it reflected everywhere: the spectacular scenery, the fine food, the wine, the nature, the culture, the history.
Tuscan living has an exclusive charm, a peaceful and relaxing lifestyle, and certainly is "La Dolce Vita". Settle in, dine slowly, breathe deeply and exhale your tensions away.
This is the Toscana we want to share with you: its sounds, tastes, people, and vistas – Toscana will steal your heart!
Take a stroll through a quaint Tuscan hilltown, bathe in sunshine, relax in a café on the village piazza; or, ride a mountain bike into the hills to a secluded village and quench your thirst from the local spring. Attend a concert or opera. Enjoy a summer fiesta with music, food, and entertainment under the warm star-studded skies.
From your home base at Cretaiole, you can have it all! Decide how to spend your days and we will help you achieve your goal. If you decide to take it easy, enjoy the beautiful views and the singing of the birds, with a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other, that's fine! But if you want to experience a more active week and be involved in special activities that will give you an authentic taste of our Tuscan life, you will have the opportunity to participate in wine and olive oil tastings, thematic lunches and dinners, cooking classes, guided tours, hot air ballooning, and so much more!
The best things in a vacation are the ones that you can feel deep within your heart …and bring back home as a timeless memories.
For guests staying a week or longer during April through October, we include with your reservation at least four of the activities listed below. For stays of less than one week, please ask for availability and rates for the following activities, grazie!
At Cretaiole you will be treated to activities that include history, archaeology, food, wine, farm life, and city life. Here is just a sample of what you can expect during your weekly stay.
OUR WEEKLY ACTIVITIES
Private Tour of the Hermitage (closed to the public)
Our family purchased a prized piece of land in 1993 just below Pienza that contains a fascinating, pre-Christian archaeological site. Luciano and Carlo have restored it to prevent deterioration and allow better access. It is an extraordinarily beautiful and spiritual place. We will personally escort you through it, and explain the meaning of its features, its artwork, and location. It is called the Hermitage because for centuries it was used by religious monks (hermits) leading lives of penitence and prayer. However, archaeologists suspect that, even much earlier than that, it was the site of an ancient Etruscan tomb.
Our Recommendation: This is a unique archaeological site few people are privileged to visit.
100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting
Carlo is a professional olive oil taster and judge on the grand panel of experts for the Province of Siena. He will guide you in tasting olive oil from four different parts of Italy and teach you to recognise different flavors and levels of quality.
Our Recommendation: This is a pleasurable experience suitable for everyone, also for children! However, if you are a "foodie" as so many Tuscan visitors are, you will find this to be an invaluable skill-building lesson!
Pasta-Making Class (and family-style dinner when possible)
Our guests are invited to learn the art of making "pici", a traditional, handmade pasta of southern Tuscany. You will learn the secrets of measuring the ingredients, mixing and kneading the dough, and then rolling strips of dough to make thin, irregularly shaped spaghetti. The lesson takes about 2 hours. We will give you the recipe so that you can try it again when you get home.
Whenever the season and weather permit, after the class is over we will enjoy a bountiful Tuscan dinner outdoors on the veranda. The menu includes our freshly made pici with our homemade ragù, grilled meats, cheese, and sausage. Our guests provide something small to share with others—fruit, salad, or bread. Our family will provide plenty of Cretaiole’s white and red wines, grappa and vinsanto!
Our Recommendation: You will experience the way Tuscans really enjoy our food and wine—in fact, having dinner with us will make you feel you have become a Tuscan yourself! We want you to feel a part of our family—after all, nothing is dearer to the hearts of Italians than making, tasting, judging, debating, and enjoying the food they have made by hand. Absolutely bring your children for the cooking lesson and the dinner!! They will love it.
Tuscan Farm Life and Wine Tasting in Our Wine Cellar
Children ("from 1 to 92!") who live in towns or cities rarely have contact with friendly farm animals. Some have never even seen a chicken or a pig up close and personal. Many animals are raised at our family’s San Gregorio farmhouse in Pienza, where we live and where we have the center of our agricultural activities. Come visit and have a "Dr. Dolittle" experience! You will say, "Awwwww…." so many times when you see the baby geese, ducks, guinea hens, chickens, turkeys, pigs, rabbits, pigeons, and guinea pigs.
