Posts Tagged With: Italy

Podere Il Casale – So This is What Cheese Tastes Like!

Italy - 2013 9743 months later I’m starting to forget details about the trip.  But I’m not forgetting feelings.  I remember having that “How can I prolong this moment, I don’t want to leave, I’m such an idiot for scheduling more things than I should” feeling more than once, all in Tuscany.  And while sitting outside in Podere Il Casale on that perfect day, trying to decide whether I prefer the grape aged Pecorino or the one aged with walnut leaves, only to be interrupted by that stunning view, that feeling took over again.

Nestled smack in the middle between Pienza and Monticchiello, Podere Il Casale, an organic farm producing sheep’s (pecorino) and goat cheese that was unlike anything we ever tasted.  It was like eating cheese for the very first time.  Sandra and Ulisse run the farm since 1991.  Sandra gave us an overview of the place (much bigger than it seems at first) and cheese making process, while showing us the facilities and Ricotta making in action.  The 5 minute old Ricotta was easily the most satisfying ever.  But I couldn’t get enough of that Pecorino, especially the aged stuff.

Podere Il Casale is more than just a cheese producer.  Its a full service Agriturismo, attracting lodgers, campers, farm students and volunteers.  2 meals a day including a wood oven pizza expert hanging around in the premises (how can I get a pizza expert hang around my premises, all I have is a crazy neighbor and her dog), cooking classes, and various educational programs are offered.  They also produce wine, olive oil, pasta, honey, and even some prosciutto. All that in an absolute jaw dropping setting, making other pigs and sheep extremely jealous.  The cliché “Pictures don’t do this Justice” has probably been invented in South Tuscany, somewhere near here

Sandra and Ulisse also recently received a grant by the Italian government that allows them to open operations oversees.  As long as they sell and promote Tuscan based products, the gov’t will help sponsor the operations.  First stop, NYC, slated to open in a few months.  I will post details here as soon as I get them

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Lazy Post – Siena in Pictures

Italy - 2013 1477Top 5 reasons for a lazy post today…

5)  Last minute kids dentist appointment.  Meaning, I remembered in the last minute that I have to take the kids to the dentist

4)  I had to take out the dishes from the dishwasher.  Note:  I’m only allowed to take them out, not put them in.  Mrs Ziggy doesnt like the method I use to put them in.

3)  I had to help the kids with their homework.  By help I mean take their new phones away from them

2)  I would like to watch the MLB playoffs, please, for a change

1)  I’m lazy

The 2 scenic shots below are from the stunning drive from Siena to Asciano.  Enjoy!

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Sorpasso in Rome – 10 More Minutes

Italy - 2013 2469“10 more minutes!”  “10 more minutes!”  “Altri 10 minuti per la grande cucina”  That’s what I tell visitors staying in Times Square  or any other famous tourist attraction.  That’s what I tell my family often on our vacations.  My youngest doesn’t even ask anymore.  “Dad, how far is lun.. oh let me guess… 10 minutes?”  Another 10 minutes and you get to a little foodie paradise, where tourists are largely outnumbered (those pesky, annoying tourists!), where you are not being taken advantage of, where there are no waiters standing outside suddenly speaking your language and complimenting your hair.  10 minutes away, the food gets more refined, and the ingredients begin to talk.

Such is the case with Sorpasso in Prati.  10 minutes, depending on the size of your heels, from the Vatican.  And if you do indeed wear heels to the Vatican as I’ve seen so many do, than I really have no sympathy for you.  I bet you are also the kind that spends a ton of time “freshening up” in the ladies room while on a date.  Why do women do that?  If the makeup needs refreshing every hour, doesn’t it mean you simply need to buy better or new makeup?  The only time you’ll see a man in the bathroom staring at the mirror is after his left leg fell asleep while sitting in the stall for too long and he’s waiting for the blood to start flowing again before he can walk normally, but until then he pretends that he’s busy with his hair or shirt, or answering an important text

But I digress, Soprasso while not your typical Roman Trattoria delivered all sorts of big flavors…

Mozzarella ball – Heavenly!

Hard Cheese with pear and honey – A revelation!  Supposedly a hard to find Umbrian cheese according to waitress.

A gorgeous Salumi plate included fantastic Mortadella, savory speck and ultra tasty dry salami.  The type that normally gets my attention at a Salumeria

Strozzapreti (obviously invented when someone envisioned a pasta shape while watching a priest being strangled) with monkfish and fresh tomato sauce – couldn’t get enough of this one

Fettuccine with pesto, zucchini flowers and sunflower seeds. Perhaps the single best pesto sauce I ever ate.

