Looking for a getaway in Virginia?

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Riverfront house in Heathsville, VA

For booking click here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8123738

In early August a group of friends and I decided to take a weekend off and rent a house in Heathsville, Virginia to decompress from our work lives D.C.  We found this house on AirBnB and it worked out pretty darn well for us, so I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of the work week.

Located two and half hours from D.C., this house easily held the 9 of us staying there.  The host was very generous, attentive, but also left us alone to enjoy our weekend once all the rules were covered (there weren’t very many).  It should be noted that the house is the owners actual residence that she rents out, so it’s furnished like a real home and not a summer home.  Here are the details of the house.

  • 4 bedrooms (2 queens, 2 doubles), 1 living room with queen pull out couch, 2.5 bathrooms
    • great historic architecture; each room is “themed” by different countries the family has lived in.  For example, the son’s room was British themed, one of the adult bedrooms was Australia themed, etc.
    • It’s a bit of a hike for the two people who get the kids rooms upstairs FYI, and the ceilings are pretty low in those rooms
  • Fully stocked kitchen with plenty of dishes, silverware, and cooking supplies
  • A/C in every room except the hallways which was key since it was ridiculously hot out
  • Grill on the back patio for use
  • Sun room (which we didn’t use because it was too hot)

In addition to the house itself, the property offered several activities for us to entertain ourselves with.  (The videos below were provided by Kristal Ernst Przeklasa)

  • A beautiful salt water pool with basketball hoop was where we spent most of our time
    • There is a Bluetooth speaker attached to the pool house which provided the tunes for the weekend, along with plenty of towels and chairs provided by the host
    • One thing to note:  At the height of summer, the salt water pool gets pretty warm.  Like almost bathwater warm.  So if you want to go for a icy, refreshing swim, you’ll need to do that in the morning
  • A soccer net and huge field to play football/bocce/croquet/etc. surrounds the property
  • There’s a quick walk to the river (although down a steep and rocky hill, so be mindful of that) with the owner’s kayaks, and cages for crabbing available

In the immediate area there’s one neighbor who isn’t very close, so noise isn’t a factor.  The house is also a 10-minute walk to Athena Vineyards, which wasn’t anything to write home about in terms of their wine, but the $5 tasting of ALL their wines (I think it was 8 total) is a steal.  They are however turning it into a cidery at some point.

If you need supplies, such as food, sunblock or bug spray (something only I and not necessarily the group needed because all the f**king bugs were attracted to me), there’s a Wal-Mart and Food Lion a 10-minute drive down the road.  (Some of the photos were provided by Victoria Zapata and Chad Barrington)

Loro Ciuffenna

After our long weekend in Amsterdam, we hopped on our flight to Italy and began that segment of the trip in the Loro Ciuffenna region.  Located about an hour south of Florence, Loro Ciuffenna is a nice Tuscany getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Our group rented out a giant villa via AirBnB near the small town of Arezzo, which is easily accessible by train from Florence.  The villa itself however requires a car, so if you want to stay there, renting one is a must.

Here’s the link to the villa we stayed in.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Loro Ciuffenna, which is perfect if you’re looking to just relax and enjoy the rolling hills and vineyards.  However, with your car you’re within driving distance of Siena, Florence and several other Italian cities that make for good day trips.

We spent only a few days in Loro Ciuffenna, and most of it consisted of getting good and drunk off of delicious Chianti wine.  Our group also hired a chef to come to the villa a couple times and cook us some Italian meals (they clean up too).  But here are some other highlights from Loro Ciuffenna before I get into the ins and outs of Florence in the next post.

Toscana Mia Cooking School
Località Poggio S. Polo, 2, 53013 Gaiole In Chianti SI, Italy

This was A LOT of fun.  I would highly recommend this cooking class, especially if you’re in a group and want to experience Italian cooking in a local’s home.  It’s a bit far outside of Florence, so you’ll really need to either be in the Loro Ciuffenna area or in Italy for a while and can afford to spend a whole day doing this activity.  The standard menu that they’ll teach consists of Bruschetta, Mushroom Tagliatelle, Tuscan Chicken, and Panna Cotta (and of course plenty of Chianti is provided throughout).  Though when booking the class you can request any particular Italian fare you want to learn how to make.

