Category Archives: Italy

Trattoria La Palazzina – a proud heritage

Trattoria La Palazzina smTrattoria La Palazzina
Via Angelo Maria Ricci, 107
02
100 Rieti
0746-271-111
http://www.lapalazzina.it
info@lapalazzina.it
trattoriapalazzina1910@gmail.com

The Amici family have been in the business of offering refreshment to weary travelers since 1880, and so we have chosen well to stop here for lunch in the town of Rieti in the Lazio region of Italy. The trattoria’s long history began with the current owner’s great, great grandparents, the first of several generations who inherited both their energy and their vision, establishing more than one restaurant and hotel in the area. In 1880, Emilia Ricci in Amici managed this small trattoria which, at the time, was positioned close to the public baths. Her hand-written recipe book is on display today in the main dining room, along with many framed photographs that capture the long history of the family and its association with the world of home-cooked food and hospitality.

Cucina casareccia, authentic home-cooking, is what continues to draw hungry travelers and locals who appreciate the freshness and full-flavor of the cuisine. The menu offers a generous array of selections. Following an antipasto of traditional cured meats, we sample mezze maniche alla gricia. Everyone is familiar with the classic dish, spaghetti all’amatriciana, but way before tomatoes were introduced to Europe, the local shepherds prepared this dish without a tomato sauce. Using what they carried with them while they were pasturing their sheep – pasta, aged pecorino cheese, and guanciale – they made this simple dish to sustain themselves. The bacon is chunky and fried to a crisp and the resulting dish is both simple and divine.

Trattoria La Palazzina - Giuseppe Ricci sm

Giuseppe Amici – owner

The surrounding countryside inspires visions of these shepherds gathered together to enjoy una grigliata, a mixed grill of lamb, pork and poultry, accompanied by grilled garden vegetables. Again, simple fare in the hands of the right cook, who knows how to use the local herbs and spices, is elevated into an abundant feast. And feast it is. No room for dessert, but sweet memories of a sun-filled day and a visit with proud owner Giuseppe Amici at his restaurant.

copyright Ginda Simpson

http://www.rooms-withaview.com   –   http://www.menus-and-memories.com

Simplify, slow down, savor… Lunch at Ristorante Nicolao

Park Hotel Ai Cappuccini - GubbioRistorante Nicolao
Park Hotel ai Cappuccini
Via Tifernate
06024 Gubbio (PG)
39-075-9234
http://www.parkhotelaicappuccini.it
info@parkhotelaicappuccini.it

Our inner wisdom (and life coaches too) remind us of our need to simplify, slow down, savor… Sunday is the perfect day to put this into practice and lunch at Ristorante Nicolao in Gubbio offers the perfect venue for doing just that. The interior of this restaurant belonging to Park Hotel ai Cappuccini is simple in its décor, nothing to distract from the experience of dining. We allow our waiter to suggest our luncheon menu, never a regrettable decision when in Italy. We linger after our antipasto of scrambled eggs with summer truffles. We are in no hurry as we await our first course. Freshly made lasagne and a plate of handmade tagliatelle al ragù arrive filling the air with the scents of an Italian kitchen, a bouquet of tomatoes, basil, garlic and aged pecorino. Simple ingredients transformed into something sacred…

 

My granddaughter and I slow down even more and spend our time in quiet conversation. Our waiter brings us the main course which he has chosen for us – tagliata of beef, rosemary-infused medium rare slices fan out on our plate, paired with perfectly grilled zucchini and potato slices. The restaurant has filled up with couples and families savoring moments together as well as the flavorful offerings of an extensive menu.

 

It is time to choose a sweet ending from a very tempting dessert menu and our waiter leaves the difficult decision to us. A sour cherry topped cheese cake for my granddaughter and a trio of made-to-order fresh fruit sorbets for me. We have chosen wisely by having lunch here, we have slowed down and savored the chef’s cuisine. Thank you, Ristorante Nicolao, for providing all the ingredients for a perfect Sunday afternoon.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.menus-and-memories.com

Park Hotel ai Cappuccini – immersed in tranquility

2018c Park Hotel ai CappucciniPark Hotel ai Cappuccini
Via Tifernate
06024 Gubbio (PG)
39-075-9234
http://www.parkhotelaicappuccini.it
info@parkhotelaicappuccini.it

Perched on the side of Mount Foce in a wooded park-like setting, the building of this monastery was begun in 1631 to accommodate the Capuchin monks who had settled in this region for its splendid views and the isolation it provided for a contemplative life. It remained an active monastery until 1866, was then secularized and eventually left to deteriorate. A century later it was converted into a hotel and in 1990 was meticulously restored to become the Park Hotel ai Cappuccini. Great care was taken to preserve its original architecture and its frescoes.