Orecchiette (Mike Tyson’s favorite pasta) with meat. Perfectly al dented pasta, tender meat. We eat this dish a lot back home but its never like this.

The pastas here were on a separate menu that changes daily, and on a pasta filled trip we found them rather exceptional.  A truly memorable lunch overall.  If there’s one tip I have to give you about Rome is go to Sorpasso after your Vatican visit.  Its 10 more minutes folks!

P.S.  I’m just about ready to embark into the next phase of my blogging career.  Any idea how much those clown guards charge?9327892123_106f0f1b5f_b

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10 Things To Eat In Florence

Carapina FlorenceIt was like seeing your dentist in the supermarket. Flying from Newark, the last thing I wanted to see upon landing in Florence was standing there in all its glory, IKEA!  And it was not your average IKEA, no.  This was a mean and scary one.  I mean the Airport is located in its parking lot!  I did not come 4182.6 miles which included a scenic tour around Charles de Gaulle on a shuttle from hell to eat Swedish Meatballs.  I needed to see pizza ASAP and 90 minutes later I did.

When in Florence, or Rome, or anywhere else pretty much, leave your eating habits behind.  Forget the bread with butter, your evening cappuccino, your well done steak.  Eat and drink like a local and let the chefs do their thing without asking for alterations.  When we went to Portugal a few years ago we kept hearing about the Portuguese obsession with Bacalhau, and how they can make it in 365 different ways, for every day of the year.   Well, we must have picked the 2 worst days.  Tried it once and hated it just enough to try again at one of the top spots in Porto, and hated it even more.  However, the opposite was true with Porto’s famous 5 meat beast, Francesinha.  I expected to hate it but absolutely loved it.  For every Bacalhau there are 10 Francesinhas sitting there waiting for you.  A statement borderline offensive.

Anyway, here are 10 items to try in Florence.  Some unique to Florence, some unique to Tuscany, while some aren’t unique at all.  Hey, its my list and I’ll do what I want to.  But feel free to comment on anything that I’m missing of course.  In no particular order…

1)  Pizza/Bakery.  Yes I know, I know, Pizza is not a Florence thing.  Leave it to Rome or Naples.  But it doesn’t mean there’s no great pizza here.  Try Pugi while visiting David or San Marco.  Grab a number, and while you wait look at all the Foccacia and Schiacciate coming out of the oven.  Then point to what you want, point to your mouth, show them the size you want with both hands (like an NFL referee showing how many inches are left for the first down) and you are all set. The smells alone at Pugi is worth going.  Another popular pizza option is Gusta Pizza near the Pitti Palace

Pugi FlorencePugi Florence2)  Bistecca alla Fiorentina – This is a no brainer and required eating by local law.  A massive bloody rare Chianina raised Porterhouse cooked to perfection.  Cooking it any differently will result in what I call a Paris Hilton – Pretty to look at but with zero substance.  My personal preference however in the region is Tagliata style, which is sliced Chianina and served with with olive oil and spices.  Just about every Trattoria in Florence offers it seems like.  All’Antico Ristoro Di Cambi and its 21 day aged Bistecca, Trattoria Mario, and Sostanza are good betsGuastini - Chianina

3)  Pappa al Pomodoro.  Tomato and bread sounds as sexy as a George Costanza pose, but surprisingly delicious when done right.  Garlic, Basil, Pepper, spices are added accordingly to create this beautiful dish.  Try it at Da Ruggero.  And while you at it try the Ribollita, essentially bread, white beans and veggies.   Da Ruggero

4)  Crostini – Talking about bread, more please.  You wont find many great bread baskets in Florence or Italy as a whole but I love everything else they do with the bread.  The Tuscan Crostini, rich buttery liver goodness is the perfect starter.  Especially when paired with savory Salumi like the fennel studded Finocchiona (so so good).  Try the liver crostini at La Pentola dell’Oro, or better yet the entire assortment plate they offer.La Pentola Florence

5)  Pollo al Burro at Sostanza – Perhaps the most celebrated single dish in Florence.  Chicken with butter!  Or is it butter with chicken, not sure.  Rest assured there’s plenty.  Check out this dish and the rest of our meal at Sostanza here

