Dining al fesco at La Fattoria in Tuscany

Dining al fesco at La Fattoria in Tuscany

Alice’s words nicely summarize many of the highlights of our first Tuscany visit. Tuscan hospitality, lifestyle, flavors, and scenery came together for us many times throughout our stay in the region. I really like when the last day of a visit to a place positively reaffirms the impressions you’ve gotten during the rest of the trip and that’s exactly what happened during the final day of our Tuscany tour. We especially savored many aspects of the essence of Tuscany with Dizzi Alfons, owner of the luxury villa, La Fattoria and our guide Alice Dami, whose culinary talents were also a highlight of our day.

But before we take you to lunch, let’s sample some of the flavors and freshness introduced to us by Alice to on our way to La Fattoria from Lucca, through the countryside and villages of Lucca province. This rural area is rich in agriculture — vineyards, olive groves, and farms producing many of the fresh products we enjoyed during our stay in Tuscany.

Wine and high spirits

We began at Enoteca Vino e Convivio, a family-owned wine and food shop located in the village of Guamo, just a few miles from Lucca’s city center. Not only did we get to see a place where locals shop, but we were treated with the hospitality of husband and wife owners Giovanni and Giuseppina and buyer and wine consultant Lido, who first offered us coffee and then showed us around the relatively new shop (having moved from their original location of many years).

Indulging in Italian meats, cheeses, and Chianti while enjoying laughs and conversation at Enoteca Vino e Convivio with Alice, Lido, and Giuseppina

Indulging in Italian meats, cheeses, and Chianti while enjoying laughs and conversation at Enoteca Vino e Convivio with Alice, Lido, and Giuseppina

 

The walls of each of the four rooms were lined with shelves holding fine wines from around the world (primarily Italy and France), spirits, and local foods. The counter in the main entry room displays typical Italian meat specialties and Italian and French cheeses. There’s something for everyone, even vegetarians like Mr. TWS. Each room had a table and chairs for guests to relax, enjoy a glass of wine, and talk to friends in a comfortable setting. Their open hours are on the Vino e Convivio website, and I found it fun that it notes that the food section is closed on Saturdays from 3.30 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. because “Giuseppina needs to rest!!!”

It was still morning when our friendly and generous hosts served us assorted Italian hams and cheeses accompanied by one of the region’s signature Chianti Classico vintages. It was a great way to start our last day, and I thought it would take nothing to get me used to la dolce vita of Tuscany.

Getting fresh

From Enoteca Vino e Convivio we headed to another small village, Pieve di Compito, to visit Frantoio Sociale del Compitese, a cooperative of over 1000 olive oil producers that includes an olive mill and market.

Legumes and vegetables, Canestrino heirloom tomatoes, olive mill tour with Elisa

Legumes and vegetables, Canestrino heirloom tomatoes, olive mill tour with Elisa

We took a short tour of the olive mill, although it was not running since it wasn’t harvest season. As we learned in other parts of Tuscany and during our Provence trip in December, olive production was devastated last year by an insect that destroyed nearly all of this part of Mediterranean Europe’s olive crop.

We also got an insider’s look at another place where the locals shop for the best of fresh produce, pasta, honey, cheese, and other staples of Italian cuisine. We saw a steady stream of local shoppers, most of whom seemed to be regulars knowing exactly what they needed and quickly making their purchases. I was craving a taste of the Canestrino tomatoes, a type of heirloom tomato distinctive in the Lucca area.

Glorious gelato

When in Italy, you must have gelato, and we were pleased to watch the process and sample the sumptuous offerings at what is said to be one of the best gelaterias in Tuscany at Pappagrappa.

 

Freshly-made chocolate gelato, cones and specialty desserts at Pappagrappa

Freshly-made chocolate gelato, cones and specialty desserts at Pappagrappa

 

Owner and gelato-maker Marco uses only the freshest ingredients in his organic approach. He says that his key objective in starting the company 14 years ago was to use only the best ingredients, and whenever possible, local products, such as sheep’s milk and fruit from nearby farms.  For other ingredients, he selects the best from other places known worldwide for having the very finest, such as pistachios from Sicily and chocolate from Ecuador. It was the first time we’d seen someone making waffle cones manually and at Pappagrappa they are handmade fresh on site every day. The care in the selection of ingredients and preparation certainly showed in the finished product — the gelato was delicious.

