A day in Chianti begins

 

By now, it’s not a secret that Mr. TWS and I were smitten with Tuscany on our first visit to the region. Each day brought new experiences in the hilltop villages, historic towns, and countryside. On this day with the promise of more tasty and interesting activities ahead, Mr. TWS and I were driving along Tuscany’s country roads among the vineyards and olive groves enjoying the burst of colorful spring blooms on the wooded hillsides.

Vineyards and olive groves in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

Vineyards and olive groves in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

Tasting Chianti

Chianti, a well-known name to wine drinkers and Italian restaurant patrons worldwide, is a wine zone in Tuscany that grows the grapes used in its namesake wines. What better way to begin a day in Chianti than in one of the foremost wineries of Tuscany with a tour and tasting?

Wine and architecture

Antinori nel Chianti Classico (Cantine Antinori)
Via Cassia per Siena, 133
San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Bargino

Newly opened in October 2012, Cantine Antinori is a striking work of architecture on the Chianti landscape. Created with local materials and a focus on having minimal impact on the environment and saving energy, it complements the natural surroundings of its rural hillside location in Bargino

Tuscany countryside reflected in the glass of the Cantine Antinori in Bargino — innovative architecture designed by Archea Associati in harmony with the landscape

Tuscany countryside reflected in the glass of the Cantine Antinori in Bargino — innovative architecture designed by Archea Associati in harmony with the landscape

Usually, I’m not much for introductory films before tours, but the very interesting video at the beginning of our tour explained the Antinori family’s history in the wine business and particularly how innovation has always been a driving force in their operations. In 1385, Giovanni di Piero Antinori, head of the noble Florentine family, began the centuries-long history of producing wine. Through 26 generations, the family has remained directly involved in management of the winery. Antinori built the new facility and moved its headquarters from Florence to this location to continue advancing their innovative approach to wine making while honoring their long traditions. As Marquis Piero Antinori, current head of the family business, says: “Ancient roots play an important role in our work. But have never been a limit to our innovative spirit”.

Innovative architecture and design of Cantine Antinori -- From top left: A circular skylight fills the lobby with light; "Biosphere 06" art by Tomás Saraceno installed in cellar stairway; ; views of Tuscan hills from lobby; soft and colorful seating in lounge area; looking up through the spiral staircase from the parking lot

Innovative architecture and design of Cantine Antinori — From top left: A circular skylight fills the lobby with light; “Biosphere 06” art by Tomás Saraceno installed in cellar stairway; ; views of Tuscan hills from lobby; soft and colorful seating in lounge area; looking up through the spiral staircase from the parking lot

The geometric and abstract designs of the structure and interior decor are eye-catching as you peruse the Antinori family art collections and information exhibits on the main level. I particularly liked the views of the Tuscan hills and Antinori’s Sangiovese vineyards through the expansive glass windows (top right above).

From top left: Time for tasting after the tour; alluring display of wine bottles in the shop; terracotta vats for olive oil production; vaulted wine cellar

From top left: Time for tasting after the tour; alluring display of wine bottles in the shop; terracotta vats for olive oil production; vaulted wine cellar

 

There are several guided tours available that cover the wine-making process from the vineyard to the bottle and provide an excellent introduction to Antinori wines.

When in Italy … Although still before noon, Mr. TWS and I had no problem sampling a few wines during the tasting at the end of the tour. We began with a Bramito Chardonnay from Umbria that was perfect for early imbibing, followed by two of their signature Chianti Classico vintages. Chianti Classico is a designation that not only refers to a geographic district in Chianti, but also to the particular blend of grapes with Sangiovese being at least 80% of the blend.

Cheese and more wine

Fattoria Corzano e Paterno
Via San Vito di Sopra snc
San Pancrazio, San Casciano

But this day in Chianti wasn’t all about wine. Much to our pleasure, cheese was also involved.

Ancient stone buildings of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno in San Pancrazio, San Casciano, ItalyAncient stone buildings of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno

Ancient stone buildings of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno in San Pancrazio, San Casciano, ItalyAncient stone buildings of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno

 

Across the River Pesa, down winding tree-lined rural roads through hills dotted with Tuscan estates is Fattoria Corzano e Paterno, a family owned and operated cheese factory and winery. In the 1970s, with visions of living closer with the land as he began a new chapter of his life, the late Wendel Gelpke, a Swiss architect, came to Tuscany and bought two centuries-old farms — Corzano (in 1972) and Paterno (in 1976). We were given a tour of the farm by Arianna Gelpke, Wendel’s daughter and the winery’s assistant winemaker.

Touring the cheese factory with Arianna; Antonia’s luscious cheese creations on racks in the factory

Touring the cheese factory with Arianna; Antonia’s luscious cheese creations on racks in the factory

The cheese

Since 1992, the cheeses of Fattoria Corzano e Paterno have been produced by hand using traditional methods using the milk from the farm’s Sardinian sheep, chosen for their adaptability to the hilly terrain of Tuscany. The original small herd of 50 sheep purchased in the early 1970s to help clear the fields for vineyards has grown to 650 sheep, managed by Wendel’s son, Tillo. Reflecting the farm’s belief in sustainability and giving back to the land, the sheep also provide manure that enriches the soil in the vineyards and olive groves.

Antonia, wife of Wendel’s nephew Aljoscha, is a master cheesemaker who has managed the dairy since 1986 and has created many varieties of cheese. Among her inventions are the popular Lingotto (with smoked bacon aromas) and Rocco (a creamy and tangy cheese).

The wine

Aljoscha is the winemaker whose experience began 30 years ago when he helped his uncle on the original six hectares of land, which have grown to 18 hectares. Arianna assists Aljoscha and is in charge of the newer wine cellar built in 2005. Their grape varieties include Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Malvasia, Trebbiano(each common to the Chianti area), as well as other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

The tasting

A highlight was sampling the freshness of Corzano e Paterno with a wine and cheese tasting in the courtyard in front of the shop where their wine, cheese, cured meats, and other local products can be purchased. On this warm afternoon with flowers in bloom, the Il Corzanello Toscana IGT Bianco was a perfect accompaniment to the cheeses we sampled (described below). We also tasted one of their red wines, Terre di Corzano Chianti, a Sangiovese and Canaiolo blend, and we couldn’t resist buying a bottle before we left.

Top left: Marzolino (soft cheese like mozzarella), Erbolino (fresh pecorino with garlic, parsley and hot pepper), and goat cheese; on the terrace with our guide Babeth and Arianna enjoying Il Corzanello Bianco 2014; fresh eggs in the shop; beautiful irises at the dairy

Top left: Marzolino (soft cheese like mozzarella), Erbolino (fresh pecorino with garlic, parsley and hot pepper), and goat cheese; on the terrace with our guide Babeth and Arianna enjoying Il Corzanello Bianco 2014; fresh eggs in the shop; beautiful irises at the dairy

 

Luxury country holiday villas

Within easy reach of Cantine Antinori and Corzano e Paterno are two of Este Villa’s luxury holiday rentals near the town of San Casciano, Borgorosa and Casa Mattei. Although we didn’t stay in these villas, we toured both of these properties and were instantly impressed with them as options for stays in Chianti. Each is distinctive in its accommodations and amenities, but being in the heart of Chianti, they both share convenient accessibility to many of Tuscany’s alluring cities and attractions, including the gorgeous Renaissance city of Florence which is only 18 km.

Borgorosa holiday rentals in a restored barn and olive mill

Borgorosa holiday rentals in a restored barn and olive mill

Filled with history in a secluded setting among the cypress trees of the Chianti hills is Borgorosa, a historic estate with holiday rentals. At the beautiful and grand villa adjacent to the rentals, Mr. TWS and I enjoyed meeting the owners, Andrea and his wife Claudia whose family has owned the property since the 1700s. During a tour and gourmet Tuscan lunch with our gracious hosts, we also liked learning about the history of the villa.

