Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Olive Oil 2

Fruit of the Month: the Olive
The Olive Harvest 2013

Recently (January 2014) a horrifying animated chart appeared in the New York Times exposing (not for the first time) olive oil fraud. This should make us appreciate the small producers more and understand that their prices are high for a good reason. And here is an excellent blog by Tom Mueller which covers the subject of olive oil and oil fraud very well.
For more on olive oil please see last year's post as well.

I was unable to participate in the olive harvest this year as planned, but a friend who took part for the first time has provided some photos and a couple of excellent short films to give an idea of how things are done nowadays in Chianti.

This year rain was a problem: it held up the harvest from one day to the next. But in the end everyone managed to make their oil.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hot off the New York Times

Breakneck Tour of Central Chianti 

Despite making little mention of the sights to be seen between stops, this article from the New York Times has some (largely gastronomic/hedonistic)  pointers for

 - although no one should be foolish enough to imagine it suffices!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Chianti Spectacular

Circuit routes through Chianti: 
the pick of the bunch - so far

Le Ripe is just opposite the river from Lucarelli which is 10 o'clock from Radda

Greve-Lamole-Panzano roundtrip

Vignamaggio, the villa and vineyard where the Monna Lisa was supposed to have lived and where Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado about Nothing was filmed

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fruit of the Month: the quince

The Quintessential Quince

one of our two quince trees

October is the month of the quince. At least it is at Le Ripe where the overall success rate in our orchard is somewhat limited: quinces abound this year but there is nary an apple.

quinces are very attractive but I store them on windowsills also to ripen them and to enjoy their lovely aroma

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On the Way Home

The Flaming Cypress

A crimson glory vine (vitis coignetiae) sets fire to a solitary cypress.

Admired each year in October on the SP 76 between La Piazza and Molin Nuovo, Comune of Castellina in Chianti.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Festa Aprilante Panzano + Eroica

Panzano Allegro con Brio and Bikes

Giocondo Fagioli and his baskets made of rushes he gathers himself

In Panzano in Chianti every first Sunday of the month, every month of the year,  the Festa Aprilante is held. This is a market which stretches from the main square on the 222 all the way up towards the church and along the street where Cecchini the butcher reigns.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Change of Season

Autumn is icumen in

Time to bring in the tender pot plants, the gardenia, dipladenia (mandevilla), azalea, hibiscus, tiny cacti, cyclamen, gerbera and amaryllis. With temperatures at night going below 10 degrees, now is the time to protect these plants. Our two citrus trees (lemon and cumquat) will also be hauled to shelter.
So goodbye to the little crowd of pots under the fig tree opposite our front door and hello greenhouse vegetation indoors...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Staggia Senese Castle - La Rocca di Staggia

A Castle Full of Surprises

The parachutes draped from wall and tower should have alerted us. This promised to be not just another medieval castle. (For a list of all the castles in Tuscany, look here.)

These are just the ones in the province of Siena!

Only 40 minutes' drive from Le Ripe, Staggia Senese was familiar to us as a town on the way to Poggibonsi (yes, it is podgybonzy).  

Note: despite its delightful name, Poggibonsi is not worth visiting unless you need furniture, advice from a thermo-technician, light fixtures or electronic devices. As a local salesman once announced to us: "Poggibonsi has everything".  But it is not beautiful.

a flattering angle on Poggibonsi

Every time we drove through Staggia's narrow main street we were intent on a mission, uninterested in this seemingly dull town

the main route through Staggia towards Poggibonsi: the castle is visible in the distance, but usually one is so intent on getting somewhere else one misses it entirely

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Castello di Brolio

The Iron Baron and his Fairy-Tale Castle

Visiting the Castello di Brolio there are moments when you might imagine yourself inside a fairy tale. Not the slick Disney sort of fairy tale, the real thing: think Perrault or Grimm. Bluebeard. Those harsh cautionary tales warning of life's pitfalls and dangers, softened by happy endings. Mostly.

As you approach from the north on the SP 484, the castle is invisible. The enoteca or wine cellar/shop stands out on your right, flanked by large lattice-windowed storerooms. Before you a road winds up the hill amongst tall, dark trees. You can park and walk or drive on to park a little higher, but still the castle is hidden from view. Some old stone steps take you closer. You catch a glimpse of crenellated grey walls, buttresses, a tower where Rapunzel might have languished.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fruit of the Month: Figs

It's that fig time again

I wrote about figs last year but it is fitting to record this year's harvest of the most abundant, low-maintenance, stress-free gift of the gods we have at Le Ripe.

I predict I shall be bottling kilos of fig puree this season, but our guests will also be able to benefit from the bounty of our several trees.

