Yeah, I suppose you have every reason to dismiss me with boos and hisses for what on Earth is it in that destination in question, Cote d’Azur, or the French Riviera, as it is refered to in English (although the original name reflects the real thing so much better), right? (right???) except for some ugly beaches, lousy weather, bad food and cheap wine. But bear with me, please. It was MY holiday after all.
First things first: Cote d’Azur, probably France’s finest stretch of coast, is just as good and beautiful as I remember. Maybe even tiny weeny bit better but memory can be, oh, so deceiving. Nah, it is disgustingly fabulous. We shall be returning.
Read much? Don’t find the time? Pity. I love reading. Books especially. I think reading is one of the most precious skills of the human kind. No other living creature we know of has the ability of telling stories, visualising them, writing them down, reading them.
The cliché thing about reading that I find to be most true is it fosters the intensity of thought and stimulates the streams of active thinking.
72 hours of sheer joy it was, wasn’t it, our London break last week. London has always represented the top of the world for me, so yes, I’m biased. Guilty as charged. First time post Brexit, so far all is still good, buzzing, polished and polishing, metropolitan, cosmopolitan, huge, diverse, expensive, welcoming. However, it’s gonna be choppy ahead. For the United Kingdom, for London, for the rest of Europe, for everyone.
Soon, the bricks and mortar of Florence were replaced by gentle hills of rural southern Tuscany. The weather, the food, the wine, the mood – everything mixed and moulded into perfect getaway.
People were picking olives on sunny slopes of olive groves with nets carefully laid under the trees. Every frantoio we passed was busy, the tractors parked at the entrance waiting to unload the crates of precious fruit.
The white and dense steam was winding out of the chimneys of local distilleries producing the intoxicating grappa.
It seemed that everyone was busy except for us, who loitered around the fruitful landscape, marvelling at the beauties around us. In reality though, the fact was that many other tourists anywhere we went and everywhere we turned surrounded us. The fantastic autumn days were too perfect to not be spent up and about.
We saw gorgeous persimmon trees, still leafy and dotted with golden fruit, and many pomegranate trees and bushes laden with fruit – how the slender and thin branches of that length can carry that heavy fruit is beyond me.
The vineyards were turning from green to yellow to deep red. The work there ceased after the harvest but it’s far from done. The rose bushes in the pole position of the rows were still in bloom although already showing the lines of exhaustion after a long season.
Oh, the late afternoon sunlight of Val d’Orcia! It painted the deepest rose-gold nuances ever and cast the longest shadows. The line for roasted marroni in the main piazza of Pienza was too long but my man was anyway on a quest to get equipped with all necessary utensils for home roasting. Call him crazy but our home kitchen is now proudly enriched with a proper chestnut roasting pan and even a pair of scissor-like taglia castagne (blimey, I didn’t even know such a thing existed). Plus, there are still about two kilos of Tuscan marroni sitting on the cool windowsill.
Thanks to our delighful host at Il Sassone I got to cut her pomegranates to take home. There’s a special treatment for you. Thank you again, Simona. Back home, their olive oil almost freaked me out for its crazy colour, it’s the spookiest shade of green I’ve seen so far. The freshest too. Tastes like heaven. Their wine is a staple in our household anyhow. Their jams are kept hidden behind the tins of fagioli and pickles in our pantry just to secure they last longer.
Since it’s autumn, the season of harvest and abundance, I’ll brag about my own little harvest: our own home grown lemon tree bore its first fruit! Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Ms Peachy.
Last but not least, I was really upset to have missed the exceptional exhibition on arte della natura morta in Villa Medicea in unprepossessing Poggio a Caiano. It’s the only museum of its kind in Italy and it houses the Medici collection of still life paintings that was never exhibited because it was for many years buried in Uffizi’s and Palazzo Pitti’s depots. Unfortunately, we missed the appointed hour and couldn’t wait for the next one but did take a walk around the immense renaissance villa and its gorgeous (citrus) garden. There’s a perfectly legitimate reason for a return visit if I needed one!
Sagre Toscane a good site for gathering the info on gastronomic events (and applying them to your itinerary accordingly)
Roughly the itinerary for this trip: after a weekend in Florence, an early evening stop in Siena for a coffee break, then via Roccastrada to peaceful Maremma where we unpacked (Massa Marittima for instance is spectacular), the next day Montalcino, Pienza and festa della castagne in Sassofortino. Finally, upon returning home via coastal raccordo, passing the beautiful Bolgheri along the way, we stopped in Poggio a Caiano before getting our teeth into packed autostrada Firenze-Bologna again.