Relaxing at the villa

Ready for lunch and eager to see La Fattoria, an EsteVillas holiday rental property, we turned off the main road outside of Pieve di Compito toward this beautifully restored 17th-century farmhouse. Tucked away down a narrow gravel road surrounded by woods and gardens, La Fattoria gives guests a feeling of luxurious seclusion while restaurants, shopping, and attractions are within easy reach.

La Fattoria

La Fattoria

Having already met the villa’s owner, Dizzi Alfons, by chance at Pappagrappa earlier (he was buying dessert for our lunch), we already felt like friends as we were warmly greeted by him at the house

Alice happily at work preparing lunch in the sunny, spacious La Fattoria kitchen

Alice happily at work preparing lunch in the sunny, spacious La Fattoria kitchen

While Alice got busy in the villa’s large and bright kitchen, Dizzi took us to the covered patio to talk and sample his homemade elderberry juice drink (made with elderberry flowers, water, sugar, lemons, lemon peel, mint, a little tonic) — a totally refreshing concoction. Alice had also prepared for us Olives Ascolane (stuffed olives lightly breaded and fried) as an antipasto. They were so tasty that if I hadn’t wanted to save room for lunch, I would have devoured them all.

Olives Ascolane and elderberry juice on the garden patio at La Fattoria

Olives Ascolane and elderberry juice on the garden patio at La Fattoria

Dizzi, an Austrian who fell in love with Tuscany many years ago, spoke of his background in the fashion industry, his travels, and how he came to acquire this lovely property. His enthusiasm and sincere appreciation of Tuscany were similar to sentiments I heard often during our visit, whether from lifelong Tuscans or those from other places who had made the region their home. It was a treat to be sipping our drinks on this warm, sunny day in this idyllic setting with a backdrop of the villa’s grassy knolls and flowering gardens. I warned Dizzi that it might be difficult to get us to leave!

Dining al fresco

What could be better than dining al fresco in Tuscany with a meal prepared by our own cook? Alice says that the bounty of fresh ingredients available in Tuscany inspires her cooking, and she uses only the freshest, locally-sourced ingredients. We felt very fortunate to sample her creations at La Fattoria, dining on the terrace with Dizzi.

La Fattoria’s outdoor dining terrace

La Fattoria’s outdoor dining terrace

 

Alice talked about the key to Tuscan dishes — their simplicity, relying on fresh, local ingredients from trusted suppliers, such as the extra virgin olive oil she buys from local mills.

Our delicious lunch, burrata cheese with anchovies and cherry tomatoes followed by fresh egg pasta with asparagus, was topped off with a delectable assortment of gelato flavors. We were so eager to indulge that we forgot to take photos of the dessert!

Lunch prepared by Alice Dami at La Fattoria: Fresh egg pasta with asparagus, burrata with cherry tomatoes and anchovies

Lunch prepared by Alice Dami at La Fattoria: Fresh egg pasta with asparagus, burrata with cherry tomatoes and anchovies

Alice was right when she said, “If you cook, you’ll make others happy. If you cook, people will remember you.” But I know that we will also remember Alice for her excellent guidance, enthusiasm, and vibrant personality.

As we relished the afternoon, our conversation with Dizzi and Alice was lively and informative, covering topics such Italian colloquialisms, life in Tuscany, tips about Rome (which was our next destination) and amusing personal stories. Dizzi and Alice were so warm and made us feel so comfortable with them. It was characteristic of the many people we met on our visit.

The look of luxury

Before leaving, we toured the rooms of the villa — six bedrooms, four bathrooms, living areas, and kitchen which were all restored in 2012. I loved the décor that seamlessly combined the original architecture and antiques with contemporary furniture and decorations, highlighting aspects of the historic villa while offering modern comfort.

The lovely décor of and views from the rooms of La Fattoria

The lovely décor of and views from the rooms of La Fattoria

As we explored the bright, colorful and tastefully decorated interior, I was thinking about which of the six bedrooms would be my favorite. Each room, including the spacious bathrooms, had a warm ambiance and lovely pastoral views of the grounds, beautiful flora, the hills and countryside.

Enjoying the cheery sitting room in La Fattoria

Enjoying the cheery sitting room in La Fattoria

As we went room to room, Mr. TWS and I could easily imagine staying there with a group of family and friends. What fun that would be!

The pool at La Fattoria

The pool at La Fattoria

The pool situated in a large expanse of lawn just above the villa was tempting on this warm day in May, especially for Mr. TWS who loves being in the water.

 

The villa has a private chapel on the premises that adds to its appeal and I think would be great if celebrating a small wedding or wedding anniversary. Now that’s an idea for another reason to return.

Arrivederci La Fattoria and Tuscany!