First and foremost, what remain are the splendid views, the tranquility of its setting, and a chance to retreat into a world of quiet contemplation. What enhances the experience is the addition of every modern amenity, an indoor pool that opens to a sun-drenched terrace, a spa, a fitness center, an award-winning restaurant, and a caring, attentive staff. The rooms are quiet and comfortable, the furnishings throughout the hotel are sophisticated and outstanding artwork is present everywhere. The public spaces offer an eclectic mix of ancient paintings, religious art, traditional pottery and contemporary ceramics and sculptures, representing the best of the region’s artistic achievements, both past and present. If a guest were to never leave the grounds, a stay here satisfies in every way.

But within a short distance, there is much to enjoy in Gubbio, a medieval town with roots that stretch back to ancient Rome and beyond. Begin your visit with a stroll around the ancient Roman Theater, take a cable car to the Church of Sant’Ubaldo, sample the local flat bread called crescia with a wedge of pecorino, admire artisan wares in the many shops, then return home to your hotel and enjoy a fabulous meal at Ristorante Nicolao.

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


Osteria dei Re – Farm to Table dining in Gubbio

Osteria dei Re - signOsteria dei Re
Via Cavour, 15/B
06024 Gubbio (PG)
39-075-922-2504
http://www.osteriadeire.com
info@osteriadeire.com
Owner: Moreno Brunelli

Osteria dei Re is on the only true osteria in Gubbio, so it is important to owner Moreno Brunelli, that it maintain its authenticity. What is an osteria? In the past, it was a simple tavern where the townsfolk would come mostly to drink wine together, enjoying whatever simple fare was offered on the side. It was never a restaurant, and therefore, the offerings were few – simple, local, and freshly prepared. Moreno adheres to this, offering a limited menu that celebrates a tradition his grandmother enjoyed in this very same osteria nearly eighty years ago.  It is like a step back in time to be having lunch in this rustic tavern.  There is also outdoor dining in the piazza.

This is truly a farm to table experience, with ALL the products carefully selected from local farmers who do not engage in raising factory-fed animals, but rather on a small scale, practice sustainable, organic farming. From the olive oil to the wine, from the pork to the poultry, Moreno personally knows the source or he would not be serving it. He even barters wine and bread with a local peasant who brings him fresh rosemary, sage, and other herbs from the mountainside. No elaborate recipes are needed to show off this cuisine.

Osteria dei Re - Piattone del Re

So what better way to experience what this osteria has perfected than to indulge in the Piattone del Re – otherwise known as the King’s Platter? Serving two persons, but enough for four, the platter is about 18 inches in diameter and is a feast of flavors. Starting with the warm crescia, the traditional flat bread of Gubbio, we first sample the two small bowls of cottiche e fagioli, an immensely flavorful bowl of borlotti beans in a tomato sauce with pork rind. Going clockwise around the platter, there is bruschetta with crispy thin slices of quanciale, polenta with lard, puréed zucchini, roasted potatoes, fried sage, prosciutto and caciotta cheese with truffles. How we had room to share a decadent chocolate dessert is a mystery.

Osteria dei Re - birthday board

The Osteria dei Re recently celebrated 18 years in business. Moreno does it right and his grandmother would be proud!  Congratulations!

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.menus-and-memories.com

5eCinque – To our health!

5eCinque5eCinque
Pza.della Passera, 1
50125 Firenze
39-055-248-0582
http://www.5ecinque.it
info@5ecinque.it
Owners: Silvio Varando & Mariolina Garau

We set out in the neighborhood of Oltrarno,  on the “other side” of the river, our favorite part of Florence. We are in search of something different for today’s lunch, something light and healthy and we find it at 5eCinque, a small family-owned vegetarian restaurant, where we are smart to arrive early as it fills up rapidly. With our early arrival we have the pleasure of meeting the owner, Silvio, who shares some time with us explaining their unique cuisine. Mariolina, his wife and chef, is Sardinian, and Silvio is Ligurian and together they have created a unique vegetarian cuisine that celebrates both regions of Italy.

