Category Archives: Chianti Classico Region

Tuscan Traveler’s Picks – Best Day in Chianti Classico Region, Part Two

If you have been following Tuscan Traveler’s Best Day in the Chianti Classico Region, Part One, it should be about 1pm and time for lunch. Time to take the Strada del Vino (SR222) from Greve to Panzano to a very special butcher shop..

Stop Four: Panzano

Leave Greve, following signs for Panzano. You will wind up the side of a ridge. About half way up you will see on the other side of the valley (on your left) a large pink villa surrounded by cypress trees. This is Villa Vignamaggio, the home of Mona Lisa before she moved to Florence, got married and sat for Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait.

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Just before you arrive at Panzano’s town square you will see the driveway to a big parking lot on your left. Park here – it’s free.   If you get to the town square, drive around it and go back to the parking lot.

In Panzano, walk around the shops on the piazza. See the water colors by Carmine in the gallery called Artemisia. Explore the local wine selection at the enoteca.

For lunch, go uphill off the square (if you are looking at the door of the enoteca, the street is to your left) and find Antica Marcelleria Cecchini, Dario Cecchini’s butcher shop. On the candy-striped façade there is a marble plaque with a rose above it and the picture of a T-bone steak on it. Inside, you will frequently find Dario behind the raised counter. Introduce yourselves.

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If there are snacks set out, have a glass of wine and some of the tidbits. Notice the great products Dario has for sale. He will vacuum pack meat for you to grill up at your apartment in Florence or villa in Tuscany. The salami, sausage and porchetta are fabulous and easy snacks. Pick up a jar of the red pepper jelly, made in the butcher shop kitchen. The fenel pollen and Chianti herbed salt make great gifts to take home to the cooks you know.

 Have lunch upstairs at Dario DOC where the best burgers in Italy are served or across the street at Solociccia. Both places were created by Dario. For true lovers of grilled meats the Officina della Bistecca serves up a set menu that includes three different cuts of steak.Come hungry.

A vegetarian menu is available at each of Dario’s places, but this is a butcher shop. If your group wants lighter fare, have lunch at Oltre il Giardino (across the town piazza and to the left) or at Enoteca Baldi on the piazza.

After lunch, take a walk to digest before getting back in the car. Straight across the piazza follow the street toward the church at the top of the hill. Before you start to climb you will be at Verso X Verso, a shop of hand-made shoes, purses, and other wearable art.

Now it is time to make a choice: More Chianti countryside or wine tasting. You don’t have time for both. If you want to explore more of the Chianti Classico region head on to Volpaia. If wine is your goal, go back to Castello di Verrazzano.

Stop Five: Volpaia

Leave Panzano on the same road (left out of the parking lot) and in the same direction (don’t go back to Greve). Watch for signs to “Radda”. You will come to a left turn where you have a choice of going straight to Castellina in Chianti or to turn left to go to Radda. Before Radda you are going to look for signs to “Volpaia”. If you get to Radda you have gone too far.

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The left turn for Volpaia will be on a very sharp left curve in the road and the left you take will be even sharper. After that, watch for the Volpaia signs and follow them. You will go down hill a bit and then you will climb, climb, climb up a winding road. Volpaia is the highest hill town in Tuscany.

As you enter Volpaia you will see a sign for the parking lot. Park there – it’s free. If you get to the town center, turn around and go back to the parking lot.

Castello di Volpaia owns the entire hamlet and inside all of the medieval walls is a modern winery and an olive oil press. Contact them a month before your visit and schedule a tour of the winery.

 Stop Six: Chianti Cashmere Goat Farm

If you want to visit Nora Kravitz at Chianti Cashmere contact her a month beofore your visit to get permission.

Leave Volpaia by the same road and at the main Radda road turn left to Radda (be careful, you are turning into a sharp, blind curve).

Before you get to Radda you will go under a bridge made of terracotta brick and then come to a stop sign. You will turn left to Radda at the stop. You will then pass an industrial building and the road will curve to the left over a bridge. Don’t go over the bridge but take the hard right onto a road that ends at that curve with a stop sign.

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Drive slowly along that road constantly looking to your left for a metal sign with an image of a goat cut out of it. You will take a left at the sign and end up on a narrow rocky dirt road that goes sharply downward. Follow the road to the end and park at the house.

Look around for Nora Kravis and the goats and the Abruzzo guard dogs. The farm, known as La Pensola, is where Nora, originally from New York, spent over thirty years building her dream of operating the only privately owned cashmere goat farm in Europe. In the spring forty to fifty baby goats scamper up the hillsides, cavorting among the trees.

