View Full Version : Tuscan Holidays

31-10-14, 04:17
I'll start with Florence.

I'm sure everyone who goes to Tuscany will go to Firenze. (I have to interject a funny story: Some elderly Americans from a tour bus remarked that while they really enjoyed seeing this Firenze place, they had really wanted to see Florence. I swear to you it isn’t apocryphal.)

You need at least two to three days. I think most people find, as one of my favorite professors stated, that it is a feast for the eyes, brain and spirit. Just don’t come down with Stendahl syndrome (which recently some of our Japanese tourists seem prone to do) and faint away. Stay hydrated, wear a sun hat if going in summer, and only expose yourself to these wonders with suitable breaks in between for some cappuccino, expresso, gelato or aperitif and maybe a pannino or two and some aperitivo snacks as seems appropriate.

As to an itinerary, I'm sure tourists will hit the main areas, like the Piazza della Signoria, the Duomo and Baptistry, the Uffizi Galleries, the Ponte Vecchio for some jewelry shopping, the Accademia to see the David, or Santa Croce to see Michelangelo's tomb etc.

I usually recommend that people take one of those city wide tours when they first arrive. It gives the broad outlines, and orients you. Also, a word to the wise, make sure you book a tour for the Uffizi galleries, otherwise it’s just overwhelming for a first time visitor. The night tours are a great idea. Cool and quiet and less busy.

Here are some pictures of what you might see:

The first five are from the Piazza Della Signoria, which is the town square in Florence, the center of government. Florence's great artists all created internationally famous works of art to decorate it. There's also a lovely fountain dedicated to Neptune.





http://cdn1.vtourist.com/4/7085692-Fountain_of_Neptune_central_meeting_point_Florence .jpg?version=2

These are of the Duomo (the Cathedral) and the Baptistry:



https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8069/8172380171_100b2fa4e9_z.jpg (https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8069/8172380171_100b2fa4e9_z.jpg)

This is the famous Ponte Vecchio, lined with jewelry shops. The Germans were ordered by Hitler to dynamite all the bridges and monuments if they had to evacuate, but the General in charge refused to obey the order. Only one bridge was destroyed, but even though it took decades it was put back together.


This is it, the one that was destroyed and then put back to together... the Ponte Santa Trinita.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Ponte_Santa_Trinita_Florence.jpg (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Ponte_Santa_Trinita_Florence.jpg)

This is the Uffizi Galleries, an enormous art museum...you really to take it in chunks.

http://famouswonders.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/uffizi-gallery.jpg (http://famouswonders.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/uffizi-gallery.jpg)

Of course, everyone goes to see the David...at least I hope everyone goes to see it. Try to go at the least busy part of the day. He's Colossal, and colossally beautiful standing in his niche, and a bit of quiet helps to absorb it all.

Ed. to fix a link

31-10-14, 05:22
These are places that some tourists might skip, but which I think deserve a visit:

First on my list would be the Museum of the Duomo. I don’t understand why it isn’t on some itineraries. Most of the treasures from the Duomo are exhibited there, including the actual Ghiberti doors for the Baptistry, a fabulous penitent Magdalen by Donatello and the Pieta (really the Deposition) Michelangelo carved for his own tomb.(and attacked in a rage more than once). The haunting Magdalen is so “modern” that it looks as if it were carved yesterday. The Deposition is like a sinuous river of stone. The Nicodemus figure is supposedly a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself. If the two statues were sent to New York museums, the lines to see them would be immense.



The Bargello: It houses some of the best art in the world. If for no other reason, go to see Michelangelo’s Bacchus and the Pitti Tondo (you will recognize it instantly), and Donatello’s David, which couldn’t be more different from Michelangelo’s.

http://blogs.artinfo.com/secrethistoryofart/files/2011/02/Donatello-David.jpg (http://blogs.artinfo.com/secrethistoryofart/files/2011/02/Donatello-David.jpg)

The Medici Chapels, on top of being very beautiful, are home to Michelangeo’s monumental sculptures:

Nearby are the Straw market and the market of San Lorenzo. Walk around,;It’s fun and you can find anything there from food to clothing to housewares.


Santa Maria Novella with its cloisters: It doesn’t just showcase wonderful architecture or house wonderful art by Giotto, Filippino Lippi, Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Ghirlandaio,Botticelli ,Pisano and many more.

It also has beautiful cloisters-very important on a hot summer day

The Basilica: http://www.etravelphotos.com/photos/2008it/2008it-0424-138.jpg

The cloisters: https://keiratiflying.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/img_3651.jpg

List of art works inside: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Santa_Maria_Novella

On the other side of the Arno, the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens are very nice. So cool and relaxing on a summer day when you want to get away from all the tourists.


Go up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the panorama of the city. It’s spectacular even on an overcast day. It’s usually included in the “city tours”.


Go up to Fiesole. It was once an Etruscan site, later Romanized by a colony of Roman veterans. The views from there are also spectacular, and in the heat and strong sun of summer it’s a little cooler.

It’s also where you can see the Medici Villa and gardens, lovingly maintained by British aristocrats, bless them. Iris Origo, the Marchesa of the Val D’Orcia, grew up there when she was Iris Cutting.


A picture of it:


If you’re flush with money you can even stay up at the Villa San Michele. I don't think it's worth the price, but maybe that’s just me.


01-11-14, 19:56
A town that is often missed, memorialized in the video game Assassin's Creed, is San Gimignano...the Town of the Towers.