Early on Saturday morning we left for Florence for a short break. We were eagerly anticipating that trip for we didn’t stop in Florence this last summer en route further south for the summer holiday. We thought we better leave it out so we have a relevant reason to return to Tuscany again later in the year. Not that one actually needs a relevant reason; there are plenty more or less simple and basic ones. Delightfully, we stuck to that plan.
Florence is a magnificent city as anyone who ever visited will tell you. I haven’t met a soul who’d complain about it or think ill about it (although the hordes of tourists are in fact quite overwhelming and at times very much suffocating).
Anyone heading to Florence (or further south) from the east please note that the new route between Bologna and Florence is now finally open (we gladly found that out back in July already), so a traveller can choose between Panoramica (the pre-existent motorway) and Direttissima (new and faster way, lots of tunnels). The two meet at the top of the hills near Barberino di Mugello. This part of the way between Bologna and Florence used to be the most tiresome because the lanes were dramatically narrow for all the heavy traffic (trucks! trucks!), continuing ups and downs and endless curves. Now, if you’re lucky, you’ll be jammed only for a (relatively) short period of time (of course the never-ending road works are on-going) before descending downhill to Florence.
Which reminds me of my childhood, when driving in our parents’ car towards the Adriatic coast for the summer holiday my brother and I competed impatiently who was going to be the first to glimpse the sea. Cheerful exclamations of “The sea! The sea!” were the proof the holiday had commenced. Even now, as a grown-up, when approaching that last curve before the descent, I usually feel the excitement of a child: the sea is still a vast blue breadth holding a promise of good times and jolly. This same captivating feeling upon descent down the Apennines onto the plain where Florence spreads out all elegant and classy moves me dearly, and the restless eye looks out for the tremendous cupola of the Duomo. The child in me shyly exclaims “Duomo! Duomo!” thus confirming the good time is here.
We had the best possible time in Tuscany this autumn. Two days in Florence and two in the country. The four days were sunny and warm (no socks! short sleeves! sunglasses!) and we could enjoy the impressive colours and fruits of autumn without limits.
The flavours of autumn were persistent too: marroni (glazed and roasted), freshly pressed olive oil, ribollita on day one, trippa alla fiorentina on the last. And many other delicious meals in-between.
Despite the leading motifs of autumn and the cool nights, we simply couldn’t skip the best Florentine ice cream. We walked to Carabe after dinner (every additional trip up Via Ricasoli makes the walk seem shorter) and I (of course) had a cup of Sicilian agrumi and crema. So good! As I remarked to the master how delicious his ice cream is every time we have it (for we have been returning customers for years now), he smiled and humbly said it was the quality of the ingredients that made the end product reliably superb.
Two days are scarcely enough to explore Florence if one is to do it justice. But to take it all in it’s enough to submerse into its elegant streets, turning the head more often upwards at the marvellous Tuscan facades and peeking past the ajar doors into craftsmen’s workshops or brick paved courtyards with cisterns. Notice the Duomo looming large above and behind the narrow streets. Carelessly sip the coffee or Negroni which is what Bellini is for Venice. Watch the people and scan the exquisite shops.
See some of the obvious sights en route: Piazza della Signoria, Ponte Vecchio, Davide, Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella – there is more art, beauty and history than you can imagine. Breathtaking.
Shop for fantastic designer goods (many of the great Italian designers originate in Florence) or for refined Florentine prints in countless tiny shops or for medicinal herbal tonics and fragrant soap.
By all means, plan to return. Florence like Venice is pure magic.
Our favourite eatery in Florence is Sostanza in Via del Porcellana but it’s open weekdays only. So we chose this one instead and it was very good.
Ignore the silly fashion industry photos lining the walls if you please but do take your coffee at Caffe Giacosa because it really is excellent. The interior itself has been painstakingly renovated so it retains the same old school charm – a must-see – and the service is attentive. Alternatively, Gilli is another Florentine institution (for more info in Italian only see Italian wikipedia).
A few weeks ago saw a launch of a much anticipated TV series on the Medicis, the most famous of Florentine dynasties. As it turns out, it’s so far been aired in Italy only but pay attention to when it comes to your country. According to the frenzy it seems to be a good one.