Tag Archives: Tuscany

Ristorante San Martino 26 – a “towering” cuisine in San Gimignano

San Martino 26 (16)Ristorante San Martino 26
Via S. Martino 26
53037 San Gimignano (SI)
0577-940-483
http://www.ristorantesanmartin26.it
Owner: Fabio Pernarella
Chef: Ardit Curri

Fabio Pernarella and his family bring 27 years of restaurant experience to this relatively new enterprise in San Gimignano. Perucà is their other ristorante, where their entry into the restaurant business had its humble beginnings. For over two decades it has been a most popular Tuscan restaurant, not to be missed. But in this city of fabled towers, Chef Ardit Curri, a true culinary artist, offers a cuisine that towers above the rest, taking a traditional way of cooking to new and creative heights at Ristorante San Martino 26. Like the cuisine, the ambiance is a harmony of light and contemporary décor, blending beautifully with its ancient stone walls and cellars.

San Martino 26 (3)The only way to really explore these tempting innovations is to sit back and enjoy one of their seasonal tasting menus. Journey along with the chef and let your waiter pair the wines with the various courses, making this adventure a celebration of all that is good and beautiful in Tuscany. Each course was brought to the table like a small gift, beautifully presented, familiar yet surprising: like Il Fegatino Toscano, chicken liver with vin santo on a home-made pan brioche or the poached egg yolk hidden in a mound of whipped egg-whites and Parmesan, topped with truffles. We particularly enjoyed La Chitarrina, fine hand-made egg noodles made spicy with aglio e olio then coated with a more delicate creamed anchovy and shrimp sauce.

Our wines included the famous Vernaccia wine of San Gimignano, a crisp white wine locally produced from the Vernaccia grape. Earliest mention of this wine dates back to records from the 13th century, but since the Renaissance, it has been considered one of Italy’s finest wines. With our main entrée, roast pork with steamed carrot and purée of green beans, we sipped a Super Tuscan Peperino. The sweet Moscadello di Montalcino, with its gem-like topaz color, accompanied our dessert and it was a match made in paradiso. In spite of what seemed like an endless parade of dishes, because portions and flavors were balanced to perfection, we left completely satisfied at meal’s end, ready to explore the treasures of this medieval city.

San Martino 26 (10)

Chef Ardit Curri

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

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La Foce – A Tuscan estate with a unique history

La Foce Sept 2014 (21)

La Foce
Strada della Vittoria, 61
Chianciano Terme
39-0578-69101
http://www.lafoce.com
http://www.dopolavorolafoce.it

I knew within the first few pages of Iris Origo’s book War in Val d’Orcia that I would have to visit this 15th century Tuscan estate and see for myself the place where Iris and her husband fought to save the lives of so many during the Second World War. Knowing their story of a hidden war within a war gives an added significance and appreciation of La Foce, its villa restored by Iris and Antonio Origo in the 1920s and the gardens that are considered some of the finest in the country.

 

Located in Val d’Orcia near Montepulciano in the southern portion of Tuscany, La Foce was surrounded by a vast landscape of poor, bleak, unihabited, unworked soil. British born, Iris was 22 years old when she married Italian nobleman Antonio Origo. When they purchased the property, their dream was to change this territory into fertile farmland, and at the same time improve the living conditions of the contadini. Strong-willed and caring, she never flinched when faced with this barren wasteland, but went to work, creating in the end, a veritable paradise. At its peak, the estate included 57 farms spread out over 7,000 acres.

In 1939, the Origos built the Dopolavoro, which translates as After Work, creating a meeting place for their workers to enjoy a glass of wine together, play bocce, and share news. Country dances and plays were held here. They also built a kindergarten, school and clinic on the estate – all this to care for their working families, during very difficult socio-economic times.

