A Tuscan Lunch by an Ancient Monastery

Antico Ristorante La Certosa

 

Antico Ristorante La Certosa
Via Cassia, 1
50124 Impruneta, (Florence)
39-055-204-8876
info@lacertosa.it
www.lacertosa.it

 

 

When a restaurant occupies what was once the Monks’ Old Pharmacy of the 12th century Antico Ristorante La Certosa - Sala ChiostroCertosa Monastery, it has every reason to attach the venerable attribute “Antico” to its name.  Opened a little over a decade ago, La Certosa, offers traditional Tuscan cuisine and awesome views of the hilltop monastery. Each of the several dining rooms is uniquely decorated with newly frescoed walls that take their inspiration from Tuscany’s artistic past.  We lunched in the Sala Chiostro, an intimate space that wrapped us in the warm colors of the Tuscan countryside – sunflower yellow, golden wheat and wine red, easily putting us in the mood for the wonderful food and wine that soon came to our table.

When we asked our waiter to help us select from their many offerings, he simply shrugged and said, “You are in Toscana, what else? It’s obvious.  Beef!”  His recommendation was obviously the right choice.  If we were to eat nothing else but the main course, tagliata alla fiorentina, the most tender slices of beef, seasoned simply with salt, rosemary and capers, accompanied by roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables, we would have left completely satisfied.  But naturally, we savored assorted antipasti of salumi and crostini, and a sampling of two different pastas, accompanied by an excellent DOCG Chianti from Villa La Palagina vineyards.  La Certosa cuisine has no secrets – it is simply Tuscany country cooking at its best – fresh ingredients, in the hands of master chefs, simply prepared.  And Ecco Fatto! You have a most satisfying meal.

To add to the enjoyment of a dinnertime meal, La Certosa offers entertainment in the evening – traditional folkloric music or arias from Italy’s beloved operas.  On occasion, La Certosa looks to its past and offers a special dinner with a monastery theme, recreating an ancient refectory atmosphere where the waiters dress as monks.  In addition to the several indoor dining rooms, an outdoor patio becomes an enchanting setting for dining alfresco in the warmer months, whether for a romantic dinner for two or a festive dinner for a large group.

 

copyright – Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

 

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B&B Villa Diana – a Sicilian country house

2017c B&B Villa Diana

 

B&B Villa Diana
S.S. 122 n.14 (Km. 5.4)
92100 Agrigento (AG)
Sicily
http://www.villadiana.ag.it
info@villadiana.ag.it

Villa Diana is not an Italian villa as one might imagine the Tuscan-red villas nestled among the vineyards of Chianti, or a rose-colored villa in a lush garden perched high above the sea on the Amalfi Coast. It is rather an unpretentious country house on the rocky terrain of sun-drenched Sicily and herein lies its charm. One is immediately struck by the contrasts that meet the eye and give pause for contemplation. Inside, the warmth of our host and owner of this cherished family home spills out the minute he opens the door and introduces us to his home. The sunshine of his welcome illuminates an elegant interior, a sweeping staircase that leads to four guestrooms, each gracefully decorated in typical Sicilian fashion, and each equipped with an attention to detail that will provide restful comfort.

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The color of our bedroom walls reminds me of the lemons that grow not far from where I am standing, the furnishings a tasteful blend of wrought iron, fine wood, and a pleasing mix of decorative items, both contemporary and traditional. I love the presence of family portraits, landscape paintings, whimsical ceramics, and religious art – a selection that beautiful celebrates the essence of Sicily. In the central parlor, antiques, old and new books, shimmering glassware and small decorative collectibles offer warmth and welcome to a weary traveler.

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On the other hand, on a generous balcony that wraps around two sides of our room, we are offered another view of Sicily – that of its land, its light, its labors. The family who still reside in the home raise sheep, goats, donkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens. These provide the music of country life, lived according to the seasons, in a timeless landscape of olive groves, fruit orchards, umbrella pines and thorny Indian figs that take root with abandon among rocky crevices of the hillside.

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This abundance of the land is brought to our table at breakfast, where a grace-filled buffet invites us to indulge in fresh ricotta, organic yogurts, pecorino and salamis, homemade jams and preserves, as well as freshly baked goods and sun-ripened fruit.  One is tempted to linger if it weren’t for the temples of Agrigento that lure us into action.  After a day of excursions, we are comforted by the knowledge that we will be returning to a fine Sicilian home that will provide us with rich repose.

