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

Mangia! Mangia! – The Bread of Matera, Italy’s Best?

Matera, located on Italy’s anklebone, boasts of being a UNESCO World Heritage Center with its ancient caves carved in the soft tufa that date back to prehistoric times. (Matera is one of the only places on earth where the residents are still living where their ancestors lived 9,000 years ago.) But what the Materani and visitors alike are more likely to be discussing at any minute of the day is the bread of Matera.  Like the Lardo di Colonnata, the Pane di Matera has been awarded the designation IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta), the only food so honored

Read More

Mangia! Mangia! – Melt In Your Mouth Lardo

Lardo is trendy. Mario Batali is putting it on his pizzas at Otto in New York City and Le Cirque 2000 slices it melting-thin and drapes it over warm country bread. Trattorias and restaurants throughout Italy serve it. Italian butchers and delis sell it by the gram and by the kilo.

Most claim to serve Lardo di Colonnata. But statistics show that 6.5 million kilograms of purported “Lardo di Colonnata” are consumed in Italy per year and Colonnata only produces 160,000 kilos (352,739 pounds) of the savory fat, so about 7 times out of ten it’s not … Read More

Dove Vai – Colonnata, Village of Anarchists, Lardo and Marble

To think of marble is to think of the town of Carrara in the Italian Apuan Alps.  But a more interesting place to visit is the nearby village of Colonnata, which also has a heart of stone, un’anima anarchica (a soul of anarchy), and a palate for lardo

The Colonnata basin constitutes the eastern part of the Carrara marble region and holds about seventy quarries, forty-four of which are still active.  Arrive via a narrow winding road that goes up the valley cut by the Carrione river.  On the other side of the canyon it is still possible to … Read More

Master Craftsman – Simone Taddei

Simone Taddei’s workshop/store, directly across the alley from Dante’s Church in Florence, should be visited when you have plenty of time. Not only are there elegant burnished leather boxes, picture frames, desk sets and other leather gift items to be examined, admired and purchased, but Simone is an enthusiastic interesting man, who loves to talk not only about his work, but also about his worldview. Simone is that rare character, a Renaissance man, descendant from generations of Florentines. He is a philosopher, an observer of history and politics, a family man, but above all, he is an artisan. He is … Read More

Burnt to a Crisp – Haunted Honeymoon Revisited

A law school friend wrote to ask for advice about an upcoming trip to Italy.  She wanted to walk the cliffs of Cinque Terre, shop in Portofino, and take a small ferry along the coast to San Fruttuoso to see the monastery and the underwater bronze sculpture.  My advice was to start in the small picturesque fishing village Camogli, take the ferry south to San Fruttuoso and Portofino, stay overnight and then head to Cinque Terre.  

I then told her the story of my first visit to Camogli in October 1999 and wished her a very different experience.  I wrote … Read More

Dove Vai? – The Fix-It Shop for the Cathedral

The Florentine Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower) recently celebrated the 712th anniversary of the laying of the first stone on September 8, 1296.  The day was marked by the ringing of the bells in Giotto’s campanile, the annual opening of the mid-level terrace to visitors, and the open-house of the La Bottega dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore — the fix-it shop of the cathedral.

On Via dello Studio, half a block from Piazza del Duomo, Claudio, a stone-cutter, works with about ten other men to keep the Duomo in repair.  Usually passersby look … Read More

Mangia! Mangia! – Tale of Two Brothers

For over half a century in Florence, the name Latini has been associated with classic Tuscan food and wine.  Today, the two Latini brothers carry on the proud tradition, but each in his own unique way.

Latini Family History

Narciso Latini took over his Uncle Angelo’s fiaschetteria (wine bar) in Via della Vigna Nuova almost sixty years ago, a few years after World War II ended.  He sold wine made in the Chianti region around Val d’Elsa.  He offered prosciutto, salame, finocchiona, and hardboiled eggs to go with his customers’ glasses of vino rosso.

Soon Narciso’s … Read More

Walking in the Footsteps of the Grand Dukes

A Unique Opportunity

Visitors to Florence, Italy, know that to miss the paintings of Botticelli and Caravaggio in the Uffizi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio with its famous gold merchants, and the gaudy splendors of the Pitti Palace is to miss three of Florence’s best-known sites.

What many tourists do not know is that along this same sightseeing path they also have a unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Renaissance nobility.  Here they can view a vast collection of paintings usually reserved for the pleasure of a select few.  It is called the Vasari Corridor.

The Vasari Corridor is … Read More