Silvio loves people and makes us and every other diner feel welcome at 5eCinque, but I get to hear the story of how the restaurant got its name. As a child, Silvio would often go to market and order a five lire wheat bun in which was sandwiched a five lire farinata, a typical Ligurian flatbread made with chickpea flour. The fondness with which he holds this memory inspired his restaurant’s name.

5eCinque - Silvio Varando

It is a treat to explore and sample Ligurian and Sardinian-inspired vegetarian cooking. The flaky foccaccia topped with Ligurian cheese looks almost too good to eat. And of course, an introduction to Liguria would have been lacking without a taste of the famed farinata. Our main dish is Polpettone di fagiolini, a “cake” of chickpeas, potatoes and blended green beans, made savory with a perfect mix of fresh herbs. Because the cuisine is light, we manage to leave room for dessert, an almond milk flan with sweet toppings, one of chocolate and the other a sweet sauce made with peaches.

The tables are few here, so we do not linger. A small group waits outside its door. Not at all surprising.

copyright Ginda Simpson   http://www.rooms-withaview.com   http://www.munus-and-memories.com

A “Star” Hotel in the heart of Florence

2018c Helvetia & Bristol

original watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson

Helvetia & Bristol
Via dei Pescioni,
50123 Firenze
39-055-26651
http://www.starhotels.com
reservationshelvetia@starhotels.it

They say location is everything, and it certainly is true for the elegant Helvetia & Bristol in the heart of Florence, steps from Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza della Republica, the Duomo and the Uffizi. But a stay at this renowned hotel gives you so much more. Built in the early 1800’s, it opened its doors on June 28, 1885 by Giacomo Mosca, as the first hotel in Florence. It quickly attracted artists and writers, with its Winter Garden becoming the place for society to meet. It did not take long for it to become a much sought-after hotel during the days of the Grand Tour.

Restored and updated over the decades, it has maintained and even celebrated its original Art Deco features. Upon entering its lobby, guests are enveloped in an atmosphere that whispers of its aristocratic past. Period antiques, fine woods, graceful fabrics all add to its elegance, providing a warm and cozy welcome. A chilled pitcher of lemon-ginger spiced water awaits the hot and weary tourist upon his or return each day. In our room, we discover a pretty dish of sweets to add to our welcome while the décor and amenities add to our comfort. From our private balcony, we can look over the terracotta rooftops of the city, or close the shutters and retreat into a darkened stillness, a relief at the end of the day.

The Winter Garden serves as our breakfast room. Beneath its Art Deco pastel-colored stained-glass roof and wrought-iron chandeliers, a sumptuous buffet tempts us at every turn – from the savory selections of salami and cheeses, to hot servings of eggs, bacon, and vegetables. There are enough sweet choices to move a saint into sinful indulgence. Yes, the Helvetia & Bristol offers more than location. It delights, it soothes, it pampers…

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

 

La Terrazza del Principe – an unforgettable view

La Terrazza del PrincipeLa Terrazza del Principe
Viale Niccolò Macchiavelli, 10
50125 Firenze
39-055-224-104
http://www.laterrazzadelprincipe.com
info@laterrazzadelprincipe.com
Owners: Sabina Stiehl & Nicolo Reina

I had meant to ask why the name The Terrace of the Prince, but with the intake of every breath I know that it is a princely view. We are lone diners at the moment and therefore have the entire terrace to ourselves as if we are private guests. It is a purely Tuscan scene that includes olives and vineyards, tall cypresses, medieval stone walls, and the elegant villas of the Boboli Gardens. Wow!

We have brought our appetites for this sun-blessed al fresco lunch. The cuisine interweaves the traditions of both Tuscany and Sicily, reflecting the marriage of the owners, Sabina and Nicolo. Vine-ripened tomatoes burst with flavor in a Caprese salad, an antipasto to be savored slowly, like the aging of the wine we drink. Our first course sings of Sicily with a sampling of Pasta alla Norma, made with tomatoes and eggplant, and Rigatoni al pistacchio in a cream sauce. A shared secondo of polpette alla nonna, grandmother’s meatballs is simple and satisfying, transporting me back to my own grandmother’s kitchen.