This is how it looks in Assassin's Creed:

This is the amazing skyline as you approach it in real life:

The towers stem from a two hundred year period during the Middle Ages in northern and central Italy when there was a virtual civil war between two political factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The Ghibellini were supporters of the German emperor, and the Guelfi were supporters of the Pope and were defending the liberties of the urban communes against the Emperor.

Even within one town different families would side with one faction or another. That's the backdrop of the story of Romeo and Juliet. Each prominent family would fortify itself by building a tower for defense. In most Italian cities, the majority of the towers were either damaged or taken down. In San Gimignano, twelve of them remain. As a result, the historic center is a Unesco World Heritage protected Site.

I highly recommend stopping into the San Gimignano museum for a half hour to see the massive reconstruciton of the town as it looked in the 1300's. There are over 800 structures, including 72 towers, other buildings and figurines.

The town has been the setting for numerous movies. If you've ever seen "Tea With Mussolini" you'll recognize the town square below. The frescoes which the expatriate British and American women saved from the departing German army are in the Duomo.


It's also the town fictionalized in the E.M.Forster novel "Where Angels Fear To Tread".

It's a very nice place to stop and wander the streets for a little while, step back in time, do some shopping, especially for some hand painted ceramics, see some lovely art, and get a very nice meal.

One of the specialties of the region is pappardelle al cinghiale or home made broad egg pasta with sauce of wild boar.

Other often encountered dishes are roasted pork loin stuffed with herbs and cooked with honey, and the steak alla fiorentina:
http://www.efoodys.com/system/images/photos/531/ea1/1ec/large/Le_3_Rose_Farmhouse_MangiarDivino_cooking_holiday_ tuscany_beef.png?1394516281


This being Tuscany, be prepared for a lot of beans.:) They're often served with Italian pork sausage.

You might also want to try their famous white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

02-11-14, 18:12
This long time foe of Florence is very worthy of a visit, perhaps in combination with a drive through Chianti country or the beautiful Val D’Orcia.

Whenever I think of Siena, I see this image of her, her ocher and umber, and yes, sienna colored buildings glowing above a sea of green.


This is another lovely picture of her:


It’s a gem of a city, dominated by its Piazza del Campo, which can be seen here in this great aerial photo of the city.


The Campo is the site of the internationally famous Palio, or horse race, held twice every year, on July 2nd and August 16th.

This is a high quality, modern picture of it:


It’s essentially a contest between the different neighborhoods or “contrade” of Siena, each of which has its own mascot and flag, parish church, social club etc. They vie for a Palio or banner, commissioned each year, with an image of Mary on it. The members of each contrada maintain a museum and spend the entire year preparing for the Palio.

Here you can see them all displayed on the walls.


Like all horseraces, after months of preparation and great excitement in the preceding days, rising to a fever pitch just before the race, it’s then over in a few minutes. To actually be able to see it, you need to be staying in one of hotels that face the Campo, or you need to “rent” a vantage point in one of the homes. To do either you have to book at least a year in advance.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t great fun being in the city at that time, however, although it has to be remembered that for the native Sienese this isn’t about the tourists; this is an almost tribal rite, and they take it deadly seriously. The biggest parties of all, the banquets held in each of the contrade the night before the race and after the race are for contrada members, usually the younger set..

The tourists are just onlookers, I’m afraid, but what a show! The city is magnificently decorated, the members of the Contrade sumptuously dressed in period costumes, practice races take place during the three days leading up to the major event, there is great fanfare as the horses are led out for practice, and bands of people from the contrade, wearing their contrade scarves or shirts can suddenly appear and start to sing in the streets. The only thing I can compare it to is the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona with its running of the bulls, but without the gore and the mass drunkenness.

This is a short 3 minute video made by some young people that captures the essence of it, I think.



There is more to Siena than the Palio, however.

The Duomo or Cathedral is a masterpiece of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and it is home to marvelous pieces of art, including an extraordinary Gothic pulpit by Pisano, frescoes by Ghirlandaio, and a baptismal font with decoration by Donatello, Ghiberti, and Quercia.

These are some extraordinary photos of the interior:


(Oh, so much of the architecture and interior is in black and white in tribute to the black and white horses of the legendary Roman founders of the city, Senius and Aschius. It also has Etruscan roots as well, of course, and Lombard ties, like all towns in Tuscany.)

The attached Museo has other works by Siennese artists, as does the Pinacoteca.

Another interesting stop is the Palazzo Salimbeni, which in addition to its architecture, houses one of the oldest banks in continuous existence in the world (the 1400s).

Or, you can just wander through its medieval streets and soak up its charm and beauty:


03-11-14, 18:58
Tuscan Wine Country (And More)!

Tuscany is justly famous for its wines. Here is a map of the different wine growing regions in the province.

I've already mentioned the lovely Vernaccia of San Gimignano, but there are many others, including the area between Firenze and Siena which is "Chianti" and "Super Tuscan" country, and the areas south of Siena, which produce the extraordinarily good (and extraordinarily expensive) Brunello di Montalcino and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

First, a word about wine tours...This is not California, unfortunately, in this particular case, so you can't just drive around on your own, stopping off at different vineyards for a tasting. If you know what you're doing, you can make private arrangements for a tour, or do as most people do and book a wine tour. I would suggest doing your homework even before doing the latter, however. Figure out the best vineyards for the wines in which you are interested, then look for high rated wine tours that visit your chosen wineries. Oh, and this being Italy, a meal will also be included, so make sure to check that the food is highly rated as well. (I hate to admit it, but mass tourism is lowering the quality in certain places.)

