I Giardini dei Tarocchi – a mosaic garden

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I Giardini dei Tarocchi
The Tarot Gardens
Località Garavicchio,
58011 Pescia Fiorentina, Capalbio
Province of Grosseto

This past summer I introduced my granddaughters to the art of making mosaics. Ours were simple designs made with the broken pieces of ceramics that nearby building suppliers happily let us clear out of their lots. Ours were not fine, highly finished creations, but they were FUN! And we soon learned that the process of making mosaics is downright addictive.

So it was only right, that we make a family trip to Il Giardino dei Tarocchi in the neighboring region of Tuscany, where the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle devoted her limitless energies to creating a fantastical mosaic garden inspired by both Gaudi’s Parc Güell in Barcelona and the nearby Parco dei Mostri, or Monster Garden, in Bomarzo. Obsessed with the idea of designing a monumental sculpture park, she purchased a piece of land in 1979. About 100 kilometers north-west of Rome, set amid olive groves and farmland, the estate began to fill with massive figures representing her vision of the mysteries of the Tarot. It was to become her raison d’etre, a reflection of unleashed, manic artistic expression that spanned decades of her life.

The 22 figures were constructed of reinforced concrete, plastered, and finally covered with mirror shards and ceramic fragments. Large enough to be walked through and climbed over, they are a delight to every child who visits. In fact, during the many months of the garden’s construction., the artist took up residence in the Empress, a sphinx-like sculpture with shocking blue hair topped by a crown. Inside, the interior is covered in a dizzying arrangement of splintered mirrored tiles.  It is so colossal a monument that her bedroom was located in the figure’s breast.

There is no doubt that making mosaics could possibly lead to madness (or the other way around). It certainly can distract one from his or her other duties, as in the case of the local postman, who early on was involved in the mosaic work, frequently forgetting to deliver the mail. The townsfolk were suspicious and quite alarmed by the growing presence of the whitish ghost-like figures in the garden, until their surfaces were covered in brilliant glass and ceramic pieces.

Niki de Saint Phalle, who suffered from mental illness, died in 2002. She left behind a dazzling monument to the art of mosaics and an enduring testament to the passion and tenacity of one artist and her dream. “How DID she do it?” we asked ourselves, over and over again. The answer is simply one tile at a time

Opening Days and Hours

Opening dates: from April 1 to October 15
Open Daily from 14:30 to 19:30

Ticket Prices

Adult € 12.00
Student (with ID) € 7.00
Over 65 € 7.00
Under 7 Free
Disabled Free

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Behind the city walls of Florence – a magical garden

I am pleased and proud to welcome my daughter, Rachel Pfaff, as my guest writer today.

Torrigiani GardensTG - estate
Via de’ Serragli, 144
Florence
+39 055 22 4527
Visits by reservation only
http://www.giardinotorrigiani.it/
info@giardinotorrigiani.it

On all of my travels I indulge my senses by exploring the local gardens, waterfalls, and city and national parks. The true beauty of each country comes through not just in the traditions of foods and architecture, but in nature’s bounty surrounding you. I have traveled through Florence several times over the past 20 years and spending time in its gardens is one of my favorite past times. Behind the old city wall of Florence is a hidden jewel, a secret garden so to speak, just waiting for you to peek inside. Visiting I Giardini Torrigiana has been something I have been wanting to do since I first learned of their existence, and I would recommend a visit to everyone. The garden is Europe’s largest privately owned garden within city limits.

 

The gardens, including an English style garden, a fairy tale-like tower and bridge, and green houses, new and old, have witnessed centuries of change. The villa and land have been in the Torriagina family since the 16th century. While as an American I am able to can trace my family back to Italy, Germany, and England; Veiri, the owner, has the joy of walking along paths of ancient trees planted and stone “temples” designed by his very own ancestors. He lives in the villa built in the 17th century, and shares the land with many generations of his family.

TG - gardens

It is not just the charming nature that brings this space to life, it is Vieri himself. His name, a popular Florentine name (Oliver to English-speakers), can be traced back to the word for “olive” and, is very fitting; coming from the root of a tree that has played a significant part of the region’s history. Vieri, who guides visitors on private tours himself, feels deeply connected to the land and the trees he tends. Having learned hands-on as a child and studied agriculture and botany as a young adult, Vieri’s life has been dedicated to plants and he now runs the nursery on the property as his business. He was recently joined in the business by his son, and their passion and love for what they do is evident as I watch them communicate among the greenhouses.

As you stroll through the acres of greenery, Vieri tells tales that breathe life into the very paths you walk. He tells of the land’s history as it came into his family, as well as the story of his family’s businesses over the years selling wine, imported furs, and banking. Your imagination will take you away as he tells of soldiers occupying the villa during the war and of his ancestors that built the neo-gothic tower bearing the family crest.TG - Vieri

Walking through this garden is like breathing in part of Florence’s history. Vieri gives a voice to each tree, flower, and fruit. Like an artist, he paints you a picture to take home with you. The sights, the smells, the stories will stay with me as a memory of Florence forever.

