Independent Travelers – Driving a Vintage Alfa to a Great Hotel/Restaurant in Tuscany, Italy

The Hotel La Chiusa in Montefollonico Becomes a Magnet

The ristorante and hotel, La Chiusa located in Montefollonico, Tuscany is situated in the hills southeast of Siena. It is an old farmhouse converted into fifteen unique rooms with the fantastic bonus of operating one of the best restaurants in Italy. The owners, Dania Masotti and Umberto Lucherini are two of the most gracious as well as delightful personalities that you would come across and Dania is an excellent chef too. She also offers cooking classes and has written a cookbook based on her culinary skills and knowledge.

On our first visit to Italy over twenty years ago we stayed at this hotel which was and still is recommended by “Karen Brown Travel Adventures”. Our room and the view was perfect and it had a large soaking tub which is an unusual feature. The people, the atmosphere, the room, the views, and especially the dining experience have made an indelible impression on us after all these years.

The second visit to La Chiusa was not a planned return and only happened because when we arrived at our hotel, Residenza d’Arte in Torrita di Siena during riposo (nap time) we found that everything was closed for the afternoon. We were famished after a long drive so we set out in search of the suggested alternatives and somehow our “Travel Angels” led us this way and that until we literally stumbled upon the familiar La Chiusa farmhouse.

We approached the gentlemen sitting at a table doing paperwork and told him “we stayed here eight years ago. Is it possible to get some bread, cheese and maybe a glass of wine at this time of the day? ”

Umberto looked up, smiled and said “I remember you!” We were skeptical, to say the least, but it turned out he has an uncanny memory and was not kidding. “Please sit at the table under the chestnut tree and we will bring you something to eat”.

The view from under the chestnut tree led out into an olive orchard and rolling hills crowned by a medieval castle in the distance. Umberto’s spontaneous lunch began with an excellent Friulian wine and continued with warm baked bread, and handmade regional delicacies that represented some of the specialties of Tuscany.

We finally raised up our hands and said “basta” (enough) we cannot eat anymore…

The experience was magical, the food was “simple” and spectacular. The way we were treated was the epitome of Italian warmth. They endeared us to them. We vowed to return again one day and added it to our bucket list.

Returning to Tuscany with Two Bucket List Items in Our Sights

Establishing a Base Camp in Spoleto

Two of the leading benefits of using a vacation rental versus a hotel are the cost savings and the more spacious accommodations. With the per night unit cost being more reasonable you can take an overnight trip to another village by simply packing a small bag, leaving the bulk of your luggage in a locked up apartment and off you go! We opted to go back to La Chiusa.

Bucket List Item #1 – Renting a Vintage Car for Touring Tuscany, Italy

We perused the internet and determined that “zephyrus-classic-car-rental.com” had the best selections, reasonable prices and were the most responsive to our numerous questions. We selected their Duetto Osso di Seppia which is a 1966 Alfa Romeo (no… not the one from “The Graduate” fame as it was already booked). The company also offers travel tours and other organized events but being the independent types we opted for a solo rental plan.

Booking the car was a bit of a challenge and a leap-of-faith too. We had to prepay the rental fee with a credit card (which added some level of security) and kept an open line of communications with the Zephyrus Team. They were very responsive but you never know until you actually get there and see the car. “Meet us in the town of ‘Chiusi Chianciano Terme’ at the railroad station and look for a red Alfa”… another leap-off-faith. Will they be there?

We got off the Autostrada in Chiusi and began checking our GPS and road signage for the railroad markers but no need as Matteo anticipated our possible confusion and met us on the off ramp. We followed him to the parking lot where we would drop our Hertz rental. We signed some paperwork and he gave us a few mechanical instructions and “Oh, yes, your GPS will work… the cigarette lighter is right there”. And off he went with a cheery “CIAO”.

And there we sat, in this old car whose exterior was certainly cherry, but whose interior left much to be desired… we are talking original 1966. OK, so we familiarized ourselves with the clutch, brakes, mirrors, and we are ready to head into the Tuscan countryside… plugged in the GPS, but, sorry, the cigarette lighter doesn’t work. Oh well, we have a map and we kind of know where we are going.

Driving a classic Italian automobile has its moments to say the least. The gears were “grinding”, the clutch is hydraulic and very stiff, fumes from the stinky exhaust waft through the car and you start to think… what on earth are we doing?