As for the wines, this isn't the thread for a discussion about the sometimes rancorous debates over which wine is better, which recipe is better etc. Suffice it to say that mass production of Chianti lowered the quality, and very old rules limited experimentation with the "recipes", and all of this led to the development of the "Super Tuscans" outside the DOC regulations, which are imo "super", but also "super" expensive. However, you only live once, and if you're ever going to try them, this is the time.

In terms of accommodations, there are a number of options. There are people who stay in or around Firenze and make day trips. Others (and this is the option I would choose) stay around Firenze for four days, including perhaps a day trip to Pisa and Lucca, and then move to Siena for three or four days, and see the wine growing regions from there. Others choose to stay in a rural hotel or agriturismo, or in one of the three main towns in "Chiantishire": Greve, Radda, and Castellina. Each has its own character, but if I were to choose only one for a stop, I think it would be Greve. It's a very pleasant town, with a bustling market, and there is some noteworthy art, namely some lovely Fra Angelicos in the Chiesa Santa Croce and works by del Garbo and della Robbia in the 10th century Pieve di San Leolino. You can even visit the supposed birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer after whom the Americas were named.

This is Greve:

As I mentioned above, I would recommend staying around Siena, spending one day in the city proper, and then visiting Chianti country and the Val D'Orcia, with the wine growing regions of Montalcino and Montepulciano.

I can't recommend a visit or stay in the Val D'Orcia highly enough. I was once privileged to spend a week in an agriturismo there with my family and it was an absolutely wonderful experience.

This landscape may be the most photographed and painted landscape in the world. The iconic photos of "Tuscany" are often taken there.
This one is everywhere (even as the screen on my computer, alternating with other photos of Toscana, the Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi coast :)

This is a link to the image:

Here is another view of the area:

This is the approach to Pienza:


This marvelous landscape, undulating like the body of a beautiful woman, blessed by the unique quality of its light, sharp and intense in the mornings, mellow and golden toward evening, always dramatic in the way it throws the landscape and buildings into sharp contrast, is lovely in all seasons, and is also, and was seen at the time when it was painted, a reflection of the way a landscape can be deliberately transformed by man to create aesthetically pleasing visuals, to allow man to live in harmony with nature, and to at the same time serve as a model of the ideal of good governance.

(For those who aren't familiar with them, see the link below to the frescoes in Siena called Allegory of Good and Bad Government:

For that reason, among others, the Val D'Orcia is a Unesco protected World Heritage Site.

No visit to the area would be complete, in my opinion, without a visit to La Foce, the estate transformed by Iris Cutting and her husband, the Marchesa del Val D'Orcia. Iris Orrigo is a fascinating character in many respects. Her memoir of the war years, "War in the Val D'Orcia", is marvelous, and she was also an Italian historian of repute. Her, " The Merchant of Prato", is still excellent reading. At La Foce, she and her husband attempted to put into effect a 20th century version of good governance of the countryside, and she also created a remarkable thing of beauty in the estate, both in the buildings and, with the help of an English landscape architect, in the spectacular garden, which is a harmonious blend of the Italian Renaissance garden and the country English garden.





Pictures can't capture its beauty, but this video by Monty Don does a pretty good job.


A word also about Montepulciano...It's a quite lovely little town, in addition to being the heart of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. There is architecture by Michelozzo and Antonio da Sangallo, and art by Della Robbia among others. I'm particularly fond of the Church of San Biagio, which you can see in the foreground of the picture below. It was designed by da Sangallo the Elder. The plan, which was taken from the work of Brunelleschi was used for the original design by Michelangelo for St. Peter's in Rome. It was also used for Santa Maria Della Consolazione outside Todi, another of my favorite churches, (and towns).


This is the church outside Todi. (I'm consistent in what I like. :))
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/Santa_Maria_della_Consolazione_%28Todi,_Umbria,_It alia%29.jpg

05-11-14, 22:58
Cortona and “Etruscan” Tuscany.

Many of the foreign tourists who visit Cortona do so out of curiosity after seeing the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. They may also have previously read Frances Mayes’ memoir about buying a house in Cortona and her adventures remodeling it. (The movie is very different, adding a love affair with an Italian, played by the gorgeous Raoul Bova. I’m not complaining, of course!)
Such books are a cottage industry. There are innumerable books written by foreigners, often either Brits or Anglos of the diaspora, who suddenly take it into their heads to buy a tumbledown ruin in Toscana, and then write a memoir about their adventures with the always eccentric, if charming, residents. I find them all vaguely condescending, and of dubious authenticity, as the only Italians with whom they usually come into contact are construction workers of one sort or another, or retail and restaurant people. Still, they’re harmless enough, and they certainly sell well, which is good for the authors, but also good for tourism.

(For those who would like something a little more highbrow, I can recommend Muriel Sparks' essays on her adopted home.)

All of which brings me back to Cortona. It’s an undoubtedly beautiful town, surrounded by a beautiful landscape, and the people are really wonderful, in my experience. If I were going to settle in a Tuscan hill town, this is, in fact, the one I would choose.
For those spending a week in Tuscany, it is an easy day trip due east from Siena.

This is the surrounding countryside:

This is how the city looks from the air:

It is quite a magical experience driving up through winding roads lined by olive groves and vineyards and then seeing it perched all rosy and glowing like a jewel up on the heights.

I will warn you, however, that it’s best to arrive very early, because you have to park outside the walls. Once you have parked, you can turn around and see this magical landscape.