A memorable dining experience in Renaissance ambiance with Andrea and Claudia in their villa

A memorable dining experience in Renaissance ambiance with Andrea and Claudia in their villa

The villa was first built in the 13th century as a lookout tower to watch for enemy factions. As many of these types of structures in Italy, it was subsequently destroyed and rebuilt during the following centuries. In 1520, the villa was purchased by the famous Florentine noble, Matteo Strozzi, for a summer residence. He had it enlarged and decorated in grand Renaissance style by the most important sculptors and painters of the time. We had a glimpse of some of the ornate and richly-furnished rooms of the villa, including a stunning ballroom, but because photography was not allowed we are not able to share. The private chapel has stunning frescoes (top left below) painted by Michele Tosini, a student of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, a renowned Renaissance painter. Claudia’s ancestors in the Cancellieri Ganucci family bought the villa from Strozzi in the 1700s.

cr Borgorosa ev

 

Besides being a summer home for the nobility, the villa has seen its share of history through the centuries. According to Claudia’s grandfather’s diary, during World War II the villa was first occupied by the German Stasi command and then by the American army when the Germans had withdrawn.

Crossing the wide expanse of lawn to the Borgorosa holiday rental buildings from the family villa

Crossing the wide expanse of lawn to the Borgorosa holiday rental buildings from the family villa

Across a wide expanse of lawn from the main house are Borgorosa’s holiday rentals located in two buildings (shown above and below).

Borgorosa rental unit with private courtyard and outdoor dining area

Borgorosa rental unit with private courtyard and outdoor dining area

Andrea and Claudia have shown great style in the furnishings of the rental units (completely restored in 2011) using classic terracotta floors, original artwork, and tasteful antiques. A few of the comfortable and cozy rooms of the units are shown below.

A glimpse of interior rooms of Borgorosa units

A glimpse of interior rooms of Borgorosa units

Five units accommodating up to 22 people in 11 bedrooms are located in the restored buildings — three in the former olive oil mill and two in what was previously the barn. The units can be rented separately or together. Each unit has full kitchens, living areas, and private outdoor areas for al fresco dining in addition to outdoor common areas for all guests. Below the units among the olive trees is the inviting pool. Nearby activities that may interest guests include horseback riding, golf, and tennis.

Lawn and terrace of a Borgorosa unit overlooking pool surrounded by olive trees

Lawn and terrace of a Borgorosa unit overlooking pool surrounded by olive trees

Borgorosa seemed a great spot for a couple’s getaway or for large group and family gatherings, especially with the elegant loggia in the villa that would be perfect for special occasions

 

Casa Mattei

At Borgorosa, we were met by Babeth, the lovely property manager of Casa Mattei, the next villa we would be visiting just a few minutes away, partially along an unpaved road. At first sight, I knew I would be taken with Casa Mattei, a former monastery that dates back a thousand years

Casa Mattei

Casa Mattei

The building was completely restored in 2006 and its rooms were meticulously decorated in contemporary fashion. Enjoying refreshments with Babeth on the terrace with expansive views of the wooded countryside, I could easily envision a festive family gathering or vacation with friends here.

 

Enjoying refreshments on the terrace of Casa Mattei

Enjoying refreshments on the terrace of Casa Mattei

Casa Mattei’s spacious and beautifully-designed interior looked ideal for family and group gatherings, accommodating 5 to 6 couples or a family of up to 14 people. The main rooms include a large dining room that opens onto the terrace, two kitchens, a spacious living room, cozy sitting rooms, five bedrooms (each with a private bathroom), and a wine cellar.

Spacious living areas, large kitchen, bright dining area, and wine cellar of Casa Mattei

Spacious living areas, large kitchen, bright dining area, and wine cellar of Casa Mattei

Next to the villa is a separate small and charming building (shown below bottom left) that can sleep 2 additional people.

Olive trees and flowers on the grounds; outdoor pizza oven (top right); separate unit (bottom left)

Olive trees and flowers on the grounds; outdoor pizza oven (top right); separate unit (bottom left)

I felt the peaceful character of Casa Mattei as we strolled with Babeth on the lawn outside to the organic gardens (where they grow artichokes, tomatoes, zucchini, and other vegetables), the olive groves, and next to the freshwater mosaic-tiled swimming pool. The view of the pool and villa below seems to epitomize the luxury of life in Chianti

the pool

the pool

And so a day in Chianti ends

We would have liked to spend more time relishing the ambiance of Borgorosa and Casa Mattei, tasting wine, and enjoying the company of the gracious people we met this day. Passed by an occasional Ferrari (apparently a popular tourist driving experience in Tuscany), we were on our way through the beautiful countryside while reflecting on our day and looking forward to the next day’s exploration in Tuscany.

Ferrari-spotting on the country road in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

Ferrari-spotting on the country road in the Chianti hills of Tuscany

 

by Catherine Sweeney  nov 2 2015

Grazie to our hosts at Borgorosa and Casa Mattei for making our day in Chianti so enjoyable.

Take a look at the EsteVillas website for details, more photos, and booking information for Borgorosa, Casa Mattei, and other properties in their collection.

 

Antinori Winery via Cassia per Siena 133
Loc. Bargino 50026 San Casciano Val di Pesa -Firenzeto book a visit  http://www.hospitalityantinorichianticlassico.it/Default.aspx

 

Corzano & Paterno – Via San Vito di Sopra, snc – 50020 San Casciano in Val di Pesa – Florence – Tuscany – Italy – tel. +39 055 8248 179

 

Borgorosa  and Casa Mattei  are both located in the heart of Chianti

Writers, artists, and pilgrims have for centuries been inspired by the villages and hilltops of Tuscany. And no wonder. During our visit, I was constantly in awe of the historic towns with their turrets and towers atop the hills. Certaldo Alta and San Gimignano, two of the region’s most notable hilltop towns, exemplified the Tuscany of medieval times and the beauty of modern-day Tuscany. On our first full day in the region on our way to lunch at Casa Egle, a luxury villa near Montespertoli, we got a glimpse of each town accompanied by our gracious host and owner of the villa, Egle Nossan.

Towers of San Gimignano on a hilltop of Tuscany

Towers of San Gimignano on a hilltop of Tuscany

A short walk through history

  • San Gimignano

Egle enthusiastically recommended that we see the historic center of San Gimignano, a key stop on the Via Francigena (the ancient road and pilgrimage route to and from Rome), even for just a short while to walk in the footsteps of history. It’s a very popular town for visitors who marvel at its famous towers, remnants of medieval times. As we made our way to the highest point of the town, along every street and in every piazza of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, there were enticing scenes and a bustle of activity.

 

Via San Giovanni (in background) is Torre Grossa (left) and Torre Becci (right)

Via San Giovanni (in background) is Torre Grossa (left) and Torre Becci (right)

 The towers of San Gimignano form a striking skyline. Walking the narrow streets, you gaze up at these imposing sights as you would skyscrapers in a large city. The first towers were built by clans in the Middle Ages to watch for rival forces. Then throughout the centuries, additional towers were added to demonstrate power and wealth. At its peak, San Gimignano had 72 towers. Two of the remaining 14 towers can be seen partially in the photo above

 

Stairs to Piazza della Madonna (left) and shops on Via Giovanni (right)

Stairs to Piazza della Madonna (left) and shops on Via Giovanni (right)

San Gimignano is famous for its hand-painted ceramics, and we saw several shops, especially along the main street Via San Giovanni which is also lined with restaurants, and galleries. We passed many places that beckoned me to get a closer look. With more time, I would have visited each one, turned down every alley, and leisurely people-watched in the piazzas of San Gimignano. But I was grateful just to see this beautiful town and soak up its medieval ambiance.

 

Torre Becci and archway on Via San Giovanni

Torre Becci and archway on Via San Giovanni

 

Above is a closer look at Torre Becci as we were about to go through the archway beneath it.