Sostanza Chicken

6)  Panini – This goes hand in hand with #9.  In Italy Panini simply means sandwich (other than sandwich made of sliced bread) and trying all the various sandwiches in foreign countries is always fun.  Try any of the tripe stands all over town, Bollito with Salsa Verde (Boiled beef with green salsa) in Nerbone, top notch ingredients in legendary ‘Ino, and something we truly enjoyed:  mini sandwiches at Procacci.  They are known for the truffle sandwiches but we really enjoyed the rest of the lineup as well.  Don’t eat the biscotti sampler.. you will wind up buying a case for your entire family and your neighbor, even though their dog is annoyingly wakes you up early in the morning and is ugly.  Had to get it off my chestProcacci Florence

7)  Pici – Pici is more of a regional dish and you will see Pici predominantly featured in the country side.  Its essentially a thick round spaghetti, very “meaty”, very delicious, and very absent in the USA.  When we learned how to make Pici in Montelpulciano our instructor made us add a little big of egg, though normally its eggless.  Try it anywhere with any ragu like cinghiale (wild boar).La Pentola Florence

8)  Anything in Mercato Centrale – Here I am torn.  I need help from the locals as I see 3 options.  A stupendously cheap full meal at Nerbone (inside the market), or just walk around the market and try everything in sight including the cured meats and cooked on the spot fresh seafood.  Or, both of the above.  2 trips here would be idealMercato Centrale

9)  Tripe – Ok, I have to admit, this is my Bacalhau in Florence.  Meaning I wasn’t exactly crazy about what I tried.  The plate of Lampredotto I tried at a restaurant that shell remain nameless was the worst thing I ever ate in Italy.  Lampredotto is made from the fourth stomach of the cow.  Maybe I’m just a first and second stomach kinda guy, or maybe this tripe thing is not for me.  Either way, I tried it, I hated it, and I’m taking you all down with me.  I mean, YOU may like it.  Thats what I’m trying to sayItaly - 2013 530

10)  Gelato – I started with something that isn’t so much a Florence thing and I’m ending with something thats definitely is.  Some of the best Gelato in the world is right here, but you need to do a little homework in order to take advantage of this artisanal craftsmanship.  We tried  all sorts of Gelato all over town.  Pretty much anything that starts with “Cara” is good (cara I think means delicious ice cream!) as in Carabe and CarapinaGelateria dei Neri was another winner

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What not to try in florence:

1)  Swedish Meatballs

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Piccola Trattoria Guastini – Meal Of The Year

Guastini - Caprese

August 21st, 2019 Update

Allora, so which is my favorite restaurant in Tuscany? A question I get asked often.  Its actually easier for me to answer this than naming my favorite NY restaurant these days.  The answer is Piccola Trattoria Guastini in the little hamlet I call Torrita di Siena, because thats what its called.  The post I’m bumping is also to announce a location change.  Emanuela and Davide Guastini moved the restaurant from close to home in Valiano to the other side of the Autostrada, 12 km north of Montepulciano.

The title refers to the meal we had here in 2013.  But this one was not too shabby either.  New location, same family, new atmospheric terrace with some of the best views in town.  Although Davide seemed to age a little so I dont know if I can wait another 6 years to visit this gem.  His wife Emanueala however, hasnt missed a beat.  A super versatile chef who is like Houdini in that kitchen.

Piccola Trattoria Guastini - Faraona

One can spend hours on that terrace.  And we did.  But before you knew it, we were munching on delicate eggplant parm featuring fresh, tangy tomato with buffalo mozzarella.  Then came the same great crostini with creamy chicken liver, onion and apple we had last time.  Superb Pici topped with tomatoless Ragu of Chianina, the local cattle so prized its announced on the menu.  It always amazes me how the Tuscan extract so much flavor from such little meat.  And of course there was Tortelli again, packed with that addictive fresh ricotta.

That versatility is especially showing with meats, particularly game birds.  This time we enjoyed a fantastic, most tender Faraona (guinea fowlwith pistachios and raisins.  And a roasted Maialino – delightfully salty, crunchy, and fatty in all the right places.  Like slow dancing with your mother-in-law.  A proper Tiramisu, and an even better Ricotta with honey.  All enjoyed with a Pieropan 2015 Soave.  GO!