From certain angles, you can also see nearby Lake Trasimeno in Umbria:

Also, a word to the wise, wear comfortable walking shoes. The streets are incredibly steep; the only flat area is actually the main square and the main shopping street, Via Nazionale.
(I will say, however, that it doesn’t seem to bother the locals; seventy year olds scamper up and down like mountain goats.)

Here is the square at night:

In the summer there is a constant series of concerts, markets, etc. For such a small town, the number of cultural offerings throughout the summer is quite extraordinary.

Here is the town the night of the Andre Rieu concert:

And here is a youtube clip of it, my favorite, because they all sing Va Pensiero:

This is Bramasole, Frances Mayes’ house, which so contributed to the amount of tourism to the area:

There is more to Cortona, of course, then the landscape, the lovely medieval streets and square, shopping, and marvelous food.
You can see some lovely Fra Angelico’s in the Diocesan Museum, and the Renaissance architecture of Santa Maria Nuova (by Giorgio Vasari) and Santa Maria delle Grazie.

It’s also a place where you can encounter the Etruscans.

The town dates from the Etruscan era, and you can still see the Etruscan walls that have been incorporated into the walls that girdle the city.

There are also Etruscan chamber tombs nearby which can be visited. This is Il Sodo

This is a more detailed picture of the tumulous at Sodo:

I always like reconstructions so you have a visual in your mind of what they actually looked like, and this is a nice one:

Within the town itself, the Etruscan Academy Museum contains Etruscan artefacts including the Lampadaria, or hanging lamp, and some Etruscan bronzes. (The best collections of Etruscan artefacts, however, can be seen in Firenze.)

Other Etruscan sites:
Nearby in the province of Siena is Sarteano, where you can find some of the most important Etruscan tombs in Tuscany:

These are some of the frescoes which can be seen there:

This is the Archaeological Park in Populonia:

The Museo Guarnacci in Volterra is also very nice. There you can see some Etruscan sepulcher art, like this one:
I find it very sweet that this middle-aged, rather homely couple is pictured as so devoted to each other even late in life. (Fwiw, I don't find them particularly "Mediterranean" looking, especially the man.)

This is one of the rooms:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b2/Museo_guarnacci,_ricostruzione_di_tomba_etrusca.JP G/1280px-Museo_guarnacci,_ricostruzione_di_tomba_etrusca.JP G

You can see these lovely pieces as well:

Here you can see their battle gear and ships:

I particularly like this bust of Love and Hate:

Volterra is worth a visit for many other reasons, but the Museum alone should put it on the tourist maps.

08-11-14, 19:01
I often recommend that if people are taking a day trip from Firenze to see Pisa(which I will talk about in a subsequent post), they spend the afternoon in nearby Lucca. (about 25 minutes from Pisa)

For such a small city, it is rather international, with lots of people from other countries who have settled in the area because of its location within reach of the sea and the mountains, for its beauty, and because it’s indeed a very livable city. If I were to choose to retire to Toscana instead of Liguria, it would be either Lucca or Cortona. (Unfortunately, both have terrible train connections, and both suffer from the fact, for me, that like most of Toscana (and most of northern Italy for that matter) they are subject to extremes of climate in summer and winter. Cortona also, like most of Toscana, is landlocked. You can see where I'm going with this, yes? Liguria wins by a mile as a place to live, even with its periodic floods! Lucca may be the exception since Forte dei Marmi is its beach :))

It has a dramatic history, founded by the Etruscans, a Roman colony in 180 BC. , governed by an Irish Bishop in the 6th century, besieged by Narses, site of a Lombard Duchy, host to a major Jewish community in the 8th to 10th century,( which later transported itself to Germany to become part of the Ashkenazi ethnogenesis) a major center of commerce because of its production of silk cloth, and a leading state of central Italy under the rule of the condottiere Castruccio Casatracani, defeating even the Florentine powerhouse. Until the Napoleonic Era, despite many trials and the shifting fortunes of Italy, it maintained its independence and its republican form of government, although alas, like Venice, its democracy degenerated into an oligarchy. Still, quite a feat, and quite a people.

The marvelous and redoubtable Matilda di Canossa (Matilda of Tuscany) is very connected with its history. I can recommend the English language biography of La Gran Donna d’Italia called “Tuscan Countess: The Life and Extraordinary Times of Matilda of Canossa”. For those who like historical fiction there is Kathleen McGowan’s “ The Book of Love”. She is also a character in the Pirandello play Enrico IV.

This is the countryside you will see as you approach it::


In this aerial foto you can see the grid of Roman streets and the location of the Amphitheater, now a Piazza.


One of the things that makes Lucca such a nice town in which to live is the fact that its Renaissance walls remain intact and the top of them is a 4 kilometer promenade which is used for strolling and biking. It’s a very nice feature indeed. For visitors, there’s parking right outside the city walls, and then you can walk right into the historic center. You can also rent bikes once you’re in the center.


For those who like videos and Rick Steves:


Lucca is host to numerous events: a summer music festival, a jazz festival, a film festival, a Comics festival, and the Procession di Santa Croce in September. This is also called the Lumenaria, because the city at night is lighted with thousands and thousands of candles, some held by those in the procession, as the famous Volto Santo di Lucca, a corpus of Christ on the Cross which legend has it was painted by Nicodemus, is paraded through the streets. It was already venerated in Dante’s day as it is mentioned in The Inferno.

http://www.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/aroundtuscany/files/2014/09/santa-croce.jpg (http://www.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/aroundtuscany/files/2014/09/santa-croce.jpg)

Lucca is dearest to my heart, however, because it’s the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini. His summer residence at Torre del Lago nearby is home to an opera festival in July and August.


