Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mille Miglia Vintage Cars

The Mille Miglia Thousand Miles Rally 
May 2013

Mille Miglia poster: "the most beautiful race in the world"

It has been a cold and rainy May this year, the wettest in 200 years people are fond of telling you, with astonishment and dismay. But for the Tuscan sector of the Mille Miglia this year the sun emerged, the rain stopped falling and blustery clouds raced over clean blue skies for the duration. We had other commitments, but managed to see a part of the rally from a stretch of the SS2 (the ancient Roman Cassia) between Tavarnelle and San Casciano in Val di Pesa. The rally stopped for lunch in San Casciano again this year, so the lucky sightseers and car enthusiasts who converged there were treated to a long and considered inspection of the 400 odd (and some are truly odd) cars parked in the main square while the drivers dined. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

The La Petraia Experience

A Special Meal in the Hills

My only concern in writing about La Petraia is not to do it justice. La Petraia is not simply an agriturismo or country inn with fine dining, it is a lifestyle project, a way of life, a very particular choice to create a sustainable environment where the leitmotif is quality.

approaching La Petraia

This is obviously a big ask but the two owners and creators of this reality are passionate about their project and in twelve years have achieved remarkable things.

the entrance

Like Le Ripe, where we live, La Petraia had been abandoned for 40 years. It was fallow ground just waiting to be resown, restored, nurtured and to bear fruit. Which it has, in a big way. The abandoned farm now produces its own fruit and vegetables, honey, poultry, cinta senese pork, eggs, the first wines and olive oil, cheeses and milk and essential lavender oil and soap. And it offers hospitality and cuisine with extreme graciousness and charm.

the terraced gardens with a glimpse of the dining terrace above

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Carla Fineschi Botanical Rose Garden, Cavriglia

Eight Thousand Different Roses

 "Come into my garden. 
I would like my roses to see you.” 

These words, by Richard Sheridan, the Irish-born eighteenth-century dramatist and politician,
are engraved in a marble plaque set in the stone wall surrounding the house at the  
Roseto Botanico Carla Fineschi.  
A delightful invitation to all who visit.

Roseto di Cavriglia, now called Roseto Botanico Carla Fineschi in memory of the founder's wife

The Rose Garden at Cavriglia in the province of Arezzo, just outside the boundary of Chianti, is a remarkable testimony to one man's lifelong passion and dedication. The garden was founded in 1967 by Professor Gianfranco Fineschi who taught medicine at the Catholic University in Rome.  

He was something of a local legend. In the words of someone who met him:
"Fineschi was a little like Galileo in that he was a scholar, humble, empirical, unaffected, practical and well connected at every level of Italian culture and society. His interests numbered four: orthopedics, roses, sport (meaning soccer) and classical music. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lunch in Siena

And after the tour....

Entrance to Hosteria Il Carroccio in Via Casato di Sotto, around the corner from the Piazza del Campo
Try this cheerful, unpretentious little trattoria, a few steps from the Piazza del Campo (looking at the Palazzo Pubblico, the street is up to the right). Renata the owner will welcome you with smiles and find you a place out or in. We recommend inside as it is so pleasantly decorated in bright colours with a variety of photos, paintings, prints etc displayed on the walls. 
We tried the medieval antipasto which was genuinely interesting and tasty, but only for meat lovers and those who like offal. There are plenty of other choices including vegetarian. I always think that Italy is one of the easiest places to be a vegetarian.

Interior detail

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A new perspective on Siena Cathedral

Heaven's Gates
La Porta del Cielo

Duomo of Siena seen from the west: the tour takes in the portico around the cupola

Since April 2013, Siena Cathedral has opened its attics to the public. Never seen before except by those who built the cathedral from the 13th century on, the attics have now been fully restored and secured. Damaged over the centuries by fire, earthquakes, wars, humidity and even termites, the underside of the roof of the cathedral was in dire need of attention. These 'attics' have been carefully restored and converted into passageways and lookout points for stunning views both inside the cathedral and of its extraordinary artwork, as well as of the panorama of Siena and beyond, seen from narrow balconies and terraces that work their way around the cathedral's heights.

The guided tour begins near the cathedral's font. A small crowd of  tourists, young and old, briskly climbs a narrow, spiral staircase in white marble whose small arched windows let in light through yellow alabaster panes.

Friday, May 17, 2013

More Lavender Bags

Here they are again, in a new guise!

organza lavender bags

muslin lavender bags

My faithful collaborator Loretta has been hard at work at the sewing machine, making dozens more lavender bags. 

We discovered that 6/7 kilos of hand gathered and shucked lavender seeds go a long, long way,. 

Finally,  after much thought and preparation we now have lots of chubby sachets ready 
to perfume and protect 
dozens of wardrobes, drawers keep away silverfish and moths and impart a delicious aroma.

We might as well take orders; our production 
resembles that of a cottage industry!

We're quite proud of this simple but stylish design, which was created by Loretta herself. 

The bags are in double-layered white organza and white and ecru muslin.

To see the other embroidered bags go to: traditional embroidered lavender bags 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More irises

fields of iris
campi di giaggioli

A friend has sent these glorious shots from nearby Lamole where the iris industry used to thrive. See the post Beauty and the Beast for background on the Tuscan iris, now flowering in Chianti. 

(All the Gs in giaggioli are soft as iris petals).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Irises in Bloom

A once-yearly secret garden 

prize-winners' bed, seen from Piazzale Michelangelo

The iris garden of Florence is a small treasure to be enjoyed between April and May. It might almost be called a secret garden since the genteel ladies who run it are hopeless at PR, although, thankfully, over the years the iris display has received attention from the international press. 

glorious contrasts

A tourist visiting Piazzale Michelangelo for its incomparable in-your-face view of Florence might happen to look down, from the right hand parapet, and glimpse an iris bed on display below. But unless s/he were a particularly curious and enterprising tourist, s/he would almost certainly not realise, first, that the bed is merely a fraction of the garden, and second, that the garden is open to the public and free; although a donation is always welcome.

First prize winner in 1957: from the United States

Friday, May 10, 2013

Of middle May within a garden green

I’ mi trovai, fanciulle...

Angelo Poliziano 1454 - 1494

Politiano, detail from Sassetti Chapel, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Santa Trinità

Angelo (or Angiolo) Poliziano, (Angiolo Ambrogini da Montepulciano), was born at Montepulciano and became tutor to the sons of Lorenzo de’ Medici; in 1480 he was professor of Greek and Latin literature at Florence; he held many benefices which were withdrawn on the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1492; Poliziano died two years later. He wrote  numerous Latin poems, and, in Italian, lyrics, stanzas in praise of a tournament in which Giuliano, Lorenzo’s brother, had taken part, and the Orfeo, a lyrical drama. He perfected the ottava rima; was among the first scholars of the Renaissance, and a poet of great artistry.

Here is a ballad of his which illustrates both the art of the poet and the natural 'art' of the garden: 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Manhattan of the Middle Ages

Siena's skyscrapers

San Gimignano is famous for its medieval towers, but a walk through Siena reveals how 'upwardly mobile' were other Tuscan cities in the Middle Ages. Starting with the soaring, 80 metre high Torre del Mangia of the Palazzo Pubblico, built in the mid 14th century, tall buildings line Siena's streets: from public edifices to private residences, most are at least four storeys high.

people still live in this tower