October 25, 2007
Fabulous vacations have always to be digested in little steps. The same goes with this wonderful holidays in Tuscany which were way too short (1 week) and ended last Sunday. Thanks again to Leslie, John, Lu and Vinnie, you are great travel companions and I had a marvelous time with you! We will highlight in (hopefully) several additional blog posts what we think are the best and most memorable experiences of our journey through Italy.
As of now I encourage you to go on a photo tour through my snapshots from our mediterranean adventures. In order to enjoy them better, I published them in four separate folders:
- Our beautiful vacation home near Cortona, Villa d’Angeli.
- The pittoresque village of Cortona.
- Our visit at the stunning Tarot Garden of the Swiss/French Sculpturist Nikki de Saint Phalle.
- Impressions of all other excursions to villages, wineries and other places in beautiful Tuscany.
Seeing all the beauty of the Tuscan countryside and its historic villages again, I suddenly remembered the (shortest) poem by Italian author Giuseppe Ungaretti which my friend Steve and I used to cite in order to describe our impressions of our summer vacation at my aunt’s house in the Tuscan region Maremma:
Translation: “I flood myself with light of the immense.” Although I am not entirely sure if that’s the best translation – it still summarizes for me the beauty of Tuscany.
October 25, 2007
Standing in the middle of one of the beautiful and larger-than-life sculptures, my travel companions answer humorously to a few questions about their first impressions of French artist Nikki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden in Capalbio, Tuscany. More on this fantastic outdoor art experience in a separate post. In the meanwhile: Check out my pictures.
October 25, 2007
Beauty and humor are some of the best elements for lasting memories. On our 8 days trip through Tuscany we certainly had both – and plenty of them. I will never forget how many times I was ‘forced’ to witness or participate in Tuscan meals which starred the highly overrated pizza (with mozzarella, rucola, sausages…you name it…) – and how much fun that was at the same time. This video gives only a glimpse of the sillyness I was exposed to. A special thanks to John for his unique ‘olive performance’!
October 6, 2007
Well, maybe she wasn’t exactly a supermodel, BUT on our recent babystyle photo shoot our model, Catherine McCord told me (after I mentioned our up and coming trip to Italy) that she and her producer husband had spent a month there on their honeymoon 2 years ago. Good for them, right!!!! Anyhow aside from being almost 6′ tall, blonde and pretty gorgeous, Catherine is also an accomplished cook and appreciates good wine – natch! So I took her recommendations pretty seriously (noting that Ms. Karen Brown also 2nds her winery choice) and after checking out their websites added them to our own itinerary. Here’s the scoop (also a Karen Brown recommendation):
The winery Poggio Antico in Montalcino. According to their website, “the estate includes about 200 hectares (500 acres) of beautiful woods, fields, olive groves and vineyards. Located at an average altitude of approximately 1,476 feet above sea level, Poggio Antico is one of the highest altitude producers of Brunello.”
The restaurant & hotel Locanda dell’Amorosa in Sinalunga. From their website: “Once upon a time, in the XIVth century, there was a small village called Amorosa… we have turned the ancient stables into a restaurant; filled the old cellars with a careful selection of wines and placed guest rooms in the manor. In this way the Locanda dell’Amorosa came into being, an oasis of country peace among the rolling Sienese hills that look down on the Chiana Valley.”
With a castle I think we might want to check out! (More fabulous pictures here!)
October 5, 2007
Vacationing in Tuscany is great – but why not buy a house? The British newspaper Times has a very interesting article about real estate buying in that beautiful region of Italy. Here is what I learned:
- Despite the pressure of property prices that have doubled in a decade, Tuscany remains the preferred choice in Italy for overseas investors.
- A decent farmhouse costs at least 1 million US dollars
- Fully restored and decorated, a typical farmhouse costs 6 million US dollars, with an annual management charge of $60,000 that covers bills, taxes, furnishings and a maid service.
- San Gimignano is the favorite destination of UK’s ex prime minister Tony Blair and his family
- Since one can have great AND crappy experiences with Italian villa rental companies and real estate is expensive, a couple of American businessmen launched a club called the Hideaways Club where members collectively own the properties (from villas in Croatia to chalets in Chamonix), so they benefit as they gain in value. Initial membership fee: $400,000.
September 29, 2007
Florence is not only a great city for culture and architecture, but also for all kinds of shopping. I know that there are a few jerks among us who are dying to go to the markets. Of course, the biggest and best-known most market is the “Mercato Centrale” in the San Lorenzo district. I have been there years ago, and the variety of produce, the seafood, the meats, leather goods etc. is really stunning. The downside: since it’s popular market, there are always a lot of tourists.
Smaller, but also less touristy is the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio (open from Monday to Saturday, 7 am – 2 pm) which is only a 10 minutes’ walk north of Piazza Santa Croce. It apparently has the freshest and cheapest of produce of all the markets. Good thing is: At all these markets you can always grab a cheap and yummy bite.
