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One day, our tour guide asked, “would any of you be interested in having lunch one day at a nearby Tuscan farm?” We were in Lucca, Italy for a few days, and had been discussing the activities planned for our time there when she suggested this extra day trip. Would I be interested — Uh, yes please!

Fattoria Cercatoia Alta is a lovely farm run by a couple who bought the land and restored the buildings on it. They rent out rooms in their farmhouses to visitors, but will host small groups for lunch. The owner, Angelo Fornaciari, had been a successful chef in London before he returned to Lucca where he had grown up, and we were salivating at the idea of the traditional Tuscan food he would be preparing for us.

This is a working farm and vineyard, and as far as the eye can see there are grape vines, olive plants, and fruit trees. We were given a glass of wine (made on the premises) on arrival and given a tour around the grounds. We passed the chicken coop, donkeys and two cute little ponies (adorable!). We winded our way through the grove of apricot trees and headed over to the pool, where we enjoyed a swim and some more wine before lunch.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped, with gorgeous red rose bushes lining the paths. Scattered on the patio were lemon trees in pots. In every direction you looked were acres of green fields and trees, with the odd house here and there in the distance. They had an outdoor kitchen with a grill out back and long wooden tables with benches had been set up for us under a roofed portion of the patio. The whole thing reminded me of the Diane Lane movie Under the Tuscan Sun.

I think these are olive plants, with very young fruit just budding

The lunch we were served was a veritable feast: bread salad, spelt salad, pasta salad, bean salad, grilled polenta with pieces of sausage and cheese on top, bruschetta, cheese and capers, and more bread grilled and drizzled with olive oil (that he pressed himself from their own olives). Platter after platter was passed around as we took a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Bowls of green and black olives, which he had preserved in flavoured oil, were placed all along the table and we nibbled from them all through lunch. Through all of this, the wine kept flowing; I don’t think I saw the bottom of my glass all afternoon which meant I couldn’t even guess how many glasses I had when all was said and done.

Dessert was a piece of biscotti to be dipped into a glass of “holy wine”, a sweet dark dessert wine, the true Italian name for which I can’t remember. Then Angelo gave us a tour of his wine-making facilities in his cellar where he bottles his own wine. He shared glasses of young merlot with us straight out of the cask to show us the difference aging the wine makes to the taste (to be honest, it tasted like red wine to me. My palette is not refined when it comes to wine).

Too soon, we had to pile into the vans to be taken to where we could catch the bus back to Lucca. It had been a fairy tale afternoon, but after all that wine, I’m sure I must have returned only to indulge in one heck of a nap!

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When I was little, I remember reading Heidi about a girl growing up with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. There were goats and cheese and lots of hiking up and down the mountain. So, of course, when I knew I was going to Switzerland and I’d be spending a few days in Lauterbrunnen in the heart of the Alps, I was hoping for a Heidi experience.

To my delight, as we were walking along a trail through some fields, we came across herds of cows – Swiss cows complete with cowbells. Beautiful Swiss cows munching on clover in the meadow accompanied by a symphony of cowbells (the Bruce Dickinson would be in rapture). It’s the way God intended for dairy products to be created and the proof is in the pudding (or the yogurt or the cheese).

Then in another field, I came across goats – little baby goats sleeping together in the grass – and my heart cooed and melted at the sight. It’s not that I can’t see cows and goats at home, but they’re usually penned up. To see them free in the fields with the mountains in the background was a beautiful thing. I always knew Heidi had a good thing going.

I even took video, which I’ve embedded below so that you too can experience Swiss cows ringing their cowbells. Whenever I watch it, I smile. To me, it’s about a perfect postcard-ready moment in Switzerland.

 

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