Tag Archives: Tuscany

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.

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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

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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

 

Villa Il Poggiale – from family home to elegant hotel

2017c Villa Il Poggiale

Villa Il Poggiale
Via Empolese, 69
50026 San Casciano di Pesa (FI)
39-055-828311
http://www.villailpoggiale.it
villailpoggiale@villailpoggiale.it

A steady downpour holds me captive inside, but it is Villa Il Poggiale that captivates me. A Florentine Renaissance home, this villa dates back to 1408, passing down ownership from one family to another until it was purchased by the Vitta family in 1960. Three generations enjoyed this, their family home, and when no longer needed as a residence, it was decided that they would convert their elegant mansion into a hotel. The owners have worked hard to maintain the style and charm of the original interior, even as they expanded and re-designed the structure, so that one can still enjoy today the welcome of its shaded loggia, the frescoes that adorn walls and ceilings, and the intimacy of the rooms. Villa Il Poggiale offers all the luxury of a first-class hotel, but has successfully achieved their goal of maintaining the feel of home. This is made clear from the beginning when we are handed the keys to the front gate and the entrance to the villa so that we can come and go as we please.

At the moment, I am sitting quietly in our room listening to the music of raindrops. I am embraced by the comfort of our room, one of the 24 rooms and suites in the villa, each furnished differently with the finest of linens and antiques. I glance out my window from time to time to watch the puddles form below in the garden and in the distance, a purely Tuscan landscape glistens in the mist. I wander through the many little salons, each one beckoning me to sit and read my book within their cozy spaces, and I finally choose one. As late afternoon arrives, and it is clear that there will be no swimming in their lovely pool, I choose to visit the in-house spa and indulge in the warmth of a sauna.

We dine at the villa’s restaurant, La Tinaia, the space where the peasants used to bring the grapes at harvest time. Here, where the emphasis is on taste AND healthy eating, guests are given a choice – not an easy one – from a fixed menu or à la carte that reflects the simple yet refined cuisine of Tuscany. A generous buffet of antipasti leads the way and the entrées that follow include ingredients brought right from their garden to the table. The wine list does the rest.

It is easy to fall in love with this villa and the staff who treat us like family, but the countryside awaits. Villa Il Poggiale offers custom-designed tours of the neighboring towns, with wine-tastings and even cooking classes for those who wish to explore Tuscany in this relaxed manner. Even for the independent traveler, the possible excursions throughout the Chianti region are many: Greve, Panzano, San Miniato and the towered town of San Gimignano await. And then, there is Florence…

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

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.ristorantesanmartino26.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

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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