There is a store, open from 12pm to 4pm, where Nora sells cashmere goats’ milk products and scarves, shawls and stoles, and blankets and throws made out of the cashmere fiber.

Stop Seven: Rampini Ceramics

You may have had a long enough day by now and want to go back to Florence or you may want to see a small family-owned ceramic factory, Ceramiche Rampini. Leave Nora’s farm the way you came, but before turning right to go under the terracotta bridge, turn left and follow the signs to “Gaiole”. You will go through La Villa and come to a right turn with a sign for “Gaiole”. Take the right turn.

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On the ridge to your left you will see a  large villa with a fabulous façade, the Villa Vistarenni Winery. Very soon after you will come to a sharp left turn in the road and a short driveway on the left of the turn that has a sign for Rampini Ceramiche. Turn in at the gate and park. The showroom is up the stairs. IThe kiln is in the big brick building to the left of the showroom. Over the kiln is the artists’ workshop. Ask if you can see the workshop.

Alternative Stop: Castello di Verrazzano Winery

To get to Castello di Verrazzano you will return from Panzano to Greve. If you didn’t see the main piazza of Greve, stop and see it now. As you leave Greve, watch on the left side for the Castello di Verrazzano wine tasting room with a big sign. It is in the hamlet of Greti. Turn left at the tasting room and follow the small road across the bridge and up the hill. It will wind and then turn into a dirt road, but keep going.

cantina_2You will come to a widening in the road with a big tree and a school bus stop sign and the road in front of you will split. Stop here to look at the castello from a distance.  Walk down the lower road (right side) a bit to view two villas on facing ridges. The closest is Castello di Verrazzano. It was the home of of the family of Giovanni Verrazzano who discovered New York harbor in the 1400s. On the far hill is another walled villa winery that is called Castello Vicchiomaggio.

If it is either 3pm or 4pm, there will be a tour offered of the winery. It is best to reserve a space a month before your visit.

Returning to Florence

From Rampini, Radda or Vopaia, return to Panzano, then on to Greve.

From Castello di Verrazzano, go to the main road, turn left and almost immediately you will come to a left turn which should have signs to “Tavarnuzze” and “San Casciano” and, maybe, “Galluzzo”. Take that left. You will go back through Il Ferrone. You will pass the American Cemetery on your left and come to that round-about. Here you take the exit to “Firenze” and “Certosa” (the first exit off the round-about to your left). (Do not go through the tollgates and get on the freeway!) You will soon come to the Galluzzo village center and then follow the signs back to Florence.

I hope you had a great day in my favorite part of Tuscany!

Photo Credits:

Panzano – chiantiworld.it

Officina della Bistecca – oliveintuscany.com

Castello di Volpaia – castellodivolpaia.com

Chianti Cashmere – witaly.it

Rampini Ceramics – rampiniceramics.com

Castello di Verrazzano – verrazzano.com

Tuscan Traveler’s Picks – Best Day in Chianti Classico Region, Part One

Days in Florence are full and rich in art and history, but in this city of stone it is difficult to find the soothing color of green provided by plants and trees. After a week in Florence you may wish to rent a car and take off for the Chianti Classico Region. Only minutes out of the historic center you will find the first olive groves and vineyards.

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This is Tuscan Traveler’s favorite day in Chianti. You should start out by 9:00am.

Leave Florence via Porta Romana. At Porta Romana (traffic circle with “Headache Lady” statue in center) follow “Siena” and “Galluzzo” signs. Once you get to the suburb Galluzzo, follow the signs to “Siena” and “Greve” (sometimes you will see one town named, sometimes both). As you leave Galluzzo, you will see a large monastery, Certosa, on a hill in front of you. Watch for the sign to “Siena” and take a left.

After the left turn, you will cross a bridge built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during WWII after the Germans blew up the bridge to slow the Allies’ advance on Florence. You will now have a better view of the Certosa Monastery on your right.

Certosa di Firenze (Florence Charterhouse) was one of the most powerful Carthusian monasteries in Europe and exhibited, until Napoleon’s spoliation, 500 works of art. The building was erected on Monte Acuto, a low ridge south of Florence, financed by Niccolò Acciaioli, a powerful Florentine citizen who commissioned it in 1341 with the aim of creating both a religious center and a school. In the past, the Certosa was famous for its lavish library.

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The monastery is open every morning and afternoon for a few hours (except for Mondays) for group visits (in Italian) in the company of a lay brother acting as guide. Once the home of hundreds, there are only a few monks living at the monastery now. The monastery is still alive as a religious community, even if the original Carthusian order departed in the 1950s. The Cistercian order has lived in the monastery since then, restoring many areas. Donations from the tours help maintain their enclosed monastic life as well as the monastery itself.