 

Devil's Tower

Torre del Diavolo (Devil’s Tower) on Piazza della Cisterna

There’s an element of pleasant surprise when you pass through the arch as it opens onto beautiful Piazza della Cisterna. To the right, you see the ancient well (built in 1273) surrounded by homes, former palaces, and Towers

 

Piazza della Cisterna, Torri degli Ardinghelli (two shorter towers facing Piazza della Cisterna) in front of Torre Grossa

Piazza della Cisterna, Torri degli Ardinghelli (two shorter towers facing Piazza della Cisterna) in front of Torre Grossa

Still climbing upward on Via San Giovanni along the left side of the square, we entered Piazza del Duomo, named for the basilica located there, Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta (Collegiate Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

Piazza del Duomo and Basilica Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta

Piazza del Duomo and Basilica Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta

 

Torre Rognosa rising above the Palazzo Comunale on Piazza del Duomo with Torre Chigi, the lower tower on its left

Torre Rognosa rising above the Palazzo Comunale on Piazza del Duomo with Torre Chigi, the lower tower on its left

Caffe on Piazza delle Erbe

Caffe on Piazza delle Erbe

 

 Rocca di Montestaffoli, sculpture by Nic Jonk


Rocca di Montestaffoli, sculpture by Nic Jonk

Finally reaching Rocca di Montestaffoli, the castle built by the Florentines in 1353 for protection against potential attacks by rival Siena, we took in the panoramic views of the area from the highest point in San Gimignano.

The tree-shaded courtyard where people come to relax is a nice place to have lunch and enjoy the views. Located there is a “Sole e Acqua” (“Water and Sunshine”), a sculpture by Danish artist Nic Jonk. It’s one of several contemporary art works that have been installed around the town.

 

  • Certaldo

As we rounded a bend in the road on our way to Certaldo Alta, my first view of the town was a stunning sight.

Certaldo Alta

Certaldo Alta

The statue (below left) in the lower, newer part of Certaldo pays homage to the writer and poet Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) who lived and died in Certaldo. His greatest works were The Decameron and On Famous Women, and he is often credited with Petrarch as being a founder of Renaissance humanism.

Statue of Giovanni Boccaccio and funicular railway

Statue of Giovanni Boccaccio and funicular railway

The ancient treasures of Certaldo are in its upper historic center, Certaldo Alta. To begin our stroll there, we opted to take the funicular railway to reach Via Giovanni Boccaccio in just a couple of minutes. It is also reachable on foot (about a 10 minute walk), but there’s something fun about riding funiculars.

 

View of hills and countryside from Certaldo Alta

View of hills and countryside from Certaldo Alta

Once at the top, I felt like I had gone back in time to the early Renaissance as much of the upper town is well preserved. In the distance in the photo above, you can see the towers of San Gimignano through a slight morning haze.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have lunch at the cozy spot pictured below?

Restaurant and old buildings of Certaldo Alta

Restaurant and old buildings of Certaldo Alta

I enjoyed walking along the vicolos (alleys) and narrow streets with ivy-covered buildings while catching glimpses of the countryside and hills beyond. Notice the circular covers on the wall in the photo on the left below? Since buildings in medieval times didn’t have foundations, supports were put through walls to reinforce them.

Left: A vicolo in Certaldo with potted plants on the ledge of the left wall Right: Views of the Tuscan countryside between two buildings

Left: A vicolo in Certaldo with potted plants on the ledge of the left wall Right: Views of the Tuscan countryside between two buildings

 

Egle and I in front of the Palazzo Pretorio

Egle and I in front of the Palazzo Pretorio

 

A peek inside the Palazzo Pretorio and murals on the ceilings and walls

A peek inside the Palazzo Pretorio and murals on the ceilings and walls

The Palazzo Pretorio, originally a castle complete with a chapel and dungeons, is at the top of Via Boccaccio. Unfortunately, it was not open for visitors when we arrived, but we peeked over the gate to get a look at the archway to the courtyard to see the murals.

 

the terrace of Palazzo Pretorio, typical Certaldo Alta buildings in the background

the terrace of Palazzo Pretorio, typical Certaldo Alta buildings in the background

Standing on the terrace of the palazzo, Egle and I enjoyed a nice view of neighboring buildings with Certaldo’s signature red bricks and adorned with flower pots and classic Tuscan shutters.

 

  • The good life at Casa Egle

After our brief explorations of the two towns, Egle brought us back to Casa Egle for lunch and a visit. Although the structure of Casa Egle was originally built around 1100 A.D. and would have centuries of its own stories to tell, the villa and the surrounding property most quickly brings to mind a blissful image of the Tuscan good life which we enjoyed while having lunch under the Tuscan sun with the owners, Egle and Claudia.

 

Enjoying the good life at Casa Egle on a hilltop in Montespertoli

Enjoying the good life at Casa Egle on a hilltop in Montespertoli

On this typically mild and sunny day in May with the vast vineyard and hill views, Casa Egle seemed to capture the essence of tranquility. In its serene location in the Tuscan hills and with plenty of privacy, the villa seemed a great place to enjoy a family gathering or getaway with friends. The villa also provides a location from which to easily explore the sights and attractions of the region.

Views of the Tuscan hills, vineyards and olive groves from Casa Egle

Views of the Tuscan hills, vineyards and olive groves from Casa Egle

 

With Egle on the walkway to Casa Egle

With Egle on the walkway to Casa Egle

The exterior is very welcoming with trees and flowers everywhere. The roses were in bloom during our visit and the sight and smell was intoxicating. The saltwater pool and its private cabana looked so inviting that I’m sure at least one pool party would be part of any getaway with family and friends.

 

 The villa, grounds, and saltwater pool of Casa Egle


The villa, grounds, and saltwater pool of Casa Egle

Before lunch, we toured the interior of the stylishly-restored and beautifully-maintained villa which was ready accept its first guests for the summer.

As Egle showed us around, I began to envy the guests who would be arriving soon. Blended with modern features were touches of traditional Tuscan terra cotta tiles and wooden beamed ceilings. The following photos show only a few of the rooms.

 

 Living and reading rooms, dining room of Casa Egle


Living and reading rooms, dining room of Casa Egle

Mr. TWS and I loved the warm character of each individually-decorated room with tasteful colors and fixtures, including the master suite, two additional double bedrooms, a bedroom with two single beds, and four full bright and pleasant baths with quality amenities.

Three of the four bedroom and one of the four bathrooms

Three of the four bedroom and one of the four bathrooms

Although it’s not a secret that I’m not one for doing a lot of cooking or baking, the bright airy kitchen at Casa Egle made me almost want to don an apron and get cooking. Fortunately, lunch was beautifully prepared by Claudia and Egle instead.

On such a lovely day, we had lunch on the patio where we savored a delicious pasta with walnut sauce for which I still have cravings and fond memories. We also had homemade unsalted bread, a traditional Florentine recipe that legend says originated when Pisa withheld salt shipments to Florence during the frequent wars between the two rivals. While relaxing in the quiet setting with our hosts, we also got our first, but not last, taste of a silky and smooth Italian dessert wine, Vin Santo. Tradition dictates that biscotti is dipped in the wine.

 

 

From the fruit of their fig trees, Egle and Claudia make their own jams, and with unripe green walnuts , they make Nocino, a dark brown sweet liqueur. The season to pick the walnuts is during May and June, and the following fermentation takes several months. Nocino is often used for dessert ingredients and toppings. Egle and Claudia also sell their extra virgin olive oil under their “Poggio Rosemary” brand.

 

Above: Fermenting of the walnuts and other ingredients for Nocino (left) and white figs for jams (right); Below: the finished products (Photos courtesy of Poggio Rosemary)

Bright and airy kitchen; lunch of pasta with walnut sauce followed by biscotti and Vin Santo

Foodie tip: We passed many acacia trees with white buds floating in the air (in California, ours are yellow) as we drove along country roads to the villa. Did you know that acacia flowers can be eaten? Egle told us about a basic recipe for acacia flower fritters which includes mixing flour, beer, and salt, and then cooking the flowers with the mixture in hot oil, but there are many variations of the recipe.