The Why – Driving a Classic Automobile in Tuscany

Rumbling down century’s old country roads and viewing the Tuscan hillside in a red 1966 Alfa is simply so much fun that any car enthusiast has to experience it for themselves. This Alfa had a 1570 cc variation of the Alfa Romeo twin cam four cylinder engine, coupled with dual Weber two-barrel side-draft carburetors which, all said and done, produced 109 horse power @ 6,000 rpm, packaged in a 2,183 pound body. When you added the five speed manual transmission, disc brakes and an independent front suspension you had a classic design and a pretty nice ride. It attracted people so much so that they waved and greeted us, and other cars gave us the right of way… apparently Italians still love this car.

Getting lost in a foreign country, with only a map and a smile adds a little excitement to your day. As a possible solution we fired up the iPhone and Google Maps to find our way to La Chiusa and found out the stark reality that cell coverage is spotty… no joy and no lasting signal. Back to asking the locals for directions using the car as a conversation magnet.

The “driver” specifically asked the “navigator” not to go into a large city and to avoid traffic at all costs. So naturally we wound up in Montepulciano at their busiest traffic junction and at the most hectic time of the day! Driving a vintage automobile in the countryside is a heck of a lot more fun than sitting in traffic with an uphill slop and the reflection of the front end of a tour bus poised right on your bumper in the rear view mirror added an interesting twist to the day… va bene (so be it)!

Bucket List Item #2 – Returning to La Chiusa in Style

We have all heard the expression “the third time’s the charm” and so it was at La Chiusa.

We made it to La Chiusa in the late afternoon, parked the Alfa and found a glass of wine to celebrate the survival of this part of the adventure. We enjoyed a spacious room, with a fabulous view and a soaking tub! We then proceeded to have a gourmet Tuscan meal prepared by Dania and hosted by Umberto.

Our gracious hosts helped us celebrate our wedding anniversary by making a “special” cake for dessert. Along with fine after diner drinks and singing Italian songs late into the evening… we really had a unique celebration

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Create Countertop Displays With Bucket Racks

If you manage any kind of retail business, chances are you have a countertop (or two!). Countertops are where most stores’ checkout registers are located, but they’re also ideal places for merchandise displays.

If you haven’t yet created a countertop display for your store, or you’re looking for ways to spice up the countertop display you currently have, consider using bucket display racks.

Small Merchandise Is Best for Bucket Display Racks

Bucket displays are best for showcasing small merchandise, whether it’s edible merchandise like wrapped candies or non-edible merchandise like novelty toys or convenience items.

This works well if you’re choosing racks with buckets for your countertop displays because most stores tend to display smaller items on their countertops and near their registers.

Browse Different Kinds of Bucket Rack Displays

Now that you have an idea about the kinds of merchandise you want to display in the rack’s buckets, it’s time to think about two other facts that will help you as you browse the different kinds of bucket display racks: The amount of merchandise you want to display, and whether you want a stationary or revolving rack.

Even for countertops, bucket racks are available in a variety of sizes and with as few as two buckets or as many as ten buckets. Choose a bucket rack based on how much merchandise you want to display. Racks with few buckets, for example, are ideal for small candy displays, while racks with several buckets are great for creating an elaborate display of a number of common convenience items like key chains, lighters, pens, eyeglass repair kits, and items to keep children busy during long trips like novelty toys, small coloring books, and crayons.

Like their floor counterparts, bucket racks for countertop displays are available in both fixed position and revolving models. Personal preference will most likely help you make your decision. Fixed position racks generally position the buckets side by side and on two or three levels, or “hang” the buckets from wire or metal rods. Revolving bucket racks are great for maximizing your countertop space. When you choose a revolving rack, you’re making use of each of the rack’s sides and making your customers’ shopping experience even more convenient because they can spin the rack to see all the items.

Of course, you must keep your countertop’s size in mind. Choose racks with few buckets if you don’t have much space to work with, or choose revolving racks to make the most of the space your countertop offers.

Not All Buckets Are Plastic: Consider Wooden Basket Racks

Although they’re not typically called “buckets,” wooden baskets and display racks function in much the same way as traditional plastic buckets and containers while adding some extra visual charm to your display.

Like other kinds of bucket displays, you can find both fixed position and revolving wooden display racks. These racks generally come with anywhere from three to eight wooden baskets and are idea for showcasing everything from edible items like candy bars and wrapped gumballs to non-edible items like small children’s toys and travel-sized convenience items and hygiene products.

Candy Concepts, Inc. specializes in helping retail businesses of all types find the perfect display fixtures

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