Turn right at the top of the rise after the bridge. Follow the road to the round-about with a fountain in the center (it may not be flowing). As you go around the circle take the third exit to Siena and Greve. (Do not want to follow the blue sign to Siena (4 corsie) that leads to a four-lane highway to Siena.)

Stop One: American Cemetery of Florence

After the round-about, you will travel through Tavarnuzze and continue until you see a river on your right and then, green lawns. Slow down and look for a gate with a sign that reads “American Cemetery of Florence”. Drive through the gate (there are two entrances, so if you miss the first one, use the second). Go to the center of the curve drive and then drive straight through the entrance between the two small offices. Head over the river and at the flagpole turn right and follow the signs left up the hill to the very top. There is a parking lot (and great bathrooms). Get out and walk around.

The headstones of 4,402 of American military dead of World War II are set in symmetrical curved rows upon the hillside. They represent 39 percent of the U.S. Fifth Army burials originally made between Rome and the Alps. Most died in the fighting that occurred after the capture of Rome in June 1944. Included among them are casualties of the heavy fighting in the Apennines Mountains shortly before the war’s end. On May 2, 1945 the enemy troops in northern Italy surrendered.

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Above the graves, on the topmost of three broad terraces, stands the memorial marked by a tall pylon surmounted by a large sculptured figure. The memorial has two open atria, or courts, joined by the Tablets of the Missing upon which are inscribed 1,409 names. The atrium at the south end serves as a forecourt to the chapel, which is decorated with marble and mosaic. The north atrium contains the marble operations maps recording the advance of the American armed forces in this region.

Walk around the grave sites – the marble was quarried near the Austrian border because the whitest marble comes from there. Notice the classic Chianti view of the town of Impruneta on the opposite ridge.

Stop Two: Montefioralle

As you leave the cemetery, turn right onto the main road and drive through the towns of Il Ferrone and Passo dei Pecorai. Always look for signs the say “Greve”. There will be one place, soon after the cemetery, where on a soft curve you cross the oncoming lane of traffic to go straight, following the Greve and Il Ferrone signs.

This is an area of clay pits and terracotta ovens. You will see lots of pots and floor or roof terracotta tiles piled high.

Follow the road on to Greve. Before you get to Greve you will see the Verrazzano winery roadside tasting room in the hamlet of Greti. Remember this spot because you will come back to it later in the day.

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Enter the town of Greve, the center of the wine-making industry of Chianti Classico. Before you get to the middle of town, you will see on your right a small yellow sign for “Montefioralle”. The right turn to Montefioralle, will be soon after a stop light that is just after a new housing development (on the left) that has slender bronze sculptures near the road. (If you see the COOP supermarket on your left you have gone too far and have missed the turn to Montefioralle.)

Once on the road to Montefioralle, go straight for a bit and then the road narrows and you climb the hill. Remember to go slow because it is a two-way road. The road winds up the hill through an olive grove.

Notice how the olive trees are like bushes. You may even be able to see the stumps near the ground where they were cut off in 1985 after a hard freeze that killed the wood, but not the roots. The trees were sawed down, but new branches grew from the stumps to make these odd short three- or four-trunked olive trees.

Montefioralle is the best preserved medieval walled hill town in Tuscany. Start your tour at the end of the parking lot near the newly-restored tower gate, just up the slope from the stoplight. Walk along the village street that circles between the two walls. About five doors along the walk look for a design above the door with a V and a bumble bee.

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This is one of the homes of Amerigo Vespucci, who was a mapmaker in the 1400s and gave his name to America. Amerigo Vespucci was born (1454) and raised in Florence.

In March 1492, the Medici dispatched the thirty-eight-year-old Vespucci as confidential agent to look into the Medici branch office in Cádiz, Spain. In April 1495, the Crown of Castile broke their monopoly deal with Christopher Columbus and began handing out licenses to other navigators for the West Indies. Vespucci first worked as a provision contractor for Indies expeditions and then, became an explorer, navigator and the cartographer, who first demonstrated that Brazil and the West Indies did not represent Asia’s eastern outskirts as initially conjectured from Columbus’ voyages, but instead constituted an entirely separate landmass, hitherto unknown to Europeans. Colloquially referred to as the New World, this second super continent came to be termed ‘America’ on Vespucci’s maps, deriving its name from Americus, the Latin version of his first name.

Enjoy the “Kodak moments” of Montefioralle. Be sure to walk a ways down each of the small alleys that branch off the main village road – there are great views to be seen.