 

Roses in bloom on the grounds of Casa Egle; the wishing well; and “Green House” in the background where bikes for guests are stored

Above: Fermenting of the walnuts and other ingredients for Nocino (left) and white figs for jams (right); Below: the finished products (Photos courtesy of Poggio Rosemary)

Bicycles for exploring the area are stored in the “Green House”, the small shed beyond the well that Egle was showing me in the photo above. Besides biking, there are a number of recreational and cultural activities such as winery visits, cooking classes, hot-air ballooning, golfing, excursions to Florence (20 miles) and Siena (30 miles), and visits to Certaldo, San Gimigano and other Tuscan towns. Egle and Claudia are clearly committed to providing their villa guests with customized experiences from peaceful retreats to active vacations. Among many other reasons I’d like to come back to Tuscany would be to go cycling through villages and countryside. I should have made a wish for that at the wishing well before we left.

Roses in bloom on the grounds of Casa Egle; the wishing well; and “Green House” in the background where bikes for guests are stored

Roses in bloom on the grounds of Casa Egle; the wishing well; and “Green House” in the background where bikes for guests are stored

In just our short time with Egle and Claudia, their warmth brought us to quickly feel welcome and relaxed in their company. Many thanks to them for their lovely hospitality and letting us share in the good life on their Tuscan hilltop.

Take a look at the EsteVillas website for details and booking information for Casa Egle and other properties in their collection.

Catherine Sweeney  Traveling with Sweeney

Villas in the Certaldo and San Gimignano area :

EGLE, BORGOROSA, MATTEI, NOVELLINA, RAFFAELLA, CONTI

Villas in Tuscany ,

 

Picture a stay in an elegant 16th-century Tuscan villa in the luxurious style of Renaissance nobility, but with all of today’s modern conveniences. Imagine a setting overlooking vineyards with views of majestic mountains. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? To that picture, add convenient access to the fascinating medieval city of Lucca and many top sites in the region and you have Villa Buonvisi, where Mr. TWS and I spent the second part of our Tuscany visit.

Buonvisi Estate, Lucca Tuscany

Buonvisi Estate, Lucca Tuscany

 

 

Driving along the road lined with vineyards and woods, I caught my first sight of the villa. There on a slight slope, Villa Buonvisi was perched, grandly overlooking the vineyard. We arrived at noon on a perfect sunny Saturday in May — the roses were in bloom and the only sound was the cheerful chirping of the birds.

 

Roses in bloom with a mountain backdrop on the grounds of Villa Buonvisi

Roses in bloom with a mountain backdrop on the grounds of Villa Buonvisi

 

Walking on the red carpet to the entrance of the villa, I suddenly had the feeling that I should have been more elegantly attired – that perhaps Gucci would be more appropriate than Banana Republic. (I could picture walking up the red carpet from a horse-drawn carriage with a gorgeous Renaissance-style gown swirling around me, too.) My concern was diminished immediately by the warm greeting of our hostess, Gianna Dini, the owner of Villa Buonvisi. Gianna is very fashionable and chic, but her gracious hospitality made me feel completely at ease. She exudes a stylish flair which accompanied by her genuine warmth and sense of humor make her a joy to be around.

A tour of Villa Buonvisi

As we explored the grounds and rooms of the villa, Mr. TWS thought that he had stepped onto the opulent estate from Stanley Kubrick’s movie Barry Lyndon. He said he could picture the mid-18th century gentry and nobility moving around inside while the film’s theme song by Handel played. My first impressions of Villa Buonvisi were more associated with the music of the great composer of La Boheme, Turandot, and Madame Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini, who was born in Lucca in 1858.

The Villa

On the red carpet of Villa Buonvisi

On the red carpet of Villa Buonvisi

 

The villa, one of the largest in the area, was originally built in the 16th century by the wealthy Buonvisi family who had made their fortune in the silk trade, an industry in which Lucca had been famous. Gianna and her late husband Joseph bought the villa in 1992 and made extensive renovations to bring it to its current splendor with modern conveniences yet retaining elegant ambiance and historic features. It was a daunting task. The villa was in severe disrepair and there were certain restoration requirements because Villa Buonvisi is a registered historic landmark. But Gianna was determined and with her innate sense of design and style, she took on the challenge and accomplished her goal.

Much consideration went into the restoration with authenticity always in mind from the custom-made drapery to the period murals to the large exposed beams. Gianna took great care in choosing and customizing the interior decor, antique furnishings, and works of art to retain the villa’s singular period character. Gianna and Joseph lived in the villa with their two sons until opening it as a holiday rental in 2008.

High ceilings and large windows create open and bright spaces in the villa, such as those in the ground floor living room shown below.

IMG_1076-001

With 11 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, and ample living and dining areas, it’s perfect for weddings (ceremonies can be held on the property), family reunions, business retreats, and other group events. To accommodate additional guests in the party or to be rented separately are two apartments (where Mr. TWS and I stayed) in the renovated farmhouse adjacent to the villa.

On our first night at Buonvisi, Gianna invited us for dinner at the villa with her son Nicola, a certified pizza chef and wine connoisseur. We began with aperitivos in the wine cellar seated at a table surrounded by their impressive wine collection. Gianna and Nicola talked about their family history and stories of the villa’s interesting past which includes a secret passage in the wine cellar discovered during the renovations.

In the kitchen and formal dining room on the ground floor, our lively conversation about food, politics, festivals, and life in Lucca continued as Nicola prepared and served us a wonderful Tuscan meal.

Dining table set for our dinner being prepared by Nicola

Dining table set for our dinner being prepared by Nicola

Originally, the second floor bedrooms and salon were for nobility while the third floor housed the servants’ quarters. Now all of the rooms throughout the villa are luxuriously designed and appointed with fine furnishings.

 

Second floor salon and view from the Juliet balcony; one of the 2nd floor bedrooms

Second floor salon and view from the Juliet balcony; one of the 2nd floor bedrooms

A few of the tastefully and colorfully decorated bedrooms, each one unique, are shown in the photos.

Colorful and uniquely decorated bedrooms of Villa Buonvisi

Colorful and uniquely decorated bedrooms of Villa Buonvisi

There are many exquisite displays of art and antiques throughout the villa. The religious art in the servants’ quarters (such as the fresco below on the wall of the servant’s secret stairwell leading to the “noble floor”) was a reminder to the maids of their faith in an effort to dissuade any less-than-honorable activities with the guests. Of course, we don’t know if it actually worked.

Religious fresco in old servants’ quarters, art by Dini family friend, sculptor Ron Mehlman, and ornate antique table and mirror

Religious fresco in old servants’ quarters, art by Dini family friend, sculptor Ron Mehlman, and ornate antique table and mirror

On the third floor, there is a large playroom for kids with a pool table and other games. The room is also used for presentations and screenings.

The grounds

Sunshine and blue skies really added to the already amazing setting as we toured outdoors.

Palm tree on front lawn and stone gate in back on the grounds of Villa Buonvisi

Palm tree on front lawn and stone gate in back on the grounds of Villa Buonvisi

The estate’s 300 acres include olive groves, vineyards, gardens, a gated pool, tennis courts, and outdoor entertaining areas with a BBQ and pizza oven. I would like to take a walk sometime through the imposing stone gateway at the rear of the villa through the olive trees and up the hill behind.

Palm tree on front lawn and stone gate in back on the grounds of Villa Buonvisi

Palm tree on front lawn and stone gate in back on the grounds of Villa Buonvisi

The Vera apartments

From top right: Renovated farmhouse with Vera private apartments, Vera 3 dining and living area, one of three bedrooms in Vera 3, and lovely early morning view through bedroom window

From top right: Renovated farmhouse with Vera private apartments, Vera 3 dining and living area, one of three bedrooms in Vera 3, and lovely early morning view through bedroom window

We were very comfortable in our private apartment, Vera 3, spacious and lovely with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a dining/living area. There is a small private pool and patio for the Vera units.

City, countryside, and coastal experiences

With all that the villa has to offer, it can provide for a complete countryside holiday, but its location makes it convenient for touring other city and coastal areas of northern Tuscany.

Scenes of charming Lucca

We appreciated that Lucca’s city center was so accessible from Villa Buonvisi, just three miles away. With the guidance and recommendations of Gianna and Nicola, we saw highlights of this ancient city founded by the Etruscans and quickly fell in love with the town. The historic center is mostly pedestrian and bike traffic which really added to its appeal. Lucca was very much abuzz with locals and visitors as we walked around on this Sunday afternoon. In the summer months, it comes even more alive with festivals, such as the Lucca Summer Festival which brings big name headliners and the Lucca Comics and Games Festival. Gianna is an excellent ambassador for Lucca — proud, knowledgeable, and eager to show others her city.

Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca

Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca

The oval-shaped Piazza Anfiteatro was the site of the ancient Roman amphitheater. As we entered through one of the four arched entrances, it was a lovely surprise with many cafes and restaurants.

Clockwise rom top left: Basilica di San Frediano, Duomo di San Martino, San Michele in Foro

Clockwise rom top left: Basilica di San Frediano, Duomo di San Martino, San Michele in Foro

Of the many churches that can be found in Lucca, on our walk we passed three that are the most notable in the city. Duomo di San Martino (above right) was built between the 12th and 13th centuries in Romanesque style with an intricately decorated marble facade. Puccini was a choirboy and played the organ here in his youth. Construction on the Basilica di San Frediano (top left above) was begun in the 12th century and in the 13th century was decorated with byzantine-style mosaic tiles mostly made with gold leaf that glows in the sunlight. San Michele in Foro (bottom left above) was built between the 12th and 14th centuries with a beautiful marble Romanesque facade and is topped with a statue of  St. Michael, the Archangel.

We got glimpses of Tower Guinigi at various points during the day, but didn’t have a chance to climb its 130 steps to the top where oak trees were planted by the Guinigi family to represent birth and renewal. Now one of the few remaining towers in the city, it’s interesting to note that when it was built in the 14th century, there were many of these structures on the Lucca skyline as a tower’s height was a reflection of a family’s prestige.

A glimpse of Tower Guinigi through the medieval buildings of Lucca; Statue of Puccini in front of the family home, now a museum

A glimpse of Tower Guinigi through the medieval buildings of Lucca; Statue of Puccini in front of the family home, now a museum

And of course, there is Puccini! Although we didn’t visit the family home which is now a museum with his musical scores and other memorabilia, we marked the moment by having a beverage at a cafe on Piazza Citadella near the bronze statue of Lucca’s native son.

Shoppers and browsers at one of the venues of the monthly Antiques Market; Taking an evening stroll along one of Lucca’s charming streets

Shoppers and browsers at one of the venues of the monthly Antiques Market; Taking an evening stroll along one of Lucca’s charming streets

Many locals do their shopping for food, wine, household goods and furnishings, clothing, and accessories in the city center. There are high-end designer shops and boutiques along the popular Via Fillungo, but many do their shopping at small and unique establishments that are individually or family-owned. We did a bit of window shopping and stopped in at Ottica Vogue to chat with Gianna’s lovely friend Andalusa and browse the glamorous eyeglasses. Of course, there are some stores that cater to tourists, but helping the city keep its character, they are not as prevalent as in other places.

Our timing was right to catch the antiques market which takes place the third weekend of each month. As we quickly browsed, we saw textiles, lamps, paintings, glassware, books, and many other collectibles.

There are many restaurants, cafes, and bars of all kinds in the piazzas and along the side streets for dining al fresco, people watching, and enjoying the company of friends.

Top: Al fresco dining in Lucca Bottom: Enjoying wine and dinner with Gianna at Osteria Miranda and lunch at L’Oste di Lucca

Top: Al fresco dining in Lucca Bottom: Enjoying wine and dinner with Gianna at Osteria Miranda and lunch at L’Oste di Lucca

At Osteria Miranda on Via dei Carrozzieri, a popular place with locals that comes highly recommended by Gianna. Our waiter (who is also a chef and owner of the restaurant) was friendly, the food was delicious, and the ambiance was very cozy and welcoming. Before dinner, we had aperitivos at a cleverly-themed cocktail bar, Franklin ’33, a nod to the end of Prohibition in the United States in 1933 during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Music of the 1920s and 1930s and photos of celebrities of those days create a fun speakeasy atmosphere.

Top: Al fresco dining in Lucca Bottom: Enjoying wine and dinner with Gianna at Osteria Miranda and lunch at L’Oste di Lucca

Top: Al fresco dining in Lucca Bottom: Enjoying wine and dinner with Gianna at Osteria Miranda and lunch at L’Oste di Lucca

One of the most impressive features of Lucca are the still-intact ancient walls built in the 16th and 17th centuries with a 30-foot wide biking and pedestrian path on top. Mr. TWS and I rented bikes for an hour to ride all the way around twice. It was so much fun and quite beautiful with trees lining the path in many places. There were couples, families, and people of all ages biking, walking, stopping to talk, and looking at the sights. From vantage points around the path, there are great views of Lucca’s buildings, squares, parks, towers, and the countryside.

Day trips from Villa Buonvisi

Florence, Pisa, the quarries of the Apuan Alps, Viareggio and other sites in Tuscany are convenient for day trips from Villa Buonvisi

Florence, Pisa, the quarries of the Apuan Alps, Viareggio and other sites in Tuscany are convenient for day trips from Villa Buonvisi

In addition to having Lucca so close by, the villa’s location is ideal for sightseeing famous attractions, such as the cities of Pisa (8 miles) and Florence (45 miles). It’s also convenient for exploring other areas of Tuscany, some of which may surprise you as they did me. I never thought of Tuscany having beaches, yet it has a long coastline, the Versilian Riviera, on the Ligurian Sea with very popular beach resorts of Forte dei Marmi and the vibrant seaside city of Viareggio. I was especially taken with the rich art culture of Pietrasanta and the amazing marble quarries of the Apuan Alps where Michelangelo procured his white marble.

Quiet nights and sparks of light

On our final night on the Buonvisi estate, we were in our apartment when Nicola came to our door to tell us that the outside lights of the estate were going to be turned off to best see the fireflies that were swarming. My childhood memories include distinct recollections of chasing fireflies in our backyard in the Chicago area during the summers, but that was nothing compared to the thousands we saw this evening. Apparently, it is very common to see these swarms in Tuscany in early summer. We didn’t get any photos, so you’ll have to use your imagination to picture the vineyard completely aglow with tiny lights; trust me, it was a stunning sight.

I found a poem by Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton) who was at a spa in Bagni di Lucca (about 20 miles from Villa Buonvisi), when he wrote this in the late 19th century:

… The fireflies, pulsing forth their rapid gleams, Are the only light That breaks the night…

And so it was this evening, as we lingered outside breathing in the fragrances of the Tuscan air, mesmerized by the flickering lights.

Villa Buonvisi at night

Villa Buonvisi at night

Walking along the lane in front of the villa with the stars above us was quite magical, actually – which is how I remember our stay at Villa Buonvisi — magical, elegant, and filled with wonderful activities and surprises.

Our thanks to Villa Buonvisi and EsteVillas for helping us to create our Lucca memories.

by Catherine Sweeney   Travelling with Sweeney

august 10 2015

 

Osteria Da Miranda Via Dei Carrozzieri 27, | 55100 Lucca, Italy tel +39 0583.952731 – Typical local restaurant with great local food. indoor / outdoor seating –  reservation necessary.

 

Ciclo Divino Via Michele Rosi 7, Lucca, Italy   tel +39 0583471869+39 0583471869 – Happy Hour : A bike shop that sells great wine and great food. essentially you get wine by the glass and small “bites” for 1 euro/piece or 10 for only 7/euro

 

Prospero via S Lucia 13 Lucca – Local food tasting at Prospero, an extremely ancient and typical grain shop

 

Franklin Via San Giorgio,43, 55100, Italy tel +39 328 4677416+39 328 4677416 – Happy Hour

 

View from La Novellina of olive groves, rolling hills and the Val di Pesa

View from La Novellina of olive groves, rolling hills and the Val di Pesa

July 2, 2015

When I think of Tuscany, I picture the wonderful food and wine of the region with a backdrop of a golden afternoon sun on beautiful vistas of vineyards, olive groves and green hills. Anticipating our trip there, I hoped to have an experience that this picture epitomized and from our first welcome to the day we said goodbye, my expectations were met, beginning with our stay at La Novellina, a luxury Tuscany villa near Fiano, about 20 miles from Florence.