My dearest friend, a voice teacher and coach, and a self-described “Puccini girl”, says that this is her spiritual home. If musical affiliation were the only criteria, I would then be divided between Lucca and Parma, because I am also a “Verdi girl”. :)

Ed. Oh, for another "American" friend, Lucca is all about antiques. She always times her visits to the antiques fairs, which are very famous. The offerings are also, while very authentic, VERY expensive. Who knew my old copper polenta pan and wooden stirrers would be so valuable?! :)

09-11-14, 17:02
I thought it was time for a little food porn.
Tuscan cooking in general, although you can get good meat, especially steak and pork, is a little uninspired. It isn't as fresh and light as the cuisine of Liguria, or as rich as the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, and it isn't as complex as either of the preceding cuisines. Lucca, perhaps because of its closeness to Liguria, or its relative closeness to Parma, or its rulers, is an exception. The food is rather universally (by food critics) held to be the best in Toscana, and I would agree.

The Tordelli Lucchese are made with "eggy", very rich fresh pasta dough, stuffed with sauteed meat and greens, bread crumbs and grated cheeses, and topped with a rich meat ragu. Very yummy, doubtless because the dish is influenced by the preparations for ravioli alla genovese, which should be granted some sort of Unesco status! I have to say, however, that the dough tends to be rolled too thick for my taste.

The Lucchesi are renowned for their light hand when it comes to fried foods...crisp, delicate, not at all greasy. Try the many versions of fritto misto, some with lamb and rabbit. (Some are coated with batter, others with the traditional flour, beaten eggs and then seasoned bread crumb and grated cheese mixture which I use.) There are also fish versions, with squid, shrimp, and sardines.

This is a tempura like fish version:

They eat lots and lots of baccala' or salted cod. Do not squeeze lemon on the latter, although it is sometimes on the plate; the Lucchesi are conservative in many ways, most of all in terms of food, and some waiters will undoubtedly tell you that only idiots do that!

Here it is roasted with ceci. This is still Tuscany after all, so beans usually make an appearance.

Or you can have it with a bit of tomato paste and olives Livorno style, which is the way I usually wind up making it:

Or fried, or grilled, or on and on. It's very nice with roasted potatoes or our version of potato croquettes. My son is in his glory here. Baccala' is his favorite food.

They also have a nice way with scallops of tender veal:

Or look at this marvel...layered soft polenta with sugo of meat, mushrooms and grated parmigiano. It's a symphony of tastes:

Or their wonderful spring soup, called garmugia, which is made with a base of pancetta and olive oil, to which is added beef broth, onions, peas, artichokes, asparagus, and fresh fava beans. At the last minute you add toasted Italian bread cubes, grated cheese, and a filo of very good quality extra virgin olive oil. It's absolutely stupendous...plus, you get your vegetable quotient for the day, and the vegetables in combination with the beans provide for your protein needs. I prepare a version of it quite often, substituting other beans for fava beans if someone doesn't like them. (Although who wouldn't like fresh fava beans, pecorino toscano cheese, a piece of crusty bread and a glass of wine is beyond me.) In the fall you can also substitute other seasonal vegetables for the artichokes and asparagus. It's time consuming but you can do it on the weekends and then freeze small portions of it for use during a whole month. My freezer is full of frozen soups like this, and sauces of various types.


There is also zuppa di farro, an ancient grain that almost became extinct, which we also have in the Lungiana, for those who want to eat like their ancestors:

There are a number of recipes, but I prefer to do it in the way pictured, with fried onions and pancetta (it's Italian bacon) added during the last ten minutes of cooking time. Very tasty, but only if you're not overweight and trying to slim down. :)

The local olive oil is also stupendous, particularly if you like your oil a little peppery (which I don't, to be honest, preferring Ligurian oil, so I use it sparingly, and never add pepper to Tuscan food). The Lucchesi absolutely drench their food with it; I swear that I think, at times, they'd drink it, like a glass of Vino Nobile. :) Of course, they're usually annoyingly (especially for the expats) as lean as whippets until well into middle age.

The gelato is world class, buccellato, a sweet bread with raisins, sort of like panettone, is nice for breakfast, and torta con becchi is great for a snack.

Buccellato: http://m2.paperblog.com/i/99/995231/buccellato-toscano-L-EZeII6.jpeg

This is the savory, vegetable version of torta con becchi, which is just a copy of the Lunigiana version, made with, in my opinion, a much heavier, coarser crust! (It's good for a picnic lunch on the walls, along with some foccacia and perhaps some cured meats.)

This is the chocolate, sweet version. If you're a chocoholic, this is the sweet for you:

It can get even more chocalaty!

This pudding like cake is also very nice:

09-11-14, 21:03
I think all that delicious looking but high calory food must be food for mountain people only, and that Italians who live in a flatter part of the country and therefore aren't constantly climbing up and down mountains must eat quite differently.

09-11-14, 23:29
I think all that delicious looking but high calory food must be food for mountain people only, and that Italians who live in a flatter part of the country and therefore aren't constantly climbing up and down mountains must eat quite differently.

Well, Italy is a mountainous country...

However, the Po Valley, which is flat, has the richest, highest calorie food. Also, Lucca is in a plain.

This is what the normal, everyday people of Lucca look like (It's the Christmas market, no tourists, no models, just our version of mall people.).

So, "It's a mystery". http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/smile.gif We have some of the highest calorie food in Europe, and yet as a country we're either the leanest in Europe or tied with Sweden, I think, in all the data I've seen.