Stop Three: Greve

Leave Montefioralle by going back the way you came and continue on into the center of Greve. After the COOP supermarket, at the next stop light see if you can turn right into the main piazza of Greve with the City Hall at one end and a church at the other. A covered porch (loggia) surrounds the plaza. If allowed, drive in and park. (Be sure to go to the parking toll machine and put in an euro or two and get a slip of paper to put inside your windshield.)

If you aren’t allowed to drive into the main piazza then turn left at that same stop light and go across a bridge and turn right into the big parking lot. (I think it is free, but look around for a toll machine or an attendant.) Walk back to the main piazza with the statue of Giovanni da Verrazzano (another local boy who became an explorer) and tour the shops around it.

It’s lunchtime! Find Tuscan traveler’s Best Day in Chianti Classico Region, Part Two.

Mangia! Mangia! – Baccalà Binds and Divides Italy

In the U.S. you can count on finding a burger at every truck stop, small town or major city. In the U.K. the same could be said about fish and chips. In Italy, it’s baccalà (salt cod). In the case of hamburgers or fish and chips, the recipe never varies much, but the recipe for salt cod changes drastically from region to region in Italy. Don’t ask for baccalà alla Livornese in Venice or baccalà mantecato in Puglia.

Salt cod can be fried for the Italian version of fish and chips
Salt cod can be fried (served with patate fritte) for the Italian version of fish and chips

It’s not hard to imagine why salt cod became the go-to food around the Italian boot. In times before trucks and refrigeration, the transport of fresh fish was impossible. Despite this fact, the Roman Catholic Church mandated days of abstinence when meat could not be eaten. Salted or dried fish became a Friday and Lenten favorite. It had the added benefit of being very inexpensive and was a protein staple for the poor. Cod boasts remarkable nutritional properties: it contains over 18% protein, which once dried rises to almost 80%.

Salt cod came to the ports of Livorno, Genoa and Naples in the 11th century, brought by Basque sailors, who ventured into the waters of the northern Atlantic, hunting the whales that passed through the Bay of Biscay. They came into contact with the Viking sailors, who dried the fresh-caught cod in the cold dry North Sea winds and then broke it into pieces and chewed it like a biscuit. In the 13th century, the Portuguese, realizing the commercial value of the easily-stored dried fish, cornered the market, sending their ships as far as Greenland. They added salt to dry the fish faster, giving rise to bacalhau (derived from the Latin, meaning “baculus” or stick). They traded salt cod along the western coast of the Italian peninsula.

Fried salt cod simmering in a spicy tomato sauce
Fried salt cod simmering in a spicy tomato sauce

The history of baccalà in Venice only dates back to 1431 when a Venetian ship, laden with spices and 800 barrels of Malvasia wine, departed from the island of Crete under the command of the sea captain Piero Querini, and headed for the North Sea and Flanders. When the ship reached the English Channel, the route was disrupted by a violent storm that, after breaking the rudder, blew the ship north for many days. Boarding lifeboats, the crew (only 14 of 68 survived) landed on the uninhabited rock of Sandoy, in Norway’s northern Lofoten Islands.

For four months, the Venetians lived with the Norwegian fishermen, and learnt the art of preserving cod. Norway’s unique climatic conditions of low temperatures, dry air and a low amount of precipitation were (and still are) perfect for air-drying cod in open tents. Cod preserved in this way can last for years. Captain Querini returned home with sixty dried stockfish. He told the ruling Doges how the Norwegians dried the fish in the wind until it became as hard and then they beat it and spiced it turning it into a soft and tasty mix. The recipe was known by the Spanish words baccalà mantecato (creamed codfish). Querini went back to Norway many times, becoming a major trader in dried and salted codfish.

There are two forms of dried codfish – stockfish and salt cod. Stockfish or stoccafisso is made using the smaller cod, dried on sticks in the cold dry air of Scandinavia, creating a very light, easily transported stick fish, thus the name. Salt cod or baccalà is created from cod, three to six feet long, split, and salted on wood planks for about ten days, thus only partially drying them. Today, all of the stoccafisso and baccalà eaten in Italy comes from Norway.

Salt cod has many of the characteristics of fresh cod, large, soft flakes of succulent, opaque flesh with slightly chewy firm texture from the salting, and not at all fishy in flavor. To prepare it, the cook rinses the salt off it and soaks it in cold water for 12 or more hours, depending upon its thickness, changing the water 2-3 times daily. (Stockfish takes a couple of extra days to rehydrate.) Once it has soaked it is skinned, deboned, and ready to be made into the local recipe.