The family run cooking school isn’t as “individual” as I had hoped; I thought that each person would have a station and everyone would be able to make their own individual meals.  However, there was plenty of food to be made for the whole group, so everyone had ample opportunities to help cook each segment of the meal.  This class is great fun for any group, family, or couple looking to get a little messy and enjoy a fantastic meal that you can say you helped create.

 

Ristorante La Cantinella
Localita’ Montemarciano
70/G, 52028 Terranuova Bracciolini AR, Italy

This is one of the best meals I had the entire trip (if not the best).  Ristorante La Cantinella is a fantastic restaurant to go to if you end up staying in that villa.  I’ll be honest, the food was amazing, but not amazing enough to travel far to try, so if you’re staying in Florence, I’ll have recommendations in the city for you in a few posts.  But regardless, the meal was truly wonderful, and the ambiance was classy, but relaxing at the same time.  If you’re able to get a table on the patio, you can watch the sunset over the Tuscan hills.  And this place was very affordable – for the type of food we were getting, the price was probably half of what you would pay at a nice Italian restaurant in the States.   Even the good bottle of wine we had was only about 16 euros.  My recommendations: try the Pici with Duck Ragu and the Rabbit with Spinach.

Antica Macelleria Falorni
Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, 71, 50022 Greve FI, Italy

If you do go to the cooking school, stop by the nearby town of Greve.  Within the main piazza is Italy’s oldest butcher shop.  Packed with wall to wall meats, this place is every vegan’s nightmare, but certainly is a sight to see.  Be sure not to miss the cheese cellar downstairs as well.

five fifty-five

555 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101
tel: 207.761.0555

Dinner served from 5-close, seven days a week
Brunch every Sunday from 9:30-2:00

Portland, Maine is one of those cities in America that still holds the hidden gem status.  Most people don’t make it out to Portland due to its location and size, but for those who do make it up to Maine are usually pleasantly surprised at how much Portland does have to offer for a smaller city.

The downtown area has the vibrant energy of a seaport.  With seafood restaurants left and right offering some of the best lobster in America to local bars bustling with locals and Southern Maine University students offering many of the local brews, Portland combines that quaint hometown feel with an urban setting.  One restaurant in Portland that I tried recently skews on the higher end scale (higher end for Portland that is – there are no Tao Restaurant style places in Portland).

five fifty-five (yes, they spell the entire thing in lowercase) is considered by many to be one of the best restaurants in Portland.  I’ll say this up front: for Portland, the restaurant is one of the nicer places to have a fancy night out.  But don’t expect it to be anything ridiculously fancy.  The venue itself is very intimate with low lighting and a lot of wood making up the furniture and walls.  The wine list is quite extensive, almost surprisingly so. But if you’re a beer person looking for some local Maine brews you’ll want to head to another place since that list is far shorter.

The menu is pricey and although I’d like to say that the food is worth the price – I’m afraid I can’t.  That isn’t to say that the food isn’t excellent; it’s just a tad overpriced in my opinion.  I started out my meal with the “how do you like them apples” salad which was quite a nice starter of fresh greens, crisp apples, and perfectly toasted/salted walnuts. But for $11, I kind of expected a little more.

For the entree, I tried the lobster mac & cheese which was very tasty.  Again, it just wasn’t $31 tasty.  I will say that I was surprisingly filled by the portion.  It came out in a very small bowl and my first reaction was “This is it?”  But you know how Indian food comes out in a small bowl and you think you’re getting ripped off until you finish 2/3 of it and realize how full you actually are?  Same scenario.

Another item on the menu that I tasted is a nice Maine salmon wrapped in a leaf of some sort.  Its accompanied by several toppings (radishes, cashews, peppers) in small dishes for you to mix and match as you see fit and a portion of sauteed kale n the side.  The fish was a little dry, which I found surprising, but overall with the kale and toppings sides the dish wasn’t half bad.

So while I enjoyed what I ate, I’ll probably stick to Maine does best, the lobster shacks, for my meals.  five fifty-five doesn’t live up to the hype and is just little too overpriced in my opinion.  But that being said, its still a nice place to go if you want to have a classy night out in Portland.  The wine list is very good and the food is done well enough that you’ll be able to overlook the fact that you’re spending a few dollars extra than you should.  Grade: B-

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