We have left no room for dessert, except for the sweet memories and a longing to come back before we even leave. An aperitif with a friend at sunset? Or a romantic meal for two just because…

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

Caffe Desiderio – Cooking as Art

cdc1Caffe Desiderio
Piazza Niccolò Tommaseo, 5r
Settignano (FI)
39-055-697687
http://www.caffedesiderio.com
info@caffedesiderio.com
Owners: Michele Busanero & Francesca de Gasperi

What a pleasure it is to sit with Michele, chef and owner of Caffe Desiderio, an unpretentious yet inviting wine bar/restaurant in the center of Settignano outside of Florence. Caffe Desiderio indeed was a locale as far back as the end of the 18th century when artist Desiderio da Settignano opened it as a tea room and exhibit space for his paintings.

cdd1Today the art that is offered is of the culinary variety, attractive to look at, and most satisfying to consume. Seasonally fresh ingredients and innovative recipes make Michele’s cuisine a special treat on this summer evening. And Michele shares a moment with us expressing his knowledge and passion for his Tuscan cuisine, inspired by his childhood in Florence and his travels to other parts of Italy.

Take for example, traditional prosciutto of Tuscany served with milky fresh stracciatella cde1and fritters made with grano arso, or burnt grain, a tradition that has its modest beginnings in the southern region of Puglia. In the 18th century villagers would harvest the scorched grains that remained after the farmers had burnt the fields in preparation for the next planting. For the poor, nothing went to waste not even burnt grain, and Michele’s efforts to introduce burnt grain to his customers are not wasted either. His liver paté, on the other hand, is as rich as fois gras, made so with lots of butter and an extra amount of vin santo, making a superbly rich spread for his fried polenta wedges.

cdf1The menu at Caffe Desiderio changes often, according to the season, and sometimes daily depending on what is offered at the market that day. We got to try fagottini (little egg pasta knapsacks) stuffed with lampredotto, or tripe. Lampredotto is a Florentine specialty that shows up as popular street food when stuffed into a crusty panino. Tonight’s pasta dish is topped with delicately sweet red onions and a spritz of green sauce. I would not have known any of this, nor had the courage to try it, if it hadn’t been for our chef introducing us to this unusual, yet totally delicious specialty. I love being cdg1introduced to the local cuisine in this way.

Our wine is local too, a Chianti Ruffina from the Frascole estates. Grazie, Michele and Francesca, for a delightful meal.

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

Villa Gamberaia and Its Gardens

vgaVilla Gamberaia
Via del Rossellino, 72
50135 Settignano (FI)
39-055-697-205
http://www.villagamberaia.com
info@villagamberaia.com

Just kilometers from the city of Florence, a narrow country road (with narrow escapes) leads us from the center of Settignano to Villa Gamberaia, a Tuscan villa par excellence, elegant in its architectural simplicity overlooking both city and countryside. Inside the main gate, a graveled walkway flanked by cypresses leads us to the villa but gives no hint of the splendid gardens that await us.

vgj

The Citrus Garden

In order to build Villa Gamberaia in 1610, a huge terrace was leveled on the slope and a high wall was constructed behind the villa to support a citrus garden and the woods, where many of the trees have stood for centuries. Within the foundation are wine cellars and agricultural store-rooms which can be reached directly from the house or from the fields below it, uniting the house with the land and surrounding countryside, achieving both practical and aesthetic qualities. An open air drawing room links the ground level of the house to the upper level of the garden. In 1717, an open loggia on the south side of the villa was added, to allow a view of the broderie parterre and the cypress belvedere which were created at this time. The inner courtyard of the villa is open to the sky, an unusual characteristic of the architecture and from here one can enter a large salone on the ground floor that overlooks all of Florence.

vgb

The Open Drawing Room

Today is filled with brilliant light, perfect for exploring the garden, one which had its beginning in the 17th century as an orchard, followed by a broderie garden a century later, when broderies were made popular by the French. These gardens were “embroidered” with varying layers of shaped boxwood and embellished with broken shards, glass and stones, to create intricate designs, enjoyed best when viewed from above. The real transformation of the garden began in the 20th century when the property was purchased by Princess Ghika, her particular design luring scholars and landscape architects from around the world to visit and study its characteristics.

vgh copia

The Water Parterre

The water parterre created by Princess Ghika is located south of the villa. The enclosed beds of the broderie parterre became pools of water with borders of lavender, iris, lilies, roses and oleander, introducing more color to the garden to be reflected in the pools. Rows of tiered boxwood, spheres and other topiary shapes give this peaceful garden a symmetrical, sculptural dimension. Over the decades the boxwood grew to overtake the flowering plants giving the garden a predominantly green appearance, but recent plantings of flowering plants have brought back shades of color once again. A circular pond graced with water lilies and water irises rests tranquilly in front of the cypress belvedere at the far southern end of the water parterre.

