City of Towers

There is not an area in Italy that I would not visit but there are some that I would put lower on the list, one of those places is San Gimignano.  I know that this is a historical place, but what in Italy is not of historical significance.  For those unfamiliar with San Gimignano, it is in Tuscany in the Sienna region.  The reason for its popularity is the 14 towers that scatter the city.  The towers are impressive and you can’t find anything like them, in this number, throughout Italy.  So why then do I not put it high on my list of places to visit?  From my point of view, it is not a convenient drive and the town was overrun with tourists all scattering about to see the towers.  The restaurants were the classic tourist trap and the food was ok but not great.  Like all Italian towns, there is duomo and museum that you can visit but not enough to justify the time you have to spend to get there.  Again, I am not by any means telling people to avoid the area but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit.  If you are making a trip that encompasses San Gimignano and neighboring towns such as Volterra and others, then it is worth taking in the site of the towers.  Additionally, the town is known for its Saffron, so if you are a cook like me this might be of interest.

Below are some links in the event you want to take in the sites of San Gimignano:

http://www.sangimignano.net/index.php

http://www.sangimignano.com/sghomei.htm


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The First Rule of Italian Driving and Eating Formaggio

I know people who will not rent a car in Italy because they fear driving in another county, they have heard about the crazy Italian drivers, or they are afraid the car will not be automatic.  My recommendation is if you are visiting Tuscany (outside of the cities like Florence) rent a car for at least a couple of days so you can explore the countryside and the small towns that are perched in the hills.  Pienza is one of these towns.  Renowned for its cheese, you can see why as you make your way to the town and see herd after herd of sheep.  I love cheese, so Pienza was like being in a candy store.  Shop after shop with variations of cheese, some with truffles, some with hot pepper flakes, some that have been covered in ash and the list goes on.  However, there is more to Pienza then cheese.  The town looks as if it is out of a picture, with flower boxes hanging on each home, the quiet streets, the beautiful square and church, and a breathtaking view of the countryside.  There are plenty of restaurants in the town so finding a good meal is not difficult.  On one trip we opted for a very casual and light lunch that consisted of purchasing a fresh pork sandwich at the local butcher with a drink and sitting at the edge of the town overlooking the rolling hills….it was perfect.  There are several other historical sites that you can visit within Pienza as well as many little shops and wine stores that you can peruse.

 

http://www.pienza.info/ this site, while in Italian only, will give you an idea of the town, the sites you can see, a list of restaurants, etc.  There are other English sites you can visit as well for this information.

 

In the coming posts I will write about other towns that you can visit by car.  It is well worth overcoming any fear you have of driving in Italy to visit them.  Driving in the countryside is very easy.  My recommendation is to rent a car in advance before you get to Italy, rent a small car and if you do not drive standard make sure to request an automatic.  Once in Italy do not let the rental car company talk you into a bigger car, the gas is expensive, and the streets are tight.  If you are first staying in Florence arrange the rental car up around that stop (i.e. pick it up on the day you depart Florence to go into the outskirts) because parking in Florence is expensive and driving there can be confusing as many streets are off limits to traffic.


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A Room With A View


Every time I sit to write about Florence I get overwhelmed because I don’t know where to start.  There are so many places to see, restaurants to eat at and things to do it is hard for me to narrow it down.  So I thought, one of the first things that visitors need is a place to stay, and like any city Florence has its share of accommodations.   I have stayed at several three star hotels and found them to be adequate, the rooms were clean, there were decent breakfasts offered and the locations were fine.  Then my husband and I stayed at the Antica Torre di via Tournabouni and nothing else compared.   When we first stayed at this hotel it had a three star rating but it now has a four star rating which in essence means the cost is higher but if you can swing it, the cost is worth it.  For starters, the location is outstanding.  The hotel is steps from the Arno and across the street from Salvatore Ferragamo’s store.  The rooms are spacious and the bathrooms large.  My husband is on the taller side with broad shoulders and for anyone who has stayed in an Italian room with the shower stall you can understand his frustration when his shoulder hits the faucet and he is scorched with scalding hot water.  You will not have this problem at Antica Torre.  For those who like to start their day with a larger breakfast, they offer a nice buffet with a varied selection of muffins, cakes, frittata, rolls, cheese, meat, etc.  The best part is you get to enjoy this lovely breakfast on a terrace overlooking the Duomo, even if the weather is inclement or it is cold there is a windowed indoor breakfast room so you can still enjoy the view.  If you have a chance and want to take a break in the afternoon, there is another terrace that overlooks the Arno, or take your morning coffee and enjoy watching the rowers on the river in the morning.  One thing to note, if you arrive later in the evening/night you have to ring the bell so that the staff can open the door for you (let them know in advance you will be arriving later).  It is a difficult door to see at night but do not be concerned, once inside you will be glad you opted for this hotel.