La-Novellina-entrance

La Novellina: A simple Tuscan lifestyle

After a long day of travel from San Francisco to Florence, ivy-covered La Novellina villa was a welcoming sight.Luisa Castiglioni, who has owned the villa since 1980, greeted us at the door with a hearty welcome and introduced us to her son Nic and Monica, one of the “gifted women and men” that has shared her dream of preserving the authenticity and culture of the area and contributing to the land. Initially restoring the historic building and property as a place for her family to enjoy the simple Tuscan lifestyle, Luisa has been renting the villa for the past 25 years to others so they can experience the beauty and peacefulness of the setting while enjoying the wonderful food, wine, culture, and other highlights of Tuscany.

 

With Luisa Castiglioni on the dining terrace of La Novellina

With Luisa Castiglioni on the dining terrace of La Novellina

 

La Novellina’s historic location

Imagine the history that has unfolded in this serene setting of the Val di Pesa (Valley of the River Pesa) and rolling hills of Tuscany. As I took in the lovely scenery around me at La Novellina from my seat at breakfast our first morning in Tuscany, I tried to grasp the enormity of the past — the battles of the Romans with the Etruscans; the building of the Roman road, the main route connecting Rome to France and Spain and the centuries of travelers and pilgrimages; the fall of the Roman Empire; occupation by “barbarians” and the Dark Ages; and wars between Florence, Siena, and Pisa. The turbulence of many past times was a fascinating contrast and hard to imagine happening at the idyllic sights before me with the sounds of birds chirping on a fresh May morning.

 

Morning view of Tuscan hills and Val di Pesa from the terrace of La Novellina

Morning view of Tuscan hills and Val di Pesa from the terrace of La Novellina

Situated atop a hill with excellent vantage points of the area for many miles, La Novellina has a compelling history of its own. The renovated farmhouse includes a one-thousand-year-old restored tower which served as a vital watchtower for centuries with its panoramic views of the Via Francigena, the famous road from Florence to Rome in the Val di Pesa below.

La Novellina’s ancient tower in the center of the villa and the Val di Pesa

La Novellina’s ancient tower in the center of the villa
and the Val di Pesa

Rivalries during the 13th and 14th centuries between Siena (loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor) and Florence (ally of the Pope) resulted in numerous clashes in the area and castles and villages were repeatedly destroyed. The Castle of Santa Maria Novella, located on another hill behind the villa, was one of those continuously damaged and rebuilt until 1500.

All the fighting and conquests! Although those times are gone, the history, culture and traditions of the area are still part of what makes La Novellina special and give the location a dramatic allure.

The nature of La Novellina

On the estate’s 69 acres, there are 1500 olive trees (for making their own extra virgin olive oil), vegetable and herb gardens, and 4000 bees for honey. Traditions are reflected in the use of natural ingredients in meal preparation and using their own produce and both maximizing sustainability and minimizing environmental impact. Nic is the inspiration behind and caretaker of La Novellina’s commitment to organic and sustainable methods and staying true to Tuscan traditions in use of the land. Under Nic’s hands-on management, they aspire to the best organic techniques in the products they grow and sustainable practices preserving water and the earth.

Nic sampling fresh honey, steps to the garden, fresh flowers and organic products of La Novellina

Nic sampling fresh honey, steps to the garden, fresh flowers and organic products of La Novellina

 

Creating an authentic experience

Luisa believes in creating an authentic experience for La Novellina  guests that accentuates the traditions and distinct characteristics of the area. Surrounded by the beautiful Tuscany landscapes, guests can engage in activities such as cooking classes, visits to medieval villages, and wine tastings with local vintners to become more immersed in the culture. Or if they choose, guests can simply relax in style at the villa and appreciate the joys of life under the Tuscan sun.

View-from-La-Novellina

Traditional style of a Tuscany luxury villa

The villa’s ambiance is that of relaxed luxury with traditional Tuscan decor, a comfortable country style with antique furnishings that complement the natural surroundings.

La Novellina can accommodate 9 people in 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms — ideal for family gatherings (such as reunions, weddings, or anniversaries) which account for a large percentage of their bookings. Comfort, warmth, and charm is found in each of the rooms.

 

La Novellina master bedroom and bath

La Novellina master bedroom and bath

We stayed in the master bedroom located in the old tower section of the villa with a large window that provided views (and sounds) of the olive groves and the Val di Pesa. In the morning, I was surprised to hear the sound of a real cuckoo for the first time in my life! The bathroom that adjoined the master bedroom was large, comfortable and nicely appointed with a large  adjacent walk-in closet.

La-Novellina-roomsThe other bedrooms (2 of them shown above) were similarly charmingly decorated. One of the two living areas (shown bottom right above), was once a kitchen and key gathering place where farmhouse residents could talk and stay warm by the fire. Before going to bed each night and also before breakfast each day, we enjoyed spending a little time there to relax and catch up with online tasks. A porch outside the room provides a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the Tuscan scenery.

Side-view-of-villa

As is often the case in Italy, the kitchen is the heart of the traditional home. I quickly took to the morning ritual of coming downstairs and enjoying Monica’s cheerful greeting and the aroma of fresh-baked pastries she prepared for us each day. Breakfast included other light Italian breakfast items and was served on the terrace or at the cozy table in the kitchen.

Monica Bartarelli in the kitchen of La Novellina

Monica Bartarelli in the kitchen of La Novellina

A welcome dinner is offered to guests on their first night and can be requested for additional evenings, which I would highly recommend. During our stay, Monica prepared and served many tasty dishes, including scrumptious risotto, cannelloni, bruschetta, salads, and her amazing pastries — all using where possible La Novellina produce or locally grown foods. The Torta della Nonna, the traditional “Grandmother’s Cake” (bottom left), served for dessert on our first night was so delicious that we were eager to have a leftover slice with breakfast the next morning.

Delicious meals and pastries prepared by Monica Bartarelli at La Novellina

Delicious meals and pastries prepared by Monica Bartarelli at La Novellina

To get a taste of a local restaurant one evening, we had a hearty and simple pasta dinner at C’era una Volta, a cozy trattoria in the little village of Lucardo, about a 5 minute drive from the villa. We enjoyed the meal, atmosphere, and dining with the locals and would recommend it as a dinner option when staying at the villa.

Although the spring weather was warm, we didn’t have time in our busy schedule for pool activities. But I can imagine what a treat it would be to sun and swim in the pool adjacent to the villa while enjoying magnificent views similar to those from the La Novellina terrace.

La-Novellina-pool

A special afternoon with Susanna

Susanna Civeli is a private concierge and personal chef who welcomes guests to La Novellina and can also arrange and lead tours and cooking classes. Accompanied by Susanna, we spent an afternoon in her hometown, Barberino Val d’Elsa, a small medieval village about five miles from the villa. Culture and heritage are very important to the residents of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Susanna pointed out the places that are meaningful to her and other residents. The ancient walls and gates were the most prominent features as we entered the town. It was clear that Susanna loves this village as we strolled Via Francesco da Barberino (the main street) and passed by her home, a house down the street where she previously lived, the nearby house of her father, and the places where she spends time with friends.

 

Strolling Barberino Val d’Elsa with Susanna Civeli

Strolling Barberino Val d’Elsa with Susanna Civeli

This medieval village is on the boundary between the provinces of Florence and Siena has seen much of the turbulent history of the region. Fortified for protection, it was an important defense for the Florentine Republic in its battles with Siena. In recent years, the village has been undergoing new growth and renewed interest in traditions with local artisans creating traditional Tuscan food, wine, and other products.

A very popular shop in the village is Bojola Country, a boutique of leather and specialty fabric goods made exclusively in Tuscany using natural raw materials. The talented and creative owner and designer is Fiamma Lazzeri, who we had the pleasure of meeting while visiting the shop.

Francesco Bojola Boutique in Barberino Val d’Elsa with Susanna Civeli and Fiamma Lazzeri

Francesco Bojola Boutique in Barberino Val d’Elsa with Susanna Civeli and Fiamma Lazzeri

At Pasolini dall’Onda Borghese, we enjoyed the hospitality of Massimo Castagnozzi, as we toured the wine cellar and olive mill, and sampled their Chianti Classico and Vin Santo.

