Pitigliano

After our relaxing lunch in Saturnia, we detoured on the way home to explore Pitigliano. You might think we’d seen enough gorgeous medieval hilltop towns perched on tufa rock but it’s not something I could ever tire of.

The town is also known as Piccola Gerusalemme or Little Jerusalem, as it became a haven for the Jews escaping from the ghettos of the cities in the 16th century. They lived happily here until 1622 when the residents were confined to the Jewish Quarter and remained so until the Jews were emancipated in the mid 19th century. Many of them moved to the cities and by World War II none were left. Houses seemed to emerge from the rock

as we made our way into town.

We didn’t get far before our attention was diverted by La Dispensa del Conte (The Count’s Pantry), a wonderland brimming with local produce.

With a few purchases in our bags, we wandered to the edge of town

and discovered a spectacular structure with two large arches and thirteen smaller ones incorporated into the walls of the town. The Medici aqueduct was built between 1636 and 1639 to bring running water to the village and the Lorraines added the series of small arches in the 18th century.

From there we had a great view of the road into town and the stunning arched bridge over which we would soon be driving.

Adjacent to the aqueduct, the 14th century Palazzo Orsini is now a museum. The twenty one rooms are filled with antique furniture, jewellery and wooden sculptures as well as sacred art and precious fabrics.

As we drove out of town, there seemed to be one gourmet paradise after another.

It would have been wonderful to spend more time in Pitigliano, there was so much more to see.

Mr. Pickles

After a wonderful morning meandering our way around Hamilton Gardens, we were ready for a spot of lunch. We asked the lovely ladies in the gift shop if they could recommend somewhere, preferably by the river. Without hesitation they suggested Mr. Pickles, a new establishment they hadn’t actually tried but had heard excellent reviews. Despite their detailed directions, we had to ask a couple of locals before finally finding it tucked away off the main thoroughfare.

The interior was light and airy

but on this beautiful day we dined alfresco

overlooking the Waikato River.

The tapas style meal was incredible and we complemented it with a glass of 2018 Seresin Pinot Gris from the Marlborough region.

The first dish, tantalisingly named Saucy Boys, combined fried squid with spring onion, peanuts & house made xo sauce.

Next came baked potato dumplings with crispy bacon, brown butter & chives and beef cheek croquettes with habanero mustard.

Grilled scotch fillet with roast capsicum & zucchini salsa and spiced sticky eggplant with sesame & ginger followed.

With little regard for our cholesterol levels, we couldn’t resist the duck fat crushed potato with parmesan & truffle salt.

Once sated, we wandered along the riverside

for a different perspective of Mr. Pickles

and the magnificent Waikato River.

Volcanic Hills Winery

We are always eager to visit anywhere with the word ‘winery’ or ‘vineyard’ attached to the name and so, after a few hours absorbing the sulphurous splendour of Whakarewarewa, we sought the more mellow tones of Volcanic Hills Winery. While the wine making facility is located at ground level, the tasting room, high on the side of Mount Ngongotaha, can only be reached by a 900 metre ride on the Skyline Gondola.

The Skyline complex offers cafes and restaurants as well as luge, ziplines and mountain bike tracks for the thrill-seekers. We prefer our thrills on the more sedate side. Volcanic Hills was established in 2009 with the tasting room opening three years later.

There are no grapes grown in Rotorua, instead the best grapes are sourced from various wine regions in New Zealand and the finished product is only available at cellar door and hand chosen outlets, restaurants and hotels. We enjoyed a five wine tasting, guided through by a very knowledgeable Larissa, wife of winemaker Brent Park. The gondola continued its circuits on one side of the window

while magnificent views across the town and lake filled the rest.

Lake Rotorua was formed around 200,000 years ago following the eruption of a volcano and is the second largest lake in the North Island. The resulting caldera is about 16km wide, although with an average depth of only 10 metres.

Mokoia Island is a rhyolite lava dome in the centre of the lake, created when magma was pushed through a crack in the caldera. It is now a bird sanctuary and home to several rare species.

We wandered around the complex but, tempting though the restaurant was

we stashed our bottles of 2019 Hawkes Bay Rose and 2019 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and made our way back to Matamata as the sun descended on another wonderful day.

Mudbrick

There was no shortage of spectacular views, along with magnificent food and wine, on our Taste of Waiheke Tour. Just when we thought we’d seen it all, our third and final winery, Mudbrick, delivered in spades. The initial vista was very impressive across the Hauraki Gulf, Rangitoto Island and Auckland in the distance but there was more to come.

We made our way to the terrace for an introduction to the winery, its history and a spot of tasting.

Robyn and Nicholas Jones bought the land as a lifestyle block in 1992. Both accountants, they had no experience in winemaking or hospitality but obviously had incredible vision. They spent weekends at the property planting everything from shelter belts to vines on the bare block as well as completing a multi-purpose mud brick building. The café soon followed and, 18 years later, is now a world famous restaurant. With glass in hand, we embarked on a tour of the vineyard while learning more about Mudbrick and the process of making their award winning wines.

There wouldn’t be many better places in the world to have a house.

As we climbed higher, the views became even more stupendous.

At the top, we had a 360 degree view of Waiheke Island from the helipad. Yes, you can arrive and depart Mudbrick by helicopter.

We returned to the restaurant

and wandered for a while around the flourishing potager garden.

Vegetables, herbs and edible flowers provide fresh ingredients each day to grace the plates presented to diners. Any organic waste from the restaurant is returned to the soil in the form of compost, recycling at its best.

Our day on Waiheke Island was almost over, what an exceptional day it had been.

Casita Miro

Set on a hill with spectacular views overlooking Onetangi Beach, Spanish influenced Casita Miro was the second winery of our Waiheke Island tour.

A magnificent mosaic wall follows the entrance driveway, an intricate work of art created by the Bond family who have been growing grapes and making wine here for twenty years.

We were greeted by a lovely lady with the unusual name Meander, a legacy of Dutch hippy parents apparently, who led us through the award winning tapas restaurant.

The steps to the Bond Bar,

our venue to indulge in tastings of the Miro Vineyard wines, were edged with more astounding mosaics.

The view from the top, across vineyards to the ocean, was breathtaking.

In a sublime atmosphere, Meander navigated us through four wines, each one matched with a tasty morsel.

The Madame Rouge Walnuts were delicious. Roasted in Madame Rouge aperitif, a fortified blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grape juice, along with butter, cayenne, salt and brown sugar. With a glass of wine in hand we farewelled the Bond Bar and retreated to the restaurant to purchase a bucketful for future consumption.