More Links with useful info:
Virtual Tourist: Reviews and photos of the “Mercato Centrale”
Tours Italy: The best markets in Florence
MSN Travel: The outdoor markets of Florence
Way Tuscany: Antiques and markets in Tuscany
September 28, 2007
The Tuscan house of my aunt Christina is one of the most beautiful vacation destinations I’ve ever been. It’s located close to the beautiful village of Castagneto Carducci in the region of Maremma, and only about 15 bicycle minutes away from the beach. I had the chance to spend my summer holidays in this little paradise for over ten years – and still have vivid and fabulous memories from these days. These holidays were always a fest for all senses… the very special Tuscan light… the mist in the hills…. the stunning sunsets… Christina’s pizza oven… her own vineyard with the yummy organic red wine…. all the vegetable and fruits from her own garden… her homemade, really tasty, but dangerous “nocino” (a liquor made of green walnuts)… the long nights with family and friends chatting on the patio… the complete darkness at night in the middle of wheat and corn fields… the sound of the cicadas…
Well, I could go on for hours. I miss all this. The plan was to revisit this wonderful place and also meet my aunt in Tuscany when we will fly to Italy in about two weeks. But I just learned that she is still recuperating from a back surgery and is not allowed to travel abroad. What a pity! But I will call and ask her if we still could have a glimpse of her peaceful Tuscan retreat. In addition, the Maremma region is worth a visit either way. There are not only the cutest villages nearby, but also great beaches and fabulous restaurants I would like to rediscover.
For whoever is interested, here are a couple of pictures from the good old days at my aunt’s “Casa Nespola”.
September 28, 2007
This YouTube video gives a good impression how the city of Cortona looks like. More interesting videos coming up…
August 31, 2007
(This is a blog post with two authors… let’s see if it works!)
Marc sez: As I mentioned earlier, I guess I have to add this info since there are many fashionistas and shopping jerks among us who are dying to go to the famous’ Prada Outlet near Florence. For those who would like to know all the insider tips (never go on the weekend, for example), read Giovanna Dunwall’s very informative blog post about this outlet and shopping in Italy. I also checked how it is rated on Tripadvisor (what a great website!) – and unfortunately it gets high praises: “Shoshyr” from Florida writes: “Great prices! We have come back to the USA after making a number of purchases here and compared prices, and we came out on top! Highly recommended!” And now, I let the secret leader of America’s most infamous fashion shopping mafia speak….
Leslie sez: Let me set things straight, my idea of Italy is not to spend hours upon hours in some weird warehouse fighting off Japanese tourists over handbags and shoes. Well, maybe 2 hours! It would be kinda fabulous to go home with some gorgeous designer something at a drastically reduced price wouldn’t you agree??? Perhaps we could combine it with a visit to some great little village, I know we’ll come up with something! Here are just some of the designers featured and all the technical info:The outlet includes brands such as Armani Jeans, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Ungaro, Zegna, Fendi, Armani, Gucci, Ferragamo and Valentino. Address: Levanella, 52025 Montevarchi. Opening hours: 10 am -7 pm non-stop, Monday-Sunday.P.S. If you’re interested where it’s located, you’ll find it marked as one of our ‘Must-See’ location dots on ‘our’ personalized Italy map on Google.
August 29, 2007
John just forwarded me a very interesting restaurant tip from one of the guests at ‘his’ hotel. It’s called “La Frateria” and it’s located in Cetona near Sienna, about 45 minutes away from our house in Cortona. The restaurant (wow – it looks really beautiful) is part of a former convent founded in 1212 (!) which today “offers moments of tranquility, relaxation and piece to those who feel the need.” Meaning: a retreat. (Or is this the cute Italian version of a rehab?) Besides the restaurant the place includes 7 beautiful rooms for temporary residence (apparently Oscar winner Anthony Minghella stayed here to recharge his batteries) and a little store which sells (olive) oils, jams and art. On their website, the restaurant is described as follows:
In the old prison, where even the gentle Saint Francis put the friars who did not heed the rules or were in contrast with the mother church. Here we still sense the severe and mystic aura that gives the importance and comfort of a liturgy to each meal.We dine on linen table cloths. The menu is hand written and the dishes inspired by the seasons, the fantasy of the chef, the fragrance of the vegetables and the produce of the convent: Oven baked bread, olive and caper pate, preserves, salted meats, extra virgin olive oil milled by the young people using old stone millstone.
Sounds almost like a poem, doesn’t it? (Do I see tears of joy in your eyes, Les?)Besides the yummy food this definitely sounds like a place where each of us can detox from the hectic daily life and enjoy the present moment in its entire beauty (in case I sound like a spiritual jerk – yes, I started to practice mindfulness a couple of months ago.. and I recommend this to everybody…)!