Vieri offers private tours to small groups for a cost when he is available, and for an additional fee visitors can enjoy tea in the villa afterwards . Be sure to make reservations  in advance of your trip to enjoy this special experience for yourself.

TG - Vieri & Son

 

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Truffle Heaven at Ristorante alla Balestra

Alla Balestra

Ristorante alla Balestra
Via della Republica, 41
Gubbio (PG)
075-927-3810
http://www.ristoranteallabalestra.it
info@ristoranteallabalestra.it

Owners:  Marco Paciotti & Gialla Bianconi

If there is a truffle heaven, then my daughter and I are seated at the banquet table in one of its palaces. We are enjoying the shade of its canopied terrace with a view of the terracotta rooftops of Gubbio, a medieval hilltown in Umbria. Ristorante alla Balestra provides the magic. Twenty years ago when a local restaurant was closing, present owners Marco and Gialla had the foresight to purchase it and turn it into what soon became and remains today a favorite with the local eugubini. The unsurpassed quality of their Umbrian cuisine – a cuisine that is exquisitely simple and wholly satisfying – is the reason why. Their truffle offerings put them right over the top.

The pumpkin-colored table linens and sleek putty-colored chairs blend well with the warm ancient stone of this centuries-old palazzo. Subtle beauty enfolds us. It is quiet as we embark on this truffle journey, led by the owner who chooses for us. A dish arrives, like a temple offering, holding a thin slice of pork with pear and caciotta cheese, crowned with delectable truffle shavings. Our panzanella is topped with a large prawn, Marco explains, “to far figura” and indeed we are impressed. This is followed by scrambled eggs with truffles. What do you call an antipasto that follows an antipasto? Divine!

Our banquet in paradiso continues with a sampling of umbricelli alla norcina al tartufo – thick hand-made noodles bathed in a cream sauce of sausage, porcini and truffles followed by a tasting portion of tagliatelle con sugo d’oca (duck sauce). In Umbria, pork is king and it reigns here prepared in a reduced Rubesco wine sauce with red onion from Cannara. Our wine? A DOC Grechetto from Vigna di Clara,

We were wise to have Marco guide us through the this multi-course meal. If we had looked at their menu, truly we would never have been able to decide. La Balestra, by the way, means cross-bow or catapult. It might take a catapult to remove us from this table.

Alla Balestra - Owner Marco

Marco Paciotti, Owner

 

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

 

Ristorante La Rocca – Seafood in Umbria

La Rocca

Ristorante La Rocca
Piazza Ca
duti del Lavoro,
06019 Umbertide (PG)
075-941-1828
Owners: Mirco e Daniela Fiorucci

The 20th century Ristorante La Rocca sits comfortably in the towering shadow of La Rocca, a 14th century fortress in the historic center of Umbertide. The outdoor dining room is in the middle of a busy square and parked cars, but in spite of this, one is pleasantly surprised by the seafood lunch that unfolds like a leisurely walk along the seashore. Brother and sister owners, Mirco and Daniela, know how to satisfy customers in search of a quality seafood meal in Umbria, the only land-locked region on the Italian peninsula. The restaurant was opened by their parents 28 years ago, starting simply as a pizzeria, then a spaghetteria, and finally offering what they loved most – seafood, influenced by the many years they had worked in Naples. The fish is delivered fresh from Fano, on the Adriatic coast, three times a week.

 

The tables in our sheltered outdoor dining room are cheerful with their raspberry-checkered table linens and jewel-tone glassware. The feel is homey and the food both genuine and abundant. Although typical Umbrian cuisine of all kinds is on the menu, we select a sampling of their seafood offerings, beginning with an appetizer of varied tastes and textures: marinated fresh anchovies, a crisp calamari and cuttlefish salad, shrimp in a home-made cocktail sauce, to name only a few. The delicious handmade pasta is coated with a tomato-based sauce that started as a fish broth and was made creamy by adding a purée of calamari and other gifts from the sea – a ragú di mare.

 

A platter of fried calamari and shrimp arrives at our table and we manage to find just enough room to savor their goodness. Oh why did we eat so many slices of their freshly baked bread with sun-dried tomatoes! All this with a local white wine, sparkling and refreshing on this sunlit day. We have lunched for over two hours, recipients of the 28 years of experience that went into making this experience so memorable.