We said our goodbyes to Alice and Dizzi making our way along the garden path to our car, taking several glances back and wondering when we might come back to hike, bike, eat, drink, relax and soak up more of the fresh essence of Tuscany.

The chapel at La Fattoria

The chapel at La Fattoria

Grazie to EsteVillas, Dizzi Alfons, and Alice Dami for making our last day in Tuscany so special.

Take a look at the EsteVillas website for details and booking information for La Fattoria and other properties in their collection. Mention “Traveling with Sweeney” and you’ll get a discount based on the length and location of your stay!

Travelling with Sweeney

Posted by Catherine Sweeney on june 15 2015
Villa la Fattoria Lucca countryside
Alice Dami  guide and cook in Lucca
Vino e Convivio wineshop Via di Coselli, 6, 55012 Lucca LU
Frantoio Sociale Campitese Via di Tiglio, 609, Provincia di Lucca
Pappagrappa, via Sottomonte  Massa malcinaia Capannori Lucca

Highlights of a week in northern Tuscany

A week in Tuscany is not nearly enough time to gain anything but a preliminary knowledge of the region, even if just focusing on its northern part. However, it’s enough to feel the pull it has on the hearts of visitors and understand why residents are so proud of their home. It was also enough time for us to experience some wonderful activities that we can recommend for your own visits. In future posts, Mr. TWS and I will have more to share about the many reasons we loved Tuscany, but here are a few highlights of our Tuscan experience.

 

View of Val di Pesa from La Novellina in Tuscany

View of Val di Pesa from La Novellina in Tuscany

 

Seeing the famous sights

Florence and Pisa are well-known tourist-attraction venues, so be prepared for crowds of tourists but don’t miss their many must-see sights.

In Pisa, we took the climb to the top of the leaning tower which we thought was worth it for the views of the rooftops of the city and the surrounding area. Mr. TWS thought the tower leaned more than he’d expected, and I agree. I felt a little woozy because of the tower’s unevenness of the floor as we first entered the tower and started climbing. The tower itself actually seemed more beautiful to me than I’d seen in pictures. The subtle shades of the marble facade really stood out more than in photos. While waiting for your turn to tour the tower, have lunch or a coffee on one of the touristy, but still nice adjacent streets.

Famous attractions: Pisa — Leaning Tower of Pisa; Florence — Ponte Vecchio and Il Duomo di Firenze

Famous attractions: Pisa — Leaning Tower of Pisa; Florence — Ponte Vecchio and Il Duomo di Firenze

It’s no wonder that Florence is a top city for visitors to Italy. With its history, architecture, bridges, cathedrals, piazzas and museums, it’s an amazing place to visit. Even on this rainy day, for us Florence shined as a Renaissance treasure. While walking along both sides of the Arno River and from the bridges, we enjoyed views of the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). The majestic Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral) mesmerizes with its size and beauty. We were focused on getting a good introduction to Florence during a short day trip so only admired its exterior, but we’ve put a longer tour of Florence and key sights on our must-do list for our next time in Tuscany.

Being surprised

Part of the fun of visiting places for the first time is learning about and doing things that are unexpected. These were just a few things that surprised us during our week in northern Tuscany.

The coastside city of Viareggio, quarries of the Apuan Alps, bicycling on the walls of Lucca, art in Pietrasanta, Santa Novella Pharmacy in Florence

The coastside city of Viareggio, quarries of the Apuan Alps, bicycling on the walls of Lucca, art in Pietrasanta, Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy in Florence

 

  • Tuscany is not just about vineyards, rolling hills, and quaint villages. The beach towns of Viareggio and Forte Dei Marmi attract summer vacationers to their resorts and villas along the Versilia coast of the Mediterranean.
  • I didn’t expect to see marble quarries on the hillsides of the Apuane Alps. These quarries extract the abundant high-quality marble there that has been used for centuries in great buildings and for creating the timeless art of sculptors such as Michelangelo.
  • Pietrasanta is a surprising artisic gem with its public art installations, galleries, and marble-carving studios. It is also home to master mosaic artist Piero Giannoni, whose creations are seen around the world.
  • In Florence, we admired the decor, artifacts, and product displays, while sampling fragrances at Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy which is said to be the oldest still-operating pharmacy in the world. Formulas of the monks who originally established the pharmacy in the 13th century are still being used. Imagine that!
  • I like bicycling (primarily on flat surfaces) and got a special treat riding bikes along the top of the ancient city walls of Lucca, an area designated for pedestrians and bicycles only. Not only did it provide an opportunity for fresh air and exercise, but it was great for getting an overhead view of the city while watching locals stroll the tree-lined path.