2017c Sunrise in Sicily

Sunrise in Sicily – View from Villa Diana                     Original Watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

 

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Titigliano Estate – platters and platters

Titignano (33)Titignano Agricola
Loc. Titignano
05018 – Orvieto TR
39-0763-308000
http://www.titignano.it
info@titignano.it

Not even a forecast of heavy rains could keep us away from our appointment with adventure – lunch in a fortified stone structure dating back to the 1100’s. The original castle overlooking the Tiber River is now in ruins but Titignano, its supporting fortress, remains. Built of stone from the Travertine quarries, it was transformed into a palace and small village in the 16th century, and in 1830 it was purchased by Prince Don Tommaso di Filippo Corsini of Florence. It is still owned by the Corsini Family heirs.  Together with the Tenuta di Salviano, the Titignano Estate comprises 2000 hectares, situated between Todi and Orvieto overlooking the Corbara Lake.

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Titignano (6) It is indeed a dreary November day and a very wet one, keeping us from fully exploring the estate. But inside, the castle both warms and charms us. The main hall of the castle with its original stone hearth is now the restaurant. We have brought large appetites with us and it is a good thing, a sneak preview of this hall reveals tables laden with countless platters.

In short order, those same platters are brought to our smaller dining room, where families and friends have gathered for Sunday lunch, to be consumed with great gusto. Our enjoyment of the meal unfolds in equal measure to theirs. But can we possibly keep up? The wait staff delivers endless antipasti in a practiced choreography around our tables, delivering focaccia and pizzette, crostini and cheese brioches. There is a tris of pastas: risotto with apples, baked lasagne, and pappardelle with Wild Boar sauce. The food reflects a road map of Umbria, its fields and forests, its valleys, farms, and orchards. The cooking reflects the simplicity and wholeness of the traditional dishes that the grandmothers of Umbria have made for centuries. The beef stew and porcini mushrooms are accompanied by green beans, and the platter of mixed grilled meats is followed by a simple tossed green salad. True “farm to table” cooking – we saw the sheep grazing in pastureland on our approach to the castle.

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Fortified by glasses of local Salviano wines, we eat like warriors, refusing to surrender. We reach dessert, a light tiramisù and biscotti with vin santo. Wouldn’t it be nice to surrender to one of their cozy guest rooms that now rent out to travelers?

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copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Ristorante Monna Lisa – where hospitality is a sacred art

Monna Lisa

 

Ristorante Monna Lisa
Via del Forte,
Castiglione del Lago (PG)
39-075-951-071
monnalisa@simail.it
Owner: Maurizio Bracci

 

 

Hospites sacri sunt.  Ristorante Monna Lisa’s owner, Maurizio Bracci, holds true to his restaurant’s motto, espousing the sanctity of hospitality.  Maurizio is a warm and welcoming host, who turns hospitality into a fine art.  The atmosphere is casual, familial – we are at home at his table.  The dining room, with walls the color of corn and table linens the color of wheat, sets the tone for meals that celebrate the bounty of the “territorio.  Below is another dining room, an old-fashioned taverna where private parties can be accommodated and simpler, traditional peasant fare is offered.  The centuries-old wine barrels were impossible to move from the structure where they began their life, so when Maurizio restored the tavern, he simply incorporated them into the walls, where, he says, they will remain. 

Menu offerings include both fish from Lake Trasimeno, specialties from the sea, or dishes typical of the Umbrian-Tuscan region of Italy.  Their tagliere antipasto, a wooden platter with a bounty of local salami and cured meats, bruschette and variously aged Tuscan pecorino cheeses, could have easily been subject for a still life painting, had we left it untouched.  Not possible.  Choosing to sample a little of the sea, a little of the land was a good way to proceed.  Most memorable were the gnocchetti all’ortica con polpa di granchio e capesantetiny green gnocchi bathed in a creamy tomato sauce made with crabmeat and scallops.  We did not stray far when selecting a wine.  The hillside vineyards of the lake region, Colli di Trasimeno, produce a grechetto that is superb – a dry, white wine that whispers of white fruit: peaches, pears and even of bananas.

Ristorante Monna Lisa is a family-run restaurant, with wife Josefina in the kitchen making an art of her cooking.  Each course arrives at the table, skillfully prepared and artfully plated.  Her dessert of macedonia spills from a waffle cone reminiscent of a cornucopia, accompanied by ice cream, whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar – not simply served, but presented as a gift!

Gift yourself a meal at this delightful restaurant!  