Bacala alla Livornese ready to serve in Tuscany
Baccalà alla Livornese ready to serve in Tuscany

In Veneto, baccalà is considered a real delicacy: Baccalà alla Vicentina (slowly braised with onions, anchovies and milk) and Baccalà Mantecato (an mashed preparation with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and parsley) are always served with polenta. Some other popular recipes are Baccalà alla Livornese (with tomatoes, garlic, parsley and basil), cooked throughout Tuscany. When in Rome you will find Baccalà Fritto (salt cod chunks fried in a simple egg and flour batter)and Baccalà all’Agro Dolce (with tomatoes, cooked in wine, flavored with red pepper, pine nuts and sultana raisins).

Baccalà alla Pizzaiola (salt cod covered with tomatoes, breadcrumbs, capers, plenty of oregano and baked in the oven) and Baccalà alla Napoletana (the baccalà is fried and then placed in a simmering tomato sauce, with olives, capers and pine nuts), are recipes from Naples. The Neapolitans, even today, boasts the highest consumption of both stockfish and dried salted cod. They claim there are 365 different ways to eat baccalà – one for every day of the year.

As you travel around Italy, ask for baccalà at least once at each stop to taste the true regionalism of  the country.

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Happy New Year from Tuscany!

Auguri di Buon Anno!!

Tuscan Traveler is looking forward to another year in Florence and Tuscany, writing about the less traveled paths, the hidden courtyards, as well as the objects or places seen every day, but for which the stories have been lost.

Via dello Studio view of the Florence Duomo
Florence Duomo seen from Via dello Studio

In 2011, Florentine food will be a focus and so will Tuscany for tots (or just for those very young at heart). Italian politics is too difficult for Tuscan Traveler to translate, but 2011 promises to be a year of great change (hopefully), therefore the best alternative web sites for current events will be brought to focus (of course, most likely under the theme Burnt To a Crisp).

2011 is the Year to Visit Tuscany with Friend In Florence

Tuscan Traveler and Friend In Florence expect to welcome friends back to Florence and Tuscany, as well as meet visitors new to the history, art, food and wine of this fascinating city and a diverse region of beaches and mountains, vineyards and olive groves, hill towns, markets, and so, so much more.

Tuscany in the summer in a sunflower year
Tuscany in the summer in a Sunflower Year

Friend in Florence offers you a virtual friend, who has both the experience of a native Florentine and the imagination and curiosity of a visitor, who after 12 years still looks at Florence and Tuscany with the eyes of a foreigner. Offering custom walking tours of Florence and chauffeured expeditions throughout Tuscany, Friend In Florence provides minute by minute information and experiences to create memories that will last for years.

For those who want to explore on their own, Friend in Florence offers self-guided itineraries of Florence and/or Tuscany with information about special events, introductions to friends of Tuscan Traveler and Friend in Florence, directions to workshops of craftsmen and small select wineries, and reservations at the best Florentine restaurants or countryside trattorias.

Montefioralle - one of the small hill towns of Tuscany
Montefioralle - one of the small hill towns of Tuscany

In the New Year, experience the Joy of a Florentine Kitchen!

Tuscan Traveler will post descriptions of the best places to eat in Florence and Tuscany, but if you have a desire to experience the joy and simplicity of cooking the Florentine way, ask Friend in Florence to arrange a class in your apartment kitchen in Florence or at your villa in Tuscany. If you don’t want to cook, but also want the comfort and privacy of eating at your home away from home, request a catered lunch or dinner from Friend in Florence.

Tuscan vegetables with zucchini flowers
Tuscan vegetables with zucchini flowers cooked up by a Florentine chef

TuscanTraveler.com (email: tuscantrav@gmail.com)

FriendInFlorence.com (email: friendinflorence@gmail.com)

Dove Vai? – Mille Miglia, the most beautiful road race in the world

I still remember the day in Panzano when I almost plowed down Dario Cecchini, the famed butcher, who was standing in the intersection blowing a horn that once graced the side of an ancient automobile – back in the times when the horn had to be sounded to get the horses and carriages out of the way. Dario was garbed in festive red pants, yellow shirt, red vest, and white apron with a red bandana at his neck. He had a glass of red wine in his other hand.

Dario greets the Mille Miglia
Dario greets the Mille Miglia

Just as Dario blew two long welcoming notes, three antique racing cars crested the hill, tooted to Dario and raced off into the valley to Greve. I got a glass of Dario’s wine and a small plate of bread, lardo and salami from Dario’s butcher shop and joined the crowd of spectators in Panzano’s main piazza.

The Mille Miglia had come to town.

This year it will run from May 13 to 17.