 

Walking and wandering

Each of the cities and towns, large and small, that we visited in northern Tuscany had its own charm and unique appeal, but all were a pleasure to explore on foot, even when getting a bit off track as we did one evening in Lucca. Our footsteps took us all around Florence, Certaldo Alto, San Gimignano, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Pietrasanta, and Lucca. On many occasions, we were aided by wonderful local guides who explained the importance, history, or uniqueness of the sights and introduced us to local shop owners.

Strolling the streets of Lucca, Certaldo Alto and Pietrasanta

Strolling the streets of Lucca, Certaldo Alto and Pietrasanta

Wining and dining

For me, quintessential Tuscan dining experiences are those enjoyed al fresco with views of serene countryside or bustling piazzas. Besides finding great traditional cuisine in the restaurants of Tuscany, we indulged in tasting the local fare at the villas where we stayed or visited, cheese makers, wineries, olive mills, specialty wine and food shops, and fresh markets. And let’s not forget the gelaterias!

Tasty specialties of Tuscany – cheese (Fattoria Corzano e Paterno), wine (Pasolini dell’Onda), ham (Enoteca e Convivio), gelato (Pappa Grappa),  and fresh produce (Frantoio Sociale)

Tasty specialties of Tuscany – cheese (Fattoria Corzano e Paterno), wine (Pasolini dall’Onda), ham (Enoteca e Convivio), gelato (Pappa Grappa), and fresh produce (Frantoio Sociale)

Dotting the hillsides and valleys of Chianti and other areas of Tuscany are vast expanses of olive groves and vineyards, many of which are small, family-owned operations that welcome visitors for tastings and tours. The large Antinori wine estate is visually impressive with its modern architecture in a pastoral setting in Bargino that offers public tours and tastings as well.

Driving

On our trip, we especially enjoyed our drives through the picturesque countryside and small villages. There were beautiful vistas at every turn and also some serendipitous finds. Renting a car as we did will give you spontaneity and flexibility in seeing Tuscany’s beauty. Driving a  Ferrari in Tuscany seems very popular (and we saw quite a few), but that didn’t fit our budget. Whatever you drive, make it a small car for maneuvering the narrow roads and tight parking spots in towns and villages. As much fun as it is to drive in the countryside, avoid taking the car into the city centers by using parking lots on the outskirts or traveling by train.

Our rental car, some of the beautiful scenery, and a not uncommon Ferrari

Our rental car, some of the beautiful scenery, and a not uncommon Ferrari

Staying in a villa

There are certainly many accommodation options in Tuscany, including hotels and B&Bs, but as we learned, villas offer unique ways to truly immerse in the Tuscan experience. And they can be particularly advantageous for family celebrations, reunions, weddings, and other special gatherings. Each villa that we visited or at which we stayed has its distinct characteristics and amenities appealing to different tastes and needs, accommodating a wide range of group sizes, and offering a great variety of services to make a stay special. During our tour of EsteVillas holiday rentals, we were guests of La Novellina in Fiano and Buonvisi in Lucca, and toured several others in northern Tuscany. We’ll share the details of these with you in future posts

Rolling out the red carpet for guests at Villa Buonvisi in Lucca

Rolling out the red carpet for guests at Villa Buonvisi in Lucca

But beyond all the beautiful vistas, historic towns and cities, and the wonderful food and wine, there were the friendly, helpful and generous people we met throughout our stay.

Have I piqued your interest? Would you like to hear more about our week in northern Tuscany? Do you wonder what it might be like to stay in a Tuscan villa? Stay tuned!

Posted by on june 1 2015
Travelling with Sweeney : A Touch of Tuscany
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Villas around Florence : Novellina, Egle, Borgorosa, Mattei
Villas in Lucca and Versilia Area : Santandrea , Buonvisi, Fattoria, Elisabetta

 

Wines  : Pasolini Dall’Onda     Barberino val d’Elsa (FI) tel  +39 055 8075019
Gelato:   Pappagrappa Capannori Lucca tel +39 0583 909 555
Cheese Producer:  Fattoria Corzano e Paterno San Casciano Firenze tel +39 055 8248 179
Marble Quarries Tour by Serena Giovannoni Estevillas Travel Consultant
Alice Dami villa host, cook and a concierge in Lucca, Tuscany
Susanna Civeli cook and a concierge at la Novellina, Tuscany
Wine Store: Vino e Convivio  Capannori, Lucca  tel+ 39 0583 403573