Beneath an arched opening in the hedge are two chairs and a small table, inviting us to sit and gaze back at the villa gleaming in the late morning sun. We have brought a small picnic with us and this is a perfect spot to contemplate the history of this villa that was almost completely destroyed during WWII. Upon purchasing the ruined villa, its new owner, Marcello Marchi, used existing prints, photographs and maps to restore the villa to its original design and furnished it with tasteful period pieces that reflect what the interior would have once looked like. The villa is available for rent and for events such as weddings.

vgg

The Bowling Green

Our apartment was built into the structure that was once used for indoor tennis. It faces a central element of the garden, the famous bowling green, a 225-meter expanse of grass along the north-south axis. On the northern end is the Nymphaeum, a massive fountain carved into the hillside surrounded by cypress trees. The southern end overlooks the Arno valley. The east-west axis is 105 meters long and runs through the center of the villa and leads one to the cabinet di raccoglia, also known as an open-air drawing room, an intimate oval shaped garden linking the villa to the upper citrus gardens and the woods. Curved walls are covered in stones, pebbles, shells and rocks, with niches, terracotta urns, statuary and fountains. There is a large limonaia that houses the lemon and citrus trees during the winter months. The facade of the house offers a uninterrupted view of the city of Florence.

I have chosen to sit in the shadow of the Nymphaeum and write these notes. I lean against an ancient wall that looks as if it might crumble into my lap. If only walls could talk, perhaps help me describe the beauty I see before me. I am not well versed in garden talk, but I know poetry when I see it! And a symphony when I hear it!

Visiting the Gardens of Villa Gamberaia

The gardens are opened from 9 am to 7 pm (last entry 6 pm) on weekdays.
On Sundays, the gardens are open from 9 am to 6 pm (last entry 5 pm).

Please note that from time to time the gardens are closed for a private event. It is recommended that you always contact the Villa to be sure that a visit is possible on a given day.

Cost of the entrance for the garden visit:
€ 15 per person, regular and groups
€ 12 per person, students

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

Who’s afraid of Monsters? Il Sacro Bosco

b17Il Sacro Bosco
The Monster Park
Località Giardino
01020 Bomarzo (VT)
Tel: 0761-924-029

Our granddaughters are too worldly to be afraid of monsters – they take more delight in poking fun at what we old folks might call scary. The Monster Park of Bomarzo, known as the Sacro Bosco or Sacred Grove, we discover, is delightful. Located in Bomarzo in the province of Viterbo, north of Rome, this 16th century garden is anything but frightful, but it is awesome. Designed by architect Pirro Ligorio in the Mannerist style of European art that emerged around 1520 in Italy, the garden is best described as surreal.

Dispersed among the dense woods and vegetation in the valley below Castle Orsini, larger-than-life grotesque sculptures of mystical figures and animals inhabit the space, some of them sculpted right into the bedrock. In a once barren landscape, the garden was commissioned by Pier Francesco Orsini as a means of expressing his grief at the loss of his wife, as indicated by an inscription that explains this intention: sol per sfogare il Core – just to set the heart free. It is hard to connect the individual works into any organized plan, or fully understand their symbolism; the statues or buildings rather seem intended to astonish us, by their size, or subject, or by their unexpected appearance as we round a corner. There is even an purposely constructed leaning house, intended to disorient the visitor. Giants, monstrous fish, a war elephant, and the iconic monumental monster face all play their part in this bizarre wonderland.

Over the course of the centuries, the park fell into neglect and the garden became overgrown with vegetation. In the 1950s, the Bettini family began a restoration program that lasted twenty years, and today, although still private property, it is open to the public – to amaze, to delight, but definitely not to frighten. Even the giant screaming mouth welcomes you inside, perhaps to picnic, if you so wish.

The park is open all year long from 8.00 a.m. until sunset .

Entrance fees :
Individual 10,00 Euro
Children from 4 to 13 years 8,00 Euro
Groups minimum 30 people 8,00 Euro (with the letter of the promoting Organization)
Student 6,00 Euro (with the letter of school) and one free entrance for every 15 people

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