 

copyright – Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

 

Il Giardino Bardini – no longer a secret garden

Bardini Gardens (4)

I Giardini Bardini
Villa Bardini
Costa San Giorgio, 2
50125 Florence
Tel: 055-2006-6206

Email: info@bardinipeyron.it
Website: www.bardinipeyron.it

Everyone who visits Florence is familiar with the Boboli Gardens, but few are aware of another magical garden nearby. I Giardini Bardini remained hidden, so to speak, until a thorough restoration of the gardens and the villa by the city of Florence brought them back into the light and open to visitors in 2010. Even though I have been visiting this art-encrusted city off and on for over fifty years, I had never heard of the Bardini Gardens. Today Florence in her abundant generosity spills out another gem from her treasure chest.

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The 10-acre gardens are divided into three terraced sections, just above the banks of the Arno River near Ponte Vecchio. The Belvedere at the top offers extraordinary views of the city, without the crowds of Piazzale Michelangelo. In fact, just about every part of the garden offers an unobstructed view, for you alone, to enjoy – The Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s rooftops and bell towers with the shimmering river leading your eye from treasure to treasure, memory to memory.

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The garden dates back to the 13th century when it was owned by the Mozzi family. It was most probably a fruit orchard to supply the family’s needs for food rather than beauty. It remained in the family until the last of the family members died in 1880. Over the course of the centuries, the gardens were expanded and modified to include statuary and flowers. The stunning Baroque staircase was added in the 17th century, then embellished with statues and fountains in the 18th century. It remains the focal point of the garden and offers heart-stopping views of the city. When the property came into the possession of Stefano Bardini in the early 20th century, the gardens continued to blossom into the masterpiece they are today.

 

 

 

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By Nemo bis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We are here on a sunny October day, celebrating my daughter’s 40th birthday, and the garden offers us gifts at every turn. First to enchant us is the Fontana del Drago, part of an early 19th-century Chinese- inspired garden with a water channel running along its one side fed by the “dragon.” We savor the silence of the fruit orchard, that reminds us of its simple past. Each terrace offers separate gardens, delightful even if we have missed the colorful blooms that painted them earlier in the year – azaleas, roses, irises and over 60 varieties of hydrangea, giving us every reason to come back in the springtime. To stroll beneath the wisteria-covered pergola and see the city gilded by the late afternoon sun, or better yet, at sunset would be reason enough to come back.

The original villa was constructed in the 14th century and was restructured and enlarged in the 17th century. As new owner, Stefano Bardini enlarged it again, adding the loggia and the limonaia, or lemon house. Known as the “Belvedere,” it now houses two galleries, one displaying fashions and the other hosts a permanent exhibition of paintings by Pietro Annigoni. The loggia serves as an outdoor café, where one can enjoy an aperitif and drink in the views. Or shall we wander and, sip by sip, savor the views as sustenance for our souls?

Open daily with hours:
8:15 to 16:30 (during the months of November, December, January, February)8:15 to 17:30 (in March)
8:15 to 18:30 (in April, May, September, October)
8:15 to 19:30 (during June, July, August)
Closed 1st and last Monday of each month, 1 January, 1 May and 25 December

Entrance fee:
7 € for the Bardini Gardens
10 € combined ticket for both the Bardini and the Boboli Gardens

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Ristorante Pascolò – by the sea

Ristorante Ristorante PascolòPascolò
Via Giuseppe Pellegrino 154
Vietri sul Mare (SA)
39-089-763-062

http://www.ristorantepascalo.com
Owner / Chef: Pasquale Vitale

Pasquale confesses to having been a vagabond for many years – traveling and learning his craft as chef.  He worked in many fine hotel restaurants in Italy’s famed resorts.  Then he spent six months in Miami, where he admits to acquiring excellent organizational skills.  These same skills and his love for adventure is what he brought with him when he returned to his hometown of Vietri sul Mare.  He opened up his restaurant in 2006, giving it the name Pascolò, with a subtitle “Arte in Tavola.”  Art is what he brings to his tables.

PasqualeLocated directly on the marina of Vietri, his family-style restaurant has both indoor and outdoor dining in season.  Naturally, his cuisine is primarily seafood-based, featuring the freshest catch of the day.  In addition, Pasquale loves to “revisit” some Campania classics, adding his special twist.  We tried his version of spaghetti alla chitarra, traditional pasta of the region, usually served with lamb.  His is dressed up with the frutti del mare – a dish that appeals to the eye, as well as the taste buds.  Pasquale loves to save his pièce de resistance for the meal’s end. We had a pastry-like cake made called scomposta al limone made with limoncello – Pasquale’s creation meant to leave its sweet taste lingering in his customer’s memory.    Remember we will.