September 10, 2013 Post (Old Location)

The “Saving the best for last” cliché doesn’t quite make sense to me in this context.  How do you know its the best if you haven’t done it yet.  Surely it can turn out merely “pretty good”, or perhaps one of the earlier meals rises to the occasion.  With that said, I cant help but anticipate and suspect whether I’m leaving the best for last sometimes.  Piccola Trattoria Guastini, our last meal in Tuscany was not only the best meal in Tuscany, it was the best meal of the entire 12 day trip which included about 20 pretty good ones.

GuastiniEmanuela and Davide Guastini run this popular spot in the tiny village of Valiano not too far from Montepulciano.  Sunflower galore on the way there from the Cortona direction. Gorgeous terrace overlooking the area I can only describe as “the other side of A1” which doesn’t sound as sexy as the real name I keep forgetting (Val di Chiana).  Everything was working that night – the sublime food, the wine, the mood, the comfort, the gracious hosts, and the one ingredient missing from just about every other place we visited, locals.  Guastini - Crostini

Started with, what else, more amazing crostini this time with chicken liver and caramelized onions – sweet and savory.  Followed that with an ultra fresh Caprese salad.  Cant get much better than this.  Tortelli with ricotta were topped with fresh tomatoes and basil, almost resulted in a family feud (I won simply by staring).  One particular stunner was the ravioli stuffed with pigeon with 2 succulent pieces to boot.  Our first pigeon of the trip resulted in a messy moment of silence.Guastini - Ravioli Guastini - Tortelli

More deliciousness followed in the form of fried rabbit which we couldnt get enough of.  Glorious duck encrusted with fennel, one of those dishes you know will be good as soon as it arrives.  My nose and sense of smell were working overtime that night.

Guastini - rabbit Guastini - Duck

I had a long talk with Davide about food and after voicing my slight disappointment with the Bisteccas in Florence and the region, he comes back minutes later with a full plate of Tagliata, sliced Chianina beef perfectly cooked with olive oil.  This was absolutely delicious.  Who knew that the best steak of the trip would be the free one.  Great desserts here as well.  Panna Cotta with chocolate sauce, ricotta mousse with honey and hazelnuts (seems like a specialty here in the region) and a fine tiramisu. Guastini - Chianina

It was packed with locals which was not surprising considering the restaurant was suggested by a restaurant owner in Montepulciano.  Reservations are a must.  If you want a quick meal, this is certainty not the place.  Like Da Roberto and many of the other places we visited, Guastini oozes Slow Food freshness.  A meal you need to experience at least once on vacation.  Guastini is why I come to ItalyGuastini - Pana Cotta

Guastini patio

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Lazy Post – Morning in Trastevere

When in Rome… do as the tourists do.  Explore all the major sites which can take about 3 days.  But, it pays to stay a few extra days and explore some neighborhoods such as Trastevere.  As is the case with other major cities in Europe we visited, we prefer to stay away from the center, in a more residential area.  I rather open my window to a line of laundry in the morning rather than an Eifel Tower, or Colosseum.  When leaving to do our thing as tourists I like to see the locals starting their daily routines, kids going to school, Orange Yogi man preparing for work.  Trastevere, although a bit more touristy than I imagined in the evenings (those damn pesky tourists) was just that in the mornings…Italy - 2013 2550 Italy - 2013 2605 Italy - 2013 2540 Italy - 2013 2544 Italy - 2013 2557 Italy - 2013 2564 Italy - 2013 2565 Italy - 2013 2569 Italy - 2013 2575 Italy - 2013 2582 Italy - 2013 2545 Italy - 2013 2609 Italy - 2013 2602 z Italy - 2013 2597 Italy - 2013 2595 Italy - 2013 2591 Italy - 2013 2589 Italy - 2013 2587

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Sostanza in Florence – Underdog Pollo

Sostanza ChickenAnother year, another City of David. First Jerusalem, now Florence.  After withstanding repeated 14th century attacks by Milan, underdog Florence over time chose David as its symbol.  Besides the masterpiece in the Accademia you can see all sorts of Davids everywhere in Florence such as Donatello’s David at the Bargello. It may take more than a day trip to see and understand this phenomenon.  And then there’s that other famous underdog, found only in one particular 140 year old trattoria