 

The website for Antica Torre is:  http://www.tornabuoni1.com/site/en/residence.php


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Le Logge del Vignola

In my last posting I wrote about Pici and a restaurant in Montepulciano that I would recommend for this dish. Again in this posting I am going to continue on the food theme while staying in Montepulciano.  One of my favorite restaurants is located in the hamlet of Montepulciano, it is Le Logge del Vignola.  Having been here several times, I have tried numerous dishes and have never been disappointed.  The Val di Chiana beef melts in your mouth, and there are not one or two truffles, there are enough truffles that you believe you should be paying a lot more for the dish than you are.  My husband’s favorite is the Beef Tartare, which is not always on the menu, if it is and you enjoy this dish order it here (he says it is better than what he had in Paris).  The homemade ice cream is indescribable, and I eat a lot of gelato when I am in Italy, this is in a class of its own.   The menu changes with the seasons, so it is hard to give specific recommendations other than those above; I can say that I have tried things that I typically might not have ordered in a restaurant and have always been beyond pleased.

I can’t write about Le Logge without talking about Massimo, the proprietor.  He is gracious, extremely attentive and one of the best sommeliers I have met (their wine menu is fantastic).

Just so you are aware, this is a small and intimate restaurant and probably not ideal for young kids.  In the high season reservations are recommended, and in the off season check the schedule as the restaurant is closed on some days.

The website for Le Logge del Vignola is http://www.leloggedelvignola.com/en/home .

Buon Appetito!


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Pici, The Tuscan Born Pasta

 

I love all of Italy but have a fondness for Tuscany and the diversity of the towns that make up this region.  From the tourist filled streets of Florence to the flower boxed windows of Pienza and all the towns in between, you find great food, friendly people and amazing scenery and architecture.  My biggest problem in starting this site has been what to write about first.  My husband told me to start with a food item, specifically Pici.  Being a food lover that is what this posting will concentrate on.  For those of you who are unsure what Pici is, it is pasta, very particular pasta that is found only in the Tuscan region.  Wikipedia refers to Pici as “thick rolled pasta, like a fat spaghetti,” which is a pretty accurate description of how Pici looks.  However, neither Wikipedia, nor any other site can tell you about the fabulous taste or the seriousness in which the Tuscans take their Pici.  I have had the opportunity to eat Pici in several restaurants but the best that I have had to date is in a small restaurant in Montepulciano, called Borgobuio.   Borgobuio is off a small side street in the historical center of Montepulciano and is wonderfully cozy while emanating a feeling of being in a wine cellar.  The staff is friendly and in addition to the Pici they have many other menu items to offer.  However, go their specifically for the Pici and then order if you want more.  Remember though, Pici is a very heavy pasta so you may want to go light on ordering a second dish.  While you are at Borgobuio, ask your waiter if you can step down into the Etruscans ruins, where the antiquity of the restaurant is more than apparent and it will cap off your visit to this restaurant.  You can visit their website at http://www.borgobuio.it/eng/index.html .

 

If you search for Pici on the internet you will find several sites that sell this Pasta, however, like anything that is not freshly made you will not get the full or true taste of this pasta, so do not judge it by a dried version that you purchase online.  I even brought some dried Pici back from Italy, and you guessed it, how sadly disappointed after my wonderful Pici meal at Borgobuio.


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