At Pasolini dall’Onda Borghese, we enjoyed the hospitality of Massimo Castagnozzi, as we toured the wine cellar and olive mill, and sampled their Chianti Classico and Vin Santo.

At Pasolini dall’Onda Borghese, we enjoyed the hospitality of Massimo Castagnozzi, as we toured the wine cellar and olive mill, and sampled their Chianti Classico and Vin Santo.

 The Pasolini family has been producing high quality wines for over 400 years. The wine cellars (which were once dungeons) that actually lie beneath the main street of the village include thousands of bottles of their vintages of Chianti, Chianti Classico, Vin Santo, a Tuscan Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and two white wines based on Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The cellar also houses an impressive number of very old bottles from the family’s private collection which are kept as reminders of historically good years and not intended for drinking. Pasolini dall’Onda also produces olive oil using centuries old production techniques with modern mill equipment. On our tour of the olive mill we saw the grindstones and other devices that were used in centuries past.

 

Touring the olive mill and wine cellars with Massimo Castagnozzi at Pasolini dall’Onda

Touring the olive mill and wine cellars with Massimo Castagnozzi at Pasolini dall’Onda

On the rooftop of Pasolini dall’Onda, we got a wonderful view of Chianti’s vineyards and farms. From there Massimo pointed out the dividing line that separates the very special Chianti Classico subregion from the rest of the Chianti district.

Chianti1To end the afternoon, we joined locals on the patio at La Spinosa wine shop for a glass of their light and crisp Marugale white wine while we chatted with one of the owners, Gianfranco Ossola. La Spinosa strictly uses organic growing methods on its farm of 70 hectares of vineyards and olive trees and since 1994 has been certified as an organic grower by the CCPB (Consortium for the Control of Organically Grown Products of Bologna). In the shop they serve (and sell) their wines as well as local cheeses and other products and gifts.

La Spinosa wine shop

La Spinosa wine shop

Other nearby places of interest

You could spend a week or two at La Novellina, never leave the property, and have a gratifying Tuscan experience. However, its location offers access to almost any of the types of activities one would imagine in a trip to Tuscany. With Luisa’s and her staff’s help, we were able to experience a number of these.

We spent a wonderful day in the stunning Renaissance city of Florence which is only about 45 minutes away. We also enjoyed our visits to the Antinori wine estate in Bargino, the medieval towns of Certaldo and San Gimignano, a cheese-maker in San Casciano, and more places of interest which we’ll tell you about in future posts. So stay tuned for more about our excursions during our 4-night stay at La Novellina.

Arrivederci, La Novellina

Leaving La Novellina Tuscany!

Leaving La Novellina
Novellina Tuscany!

 

Imagine … a friendly kiss. What better way to end our stay at La Novellina in warm and authentic Tuscany!

Farewell kiss from Monica as we leave La Novellina

Farewell kiss from Monica as we leave La Novellina

 

Grazie to La Novellina for making our authentic Tuscany experience possible

Catherine Sweeney

Travelling with Sweeney

 

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
All Rights Reserved

 

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   

 

 

Restaurants  Lake Maggiore

Restaurants Lake Maggiore

You know the trusted friends you call  when you need a restaurant reccomendation? That’s us.

 


 

Close to Arona

  • Aldo Piazza Del Popolo 32,|  28041, Arona –NO – tel  +39 0322-243195 –  Right on the city square, excellent pizza. Remind to  reserve in advance (25/30 € pp cl Mon)

 

  • Antico Verbano S.S. del Sempione, 62 | P.zza Marconi, 28046 Meina –NO tel +39 0322 65718. Lovely setting by the lake and great food (35/40 € pp cl Mon.)

 

  • Il Castagneto Via Gianni Vignola, 14  | 28041 Montrigiasco di Arona-  NO tel +39 0322 57201 .  A traditional Piemontese countryside family-run restaurant, located  at the top of Montrigiasco, a little known village, on the outskirts of Arona. Excellent food, great wine , helpful and friendly staff  and reasonnable prices. (35/40 € pp cl Mon.)

 

  • Hostaria La Speranza  via alla cartiera 11, |  Solcio di Lesa , No-  tel +39 032 277803 – A great dining experience  There is no menu, Fabrizia the owner  guides you through the menu. (70/80 € pp cl Wedn)

 

  • Lo Squero  Via Novara 302, | 28078 Romagnano Sesia, tel  +39 0163 834961 – One of the best seafood restaurant I have ever tasted.  Not easy to find. Worth a detour. Better  avoid the weekend (40/45 € cl Mon & Tues )

 

  • Serenella : Via Quarantadue Martiri, 5 , Feriolo – Baveno tel +39 0323.28112 . Cold and warm  buffet, homemade ravioli of duck, risotti, lake and sea fish, mushrooms and truffles in autumn . (45/50 €)

 

 

 

 

We are not professional food critics. Our opinions are based upon our personal tastes.

You know the trusted friends you call  when you need a restaurant reccomendation? That’s us.

 

 

  • Osteria Da Miranda Via Dei Carrozzieri 27, | 55100 Lucca, Italy tel +39 0583.952731 – Typical local restaurant with great local food. indoor / outdoor seating –  reservation necessary.

 

 

  • Osteria Pasqualino Gubitosa- Mondovino- Via del moro 8| 55100 Lucca – The passion for good wine and good food. Cl.Tuesday

 

  • Trattoria Baffardello Via Nuova per Pisa 1029 | 55100 S. Michele in Escheto, Lucca, tel +39 0583 379319 mobile +39 338 3350905 –  Great seafood restaurant right outside Lucca

 

  • Enoteca Vino e Convivio Via di Coselli, 4/6 | Guamo, 55060 Capannori, tel +39 0583 403573 – A winery, 3000 different wines and champagne, 4 rooms, 4 tables,

 

  • Ciclo Divino Via Michele Rosi 7, Lucca, Italy   tel +39 0583471869 – Happy Hour : A bike shop that sells great wine and great food. essentially you get wine by the glass and small “bites” for 1 euro/piece or 10 for only 7/euro

 

  • Prospero via S Lucia 13 Lucca – Local food tasting at Prospero, an extremely ancient and typical grain shop

 

  • Franklin Via San Giorgio,43, 55100, Italy tel +39 328 4677416 – Happy Hour

 

Massaciuccoli, Puccini Lake Lucca -Estevillas

Massaciuccoli, Puccini Lake Lucca -Estevillas

Immerse yourself in the unconventional natural beauty of Northern Tuscany, birthplace and chosen home to some of history’s most famous artists.

World famous opera composer Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca and chose to spend his life in Torre del Lago, on the quiet shore of the lake.  The maestro has left a long-lasting tradition of music and opera to the area; the Puccini Festival entertains thousands of visitors each year in its open-air theatre with arias from Turandot, Madame Butterfly and his other masterpieces.

Carrara Marble Quarries Tour with Serena

Carrara Marble Quarries Tour with Serena – Estevillas Holiday Rentals

Michelangelo settled in Seravezza, a small town on the route to white marble quarries, while working for the Medici family. His legacy lives strongly in Pietrasanta and Carrara; the beautiful church facades still standing there are examples of his first architectural projects. He was also the one to promote the building of a new road connecting the Apuan Alps to the sea.

Today, both Pietrasanta and Carrara welcome artists from all over the world who journey to find artisans in marble, mosaic, bronze and other hand-crafts to advise in the creation of their art pieces. Pietrasanta in particular is a small fashionable town, full of restaurants and cafés and only accessible to pedestrians. It becomes very lively on weekends and in the summer months.

Forte dei Marmi beach - Estevillas

Forte dei Marmi beach – Estevillas

Nearby Forte dei Marmi (literally, the Fortress of Marbles) is today a posh resort town and hub of shopping in Tuscany, rich with boutiques and fashionable shops. The beach resorts of Forte dei Marmi are among the most luxurious in all of Italy, VIP-spotting is not unusual during the summer season.