Young guests can enjoy the thrill of riding on a farm tractor with Carlo, depending on the time of your visit and the agricultural schedule. Let us know if your child would like such an experience and he’ll do his best to make this wish come true!
The visit includes more than the animals! Luciano will show you where he makes and stores his cheese, wine, and meats, and while you are visiting the cellar, he will pour you a big glass of his best red or white (your choice!) wine made from the grapes that grow just outside the cellar doors on our property.
Our Recommendation: Your children will be thrilled to see and hold these Tuscan critters! Going to our family’s farm will give you a much better feel for the real life of a Tuscan family. If you have chosen to stay in the countryside because it brings you closer to the land and the culture, then you will value highly this experience!
Harvesting the Grapes (End of September/First of October)
Harvesting the grapes, all over Italy, is a time for celebration, friendship, laughter, and tradition! Taking part in the harvest (the vendemmia) requires the buona fortuna of being on holiday at just the right time. The harvest only lasts a few days and we never know ahead of time exactly when it will happen (it depends on the season, the maturity of the grapes, and the weather). For the experience some of our guests had, read about it in this Des Moines,
Iowa newspaper article.
Our Recommendation: If you are lucky enough to be there during the vendemmia, join our family and our close friends and have the time of your life! We promise–we won’t make you pull up your skirts and trouser-legs to stomp on the grapes afterwards! Instead, however, we can promise that you will enjoy a well-deserved afternoon nap.
White Truffle Hunting (From mid-October to End of December)
Our family has its own source of "white gold"—a small, private truffle reserve, right below Cretaiole. When the season begins, we start off from the farmhouse with the amazing truffle dogs, we walk to the truffle reserve down below the farmhouse, and then we unleash them, sending them on to their frenzied hunt for the prized Tuscan delicacy. Your heart will race, you will laugh and smile like crazy, and be just as excited as the dogs to see what is just below the soil. There aren’t always spoils to be found, but it’s still an exciting experience!
Our Recommendation: Who wouldn’t want to see this wonderful "man with his best friend" bonding experience? Whether or not the day’s hunt results in finding truffles, you will not forget the excitement. [Note: Finding truffles does not mean "keeping" truffles–sorry. But, you may be able to purchase one depending on the supply!]
Olive Harvest (From end of October through December)
Just show up! It is impossible to have too many hands for the olive harvest. We pick each olive by hand, because only in that way can the highest quality olive oil be produced! But it isn’t just hard work – there is also something special about touching the branches, hearing the sound of the olives when they hit the ground, knowing they will soon come back to us in scrumptious, mouth-watering ways–maybe on a plate of steaming pasta or drizzled over warm bruschetta.
Our Recommendation: If you have the heart and brawn for this work and want to experience an essential Tuscan tradition, this is a rewarding activity you won’t soon forget!
*NOTE: The activities listed above are free of charge with a minimum of a one-week stay. At least four activities per week are guaranteed to be available from those mentioned above, depending on the season, availability, and guest requests.
ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES TO ENRICH YOUR TUSCAN VACATION
Because we live here, it is possible for us to search all during the year for people who are passionate about what they do and passionate about sharing their knowledge, their bounty, and their time with my guests. We look for people who feel the same way we do about treating guests with respect, and giving them an experience that is much different than what most tourists experience.
The people and places we have found for you will always provide a phenomenal experience at a local price (no taking advantage of the foreign visitor—we assure you!). You can book any of the following activities upon arrival! .
Wine & Food
Brunello di Montalcino Wine Lesson (Minimum: 4 people)
We will arrange for you to meet with one of Montalcino’s finest wine makers. You will learn what Brunello wine is, visit the vineyard and understand the unique environmental features that impact the grapes, and how it is produced. You will enjoy a guided taste of one of the best Brunellos in Montalcino, according to Wine Enthusiast.