Anyone living in or visiting Italy next week has the chance to be part of the pageantry of this annual road rally of vintage sport and touring cars. The 27th Mille Miglia, a historic replay of one the world’s most famous motor races (the original race ran between 1927 and 1957), is a three-day rally that starts in Brescia, Lombardia, travels to Rome, winding through the countryside of the Veneto, Marche and Umbria, and returning through Tuscany (Pienza, Buonconvento, Siena, Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni, Poggibonsi, Barberino, Tavernelle and San Casciano) and Florence. Over three hundred antique racing and tourist-class cars will pause for a break in Siena and Florence in mid-afternoon on May 16.

Mille Miglia takes to the back roads
Mille Miglia takes to the back roads

Mille Miglia fever still infects international vintage automobile enthusiasts so that every year hundreds of entry applications from dozens of countries are sent to the organizing committee, which has to choose the final 375 competitors admitted to the 2009 competition.

Possession of a veteran car does not mean that the automobile has all the necessary qualifications for admission. Only cars built during the period of the classic Mille Miglia, 1927 -1957, are allowed to come to the starting line in Brescia. Preference is given to cars that have a particular racing history or which have actually participated in a previous Mille Miglia.

Each car must carry two qualified drivers, one of whom usually acts as navigator. Taking part in the Mille Miglia has always been considered an achievement in itself, but managing to finish the arduous course takes the experience to another level.

The Mille Miglia highlights ancient villages, city centers, countryside and mountains. From the Lombardia and Veneto plains to the countryside of the Marche and of Umbria, Lazio, Tuscany and Emilia, from the Romagna sea to the steep snowy slopes of Mount Terminillo and, on the way back, up again across the Futa and Raticosa passes. The rally also visits almost unknown tiny villages of medieval origin and the famous city squares, including the Campo in Siena and Piazza Strozzi in Florence.

Winner of Mille Miglia 2008 - 1928 Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Super Sport
Winner of Mille Miglia 2008 - 1928 Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Super Sport

Among the cars in this year’s Mille Miglia is the Mercedes 3300 SLR, the BMW 328 Coupe, both the Ferrari 340A and 212 Spider Vignale, the Alfa Romeo 1750 GS and the Alfa 1500 SS Spider, both the OM 665 TT and the 665 S, the Bugatti T35A and T40GS, the Jaguar C-Type and D-Type, the Maserati A6 GCS and Maserati Monofaro, the Aston Martin DB3 Spider, the Fiat 1100 S, the 1954 Autobleu 750 MM, and the egg-shaped Isetta. Among the most rare cars are the Gilco Panhard 1100 Sport of 1952 and the Chrysler 1951 Saratoga.

Spectators enjoy the pageantry of the Mille Miglia whether they understand the detailed lineage of the vintage automobiles or not. Along the route residents and spectators hold outdoor parties, wave flags, blow horns, ring bells and cheer the racers onward. Car enthusiasts will have the chance in Siena and Florence to examine the cars and talk with the drivers.

Mille Miglia 2009 Route
Mille Miglia 2009 Route

For more information in English (not much) and Italian, review the official web site at 1000milglia.com .  A trailer for the 2009 Mille Miglia and another video of the history of the race make good viewing.

Dove Vai? – American World War II Cemetery Near Florence

When a visitor tires of the noisy teeming crowds amid the gray stones of Florence, he or she should board the SITA bus or travel by car to the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, located south on the roads to Siena and Greve. In the green silence, this historic location is a place to learn about the importance of the American sacrifice in World War II and the reason most Italians still hold the U.S. in high esteem, as well as it is a spot to contemplate the beauty of the Tuscan countryside while thinking of its turbulent past.

American Cemetery in the Tuscan Hills
American Cemetery in the Tuscan Hills

Don’t merely stop at the base of the hillside monument in the fragrant rose gardens.  Climb or drive to the very summit to the high stele (pillar) topped by the carving of a woman clutching olive branches while flying on the back of an eagle – a symbol of peace that seems ready to soar over the gravesites. There is a Memorial Center with a multi-denominational chapel with a star-filled ceiling to one side and a map created in stone (pietra dura), showing the progress of the allied troops on the other. In between is the wall of the Missing – those brave pilots and seamen whose final resting place was never found.

A Short History of the Allied Italian Campaign

Following the capture of Rome on 4 June 1944, the Allies pursued the enemy northward toward the Po River and the Alps. On July 23, they entered Pisa. Florence fell to the U.S. Fifth Army on 4 August 1944. But some of the worst fighting was left to come.  The Gothic Line, north of Florence, was the final German defensive effort in Italy.

