Dove Vai? – The Castle Town of Montefioralle

The village of Montefioralle is one of the most well-preserved medieval villages in all of Tuscany. Originally a walled castle, it is located in the heart of the Chianti Classico region on a low ridge above the town of Greve.

Castello di Montefioralle, first mentioned in 1085, was built with two parallel octagonal walls. The stone walls still exist, but the outer defensive wall evolved through the ages as houses were built against it, using the existing structure.  Now a ring of homes and a narrow circular cobblestone street fills the space between the original walls. The four original gates … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Wishing for Snow in Florence

Snow in Florence is rare. But it does frost the Duomo every few years for a day or two.

While Tuscan Traveler was enjoying the sun on the Pacific Ocean on the coast of Chile in 2005, snow fell on Florence.

Again in 2008, this time the sun, but not the warmth, was in Santa Fe, NewMexico, and snow amazed tourists on the Ponte Vecchio.

Of course, the locals say, “This is nothing like the time in 1985 – the Arno froze solid that year, you know.”

Now in the first days of 2009, Tuscan Traveler is waiting for snow … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – The Wine Portals of Florence

The wine portals, buchette del vino, are unique to Florentine architecture. An observant visitor on a walk through Florence can find dozens of these small, once useful, doors.

Those who have traveled to Rome, Venice, Milan, or even the small hill towns of Tuscany know that Florentine palaces built during the Renaissance were designed to resemble the bank vaults of their owners. (The city was once the home to over one hundred banking families, serving all of Europe.) The palaces had few windows in the exterior walls and the central courtyards were closed behind massive fortified doors to all … Read More

Dove Vai? – To the Arno during Acqua Alta

This past summer the Arno was so low that water plants were creeping across the river, strangling the flow. Three months later the plants are history, swept away by a torrent of cafféllatte water that is lapping half way up the lawn of the rowing club near the Ponte Vecchio.

Although the situation is not as dire as the floods in Venice or the present scare that the Tiber will crest its banks in Rome, Florence has done less that most Italian cities to prevent a repeat of the 1966 Alluvione. (On November 4, 1966, the Arno broke over … 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! – Gelato and Hot Chocolate Together!

Does anyone else experience this seasonal change – a summer yen for gelato, but a winter chocolate craving? In Florence there is a small shop to visit all year long – Vestri Cioccolata (e Gelato). Leonardo Vestri has solved that problem of bridging the seasons with Affogato (Gelato “Drowned” in Hot Chocolate).

In the mid-1960s, Leonardo’s father Daniele, followed his own father into the artisanal chocolate world in the southern Tuscan town of Arezzo. Recently, Daniele went to the source to assure that he had the finest cocoa. He purchased a “finca”, a cocoa plantation in Puntacana, Dominican Republic. … Read More

Dove Vai? – New View of the Cricket Cage

Covered by scaffolding for over ten years, the Baccio D’Agnolo Balustrade, located at the external base of the cupola of the Florence Duomo has been restored and is now on show to the observant spectator. The best spot to view it is the newly open Biblioteca delle Oblate – also a great place to hang out and read newspapers and magazines (English language) for free.

But back to the balcony. Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) rightly gets the credit for designing and overseeing the construction of the dome on the Duomo.  He also designed the marble lantern that tops the terracotta-clad dome, … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Duomo Clock Keeps “Italian Time”

Most people don’t know that modern clocks run on “French Time.” There is only one clock in the world that runs on “Italian Time” and it is in the Duomo in Florence.

“Paolo made the colored sphere of the hours above the main door within the Church, with four heads, painted in fresco.”  Giorgio Vasari, in his “Lives of the Artists” (1550), goes on to tell us that Paolo Uccello was paid 40 lire in February 1443 when he finished the face of the clock, decorated with the heads of the four Evangelists, on the inner façade of the front … 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