It would be easy to forget the hardships, the sacrifices, and the terror the Origo family endured during 1943 and 1944, when the war was being fought right on their doorstep and each day tested their divided loyalties. Germans occupied Tuscany and the Allied forces were advancing from the south. The Origos harbored war orphans, refugee children and a steady stream of downed Allied pilots, Jewish refugees and escaped prisoners of war who hid out on their property, aided by the local populace, who provided food and clothing when possible. All at tremendous personal risk.

 

But today, we feel the blessing of a beautiful garden, graced with stillness and peace. The golden sunlight flickers on the brilliant purple of the wisteria-covered pergola that runs along the upper terrace. It glints and dances with glee on the yellow and orange of the citrus trees potted in tubs amid the hedges. Making the most of the estate’s striking position, British architect Cecil Pinsent designed the grounds and the farmhouses, an endeavor that began in 1927 and took twelve years to complete. Cypresses and rows of clipped boxwood divide the gardens into neat sections, leading the eye to wander to the distant views of the untamed countryside that holds La Foce in its embrace.

 

The postwar years were marked by continuing challenges, as the sharecropping system that had existed in Italy since the Middle Ages came to an end. Many of the tenant farmers left the land to find work in the cities, abandoning the farmhouses that eventually fell to ruin. In spite of this, the estate as seen today is a living testament to the dreams, the tenacity, and the love of two individuals who made a difference. The Dopolavoro has been brought back to life as a restaurant, where one can taste typical Tuscan country fare, flavored with the herbs and olive oils of La Foce, in an atmosphere seasoned with a real sense of history.

La Foce

La Foce’s garden is open for guided tours every Wednesday afternoon and every weekend from mid-March to November.

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

L’Osteria in Aboca – a family legacy in Tuscany

Osteria in Aboca - terrace
L’Osteria in Aboca
Frazione Aboca, 11
Sansepolcro (AR)
39-0575-749-125
http://www.losteriainaboca.it
info@losteriainaboca.it
Owner/Chef: Massimiliano Giovagnini

Owner/Chef Massimiliano has a story to tell; his gentle words describe a rich family history of genuine food hospitality and his dishes tell the rest. It was his great grandmother who wisely began serving simple fare in a little store that sold foodstuffs in Aboca, a hamlet where there was not even a paved road. Nevertheless, she saw the need to offer sustenance to the woodsmen, coal-workers, and passersby at this isolated intersection where mail was delivered. This was in 1944. Over the course of the following decades, his grandfather enlarged and improved the little store to meet the needs of a growing community, but it was Massimiliano who took his passion for what they had begun and in the mid-1980s turned it into a full-fledged restaurant, ever popular with the locals and visitors to this lesser-known part of Tuscany.

Suspecting that our portions are going to be generous, we practice some self-control, skip the tempting antipasti and start by sharing two primi: handmade ravioli stuffed with mashed potatoes and Parmesan, topped with wilted fresh spinach leaves and tagliatelle al ragù bianco di Chianina, delicate noodles with a simple “white” sauce, meaning no tomatoes, flavored with ground morsels of the prized Chianina beef of this region. For our secondi we celebrate where we are: mixed grill of pork for Umbria and tagliata of Chianina beef for Tuscany, of course. The platter of fried zucchini and eggplant is simply a celebration of what is in season. Valentina suggests that we choose the house wine, a robust red, Pian di Rèmole, from the Frescobaldi vineyards of Tuscany.

Even without dessert, our meal has a sweet ending as we visit with Massimiliano who spends time with us in spite of a large lunch crowd. We savor his enthusiasm for his family’s history and presence on this spot, for countless seasons, through times of want and times of plenty. A humble beginning made rich through love and hard-work. What a legacy!

Osteria in Aboca - Massimiliano

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

Buca di San Francesco – Echoes of the Past

Buca di San Francesco
Buca di San Francesc
Via S. Francesco, 1
52100 Arezzo
39-0575-23271
inbuca@tin.it
www.bucadisanfrancesco.it
Owner: Mario De Felippis

 

 

Echoes of the past… An ancient road, left behind by the Romans?  The Etruscans?  How many individuals have tread across these timeless paving stones that make up the flooring of this 14th century structure?  For the past eight decades, these worn stones have been polished to a warm patina by the tread of diners at the Buca di San Francesco.  Opened by Mario De Felippis’ father-in-law, Buca di San Francesco is now owned and managed by Mario, who is proud to announce that they have been in business for over 80 years.

Upon entering, I am drawn through arches from one intimate dining room to another, each one with walls that are frescoed and softly lit, inviting one to linger at a table and sample the traditional Tuscan cuisine that has made this such a popular place.  As we sit and sip their house wine, the rooms quickly fill with locals who know good food better than any of us.

The tables are set simply, graced with rustic table linens calling to mind a farmhouse kitchen.  The menu is extensive and the offerings are pure homemade goodness – the kind of fare Nonna would have made for a Sunday lunch.  The heart and soul of this restaurant, Mario moves swiftly from table to table, and I am amazed by his energy.  Is it fueled by three espressos, his natural good will or simply his passion for what he does?   Perhaps all three.   Running the restaurant is a family affair; son, Davide, is one of the chefs in the kitchen and his daughter is waiting tables.  Like her father, Barbara ensures that each diner feels welcome and leaves satisfied.

Pampered first with Pappa al Pomodoro, we move with ease from mixed antipasti to a sampling of “Bringoli fatti in casa condite con le briciole,” homemade noodles with a sprinkling of crunchy, garlicky breadcrumbs.  Good is better when it is pretty, and these are garnished with one green and one white heart-shaped spinach ravioli.  Everything that comes to our table is prepared with care and a bow to the time-honored cuisine of Tuscany.  Bravi!

 

 

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

 

Ancient baths – renewed spirits: at Hotel Posta Marcucci

pm 5

Albergo Posta Marcucci
Via Ara Urcea 43
I-53027 Bagno Vignoni (SIENA)
39-0577-887112
http://www.postamarcucci.it
albergo@postamarcucci.it

My eyes are closed and I am melding into a lounge chair, the gentle May sunshine warming my shoulders. The sounds of silence contain a quiet concert of birdsong, of glasses being clinked at the bar counter, of a murmur of hushed voices, pierced by the occasional burst of a child’s laughter. With eyes closed I could be in a sanctuary, a refuge infused with reverence. Resting. Peaceful. I am in the garden of the Hotel Posta Marcucci, having just enjoyed a dip into their thermal pool.

The thermal baths of Bagno Vignoni, enjoyed by the Romans who consecrated these waters to the Nymphs, became even more popular during the Middle Ages, thanks to their proximity to Via Francigena, an important thoroughfare connecting Northern Europe to the Italian Peninsula. From the 12th century and throughout the 13th century, Bagno Vignoni became a stopover point for Christian pilgrims traveling this route on their way to Rome. Bagno Vignoni is described in a document dating back to 1334 as a “thermal spa arranged and surrounded by buildings and taverns with a chapel in the middle. It has a very beautiful square layout, with the spring divided in two parts and a roof for protecting the infirm…” This pool, no longer used by the public, is a massive basin of steamy water, which forms the main piazza, creating an element of pleasurable surprise. Warm reflections of stone buildings, tiled roofs and potted geraniums dance across its surface to delight the visitor.

bv1

When I first visited this hotel, nearly 14 years ago, I was intrigued by its history of hospitality and by the surrounding landscape. In the 1800’s, the Marcucci family operated a small inn with ten rooms and a tiny store. Then in the 1950’s, Grandpa Marcucci dug up his vineyard and began construction of what is now the main hotel. Grandma’s cooking drew guests from the area and eventually from afar. It was Aunt Licia’s idea to create the swimming pool using the mildly sulfurous geothermal waters of Bagno Vignoni. The large pool was dug from the hillside and became a major attraction to their hotel. Guests could swim in the comforting waters, bask in the warmth of the sun and look out over a captivating landscape, a magic potion of beauty and silence that heals the soul.

Ownership has changed and the hotel has been renovated, with interior improvements to the rooms and the spa. There are now ten suites and 26 double rooms, spacious lounges filled with cherished family furnishings and artwork and a terrace where breakfast is served in the summer. The Water Rooms bring the thermal waters into a smaller pool inside the building. A Jacuzzi, a sauna and a Turkish bath complete this complex where various types of massage are offered. The restaurant walls were opened up to accommodate panoramic windows, allowing diners to never be far from the breath-taking views. The half-board plan includes a dinner that reflects a refined cuisine of Tuscan specialties, accompanied by an extensive wine list.

The “cure” begins with the journey itself – the road to Bagno Vignoni traverses the Val d’Orcia, past undulating fields of wheat, vineyards, olive groves and verdant hills where green-black cypresses stand tall. It is a visual treasure chest accentuated by dazzling yellow broom and brilliant red poppies scattered along the roadside like precious gems dropped extravagantly by some benevolent prince. This exquisite landscape accompanies you to the nearby towns of Pienza, San Quirico, and Siena. Ancient baths – renewed spirits…

Tuscany 10

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

Eating good in the neighborhood – Cortona’s Ristorante La Bucaccia

 

La Bucaccia

 

Ristorante La Bucaccia
Via Ghibellina, 17
Cortona
0575-606-039
info@labucaccia.it
www.labucaccia.it
Owner: Romano Magi
Chef: Agostina Magi

From Cortona’s main square, it is a steep descent down Via Ghibellina to La Bucaccia, a uniquely charming local restaurant. It is well worth the effort, because here the cuisine of Tuscany rises to unbelievable heights. This cozy restaurant was carved out of the ruins of a 12th-century palazzo, a painstaking restoration that took the owners, Romano and Agostina Magi, almost two years to complete. The stone walls resonate with history and with the Magi’s passion for preserving that history and its architecture.  They have incorporated the remnants of the old well, the cellars, the animal feeding trough and the old camino, into the décor of the intimate dining room which seats no more than thirty people.

Romano Magi is justifiably proud of this multi-tiered accomplishment and of his wife, the chef responsible for La Bucaccia’s famed cuisine.  One is not likely to meet a man more passionate about Tuscan cooking or cheese-making, in particular, so it was with immense pleasure that we got to know Romano over a lunch that literally burst forth with flavor, one course after another.  Romano entertained and educated us as he made fresh cheese at our table, one of several cheese offerings that he produced and presented throughout our meal.   There is nothing like newly made ricotta drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and cracked peppercorns.  Or a plate of cheese arranged in a circle, that invites one to taste in clockwise fashion the stages of its aging, each accompanied by a different garnish or marmalade.

But, oh, the pastas!  Romano introduced us to a sampling of three different kinds – boasting that over the course of the seasons, they alternate between no less that 67 pasta dishes.  The pici, made green with fresh herbs rather than spinach, topped with porcini mushrooms, was the stuff of celestial banquets.  We were content, but Romano insisted we sample Agostina’s bistecca of the local chianina beef.  Mamma mia!

Agostina and Romano’s daughter, Francesca, has been learning on the job since she was six.  She smiles an angelic smile from behind the bar; she de-corks the wine, and can explain anything on the menu.  She is as sweet as any dessert Agostina can create!

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

Frances’ Lodge – A Tuscan Treasure

2006c View from the garden - Frances Lodge 2

Frances’ Lodge Relais
Str. Di Valdipugna, 2
53100 Siena
0577-281-061
booking@franceslodge.it
http://www.franceslodge.it

We meander today throughout the countryside of Tuscany, a rich farmland of olive groves, wheat fields and sunny vineyards. The leaves of timeless olive trees glint silver in the shimmering light, their gnarled trunks casting deep purple shadows on the sun-baked earth. Row after row of verdant vines bursting with the sweet promise of wine, march across the gentle hills. This region of Italy is known for its excellent wines. It is a landscape of dreams, laden with blessings, exquisite, nourishing. We are headed towards a Tuscan farmhouse, now a Bed & Breakfast, on the outskirts of Siena.

Every house has a history, every family a story. And so it is with this old farmhouse. There are many good reasons to stay with Franco and Franca (hence the name, Frances’ Lodge). Our accommodations in the portion of the building that once housed the rabbits and pigeons are quite comfortable. As a matter of fact, all the rooms once provided shelter for farm animals. Now converted into living space for guests, the décor of each of the rooms is tasteful, whimsical, inviting – delightful reflections of Franca’s artistic talents. Indeed, our hostess says, “Nothing bothers me more than to see something unappealing to the eye. Why should anything be unattractive when it could be beautiful?”

“So tell me, Franca, your story and the story of the house,” I ask. “That story begins with the villa, then,” she commences. “It has been in Franco’s family for three hundred years. Built in 1729 as a casa padronale, it was used as a summer residence for the Pippi family. The family would relocate from the city of Siena to their country estate during the growing season, a move that enabled them to oversee the various harvests, beginning with the early summer crops of fruit and wheat, followed by the autumn grape harvest and lastly the picking of the olives. They would arrive with a retinue of seven servants,” Franca lets out a sign of envy and longing. “It was a time for the family to enjoy the wholesome freshness of the country air. Going to one’s summer villa was known as “villeggiatura,” a term still used today when referring to a summer holiday.”

Locals often referred to Villa Pippo as “La Cappella,” a name derived from a small shrine or chapel that once existed on the property. It is difficult to date the adjacent farm building because structures of lesser importance were seldom dated. However, records from around 1820 show that an L-shaped structure existed as a casa colonica for the contadino family who worked the land. Besides functioning as a home for the peasant farmer, it housed the granaio, the granaries in the upper story and animal stalls below (cows, mules, chickens, rabbits and pigeons). To house the lemon trees during the winter months, the lovely limonaia with its huge arched windows was added in 1853. This section filled in the L-shape creating the rectangular building we see today.

Farm activities ceased after the war and the villa and farm buildings were all but abandoned except for the casa colonica where the farmer remained to look after the land, until his death in 1984. His wife, Pierina stayed on in the house she had come to as a bride in 1945. She remained another twenty years and not a day went by that she didn’t wrap her black shawl around her shoulders and walk to the cemetery of S. Regina to visit and place fresh flowers on her husband’s grave.

Franco and his Florentine wife decided to move to the family estate after twenty years of working in Florence and living in rented apartments. It was time to search for a home with a little plot of earth but the only affordable properties involved traveling quite a distance from Florence. So why not return to the land that belonged to his family? His parents live in the villa, but the farmhouse, abandoned for decades and in disrepair fired up their hearts and their imaginations. So they set to the task of restoration. Today it is their cherished home and a lovely B&B.

2005c Frances' LodgeI watch Franco who, with a warm smile and friendly handshake, wins over his guests the minute they arrive, immediately making them feel at home. He graciously sees to their comfort, while generously sharing his knowledge of and love for his native city. “And,” he invites each of us, “enjoy a last swim on this unseasonably warm afternooon.” Where else can one dip into a swimming pool and gaze at a panoramic view of Siena spread out before them like a master’s painting; its colors ever-changing with that special Tuscan light? Before leaving for the city, Mike and I stroll in the garden outside the limonaia. The glossy leaves of a magnolia tree glint in the sun and a rose, the color of coral, catches my eye. Beyond the garden walls, where wisteria and jasmine climb with abandon, another spectacular view greets me. I close my eyes to see more clearly and it’s easy to imagine the Pippi family here in villeggiatura. How did they ever manage to pack up their trunks at the end of the season and move back to the city? How do Franco and Franca get any of their guests to leave?

Read more about my books featuring this and other lovely restaurants and hotels, Rooms with a View and Italian Wanderlust, by clicking on their covers:

Rooms cover      italian wanderlust 2

More about my books.

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