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

Ristorante I Carracci – showing off the cuisine of Bologna

I_Carracci_1_WEBRistorante I Carracci
Grand Hotel Majestic ‘già Baglioni’
Via Indipendenza, 8
Bologna
39-051-225-445
http://www.duetorrihotels.com
info.ghmajestic@duetorrihotels.com

It would be difficult to single out the most praise-worthy aspect of dining at I Carracci Restaurant.  The dome of its lovely ceiling is I_Carracci_3_WEBadorned with 15th century grotesque-style frescoes attributed to the school of the renowned Bolognese Carracci brothers, who are responsible for the frescoed ceiling in the hotel’s Camerino d’Europa.   The sage-green brocaded walls with oil paintings and gilded mirrors and the elegant tables are set to please and prepare diners for a leisurely, flavorful journey at the hands of master Chef Giacomo Galeazzi.

I_Carracci_5_WEB aOur departure begins with a sformato di parmigiano topped with tiny wild strawberries and aged balsamic vinegar, accompanied by a gem-like white wine from the very local Umberto Cesari vineyards. A plate of thinly sliced culatello, the most prized part of Parma prosciutto, arranged like a flower, follows and whets our appetites for the Cucina Bolognese that is about to begin in earnest with none other than tagliatelle al ragù and baked green I_Carracci_6_WEB alasagne alla Bolognese, served in a creamy bath of parmesan sauce. The courses, paired with select wines from the region, continue and we do not let guilt slip into any opening between the chef’s specialties.  This is food that impresses our taste buds, but satisfies the soul.  One can taste the passion.

For wine lovers and those who love the enchantment of an old wine cellar, the hotel’s Morandi Wine Cellar dates back to the 15th century, but is dedicated to Bologna’s 20th century artist, Giorgio Morandi.  The cellar can seat up to 24 diners for a more intimate dinner party arranged at long tables set beneath vaulted stone ceilings and surrounded by an impressive collection of Italian and International wines.

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

 

 

Ristorante Redibis – dining in an ancient Roman arena

Ristorante RedibisRistorante Redibis
L’Orto degli Angeli
Via Dante Alighieri,1
Bevagna
39-0742-361-756
http://www.ortoangeli.it

This restaurant belongs to the elegant Orto degli Angeli, an elegant “Residenza d’Epoca” in the heart of Bevagna.  It is situated in the cavernous remains of the curved, barrel-vaulted ambulatory that once supported the cavea of the ancient Roman amphitheater, dating to the 1st century A.D.  The food is extremely good, yet simple fare, as the chef adheres as faithfully as possible to recipes that date back to medieval times.  I chose a tasting menu that followed family recipes, originally created by the Mongalli family’s nonna.  These dishes, with an emphasis on the freshest vegetables and herbs, demonstrate how simple ingredients, when placed in the right hands, can be turned into recipes worth repeating and recording.  Thank goodness, grandma did.   Indeed, Julien, our waiter explained, using no more than four ingredients is the key to the success of these cherished recipes.

Although there are remains of ancient Roman amphitheaters in many parts of the world, in Bevagna, these intact stone galleries are incorporated into the medieval dwellings and are still “lived in” today, something that occurs nowhere else in the world.  So to sit at table in this 2000 year-old stone corridor, where the music is soft and the food simply good is a once- in-a-lifetime experience.  The Latin name, “Redibis,” however, wishes otherwise, as it means, “You will be back.”   I certainly hope so.

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

La Terrazza Bramante – a restaurant with a view

La Terrazza BramanteLa Terrazza Bramante
Raphael Hotel
Largo Febo,2
(Piazza Navonna)
39-06-682-831
00186 Rome
http://www.raphaelhotel.com

From the Raphael’s rooftop terrace, guests enjoy a panoramic view of the eternal city.  As one gazes upon the city, the cupolas, the bell towers, the graceful palaces and the ancient monuments are awash in colors, shifting and blending ever so softly as if by a watercolorist’s brush.  In season, the multi-level terrace, otherwise known as the Roof Garden “Bramante”, named after the nearby Cloister of Bramante, is open for lunch and dinner.

Whether dining on the terrace with its spectacular views or in the ground-floor restaurant “Relais Picasso,” one should not miss the chance to savor the cuisine of Raphael’s noted chef, Jean-Francois Daridon.  The indoor restaurant name’s pays tribute to Picasso, whose original ceramic works grace both the dining room and the entrance lounge of the hotel.  These precious ceramics are part of a vast art collection of inestimable value, collected by Spartaco Vannoni and now on display at the hotel.

dishes0002Influenced greatly by Picasso’s style and color palate, the dining table décor is delightful.  The chef’s wife, Franca, has created and hand-painted each ceramic dinner plate in vivid colors and whimsical designs, giving an air of festivity and elegance to each table.  It is not easy to choose from Jean-Francois’ culinary creations, but we chose to select from his Mediterranean temptations.  The “saltimbocca” nearly leaps into one’s mouth as it should, but start, as we did, with his signature fettuccine verdi with mushrooms and peas.  And don’t end the evening without trying his famous apple Tarte-Tatin, a dessert that has been on Raphael’s menu for thirteen years.

 

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