 

copyright – Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

 

Villa d’Este – a garden that stuns and soothes

Villa d'Este (4)

Villa d’Este
Piazza Trento, 5
00019 Tivoli (Rome)
Tel: 39-041-271-9036
http://www.villadestetivoli.info
villadestetivoli@bestunion.com

A UNESCO World Heritage Site,  belonging to the Italian State that oversees its restorations and maintenance, Villa d’Este and its gardens were built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este in the early 16th century.  Designed by architect Pirro Ligorio and realized by Alberto Galvani, the villa and gardens are located in Tivoli, outside of Rome.

For me, a walk through the garden is always perfumed with nostalgia, a longing to go back. In my case, it would mean going back more than fifty years, when I was first introduced to the gardens by my father. Actually, it was not without the loving companionship and assistance of my mother that we made these trips with my eleven siblings in tow. But it was my father who had a way of making me feel as if he had brought me alone to see the beauty that he so deeply appreciated. He made it a place of joyful learning.

He would patiently explain its wonders and I would be ensnared in that magical net. Where else in the world can one see such an extraordinary system of fountains, fifty-one to be exact, with a profusion of spouts, waterfalls, grottoes, basins and channels, all in a liquid dance that worked entirely without pumps, dependent on gravity alone? The water is supplied by the Aniene, a 62 mile-long river that flows westward before it joins the Tiber in Rome.

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Villa d'Este (1)A long panoramic terrace leads us from the villa and its loggia to the upper levels of the estate and then what is known as the Cardinal’s Walk, a shaded path, takes us from one end of the garden to the other. I could not possibly list the marvels of the illustrious fountains that make this Italian Renaissance garden so famous. And so, I will revisit some of my favorites. I can see my little brothers propelled ahead of us to be the first to discover the next new treasure or to distance themselves enough to get into some watery mischief. We older children are lagging behind them, intrigued by the Hundred Fountains. Constructed between 1566 and 1577, the fountains have close to 300 spouts fed by three levels of canals running side by side, each sending its water to the canal below. Many of the original sculptures that adorned the walls along these channels have deteriorated or disappeared altogether, leaving their replacements and the walls covered in vegetation and a velvety moss.

Oval Fountain

My younger siblings have beat us to the Fontana dell’Ovato, one of the first and most famous of the garden. I recall vividly the thrill of walking beneath the cascade of the Grotto of Venus, both wishing for and dreading a gust of wind that would have us all soaked through. I imagine the Cardinal’s guests, who used this space on hot summer days felt the same way. The original statues of the grotto are now in the Capitoline Museum, and visitors are currently not allowed to walk beneath the cascade.

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Surpassing the enchantment of the Fontana dell’Ovato is the spectacular Fountain of Neptune with water jets reaching over 40 feet into the air, flanked by other jets and multiple cascades. It commands a view of the three massive rectangular fish ponds which originally served to provide fresh fish and ducks for the Cardinal’s table. Designed to connect the Fountain of the Organ and the Fountain of the Seas, they offer perhaps the most temptation to small visitors to get splashing.  Is that my little brother leaning over the edge, water up to his armpits, in an attempt to catch a fish?

Villa d'Este (7)One of the sculptures removed from the Organ Fountain is the Statue of Diana of Ephesus, now placed at the end of the garden. Even though it appears ancient, it was made in 1568 by a Flemish sculptor, who was inspired by the ancient statuary found in other Roman villas. Known also as the Fountain of Mother Nature, it has jets of water spurting from each of her many breasts, so my father explained, to represent fertility. Now, fertility is something we understand as members of a large family, but it made us giggle nonetheless. We may have even counted to make sure there were twelve breasts!

Over the decades since my first introduction to the Villa d’Este, I have enjoyed the gardens over and over again. The artist in me is always revitalized by the many fountains that delight the eye and sooth the spirit. It is not without gratitude that I think of the Cardinal, the architect and landscape artist, the sculptors, engineers, gardeners and grounds-keepers who have made this experience possible. And thank you, Dad, for the memories.

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Full ticket: € 8,00
Reduced ticket: € 4,00

Guided Tours:
Guided tours of the garden and villa are available.
Prices:
Guided tour in the Italian Language (max. 25 persons): € 90. Each additional person please add € 3,50 to a maximum of 50 persons.
Guided tour in other languages (English, French, German, Spanish) (maximum 25 persons) € 110. Each additional person please add € 3,50 to a maximum of 50 persons.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com