That's not to say, of course, that people in their late fifties and sixties don't start getting portly, because some do gain weight at that age. There are also regional differences. Southerners from certain areas tend to be a little more plump, and so are Emilians, in my experience, although Emilians have absolutely the richest cuisine in Italy, so that may explain it.

It's absolutely nothing compared to what I see here everyday, however. It's always the first thing that strikes me when I land at Kennedy, and the first thing that my Italian relatives notice. I also think things are starting to change a little bit there, because of video games, and the importation of "snack" foods, and ever growing dependence on cars. I never "snacked", really, on a daily basis, growing up...no chips or popcorn or candy or things like that. Even when my children were little, they would always spend a little while complaining when we would get to Italy for holidays, because the snacks they were accustomed to just didn't use to be available. As for sweets, those were for special occasions.

Maleth:http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/thinking.gifAngela you will not believe this. I was just about going to write in your Tuscan food delights that "you're Killing me"....Im on a diet and food porn does not help!. Then I stumble into this. Hmm I only eat cheese on VERY special occasions as much as l love it, + recently I have discovered I am more and more lactose intolerant http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/sad-2.gif although I was told very hard cheeses have very little lactose http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/innocent.gif.

It happened to me, too.http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/sad-2.gif So much for lactase persistence genes...I have two, and they're not doing me any good any more. (Hard cheese like parmigiano reggiano and pecorino are better than soft cheeses like brie or mozzarella.)

As for weight loss, or rather, weight maintenance, I have found that I do much better at maintaining my normal weight if I forget all about "American" diet rules! I eat the way that my parents ate, it's just that I reverse lunch and dinner. I'm never hungry in the morning, so I do as most Italians do and have my cappuccino, and maybe one slice of my own toasted sweet bread, or a piece of fruit. For lunch I normally have a big bowl of my own vegetable soup of some kind with either one slice of chicken or fish (often tonno sotto l'oglio, if you're familiar with it) or something similar, and a small slice of bread. For dinner I always have a protein, but limit it to four to six ounces, have a small portion of risotto or pasta or potatoes and sauteed greens or a salad. When I get hungry later, I like stewed or baked apples or other fruit, or in summer a nice macedonia di frutta, with maybe a splash of aged balsamico. I never eat sweets or chips or other "American" snacks. So far it's working. Knock wood. http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/smile.gif Of course, one night a week or so I might cheat a little, but then the next day I just do more miles on the treadmill. http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/grin.png

15-11-14, 22:59

I'll get all of the cliches out of the way first. Yes, the tower leans. Yes, you can safely climb to the top. Yes, you can take or create silly photographs that show you propping it up, or pushing it down as the case may be.
(I know it's fun, believe me. http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/grin.png)

http://www.digii.eu/resizes/1200/2011/20110703-15%20Holiday%20in%20Campervan%20to%20Italy%20and%2 0France/20110712%20Leaning%20tower%20of%20Pisa/SX19770%20Jenni%20holding%20up%20leaning%20tower%2 0of%20Pisa,%20Italy.jpg

It's also true that you might think you're in an open air market in Senegal because of the hawkers that surround the square. Just ignore them is my best advice, and remind yourself that it probably wasn't so different in the Middle Ages. (That's also my response, by the way, when people complain about tourists chatting away in the churches. Some deference is due to other people's religious beliefs, so, for example, no short shorts on women, but people in the medieval period and the Renaissance were much more comfortable mingling the sacred and the profane in their lives, and so I'm sure many a business deal involving getting some really good wool from England was conducted sotto voce in holy precincts.)

Also, a word to the wise, the food right around the Piazza can be good or terrible, depending on what you want. It's one of the most touristy areas in Italy, with all that implies. Some Americans are ok with that as they seem to want to eat nothing in Italy but pizza, so have at it. Just be aware that just a few blocks away, and certainly within a ten or fifteen minute walk away there are more authentic and varied choices. (Honestly, I don't think tourists know that pizza in its Neapolitan incarnation, which is what they know, didn't exist in northern Italy until relatively recently. Plus, doesn't everybody get enough of it in their home countries? I mean, it may not be as good, but how much pizza can some people eat? I sound like a proper scold now, so I'll quit. http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/grin.png

Anyway, there are all kinds of guides on the internet that can help you decide on a place to eat depending on the time of day and your other plans. I often suggest that "normal" tourists who want to pack a lot into a minimal amount of time in Tuscany, devote a morning or afternoon to Pisa and then the other half of the day to Lucca for a slightly less frenetic experience. I feel a little guilty for saying that because, having gotten to know Pisa from the innumerable relatives who have gone there to school, I know Pisa is a very nice university town with some excellent food (generally the same cuisine as in Lucca). There's more to it even than just the Piazza dei Miracoli. Also, despite the calumnies heaped upon it by the and other Tuscans, the people are quite lovely.

Now, as to what you're going to be seeing...like many Cathedral Squares in Italy, there is the Cathedral, a separate baptistry building, and a bell tower. In this case it is a bell tower that was constructed at great effort and expense for over two hundred years, but unfortunately was built on marshy ground, which is why it keeps on wanting to topple over. As long as they can keep it up, I guess all's well that end's well, as this way a lot of people get to see some of the glories of Italian, and more specifically, Tuscan, art and architecture.

Here is an aerial view of the Piazza:

Construction on the Cathedral began in the 11th century and was built by the wealth produced by Pisa's maritime trade in the Middle Ages. It set the model for Pisan Romanesque architecture.

