The drive from Grosseto to Pitigliano is truly stunning. The winding road bobs and weaves through rolling hills lined with neat grids of grapevines and shimmering olive trees. Yet, as beautiful as the view may be, the journey has an unfortunate side effect. It's an appetite-killer. All those twists and turns gave me a serious case of car sickness. As we arrived at our destination, which looks as if it has risen straight out of its rocky hilltop foundation, eating was the last thing we wanted to do.
The town is a major attraction for travelers, not only for its jaw-dropping skyline, but also for the architectural remnants of the town’s medieval Jewish community. After a bit of exploring Pitigliano, the car sickness waned, and our appetites returned. Good thing -- because we had one of the best meals of this stretch of our trip at Le Logge Dell'Orso, a tiny restaurant located in front of the Duomo in the Piazza San Gregorio VII.
Everything at the restaurant was taken care of by one man, the restaurant’s proprietor, who took our order and then disappeared into a kitchen in the back to prepare our lunch. When he returned, he brought us a spread of focaccia doused with olive oil and sea salt, along with a variety of crostini, plates of pecorino, and an insalata caprese like I had never seen it before – two big hunks of bufala mozzarella served side by side with a pile of quartered tomatoes. We also had an amazingly creamy risotto swirled with a purée of asparagus. It was a great technique, and it got my mind thinking about replicating this risotto-making method at home with other vegetable purées.
Another great lunch -- also eaten high up -- was in Vetulonia, a hill town located closer to Grosseto. Vetulonia may pop up in a tourist guide for its historic Etruscan remains, burial tombs, and a small museum of ancient relics, but that’s about all you’ll find in the minuscule village.
Vetulonia has just one street passable by car. We winded our way up the hill (no motion sickness this time) and ate lunch at La Vecchia Cantina, a little restaurant at the lower end of town. We walked inside, which was dark, extremely hot, and empty, save for an old man in the back who said something to us in Italian and waved us to the back. We stepped around to the side of the restaurant, where there was an overgrown backyard with several picnic tables shaded by olive trees. There was a family, another couple, and two construction workers sharing a carafe of wine. For all the American attempts at creating "rustic Italian" menus and restaurant settings, here was the real thing.
We had crisp bruschetta topped with chopped tomato and olive oil. For an entrée, I had a fantastic pasta with crumbled norcino, a spicy and salty pork sausage. After an espresso, we took off to head back to our hotel. On the way out, we passed the old man inside and I peeked into the kitchen, where you could see nonna preparing the next table's meal.