Pienza - Val d'Orcia - Siena - Tuscany

Tuscan living has an exclusive charm, and a peaceful and relaxing lifestyle. Sink in, breathe deeply, dine slowly, and take it all in. This is the Tuscany we wish to share with you: its sounds, tastes, people, and vistas. Take a stroll through a quaint Tuscan hill towns, bathe in sunshine, relax in a café on the village piazza; or, ride a mountain bike into the hills to a secluded village. Enjoy a summer fiesta with music, food, and entertainment under the warm, star-studded skies.

Decide how you’d like to spend your days and we will help you achieve your goal. If you decide to take it easy, to 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, art and culture classes, and so much more!

Dolce Vita Stay

For those who are looking for an enhanced, cultural immersion experience—please join us by choosing the special Dolce Vita Stay! These very special activities, favorites of our past guests, are provided for a per person fee and include:

  • A bountiful welcome basket upon your arrival that is full of our family’s farm products (wine, cheese, meats, extra virgin olive oil, fresh farm eggs)
  • A tour of our family’s working farm in Pienza with farm product tastings
  • A tour of the ancient hermitage located on our family’s property in Pienza
  • An olive oil tasting lesson with a professional olive oil taster
  • Buongiorno Toscana! A cultural and lifestyle conversation with Carlotta and Luciano
  • A handmade pasta class and communal Tuscan dinner with our family and guests
  • For those staying with us for shorter periods of time, when possible, we can put together a Dolce Sosta (Sweet Stay) package. The activities that we can include will depend on the specific days of the week you are here, and the time of year.

    Description of the Dolce Vita Activities

    Tuscan Farm Life Tour and Product Tastings in Our Wine Cellar

    Children (of ALL ages!) 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, and rabbits.

    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, and give you generous tastings of his cured meats, aged pecorino cheese, and extra virgin olive oil.

    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!

    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 to allow better access to it. 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 (or “Romitorio” in Italian) because for centuries it was used by religious 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. This is a unique archaeological site few people are privileged to visit.

    100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting Class

    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 different parts of Italy and teach you to recognize different flavors and levels of quality. This is a pleasurable experience suitable for everyone, also for children 10 years old or more! However, if you are a "foodie" as so many Tuscan visitors are, you will find this to be an invaluable skill-building lesson!

    Buongiorno Toscana!

    Carlotta is a “super Tuscan”, born in Pisa and raised in Florence where she attended the University of Florence and graduated in Foreign Languages, Literature, and Intercultural Studies. Her enthusiasm and excitement comes through her desire to share her knowledge of the Italian lifestyle and culture. Spend some time with her and Luciano and let them help you with basic Italian expressions and body language, how and when to use them, and in this way make the most of your exciting encounters in Italy during your vacation.

    Pasta-Making Class and Tuscan Dinner

    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.

    After the class is over we will enjoy a bountiful Tuscan dinner outdoors in 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, vegetable dish, or dessert. Our family will provide plenty of Cretaiole’s white and red wines, grappa and vinsanto!

    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.

    More Weekly Activities - Organized For Your Enjoyment

    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 our 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!).

    Wine Tours and Tastings

    During the week we usually organize at least four winery estate tours and tastings—some in the Brunello di Montalcino region and some in the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano region—two of the finest red wines in all of Italy. Let us help you decide which ones best fit your style of wine tasting! Some wineries are owned by small families who have a personal passion about their work, their wine, and your enjoyment of it. Others are larger, quite technical and provide outstanding demonstrations of how the wine is made. Some of the tours include a light lunch, others provide the tour and professional guided tastings only. All of them have been chosen by us because we really believe in what they are trying to achieve, and they represent the best experiences for our guests.

    In addition to these, we can also send you to an excellent wine shop (called an “enoteca”) where you can taste, with professional assistance, many wines from these two regions, and from all over Italy. This is the best way to compare various wine producers and various types of wines, in one sitting—something that is not possible to do when you go to one specific wine estate.

    Special Meals

    During the week we will have one or more special meal events organized. These are special in several aspects: they are located in unique and beautiful locations (sometimes highly historic), the menus are customized for our guests, the meal is provided solely for our guests, and/or the setting is highly evocative. One thing you can be certain of is that the entire experience will be a treat—the food, the service, the setting, and the value.