To think that we did not have to plant, cage, prune, feed or spray these trees. Our only task is to harvest and eat.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vino al Vino Panzano's Wine Festival

Wine to Wine

 a September Highlight

Every year in the middle of September Panzano holds its wine festival showcasing the local vineyards. In the main square of Panzano, right on the 222 between Florence and Siena you can buy a glass and pouch to carry it in for 15 euro and taste as many wines as you have a mind to.

There is live music, a festive atmosphere, the local shops and tradesmen are all open and welcoming and there are even things for children to do...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Maps and Representations of Chianti - and Le Ripe - through the Ages

From Ancient Rome to Google

Over the centuries Tuscany and Chianti have been depicted in many different ways. From the allegorical to the digitally photographed, each representation has said something about the era in which it was created and much about the importance of this part of the world.

The above is a detail from the extraordinary Tabula Peutingeriana, probably dating to the 5th century CE, which depicts all roads leading to Rome; this section covers Tuscany with Florence (Florentia Tuscorum) and Siena (Sena Julia) in the lower centre. For a look at the complete Tabula, which is glorious, see here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The new Antinori Winery in Chianti

Twenty-six Generations under One Roof

Past and present: the timeless beauty of Badia Passignano from a model at the Antinori Chianti museum

Present and future: the grand plan for the streamlined winery to outdo all wineries
You have to admire the audacity of the Antinori family: to plan, construct and complete a project of this size and ambition in a territory where modernity is often anathema.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Unsung Local Heroes II

Enrico the Carpenter, Armchair Historian and Lover of Animals

The 'Evening Shadow' Etruscan sculpture from Volterra circa 300 BCE; Enrico has a reproduction of the sculpture in his house

We are very fond of Enrico and his family. They live in the village of Lucarelli, at the bottom of our hill, beside the river Pesa. A close-knit family of four, they have all been involved in our lives and work at Le Ripe since we first arrived. The son is an electrician and it was through him that we first encountered the rest of the family. Such was his involvement in the electrification of Le Ripe that one evening, when we turned off the outside lights the better to observe the stars, we received a call from him asking if everything was alright: from the valley he had seen the lights go out at Le Ripe and was concerned. Eventually his mother, highly recommended by our neighbours, came to help in the house, and her daughter, who sells her wares at local fairs and markets in her spare time, is a mistress of the cross-stitch and made our lavender bags. I trust I can say that we have become friends rather than just neighbours and beneficiaries of their skills and know-how.

little Lucarelli, beside the Pesa: the church was built in the 20th century, replacing the ancient San Pietro on the other side of the valley

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Every Bed of Roses has its Thorns

The Other Side of the Idyll

Writing this blog I sometimes worry that we only ever talk about the Good Things of life in Chianti. Although the intention is to describe the best of what's available, be it food, culture, craftsmanship or festivals, or the most interesting aspects of our garden, the seasonal changes etc., we run the risk of giving the wrong impression. Although I doubt anyone truly believes we are living in some sort of enchanted bubble.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sharecropping in Tuscany

Slavery, Serfdom and Mezzadri

view from Lamole towards Panzano

It is all very well for us to wax romantic over the Tuscan countryside, its rows of smoky olives, the lines of vines, its ancient drystone terracing, handsome stone farmhouses and grand villas. These elements are indeed harmonious and pleasing to the eye. But their beauty may be incidental. Sadly, this marriage of natural materials and the painstaking husbandry of the land are also testimony to an ancient institution which at best discouraged innovation  and at worst was downright exploitative and extremely harsh, at least for many.              

detail of Calendar from Le Rustican ou livre des prouffitz champestres et ruraulx by Pietro de' Crescenzi, (trans from Liber Ruralium Commodorum written about 1305), ed. circa 1470-1475, musée Condé, ms.340, Illuminations by Maître du Boccace de Genève

Thursday, August 22, 2013


 Made to Last

At Lamole there is a series of beautiful steps set into the ancient drystone walls lining the road. They stand out for their simple, practical designs, masterly execution and durability.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hazelnut Harvest

Getting in before the wild boar and squirrels

this year's hazlenuts from the cossetted hedge
 I used to be surprised when our elderly neighbour, Signor Bonechi, would come up our drive in mid August to shake the hazelnuts out of the trees. It seemed to early: surely hazelnuts are an autumn crop? Over time I have come to realize that Signor Bonechi was simply canny. 

impossible to photograph, our squirrels resemble this black squirrel but are tinier, more feathery-looking and with a deep burgundy tinge to the black

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Conversation with an Historian of Tuscan Architecture

Scattered Notes on the Past

View of Florence, Raffaello Arcangelo Salimbeni (1914-1991)
Just the other day we had a visit from an architectural historian, a retired professor from Florence University who specialises in Tuscan architecture, from the grand to the humble. Obviously we hoped to glean something more about the history of Le Ripe, but although he could give us no greater indications than the name of the archives (in Florence) where we should carry out further research, his conversation was full of fascinating snippets which I thought to compile in a post for those who might be interested. (If I repeat things already written in other posts I apologise to our most attentive readers!)