Map of Allied Troop Movements in Northern Italy
Map of Allied Troop Movements in Northern Italy

In October 1944, a final bid to capture Bologna brought the U.S. Fifth Army to within nine miles of that city. Forced by harsh weather conditions and shortages of personnel and supplies, the advance stalled for the winter, but fighting continued on in the mountains north of Lucca. The segregated African-American troops, known as the Buffalo soldiers, fought valiantly over Christmas 1944 to protect the small hill towns of Sommocolonia and Barga. A fictionalized version of these battles was the subject of the James McBride book and a Spike Lee movie in 2008.

Preceded by massive air and artillery bombardment, the offensive proceeded northward on 9 April 1945. Although the offensive met stiff opposition, Bologna fell to the U.S. Fifth Army on 21 April 1945. With the establishment of a bridgehead across the PoRiver on 23 April 1945, the fleeing forces were pursued rapidly northward. The final week of the war saw wide advances throughout northern Italy. On 2 May 1945, the enemy troops in northern Italy surrendered.

View of the Memorial at the Summit of the Cemetery
View of the Memorial at the Summit of the Cemetery

The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial

The Florence American Cemetery is one of fourteen permanent American World War II military cemetery memorials erected on foreign soil by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The countryside and small towns around the cemetery were liberated on 3 August 1944 by the South African Sixth Armored Division, and later became part of the zone of the U.S. Fifth Army. The seven-acre site, a gift of the city of Florence, is located astride the Greve River, and is framed by wooded hills.

4,402 servicemen and women are interred in the cemetery. Most died in the fighting which occurred after the capture of Rome in June 1944. Included among them are casualties of the heavy fighting in the Apennines, shortly before the war’s end.

Pure White Marble Gravestones
Pure White Marble Gravestones

In the memorial are many maps of the progress of German occupation of Europe, as well as two maps of the Italian Allied Campaign. The larger of the maps depicts Northern Italy and portrays military operations to the end of the war from the vicinity of the cemetery northward. The military operations as well as the general topography of the area are depicted in a mosaic of colored marbles, known as intarsia, an art form for which Florence is famous. The map is embellished in its upper left-hand corner by twelve shields, each bearing the shoulder insignia of American ground and air units that participated in the fighting in Northern Italy.

The smaller map illustrates the broad outline of military operations that took place in Sicily and then, throughout Italy, beginning in July 1943. The map was executed in scagliola by Emilio Martelli of Florence, a process consisting of drawings in colored artificial compositions that are inlaid in marble and glazed.

The Wall of the Missing behind the Monument to Peace
The Wall of the Missing behind the Monument to Peace

The Tablets of the Missing, which connect the north and south atria of the memorial, inscribed with the names and particulars of 1,409 Missing in Action in the region or lost or buried at sea, are constructed of travertine stone. Running the full length of the Tablets of the Missing above the names is the following inscription: HERE ARE RECORDED THE NAMES OF AMERICANS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY AND WHO SLEEP IN UNKNOWN GRAVES.

Within the graves area, the pure white marble (quarried north of Lake Como) headstones radiate in soft arcs, curving inward, following the shape of the gently sloping hills. Two rows of tall plane trees border a walkway that divides the cemetery.

The 69-foot pillar at the top of the walkway is inscribed in English and Italian:

1941-1945
IN PROUD MEMORY OF HER SONS AND
IN HUMBLE TRIBUTE TO THEIR SACRIFICES
THIS MEMORIAL HAS BEEN ERECTED BY
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Travertine Symbol of Peace
Travertine Symbol of Peace

The Florence American Cemetery and Memorial is situated approximately 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) south of Florence, Italy, on the west side of the Via Cassia, the main highway between Florence and Siena. The SITA bus from Florence to San Casciano stops at Falciani for visitors to the cemetery.

The Cemetery and Memorial are open daily to the public from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm except December 25 and January 1. A staff member is on duty in the Visitors’ Building to answer questions and escort relatives and groups to grave and memorial sites.

Mangia! Mangia! – The Ultimate Tuscan Burger at Mac Dario

In Chianti Classico, on a warm October day, we savored succulent burgers under the Tuscan sun. Mac Dario has been open for four months in Panzano and it’s clear that Dario Cecchini has another hit on his platter. 

Dario greeting guests at Mac Dario
Dario greeting guests at Mac Dario

Until our order for Veloce e Toscano (Fast and Tuscan) arrived just minutes after we sat down, the only thought I had was: “Does Dario ever sleep?”