The magnificent amphitheater of the Apuan Alps is a paradise for hikers or those who wish to simply take walks on its pristine trails and marvel at the breathtaking views.

Northern Tuscany hills-  Estevillas

Northern Tuscany hills

Along the way, you cannot miss stopping to tour the area’s small villages, hidden gems of history and traditions. Explore the towns of Pruno, Levigliani, Giustagnana or La Cappella, where you can take part in marble carving sessions at the Monte Altissimo School.

This region was appreciated and developed by the Romans, who built a few villas on its rolling hills. The ruins are today a special setting for the Roman Festival in July.

Pietrasanta Outdoor Market web

Pietrasanta Outdoor Market -Versilia Food Tour by Serena – Estevillas

Francigena Way, another ancient route that connected Canterbury to Rome, cuts through the region to the city of Lucca, which is definitely worth a visit. Its beautiful walls and historical center is a charming place to stroll around with kids and enjoy some shopping of local art crafts.

Last but not least, Viareggio—a city popular for its majestic, not-to-be-missed Carnival in February—is the perfect place to enjoy a walk along the art deco promenade or stop for a meal in a seafood restaurant in the harbor area, where the biggest yachts in the world are still being built.

 

Elena Berton Made in Italy Pietrasanta

Elena Berton Made in Italy Pietrasanta Artisan Tour by Serena

Another major attraction of Northern Tuscany is the food, which is particularly appreciated for its land and seaside cuisine. Take the chance to visit one of the region’s century-old ham workshops or taste its famous cacciucco, a shellfish soup.

If one has time to stretch a bit further from the region, Versilia area is within close reach to Cinque Terre, Pisa and Florence.

Cinqueterre  day trip tour by Serena - Estevillas

Cinqueterre day trip tour by Serena – Estevillas

 

A local concierge, knowledgeable of the area, will be a valid support for planning your day tours and enjoying your stay to the best.

 

By Serena Giovannoni, –  Estevillas Travel Consultant, Wedding Planner and Personal Assistant in North Tuscany area

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

Villas in the area : Santandrea , Buonvisi, Fattoria, Elisabetta

 

 

Lucca Amphitheatre Piazza - Estevillas Holiday Rentals

Lucca Amphitheatre Piazza – Estevillas Holiday Rentals

My friend Gianna takes us on an insider’s tour of Lucca’s best spots to grab a bite, a drink—and maybe a leather jacket or a fancy pair of Italian designer eyeglasses.

Gianna lives in an historic villa with a beautiful garden just a few minutes’ drive from Lucca. She is a real fashionista. She loves to find authentic small restaurants and “trattoria” where she can feel at home. She knows the best places to shop in the area for food, wine and fashion.

Lucca is a unique and very special town, a hidden surprise for visitors who come here for the first time. The location couldn’t be better: the Appennine mountains behind, the sandy beaches just a stone’s throw away and Pisa and Florence very close too.

The approach to Lucca involves venturing through the massive medieval walls that encircle the town. They are wide, lined with trees, restaurants, playgrounds, and tons of seating, creating a sort of suspended ring to jog, bike, run or simply relax while watching people wander the little narrow roads inside the walls.

Biking on the Lucca Walls

Biking on the Lucca Walls

Most of the city is closed to automobile traffic. Locals bike or stroll instead of driving, gather in the cafés and wine bar and peruse the open street market. You can easily hire a  bike and have tour of the city walls by yourself or decide to take a guided tour, which will add a lot to the experience by showing nice places outside the city.

We park outside the city walls and walk through the gate into the city.

“Don’t say that you have been to Lucca if you haven’t eaten Taddeucci’s Buccellato!”

Buccellato Taddeucci Lucca

Buccellato Taddeucci Lucca

The Buccellato is the most typical and well-known cake of Lucca. It is a ring-shaped tasty sweet bread with raisins and aniseed, smothered in a mixture of sugar and egg. It was the traditional dessert for Sunday lunch in most Lucchese homes.

For 131 years Taddeucci Bakery has stood in Piazza San Michele, the heart of Lucca and a fascinating place full of history. It was here in 1881 that Lucca’s baker, Jacopo Taddeucci, created the delicacy he is so famous for.

Today you can find the Buccellato in any bakery, but the original recipe is still a Taddeucci’s secret, handed down from father to son.

Two other bakeries make a worthwhile stop. The first is Forno a Vapore Amedeo Giusti (or simply Giusti) on via S Lucia. The tiny and always packed shop is the best place for their unforgettable dark brown, multi-grain focaccia. Stand in line, grab a number and wait for your order of the rich flat bread.

Sweet Vegetable Tarte- Chifenti

Sweet Vegetable Tarte- Chifenti

Chifenti on via San Paolino is where you can sample some surprising vegetable tarts—sweet, not savory!—a Lucca specialy.

Our path takes us to Via Fillungo, the main shopping street lined with many upscale boutiques, but Gianna moves quickly on and stops in front of one of the oldest shops in Lucca. Carli jewelry, first opened in 1655 and passing from generation to generation, is still furnished and decorated as it was in the 18th century. (Carli Via Fillungo #95 Lucca)

A little farther down the street at number 58 is Antico Caffe Di Simo, the historic coffee house where a stop for an espresso or a cappuccino is a must. It was here that Giacomo Puccini, the great opera composer, regularly gathered with other artists at the beginning of the 20th century. The café keeps the atmosphere of 100 years ago unchanged, as if Puccini will once again walk through the door.

Just off via Fillungo is Pizzicheria La Grotta, a triumph of regional food. The deli is stocked with delicious pecorino cheeses, some old, some fresh and young, soft cheese, prosciutto, salami, and pickled vegetable jam to be served with savory food.

Next stop is the famous traditional dried beans and seed shop Antica Bottega di Prospero, Via Santa Lucia 13.

Antica Bottega da Prospero Zuppa Lucchese

Antica Bottega da Prospero Zuppa Lucchese

 

We continue our tour leading to Ottica Vogue for a pair of Italian sunglasses…super chic sunglasses.

Superchic sunglasses - Estevillas

Superchic sunglasses Ottica Vogue Lucca

It is lunchtime and Gianna takes us to a….bike shop…a pleasant and quirky surprise. It is a funny place where you can buy bikes, great wine and great food all together in the same shop! You get wine by the glass and small “bites” for 1 Euro/piece or 10 for only 7 Euro. The welcoming and friendly Ciclo Di Vino is so popular for happy hour that the crowd spills out onto the Street.

Ciclo di Vino

Ciclo di Vino – Lucca , Bikes and Wine !

After our drink, it is time to get back to the car, as Gianna wants to show us one of the most renowned leather factories in Tuscany, La Pelle, which houses a large selection of clothing made of soft and fine quality leather by expert artisans. They also provide a prompt made-to-measure service and ship all over the world. I fell in love with a red leather jacket, it was just so cool and different from all the other ones I saw around.

The afternoon is gone! Time to go back to Gianna’s house where in my beautiful bedroom I will rest like a princess….

 

Gianna's villa in Lucca - Estevillas Holiday Rentals

Gianna’s villa in Lucca – Estevillas Holiday Rentals

Villa Buonvisi Lucca

Antica Bottega di Prospero – via S Lucia 13-  55100 Lucca.

Ciclo Di Vino – Via Michele Rosi 7

Carli Jewelry – Via Fillungo 95 Lucca

La Pelle  Via delle Cornacchie 473. – 55100 Lucca. Tel: 0583 955359

Forno Giusti – Via Santa Lucia, 18 -. 55100 Lucca.

Ottica Vogue – Via Fillungo, 4, Lucca LU

 

Bike rentals –  there are many biker rentals in town. Just to mention 2 of them:

Punto Bici   Via Crocifisso, 8, 55100 Lucca LU

Cicli Bizzarri   Piazza Santa Maria, 32
55100 Lucca (LU) – Toscana – Italia

Lucca Distances:  Pisa 17 km/11mls; closest beach 26km/16mls; Forte dei Marmi 34km/21mls ;  Florence 78km/48mls

 

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved