Tag Archives: Italy

La Scarzuola – one man’s portrait in stone

La Scarsuola (9)

La Scarzuola
Località Montegiove
05010 Montegabbione
Province of Terni
Tel: 0763-837-463
http://www.lascarzuola.com
info@lascarzuola.com

Designed by the Milanese architect, Tomaso Buzzi, La Scarzuola is an architectural complex in a garden setting intended to represent his vision of the “ideal city.” From humble beginnings as a monastery founded by St. Francis in 12l8, to a fantasy-land in stone, La Scarzuola is a place both sacred and surreal. Tomaso Buzzi purchased the monastery and land in 1957 to build Buzziana, his secular city, beginning his project with the restoration of the monastery and the recovery of the gardens, what he saw as a “holy city.” We enter the grounds by way of the small church of the monastery in the town of Montegiove in the province of Terni. Little remains of the church save for an early 13th century fresco portraying St. Francis.

church

We begin our walk along stone paths in what was once the monk’s giardino, a traditional tranquil garden, with box hedges, flowers, statuary and vine-covered pergolas. It is a peaceful sanctuary and does little to prepare us for the imaginary city that lies ahead, a jumbled landscape of stone structures strewn across a paradisaical playground. There are temples and towers, reflection pools, theaters, and a natural arena. Architectural details have been extracted from every art period of the past and blended into elements of the Neo-Mannerist style. There is a sense of unbalance and disproportion that bends one’s mind. Buzzi’s city is a complex of seven theaters, with the focal point being the “Acropolis,” a chaotic arrangement of buildings with elements borrowed from such structures as the Arc de Triomple, the Parthenon, and the Temple of Vesta, all vacant but not lacking stairways and bridges.

La Scarsuola (5)

 

I find myself seeking some sort of visual and spiritual balance and I find it in the natural landscape that surrounds these structures – the tall cypresses, the vast expanses of lawn, the hedges and olive trees – elements that seem more comprehensible, more enduring. One would have to have known the artist to understand the workings of his mind to understand the complexity of his vision and its subsequent execution. Of this, I have no clue, but like all magic, one need not understand how it was done to enjoy it. Such is La Scarzuola.

 

It was Tomaso Buzzi’s wish at his death in 1980 that nature take over his unfinished city, leaving it to be a city of haunting ruins. His nephew, Marco Solari, however did complete his uncle’s vision and thankfully, these gardens are open to the public today.

Visits by appointment only.
Call or send request by e-mail.

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

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A Simple Feast at Il Granaro del Monte

Il Granaro

Il Granaro del Monte
Hotel Grotta Azzurra
Via Alfieri 7
06046 Norcia (PG)
39-0743-816-513
info@bianconi.com
www.bianconi.com

We feasted at our hotel’s restaurant, Il Granaro del Monte, considered a national culinary monument.  I was in agreement from the very first savory bite.  What makes their cooking so extraordinary?  Ordinary, wholesome ingredients prepared with a love and respect for the land that produces them – Norcia!  The Black Truffle is king and is an essential part of the cuisine of Umbria.  Truffles are best consumed shortly after being extracted from the ground, as their particularly strong scent and taste fade quickly.   At the Granaro, the chef does not allow this to happen and he prepares the truffles in countless ways.  For me, they are absolutely divine simply perched on a mound of handmade tagliatelle.   But a meal would not be complete without sampling Norcia’s lamb and cured pork specialties, the lentils of Castelluccio (presented here in a velvety soup), the spelt, the cheeses…

Picture the sheep as they graze in the flower-filled meadow of Castelluccio, the cheeses made from the sheep’s milk, the honey of a thousand wildflowers.  These are the elements that are used to recreate traditional dishes following ageless recipes, held dear by the Bianconi family and presented daily to their guests.

 

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

 

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

 

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.

Agrigento (17)

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.

Agrigento (11)

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.

Agrigento (31) copia

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

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.

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

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