It was a stormy morning, the rain fell heavily and dark grey clouds rolled across the Florentine sky. It wasn’t looking like the weather was going to improve as I drove into the drive-way and saw a group of people huddled under umbrellas. At least I had arrived at the right place.
I saw him standing out from the crowd and he caught my eye immediately. I was told his name was Giacomo (one of my favorite Italian names) but to proceed with caution as he was the playboy of the group. I then asked how old Giacomo was and was informed that he was born in 1971, the same year as me! (a good sign!) I couldn’t believe that we would be spending the whole day together. It was destiny. I was so excited to get to know Giacomo better and hoped that he would be kind to me. So who was this mystery man?
A very handsome, Vintage Fiat 500 that I would have the pleasure of driving for the day. So am I to also consider myself vintage being of the same year? I’m not so sure that’s a good thing! :-(
The other week, I was very privileged to be invited to a blogger day with the 500 Touring Club
I arrived at the Touring Clubhouse to meet our hosts for the day, Fiat 500 Touring Club owners, Andrea and Beppe and their trusty assistant Lindsay. Also along for the ride, were fellow bloggers, Alessandra of Rosaspina Vintage, Georgette, better know as Girl in Florence, Tiana Kai and Alexandra from Artrav.
Girl in Florence
The Fiat 500 is such a beautiful car and let’s face it, very cute as well! They always turn heads when out on the road, especially when you have five of them in a row and they are in the eye-catching shades below. So without further ado, let’s Meet the Fleet :
From left to right ; Olivia-gorgeous green and the leader of our pack, driven by Beppe, Topsy-the romantic, perfect wedding car, Paola-sexy red-head. Need I say more?, Giacomo-my vintage ride & Roberto-a former race car with the Portofino-sea-turquoise exterior.
OK, so if I’m honest, I was also attracted to Giacomo’s creamy yolk-yellow colour. He matched my Kitchen-Aid and Dior sunglasses so that was surely a good sign! I was then told that he did not have the Double Clutch as is standard for this model. Upon hearing this, my choice was confirmed! I was a bit nervous about learning this new skill as had never driven a car with a double-clutch before and thought it best for me to just concentrate on driving Giacomo while enjoying the beautiful Chianti view. This double clutch change, called the ‘Doppietta‘ in Italian was explained to us by Beppe in our lesson before we took off for the day. We were told to think of it as like another gear in the middle, so clutch, gear 1, clutch-gear 1.5 then accelerator. Sounded like a complicated dance but I do feel that I will need to try it sometime in the future so that I can say that I have had the true and authentic experience of driving these Vintage beauties.
I felt a little guilty about spending the day with Giacomo as Emiliano had to stay home and look after a sick Matteo and I know he would have really enjoyed driving this amazing car. I would have liked to have sat back and enjoyed being a passenger too.
As it turned out, we were so lucky with the weather. What started as a heavy downpour stopped as soon as we were ready to leave. The clouds parted and we even had a few glorious bursts of sunshine throughout the day.
Our first stop was at Domenic’s Olive Grove where we got to look at a few beautiful varieties of olives up close. Domenic explained the traditional technique they use to harvest the olives. Big nets are laid out under the trees while the branches are shaken to release all the olives. The nets are then gathered up and the olives are collected in wooden bins ready to be taken to the olive mill. There are machines used nowadays as well that are much quicker and effective at getting the olives off the branches.
After wandering around the olive grove, it was up to the terrazza to taste some incredibly delicious, Olio Nuovo which had been pressed just two days earlier. We did not have to be encouraged to eat the fresh bruschetta while admiring the amazing view before us. How I would love to wake up to this view every morning!
One of the other highlights while here was getting up close (well not too close) to the alveari (bee hives) and having a mini lesson about bees. Did you know that bees cannot see the colour red? Really such fascinating creatures! We also got to taste some of Andrea’s very own honey which was amazing!
After stocking up on a litre of Domenic’s new Olive Oil, (you can contact him at email@example.com to order your own) it was back to Giacomo and off to visit the Frantoio to see how olive oil is made. And this was the moment that I stalled the car and had to do an impressive hand-break start to get out of the rather steep drive-way onto the road. Suffering from mild humiliation, I continued on to the frantoio without any more embarrassing driving exhibitions. I must admit though that I did have a bit of trouble actually starting the car. As you can see by the photo below, there are two levers found in-between the front seats. The one on the right is pulled up after turning the key and the car should start after a few pumps on the accelerator. I managed this a few times but not without the help of that second lever on the left, commonly known as the choke!
The Frantoio was the like something out of a picture-perfect Tuscan movie set. We drove down a cyprus lined drive-way as the sun was shining, bringing everything that was wet from the recent rain alive. The vivid colours and scenery were breath-taking. We wound our way down the path to the room where the magic happens. Olives went in and iridescent green olive oil came out the other end. I had seen this process many years ago but never on such a grand scale. The olives are fed along a conveyor being washed as they pass through after the initial screening which separates and removes any large twigs and leaves.
Olives getting washed
il Frantoio – The Olive Press
Green Gold! Fresh Olive Oil
The freshly washed olives are then conveyed to the hammer mill where they pass through a series of hammers that crush them into a fine paste. The paste that is created by the hammer mill falls into the malaxer where it is mixed by two corkscrews.
The paste is mixed for approximately one hour. While it is mixing, the paste warms naturally so the water serves to ensure that the paste and subsequent oil does not overheat. The water and oil in the mash begin to separate from the flesh of the olive. The mixed olive paste is passed from the malaxer into the three-phase centrifuge. Here it is spun through a series of cylindrical grates. Oil and water are spun out of the paste.
Olive paste enters the system and oil, water and olive paste exit it separately. Both the oil and water pass through the vertical separator which further separates the two from each other.
If you have never seen fresh olive oil, you will be surprised at how bright green the colour is. Almost fluorescent, it is so beautiful to see the final result flowing into the large pails.
The flavors are also so intense. The Italians say the oil pizzica la lingua which is a similar sensation to when you eat pepper. You will never want to buy generic supermarket olive oil again after tasting Olio Nuovo!
By this stage we had developed quite the hunger so it was back in the cars for a nice drive through Impruneta to Galluzzo for a typically Tuscan lunch at another incredibly beautiful location, Villa Piazzole.
It was great to get to know Andrea, Beppe and the other bloggers better over a few lovely glasses of wine while also enjoying, prosciutto, salame, bruschetta and pecorino drizzled with Andrea’s home-made honey.
Andrea and Beppe are so welcoming and their local knowledge about everything from Tuscan food, locations, wine and of course the Fiat 500 will ensure that you get much more than what you expect from your Fiat 500 Tour.
I cannot think of a more authentic and enjoyable way to explore Tuscany.