A magical place in Tuscany

by Rebecca Bricker on September 29, 2012

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been traveling around eastern Tuscany, scouting locations for the tours I’m planning with a lovely Italian woman named Maria Pia, who owns a B&B near the ancient hill town of Anghiari.

We met last December when I booked a room at her B&B – a beautifully restored 14th-century farmhouse – called Il Cardo Resort. I still remember the directions she gave me: follow the curves of the ring road, go left at the crossing toward the castle, and after 800 meters turn right on a country road by the little Lady Chapel.

There’s a point, just after you turn onto that country road, where the pavement ends and, as Maria Pia will tell you, “a place of magic” begins. The rough and rutted road descends into the peaceful Sovara Valley. In autumn, the grapes hang heavy on the vines along that road. On the day of my arrival last December, a mist shrouded the farmhouse. I can’t wait to see Il Cardo in summer – it’s surrounded by sunflower fields.

Maria Pia’s partner in life and at Il Cardo is a charming gentleman named Franco, an architect from nearby Sansepolcro who has lent his talents to the renovations at Il Cardo and tends its organic garden. The vegetables – especially Franco’s tasty tomatoes – flavor many of the dishes that Maria Pia creates in her spacious kitchen where she conducts cooking classes for her guests.

On any given day, especially during afternoon riposo, you’ll find their two cats napping in the kitchen – or sitting together at Maria Pia’s desk, checking e-mails.

In a word, life at Il Cardo is idyllic…idillico.

Together, Maria Pia and I are exploring ways to share this special place with women who would like to experience their Under the Tuscan Sun fantasy. Our idea is to customize tours to personal interests: painting, photography, cooking, hiking, biking, writing, art history, ceramics, textiles, or shopping for everything Italian.

We can arrange for expert tour guides to show you what most tourists don’t see. If you’d like instruction for special-interest workshops, we’re happy to arrange that, too. We can plan day trips and provide access to the studios of regional artisans. There’s even a wine merchant – a lovely British-Italian woman named Stephanie – who will come to Il Cardo for tastings or arrange private winery tours. And for times of riposo, you can soak up the Tuscan sun by the pool or indulge in a hot-stone massage (Il Cardo offers a variety of spa treatments).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about my recent visits to the workshops and studios of Anghiari’s artisans who are keeping alive the Old World traditions of linen and lace making, sculpting, marquetry and basket weaving. They are eager to meet those among you who have imagined this journey…to an idyllic corner of Tuscany, where you’ll feel you’ve slipped back in time.

Maria Pia and I are organizing these visits around your schedule and preferences. Just tell us when you’d like to visit, how many will be in your group and what your interests are, and we’ll provide you with a proposal that will include activities and costs. So spread the word to your painting group, your book group, your friends who like to travel (this could be a fun high school/college reunion trip), or the women in your family you like hanging out with.

Contact me at rb@rebeccabricker.com – I look forward to helping you plan this trip. :)

 

 

 

 

Franco and Maria Pia

{ 8 comments }

Debra Agbalog September 30, 2012 at 8:30 am

Hello Beck,
I am keeping up to date on your life thru your blogs. This is really exciting. Yes, of course I would be interested in visiting. Photography, of course…I do have a friend in mind that may like to join me. What about if I go solo ????
The pool looks great !
Love,
Deb

Rebecca Bricker October 6, 2012 at 5:13 am

Let me know when you’d like to come. Autumn is beautiful in Tuscany – harvest time for grapes and olives. The days are usually sunny and the mornings can be frosty and nippy with a little mist hovering over the vineyards. Molto romantico! May and June are also lovely months to visit – the poppies bloom in May; the sunflowers begin in June.

Anghiari is an ancient hill town surrounded by incredible landscapes that inspired Renaissance artists – and so much of it is still very much like it was centuries ago.

On my recent swing through Tuscany, I shot more than 3,000 photos. Bring a stack of memory cards and a few camera batteries – you’re gonna have fun!

And yes, the pool is wonderful!

Pat October 1, 2012 at 4:40 am

Exciting project, Rebecca, made even more enticing by your beautiful photographs. Good luck with this new venture.

Rebecca Bricker October 6, 2012 at 5:18 am

Pat – since you’re just over the border – I hope you’ll think about coming for a visit. And bring a few friends! It’s a great place to get away and enjoy the Tuscan countryside.

Pat Esgate October 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Becky,

So glad you’ve got this up and running! For anyone curious about Il Cardo, I can speak from experience–I visited this summer, after Becky mentioned it in a group we both belong to. I’d like to share this review I wrote up for Trip Advisor (yes, real people do post there, under their own accord, lol). Il Cardo is an incredibly special place, and what Becky and Maria Pia have planned–well, let me just say, buonissimo!!! I can hardly wait to get back there!