Kim in the Macellaria Cecchini
Kim in the Macellaria Cecchini

After the 2006 opening of Solociccia (“It is not a restaurant. It is the home of a butcher.” See Instructions for Use) and the 2007 debut of the Officina della Bistecca (“The Officina is not recommended to those of little appetite.” See the small print.), it’s easy to wonder why Dario wanted to dive into the world of fast Slow Food. Remember, he’s also spent the last 33 years building the Macelleria Cecchini into one of the best-known butcher shops in the world. (See links below for more about Dario, Solociccia and the Macelleria Cecchini.)

The answer was very clear by the time we finished the most fabulous burgers and perfect roast potatoes served in Italy. Dario is surrounded by incredible people, each of whom add their best to a dining experience – any of the varied dining experiences – from that at home, savoring the fennel pollen-coated pork chop Dario sells in the butcher shop, to Maria Teresa welcoming you in to eat “only meat” (not exactly) at Solociccia to Simonetta’s torta all’olio di oliva, served at all three venues, to Riccardo’s half pound Medaglione (a burger of the best beef) to the grill masters, Carlo and Angelo, to Dante…

Modern day Dante manages Mac Dario
Modern day Dante manages Mac Dario

Dante was a find. Legend (probably not all true) has it he wandered into sunny Tuscany from the cold north (Udine). He meets a butcher known for reciting reams of poetry from another Dante (Alighieri) and the rest is history. Dante now coordinates the fast-paced Mac Dario and the leisurely Officina della Bistecca.

But back to the food. Mac Dario offers two fixed menus – Veloce e Toscano and Accoglienza (loosely translated: Welcome).

Fast and Tuscan costs 10 euro and fills you up with the Medaglione, a huge rounded patty of pure ground beef, lightly dusted with fine breadcrumbs. It is flanked by slivered sweet red onions, fresh tomato slices and crispy yellow potatoes. For those who want the bun experience, a basket of crusty buns, wood oven-baked Tuscan bread and focaccia is offered.

The meat is not seasoned. On the table is Dante’s own Chianti Catsup (fresh tomato salsa with a red pepper kick) and Profumo del Chianti (herbed salt), Kim’s sweet and spicy mustard and Judy’s hot and sweet pepper jelly (Mostarda Mediterranea). Just tasting the condiments reminds us of the collaboration that goes into the experience at Mac Dario. (Kim, alone, is credited with tasting dozens of versions of Veloce e Toscano before Dario settled on the final styling.)

Veloce e Toscano
Veloce e Toscano

The crispy potatoes with soft yellow centers are pure comfort food. Harvested near Prato, the spuds are peeled, chopped, parboiled, and finally, roasted in the oven with sage and extra virgin olive oil. A sprinkling of salt finishes them off.

Riccardo cooks up the burgers
Riccardo cooks up the burgers

For newbies to the Macelleria, the second menu at Mac Dario may be the best way to go.  The Welcome meal costs 20 euro and offers a bit of everything from the butcher shop, including Sushi del Chianti (beef tartare with parsely, garlic, ground red pepper, lemon juice, salt and pepper), Tonno del Chianti (pork boiled in white wine, then marinated in olive oil with sage and bay leaves), Arista in Porchetta (slow, fire-roasted pork loin), Cosimino in Salsa Ardente (fine-ground veal meatloaf garnished with Judy’s pepper jelly), raw carrot and celery sticks and Tuscan bread.

Extras include red or white wine, fruit juice, coffee and Simonetta’s scrumptious torta (rich with bit a lemon and a crunchy sugar dusting), and digestivi dell’Esercito Italiano (liqueurs made for the Italian Army). You may bring your own bottle of wine – there is no corkage fee.

Famed for the clean trendy design of Solociccia, Dario repeated the feat at Mac Dario with the long black slate rock picnic tables, flanked by surprisingly comfortable red iron geometric chairs, under large umbrellas, located outside the Officina della Bistecca, upstairs from the butcher shop. The view is pure Tuscan – the valley of Greve and the ridge to Lamole.

Dining outside at Mac Dario
Dining outside at Mac Dario

Dario, Kim, Simonetta, Maria Teresa, Riccardo, Carlo, Angelo and Dante are only a few of those you may have the pleasure to meet in Panzano while tasting a bit of Tuscany. A couple of dozen more of those who are helping Dario sleep at night, but are unnamed here, will make your visit one to remember.

Want to know more?  See the following links:

Solociccia Web Site

DivinaCucina on Solociccia

Boots in the Oven on Solociccia

LA Times on Solociccia

Dario’s Blog

Bill Bufford in The New Yorker on Dario

Maine Today on Dario

LA Times on Dario’s visit to Los Angeles

Bene Magazine on Dario