One of the things you can see is the extravagant pulpit carved by Pisano in the 1300's. The pulpit is supported by plain columns, two of them are mounted on marvelous lions,and by caryatids and a telamon representing St. Michael, the Evangelists, and the four virtues. There's also a naked Hercules, and the liberal arts supporting the theological virtues. I hesitate to call it beautiful, because there's so much going on at one time. Perhaps the Pisans traded for other things besides silks and spices etc.; it's as if the inspiration comes from an opium dream.

This is a close up of the marvelous bas reliefs carved along the top, which obviously draw inspiration from Roman sarcophagi. They are depictions of the Annunciation, the Massacre of the Innocents, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, the Crucifixion, and two panels for the Last Judgment.
http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/italy/siena/pisanopulpit/0039.jpg (http://www.bluffton.edu/%7Esullivanm/italy/siena/pisanopulpit/0039.jpg)

Here it is as it is situated within the Cathedral, and, oh, don't forget to look up at the gilded ceiling...the Medici plastered their emblem on it.
Legend has it that Galileo developed his theory about pendulums by watchng the swinging of a lamp hanging in the precise spot where a lamp still hangs today. The original lamp can be seen in the Camposanto ( I think the story about him dropping two balls from the Tower are definitely just legend.

Here you can see how influenced Pisa was by Byzantine art though its trade with the east. Supposedly Cimabue painted the central figure. You can see the same thing in Venice.
http://www.cs.utah.edu/~abhi/Travel/pics/europe2006/italy/tuscany/PisaCathedral2SMALL.JPG (http://www.cs.utah.edu/%7Eabhi/Travel/pics/europe2006/italy/tuscany/PisaCathedral2SMALL.JPG)

The Baptistry, as seen through a unique camera angle:

The ceiling:

The spoils of war against the Saracens are also in evidence. On the exterior, on a gable, there is a modern copy of the so called Pisa Griffin, which is the largest Islamic sculpture ever made (that it was made at all is rather extraordinary). The original is in the Cathedral Museum which as with every Cathedral is where you go to see the original works of art which originally adorned the Cathedral. The granite columns are from the Mosque of Palermo, which the Pisans took.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Griu_isl%C3%A0mic,_Museo_dell%27Opera_del_Duomo,_P isa.JPG

If you have time, the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri (on a piazza which hosts one of Pisa's best restaurants) was designed by Vasari and has a bust by Donatello as well as paintings by Vasari and other masters. More battle memorabilia can also be seen, among which is the Turkish pennant taken from Ali Pasha's flagship at the extraordinarly important Battle of Lepanto.

A stroll in the Borgo Stretto, the medieval quarter, is also pleasant. (Lovely shops line the arcades, and, of course, good restaurants.)

Ditto for a stroll along the Arno:

I'll leave it with a picture of the Piazza all lit up at night, and some pictures of Pisan cuisine. (I just can't help myself...too many wonderful memories of great meals with family and friends.http://cdn.eupedia.com/forum/images/smilies/main/laughing.gif)


Our version of a sandwich:






I don't think I've ever posted artisanal gelato. I have so many favorites: caffe, fior di latte, nocciola, pesca, cocco...

Ed. To correct link

17-11-14, 19:34
Okay, this is the last of the series.

I've already covered Forte dei Marmi and the beach areas here:

Tangentially, it's also covered here:

The mountain trekking is covered here:

So, to finish up, these are the dishes not previously mentioned that if you see them on the menu, you should consider trying….

Tuscan antipasto usually includes a selection of cured meats and cheeses. Everyone is familiar with prosciutto, copa, etc. However, when eating in Italy it's always nice to request the local products, and the waiters and the owner will love you!

(A further word about that...in Italy, as in France, people are expected to be knowledgeable and discriminating about food and wine. The quickest and easiest way to get better than average service in a restaurant is to inquire which dishes are local specialties and then to ask a question or two.)

Another appetizer which I haven't mentioned but which is ubiquitous in Toscany is crostini or toasted Italian bread rounds brushed with olive oil before being topped with chicken liver pate. Not my favorite, but anyone who likes liver will really like it.


If you go to Italy in fall or winter, you will find that every region makes a version of bean and pasta soup which often incorporates some sort of pork. The more crude versions will contain big chunks of sausage. This is the Tuscan version:

For any potato lovers, the Tuscans roast them with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, boil them, fry them (like French frites), and puree them. They also make savory (and sweet) pies or torte of them, which you may not have seen in your home countries. They're very good indeed. Usually, they incorporate milk and eggs in some form and also grated cheese.

This is a wonderful version with porri or leeks (sort of like a mild onion in flavor, but with, to me, also a slight hint of garlic) in which the potatoes are sliced:

Perhaps my favorite version of this dish ( a more Lunigiana version) fills a much lighter pastry dough with pureed potatoes (with milk and olive oil or sometimes butter) to which either porri or herbs are added, along with grated parmigiano, and an egg or two to hold it together a bit.

Some versions also incorporate a layer of ham, but I think enough is enough...talk about gilding the lily. :smile: In the old days, when people did more hard physical work, this might have been an antipasto, and it might still be for a wedding or a big holiday, but in normal life, I think a slice of it is more appropriate for lunch or dinner, perhaps with a green salad.

Chicken cacciatore or chicken hunter style with a little tomato (even a bit of tomato paste is enough to enhance the flavor) is very traditional. I personally can't abide chicken skin, and in this dish the skin is a little too "soft" for my taste, but a lot of people like it.