    Cheese Tasting

    If you love cheese, we urge you to go to a 220-hectare family farm on which they breed about 1,000 Sardinian sheep. The family makes 30 different types of cheese. They have received many awards from Italy and Siena, and they have been mentioned in prominent national and international journals of food and wine. You will see how they make the various cheeses, learn the production cycle of the various cheeses and ricotta, visit the cheese cellars where they age the cheese, and receive clear explanations in English and answers to your questions. The tour of the farm is followed by a tasting of 8 different types of cheese including their delicious ricotta cheese, wine as much as you would like, bread, and water. In addition a few cold cuts (ham, capocollo, salami) and special fresh cheese called "primo sale", will make a nice lunch!

    Cooking Classes

    Aside from wine tasting, most of our guests come to learn how to cook Tuscan meals. We can help you and your friends and family choose the type of cooking class that will be just to your liking! All of our recommendations are with chefs or professional cooks with many years of experience. We can make arrangements for you to go to a 5-star gourmet cooking course, or an authentic four-course Tuscan meal at a local farmhouse with a fantastic Tuscan cook, or to a charming trattoria in a tiny jewel of a village off the beaten tourist track. Perhaps, however, you might like to have a professional chef come to your apartment and give the lesson in your “own home” and then enjoy the meal in your apartment or outside on the picnic table at Cretaiole.

    City Tours of Siena and Florence

    Staying at Cretaiole is perfect for day trips to Siena and Florence. For either of these cities, we recommend that you go with a professional tour guide who can make the city and its history and traditions come alive for you. We have outstanding colleagues in both cities that we highly recommend and are certain you will enjoy.

    If you are going to Florence and wish to see either the David (located at the Accademia Museum) or the Uffizi Art Gallery, let us make reservations for you so that you can skip the waiting lines and walk right into the museums. Let us know before you arrive if this is something you would like to do, and we’ll make arrangements for you.

    Sports and Physical Activity

    There are many things to do to exercise your body, have some physical activity, and enjoy the countryside. During the week you can have a guided hike through the valley, starting at Cretaiole. Or you can go on a guided mountain bike tour—stopping half-way for a pecorino (sheep) cheese tasting. If you enjoy horseback riding, we can send you to a great stable with rides and lessons for all skill levels and with excursions in the magnificent surroundings.

    Massage and Thermal Spas

    After a day of physical activity or "power sightseeing", you might really enjoy a massage in your apartment. We can arrange for a massage therapist to come to you—and provide you with either a classic or relaxing massage or a therapeutic massage, whichever you prefer. Our area is full of thermal activity from deep inside the earth, providing several excellent hot springs that are enjoyed by people of all ages! For those who wish to luxuriate in spas with personal services (massages, cold water plunges, hot mud masks, etc.), you will find these nearby in Bagno Vignoni, Terme Rapolano, Chianciano Terme, and San Casciano dei Bagni. Our personal favorite is an outdoor hot spring called Bagni di San Filippo, where the "White Whale" (an enormous build-up of calcium created over eons by the minerals in the hot spring water) can be found by walking on a beautiful trail into the woods, and enjoying the warm pools–-free of charge.

    Art and Culture

    Famous for its fantastic art, culture, panoramic views, gardens, etc., Tuscany is replete with ways to accentuate your week with great activities to soothe your artistic soul. Try one or more of these:

  • go on a photo safari with a professional photographer who knows the perfect locations for taking quintessential images of Tuscany
  • go to a terracotta museum in a village which has been making clay items for thousands of years
  • visit a medieval monastery where you can hear Gregorian chants sung several times throughout each day
  • take watercolor lessons from a professional artist in the nearby village of Montisi
  • visit La Foce - the famous gardens of Iris Origo, and location of the iconic serpentine road that Tuscany is known for
  • Seasonal Activities

    Harvesting the Grapes (End of September/First of October)

    Harvesting the grapes 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.

    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. There aren’t always spoils to be found, but it’s still an exciting experience! This is a 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. 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!

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