Family-style Tuscan Lunch and Winery Visit (Minimum: 6 people)
Enjoy a truly authentic Tuscan meal with the family of a small vineyard near Montalcino. The winemaker’s mother will serve you, and the entire family will join you as you savor the food and the wine (Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino). Lunch is served in their ancient wine cellar.
Wine Tours of Montepulciano
Cretaiole is only 20 kilometers from Montepulciano—home of the famous Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. There are many wineries in the area that provide wine tours.
Pizza Cooking Class, Tour and Lunch at an Organic Farm
(min. 6/8 people)
This small, family-owned farm is run using only farming techniques that work in harmony with the land and the environment. They will share their passion for their life with you in their big kitchen where they will teach you how to make pizza cooked in their wood oven! You will see their animals (including an ancient breed of wild pigs), wine cellar, and vegetable garden; and at the end they will offer you an enormous vegetarian lunch made entirely from ingredients produced on their farm.
Tuscan Cooking Classes (Minimum: 2 people)
Have your choice of several different cooking classes offered by one of Montepulciano’s most renowned restaurants. Learn to make an entire Tuscan dinner (from antipasto to dessert), and then enjoy the fruits of your labor at the end of the lesson. Or perhaps you would like a class that concentrates on bread making or homemade pasta—the choice is yours!
Visit the City of Siena
We will arrange for you to go on an excellent tour of Siena with a professional guide. You will discover the beauty of this Medieval City and have your questions answered by a knowledgeable docent about the famous Palio, the unfinished Duomo, and anything else you are curious about.
Sports, Leisure and Fun
Sunrise Trek (No minimum)
Enjoy a guided, magnificent 2-hour hike in the Val d’Orcia, starting from Cretaiole. You will see fields of wheat, vineyards, olive orchards, and hopefully also some wildlife and birds. Walk and enjoy the sounds of nature breaking through the early morning silence, walk and enjoy the beauty and the stunning colours of the Val d’Orcia landscape in sunrise light with its majestic Monte Amiata and hilltop villages.
Guided Mountain Bike Tour (min. 2 people)
Rent a state-of-the-art bicycle and pedal from Bagno Vignoni to San Quirico d’Orcia to Pienza and back through the heart of the Crete Senesi with a terrific guide. Stop in Pienza for a pecorino cheese tasting. Half-day and full-day custom tours are available on request (min. 4 people).
Professional Mountain Bike Rental (min. 2 people)
Fully equipped, professional mountain bikes are delivered directly to you. The rental rate includes insurance. A minimum of 2 days rental is required.
Horseback Riding Lessons and Excursions (no min.)
Riding lessons for all skill levels (beginners through advanced) with excursions in the magnificent surroundings of the Val d’Orcia. Lessons for children are available!
Hot Air Ballooning (min. 2 people)
Launch into the Tuscan sky from a farm just 20 minutes from Cretaiole. Go where the breeze takes you for well over an hour, gliding over castles, vineyards, and villages. End your ride with a champagne lunch in the country, wherever you land.
Art and Culture
La Foce – Tours of the Garden of Iris Origo (no min.)
La Foce, the beautiful home and gardens restored and expanded by the writer Iris Origo and her husband, are located 15 km from Castelmuzio, just outside the village of Monticchiello. Hour-long, guided tours of the garden are available on Wednesday, from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. No reservation is necessary; just show up!
Terracotta Museum (min. 4 people)
In the tiny charming medieval village of Petroio, only 12 minutes from Cretaiole, you'll find a museum dedicated to terracotta. Terracotta has been made from the area’s soil for centuries, using traditional methods for making articles essential to all facets of life. The museum chronicles the history and development of this art form. Also, the delightful guide and expert artisan, Rodolfo, will be happy to teach you how to model the clay to create beautiful items. He particularly loves to work with children!
Italian Classes (no min.)
You may take the classes at Cretaiole or at the
Scuola Camprena that is only a 5-minute drive away. Lessons are available for all skill levels! Book through us for the best rates!
Arts Classes (no min.)
Elizabeth Cochrane is a highly skilled and trained artist, specializing in landscapes, impressionist styles, watercolours, and capturing the beauty of Tuscany on campus. She loves to give lessons, and you will find her to be a wonderful teacher and wonderful person.
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