Those who like stews would probably like this lamb and potato stew. I use the same method to make beef stew (incorporating carrots and celery instead of peas). Beef stew Tuscan style is excellent, in my opinion. Unfortunately, my children don't like stewed meat normally, and so would habitually eat all the root vegetables, scarf up all the "gravy" with Italian bread, and leave the beef pieces marooned on an empty plate. Very wasteful, so I don't make it for them anymore. Yes, I was, and am, a too indulgent mother in many ways. :smile:

They will eat ossobuco or stewed veal shank, however, but that's because the meat becomes so tender that it literally falls off the bone and has to be re-shaped before I serve it. If you see it on the menu, I highly recommend you order it. The Tuscan version is not exactly like the Milanese version, but when it calls for cooking it until it’s very tender and has a lot of “gravy”, I actually prefer it. Sometimes they add a bit too much tomato for my taste, however. Anyway, here it is:


This is the more "tomatoey" version that I don't like as well:

I hesitate to say I recommend the following dish, knowing that most foreign tourists are rather far from their farm roots and have a horror of organ meats. However, for the more adventurous, I would recommend the "tripa" or tripe. It's intestines, for the uninitiated. Okay, altogether now....YUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!! :laughing: (All of our American "he men" can think of it as an Anthony Bourdain moment.)

If you're in Florence, in particular, at the right time of year, you can see it being sold from street stands as well as in restaurants. My mother used to make it, and it's quite good, which just goes to show that with enough imagination and the right ingredients you can make anything taste good. I could never sell it to my family, however, and I'm honestly not a big fan myself of organ meats, which is why I find French restaurants a bit trying at times. There's always plenty of other delicious choices, of course.

I would be remiss if I didn't suggest that if you see pasta with truffles on a menu you race to order it before they run out. There's a reason for the astronomical price foragers can get for truffles. In this version they are shaved over ravioli in a reduced broth like sauce. Stupendous, truly.

Since we're speaking of pasta, every place in Italy has certain forms it prefers for certain sauces. If you see "pici" on the menu in Toscana, go ahead and try it. It's very nice.

Finishing up with desserts and sweet breads, there are two forms of Tuscan cake that I like because they're not too sweet. They're both called “ schiacciata”, which means squashed.
This is the more cake-like version:

Another version is a pastry which incorporates "smashed" grapes. It's then dusted with sugar:

I had neglected to mention panforte when I was talking about Siena and southern Tuscany. You will see it nicely wrapped in many of the stores. It is sort of like a fruitcake and is made with honey, fruits, nuts and lots of spices. It’s too sweet for my tastes but a lot of people like it very much. (I actually prefer American style fruitcake or German stollen, which I love...treason, I know. :shocked:)


What dessert section would be complete without a mention of chocolate? However, I will be less helpful here because unlike most women I’m not a “chocoholic”, and so I doubtless have neither the developed palate nor the requisite knowledge to make any pronouncements about it. All I can do is tell you about the various famous kinds you will find in Tuscany.

In that vein, you can find artisanal chocolate in Tuscany, but normally what you find is either Perugina chocolates or those from Torino.

Baci were always a staple at Christmas and Easter. It means kisses and is dark chocolate with chopped hazelnuts surrounding a whole hazelnut.(It’s not my favorite as I find dark chocolate bitter, but I have women friends who are mad about them.)

There’s also other Perugina chocolate of various types.


I would advise against buying iti in Italy…you can get it very cheaply in North America.

Chocolate from Torino:

My one chocolate addiction involves Nutella, the ubiquitous chocolate hazelnut spread from Torino. It will be on all breakfast buffet tables. I could write an ode to Nutella. A slice of warm Italian bread with some Nutella was my preferred breakfast or snack as a child. Even now, I don’t buy it, because I would be tempted to eat it by the spoonful. What makes it easier is that I’m convinced that what they export to the U.S. has been altered to suit American tastes. It just doesn’t taste the same. The same is true for Panettone, our Christmas sweetbread.

See...I'm not the only one! :laughing: Ah, for the metabolism of childhood.

As far as sweets in general are concerned, I have to say that with the exception of Sicily , where they make absolutely delicious pastries, cakes and cookies, Italian desserts are rather uninspired. Since tourists often come to Italy to gorge, it sometimes seems to me, I would suggest saving some calories and wait to sate your “golosita’ for sweets for when you get to Switzerland, Alsace, Austria and Germany.

(One of my dear friends is a second generation Bavarian and that’s how we split up dinner parties…she makes some of the appetizers, the green salad, and the desserts, and I do the rest. )

18-11-14, 05:18
Since we now have a somewhat early winter here in Ontario, with snow and cold, I wouldn't mind visiting Italy and it does look beautiful but I think it's all the pictures of food that have me seriously thinking about it. I love the picture of the child with the open jar of Nutella and a spoon, but my own tastes run more to the beef stew.

18-11-14, 05:54
Since we now have a somewhat early winter here in Ontario, with snow and cold, I wouldn't mind visiting Italy and it does look beautiful but I think it's all the pictures of food that have me seriously thinking about it. I love the picture of the child with the open jar of Nutella and a spoon, but my own tastes run more to the beef stew.

Winter can be very rainy and damp in northern and central Italy, Aberdeen. I know you don't like the heat, so fall and spring would be the best options. I'm with you...if I have a choice between a sweet, even Nutella, and stewed osso buco, it's the veal shank every time...well, accompanied by some pureed potatoes, crusty bread and a salad, as well. :)

This Nutella fixation has spread world wide. Some American women resident in Italy started a World Nutella Day.