Tag Archives: Florence

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

Bardini Gardens (3)

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.

Bardini Gardens (2)

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.

 

 

 

2017-06-20_giardino_bardini_231

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

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