the epitome of Tuscan grand architecture: the renaissance Ponte Santa Trinità in Florence, with its elliptic arches, considered one of the most elegant bridges in the world

Friday, August 16, 2013

Red Harvest


Our pride and joy - and pleasure - this morning's harvest of cuore di bue (beefsteak-type), fiorentini (local, grooved tomatoes) and cherry-type picadilly tomatoes. Some we leave to ripen on the sill, others we store in the fridge, most we eat as soon as possible, see below

Tomato Toasts
nice simple recipe for quick summer lunch
make toast with your favourite bread;
fatly slice beefsteak tomatoes;
generously drizzle good olive oil on toast;
  add tomatoes, salt 
and lots of freshly-ground pepper. 

Summer Sights

A Perfect Summer's Day

a delightful new angle on Panzano from the vineyards above Querceto, accessed on unsealed road from the 222 towards Castellina

Often around mid-August the weather begins to change. There may be big, cathartic storms or simply a gradual change in temperature. This year it is the latter: the great heat appears to be subsiding; we are now enjoying hot but not unbearable days,clear skies and blissfully cool nights.  

this year we have been regaled with a second Birth of Venus

The Italian national holiday of Ferragosto (August 15th), which hails back to Emperor Augustus who proclaimed a holiday in his own name, has been and gone. The ferie, or vacations (explicitly from work), have passed their peak. We took advantage of the peace and quiet of the holiday to explore directly around Le Ripe. Here are some photos from the day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Argiope bruennichi

 A Spider in Waiting

at the centre of her web; size indicates that this is a female

On the aia, the former threshing floor, I recently spied what looked like a wasp captured in a spider's web. The web was at head height as it had been woven between the foliage of a phlomis plant which is growing above the aia, so I was able to observe it easily. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Field Work

Clearing Track and Field

 The other day a man and his tractor came to clear our lower fields and the access track for the second time (or third if you count the hunters who offered to clear the field some years ago).

this track was cleared by Paolo and my husband about two years ago, following indications of the former cart track

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Road Works

Road Improvements Phase I

two cement mixers were used

the cement had to be coloured, to conform with regulations

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Looking trim

...and tidy

It is the middle of summer, we have just been blasted by a heatwave and blessed by a summer storm. After the rain I took these photos and I must say, thanks to Paolo and some hard pruning, some of us are looking pretty trim.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pipistrellus pipistrellus

 The Nocturnal Paratroopers

There are bats at Le Ripe and there certainly always have been. When we first arrived to survey the semi-ruins of our future home we discovered bats in the cellar, bats in the bedroom and bats in the barn. Yet they are elusive creatures and for five years now, since the renovations, we have not seen many.

However over the last couple of days I have been lucky enough to sight bats again at Le Ripe. The other evening, at dusk but well before dark, I happened to notice a small, dark round shape zipping out of our bat box (more on this below); I focused my gaze on the bat box and was treated to the sight of a second small round shape zipping out after the first. The image this called to mind when I tried to describe it was of two action film paratrooper commandos bombing out of a helicopter, diving down towards their mission, their parachutes (in this case the bats' wings) still furled behind them.* 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nymphaeaceae - Water Lily

The Missing Myth

Since our little pond was established in the restored washing trough we have enjoyed the annual gift of a single waterlily. With wonder and joy we observe its opening and closing each day for three days and its gentle sinking back underwater once its flowering cycle is complete.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

San Leolino, Panzano

A Charming Church

the view from the church, looking west
It is a truth universally acknowledged that churches are to be found in the most panoramic sites. San Leolino, near Panzano in Chianti, is no exception. 

The oft-cited explanation for churches' prime locations is: they got there first. More accurately: they frequently took over from other cults and civilizations which got there first. The Etruscans preferred hilltop sites for their towns and their necropoli, often situated on two adjoining elevations. (One wonders if it was simply for defensive reasons.) Panzano is a case in point: of Etruscan origin, it was also inhabited by the Romans who were keen on elevation, when available

the elegant 16th century facade with its asymmetrical portico or loggia

Monday, July 15, 2013

Unsung Local Heroes I

Paolo the Woodsman


log splitting demonstration

stacked logs: this pile is three logs deep

"A force of nature" is how he has described himself. And, modesty apart, we tend to agree. Paolo has been an important part of Le Ripe since 2006 when we first met him, perched on the roof of our barn which was to become the Fienile cottage. He and the master builder Pasquale were responsible for restoring the buildings at Le Ripe over two years. Over that time we came to appreciate Paolo's great energy, enthusiasm for hard work and knowledge of his world.