The review:

In this day and age, when everywhere you go seems like everywhere you’ve been, with the same boring brands in every modern mall or supposed reclaimed historical site, it almost feels as if the “real” anything exists only in the imagination, lost to your ability to experience it, forever.
Well, take heart, for here at Il Cardo Resort, near the town of Anghiari, the real Tuscany still exists. Far away from tourists, crowds–and bad restaurants filled with people who only care if it looks authentic, never mind the taste—is a wonderful respite. From the moment Maria Pia meets you at the door to the moment you drive away, eyes fixed on your rearview mirror, you will experience Tuscany in a way many people only dream of.

This is the kind of review that is hard to write, because I fear by sharing it, I will ruin it.

Il Cardo is everything you might want in a wonderful place to make the center of your exploration. In this cozy B&B, run by the fabulous Maria Pia, you will find comfortable rooms and apartments, an inviting swimming pool and an atmosphere that is pure Tuscany: friendly, warm, from the heart.
The week that we stayed at Il Cardo—high season, August—we were the only non-Italians present. Maria Pia took great care to help us plan any number of adventures, beginning with Sunday dinner at a nearby osteria. Go to Tavernelle, to La Pergola, she said. See Francesca, she will feed you. But be careful to only eat a bit of what she brings at the beginning, because it will keep coming.
And so it did, antipasto, primi, secondi, contorni, espresso, all of it in a dining room filled with Tuscan families, grandparents to babies, having their Sunday meal. A bottle of the house vino rossi was a perfect accompaniment. The service was spectacularly friendly, again, even though our Italian was nearly non-existent. No noses turned up at tourists, just the warm, inviting graciousness that makes Tuscan dining even better.

The hospitality continued through the week, with Maria Pia organizing wonderful one-on-one tours with local (and renowned) artists Gianfranco Giorni and Elena Merendelli, as well as the luxury fabric retailer Busatti, whose original factory is still here in Anghiari. We toured the tiny factory led by Mr. Busatti himself, whose passion for fine fabrics shows in the quality of his products. Be aware, I’m not talking “tourist” tours here—these are opportunities to talk with artisans about their work and their lives.

Maria Pia also suggested wonderful day trips to amazing locations, including La Verna, where St. Francis journeyed for his meditations, on one of the most spectacular mountaintops imaginable and Caprese Michelangelo, the birthplace of the artist. As the wind whispers through the trees in this ancient walled village—tiny, tiny, you can’t imagine how small—you are struck with how creativity can flourish in a world of only natural distraction.

And then, the cooking classes. We learned how to make four different dishes. The highlight of both sessions was the meal that night, with Maria Pia and Franco, on their patio, under the Tuscan moon. Great food, great wine and Franco’s very own vin santo…glorious!!

Il Cardo Resort is made up of two buildings with several rooms and apartments, some with small kitchens, all of them with some kind of outdoor eating space. Breakfast is served every morning in the main dining area. This is self-service lodging, by the way, so Americans looking for the maid to come through every day should be aware that it will not happen. Clean sheets and towels are available whenever you need them, however. The rooms are generously sized, with wonderful décor and very comfortable beds. Though there is no other food service (other than a continental breakfast or dinner by Maria Pia, available by prior arrangement), Anghiari boasts some of the best restaurants to be found anywhere. I can honestly tell you, as a New Yorker used to really wonderful dining experiences both cheap and expensive, the restaurants of Anghiari are right up there.

Our favorites, in the area:
Osteria La Pergola (in nearby Tavenelle, rustic dining–do not miss this!!)
Per Bacco (Anghiari, fine dining)
Da Alighiero (Anghiari, fine dining)
Bar Pizzaria Baldaccio (Anghiari, fabulous pizza and huge, wonderful salads)

Il Cardo is a jewel. Enjoy your stay!

Rebecca Bricker October 6, 2012 at 4:55 am

Pat – Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. You really capture the essence of this corner of paradise – and Maria Pia’s warm personality and hospitality.

I look forward to seeing you back at Il Cardo on your next visit! I’m already thinking about places I want to share with you and Bren. :)

Kathleen Pooler October 6, 2012 at 4:30 am

What a beautiful write-up, Rebecca! It is all so very enticing. I am so torn between spending a whole week there vs an organized tour to more places. It makes me think two Italy trips are in order- one to do the full “I’ve seen a lot of places” tour and the other-one to relax in Tuscany and soak up the local culture. I’ll be in touch!

Rebecca Bricker October 6, 2012 at 4:49 am

It’s really possible for you to do both, Kathy. Why don’t you do an organized tour of both Rome (with a side trip to see your relatives) and Florence and at the end of your stay in Florence, come with me to Anghiari? It would be a relaxing way to end the trip and you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in Tuscan life. I’m happy to help you work out an itinerary. I’d love to share this experience with you. The writer-in-you will be so inspired! :)

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