Dove Vai? – The Galleria Ferrari Museum, cars and more cars

Enzo Ferrari was the man who said the Mille Miglia is “La corsa piu bella del mondo” – the most beautiful race in the world. This year, a decade after his death, he certainly would have agreed because a Ferrari won the 2009 race with Carlo and Bruno Ferrari in a 1927 Bugatti Type 37. A vintage Ferrari also came in second with a 1926 Bugatti Type 35A.

Any fine car enthusiast (or someone trying to make a Ferrari fan happy) who happens to be visiting or driving by Modena should take a detour to Maranello and visit the Galleria … Read More

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.

Just as Dario blew two long welcoming notes, three antique … Read More

Scoppio del Carro – Ancient Easter Cart Blows Sky High

Between 10 and 11 o’clock on Easter Sunday morning, a tradition that has played out annually over the last 500 years will be celebrated in front of the Duomo in Florence. The Scoppio del Carro, or Explosion of the Cart, is a mixed pagan/religious ceremony. Marking both Easter and Spring, the successful ignition of the cart guarantees good crops, a successful harvest, stable civic life and bountiful trade, as well as signifying the passage of new holy fire to light those extinguished on Good Friday.

A thirty-foot carved and painted wooden cart (the present version is over 150 years … Read More

Mangia! Mangia! – Ristorante Galeffi, from fizz to fine food

The sophisticated menu is ever-changing, depending on the season and what is fresh at the market. One day the appetizers might include whipped salt cod on toasts with truffles or saffron creamed rice surrounding a tiny savory cake garlicky tomato-infused bread. The second course could be risotto with creamy taleggio cheese and truffles or a fettuccine with a sauce of tiny fish and cherry tomatoes. A favorite main dish is rabbit with artichokes and a side of crispy fried vegetables.  This vies with the filet of pork with a confection of layered apples and foie gras.

Dessert is a specialty … Read More

Burnt to a Crisp – Grasping at Straws or Salemi

As Italy is sucked into the worldwide economic crisis, and the general attitude in the streets of Florence is that of cynical pessimism, it is refreshing to see a write-up in the NY Times about the small Sicilian town of Salemi that gave artists and intellectuals power to remake the historic center of the town that had been largely abandoned after a devastating earthquake.

Salemi sold destroyed ancient buildings for one euro to those who guaranteed to restore the structures within two years. The aldermen focused on art and culture to bring visitors to the off-the-beaten-track village.  And now Salemi … Read More

Mangia! Mangia! – Biscotti di Prato is 150 Years Old

When an American dunks a biscotto wedge into his coffee – something an Italian never does (biscotti are dipped into Vin Santo or nothing) – he is honoring the memory of one of the first biscotti makers, and certainly the most famous, Antonio Mattei. Biscotti di Prato, sold worldwide in Mattei’s distinctive blue bag with gold lettering, turns 150 years old this year.

In 1858, pastry chef Antonio Mattei opened a biscottificio in Prato (near Florence) at 22 Via Ricasoli. The storefront and vast simple kitchen continue operating in the same location today, producing and selling the typical twice-cooked cookies … Read More

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. 

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?”

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 … Read More

Dove Vai? – Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden

This garden was made with difficulties, love, wild enthusiasm, obsession, and most of all, faith. Nothing could have stopped me. 

As in all fairy tales, before finding the treasure, I met on my path dragons, sorcerers, magicians and the Angel of Temperance.

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002)

Rising on low hills of southern Tuscany, not far from the sea, Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden is a village of sculpture that defies time and reality.  The sculptures are architectural – stairs to climb, courtyards to discover, and even a home (used at one time by the artist) to explore (The … Read More

Tuscan Traveler Goes to Matera – City of Stone

To escape the tourist-packed streets of Florence and trendy Tuscany, going south to the Amalfi Coast or Capri doesn’t give much relief.  To find a different Italy, the adventuresome traveler goes to the southeastern region of Basilicata and the unique town of Matera and tours the Sassi (Stones) of Matera.

History Made Matera a Cultural Jumble

Almost everyone across Europe and the Mediteranean claimed Matera at some point in time.

Palaeolithic findings and Neolithic and Bronze Age underground settlements have been uncovered in the stone caves in the ravines below and across from the city. The original town center above … Read More

Dove Vai? – Go to Matera for the Best European Writers’ Conference

Europe is not known for its conferences for writers.  There are many great gatherings for readers, including those in Edinburgh, Wales and Turin.  But only the small town of Matera hosts a great symposium for writers and, despite its name, Women’s Fiction Festival (WFF), it’s not just for women anymore.  This year the speakers included Nick Hornby (About A Boy) and his editor, Penguin UK’s Publishing Director Tony Lacey.

The roots of WFF are in romantic fiction – Harlequin Mondadori and Book Cents Literary Agency are sponsors. One story has it that Elizabeth Jennings, founder of the festival, … Read More