SostanzaIn a city dominated by the Bistecca Fiorentina, a stocky and bloody T-Bone, the little Pollo al Burro, Chicken with Butter prevailed, reaching legendary status over time.  2 generous breasts are cooked over coal before pan fried with eggs and one stick of butter.  Thats still 2 sticks less than the similarly celebrated BBQ Shrimp at Mr B’s in New Orleans, but rich nonetheless.  The result is moist and addictive.  With the massive Sostanza Bistecca Fiorentina side by side, for the first time ever my fork was reaching for the bird over a well cooked medium rare steak.  Long live the pollo!
But that’s not all we enjoyed in Sostanza. Tortellini al Sugo was a subtle, cruel reminder how different are the sauces in the States.  A nice assortment of prosciutto, melon, salami, and a well crafted Finocchiona which made us order it just about everywhere we would see it the rest of the trip.
Sostanza Tortellini al SugoSostanza antipasto
There were a few misses however on this night. The omelette with artichoke which is another signature dish, was just ok for us.  I Didnt care much for the artichoke part in particular (out of season perhaps?).  A “stew” with beans produced 2 fairly dry bland veal cutlets but mighty delicious white beans.
Sostanza is like a timeless well oiled machine. 7:30 reservations for tourists like us. You may share your table with other {shrug} tourists. 9:30 is for mostly locals who may share a table with more tourists. Although fairly touristy, Sostanza is far from a tourist trap, like this one for example.  If you only have the weekend, you are out of luck, as Sostanza closed Saturday and Sunday.  Otherwise, try to make reservations ahead of time (by calling only unfortunately).  I like places with signature dishes like Sostanza.  Easy to write about and easy to recommend.  Get the chicken!
Sostanza Bistecca Fiorentina Sostanza Omelette Sostanza Stew Sostanza Dessert Sostanza Chicken in action
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Parking in Tuscany – The Survival Guide


After reading the helpful tips below, click here to view the parking maps.

So you decided to rent a car in Tuscany?  Mazal Tov!  Here’s what you need to do first…

1)  Get up and dim the lights

2)  Open that bottle of Prosecco you were saving for that special occasion.  The special occasion is here.

3)  Open your laptop and pump up this baby in the background

4)  Go to Google Maps and start “Google Driving” all over Tuscany.  Thats it.  Rinse and repeat the next day

What is Google Driving you ask?  Its driving using Google’s “Street View” feature.  If you haven’t been using it to prepare for a trip somewhere, you need to start now.

While you are at it, you need to get familiar with ZTL

And now, everything you always wanted to know about parking in Tuscany (But were too afraid to ask).  Thats one of the most common questions on the boards and I spent more than my fair share looking for the most convenient lots while avoiding the dreaded ZTL signs.  Your GPS doesnt care about ZTL zones.  But Ziggy does!

So here’s what you need to know.  Click on each map to enlarge and save the locations to your maps as needed.  Disregard the “A” flags on the map and focus on where the little guy is

Note: I had to move the map to this page

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Cesare al Casaletto – Another Useless Rome Post

Cesare al Casaletto - meatballsContinuing my streak of useless Rome posts I will now write about our last meal in Italy.  Why is a post about this particular meal useless you ask?  Well, good question Timmy! The answer lies with Google and the reason I picked this place in the first place.  Virtually every Rome blogger and their nonnas has already blogged about Cesare since they opened a few years ago.  Some of them even show you the same pictures like the Kodak friendly meatballs and the fried gnocchi.  I really don’t have much new to offer here.  The Oxtail?  Looks like that tip was already covered by Katie Parla.  “off the beaten path”, “Last stop on #8 tram”, “Only locals”, “gotta have the fried stuff”, bla bla bla, all of that was already covered extensively.  Perhaps I could add a picture of myself trying to smile but that would just make things more awkward and may ruin any appetite you may have, or may make you moody.  I got nothing but reconfirm what the locals already said.  Cesare al Casaletto has left us impressed.

Cesare al Casaletto - wineIts almost like every major Italian tourist destination has this line in the sand.  Cross the line and you dine with the locals.  Cesare is well beyond the line but extremely easy to get to especially if you are staying in Trastevere.  Take tram #8 all the way to the last stop, about 15 minutes from the river, and its right there on Casaletto street.

I almost didnt make it to Cesare after seeing less than glowing reviews on the boards.  But then it hit me.  Caicos Cafe in Turks and Caicos is just about my favorite restaurant in the world, but does not always get rave reviews from visitors.  So just like I expect my friends and family to trust my judgement on Caicos Cafe I decided to stop reading and start trusting.

The menu here reads like a roman cuisine dictionary with a surprising English translation for such a residential area trattoria away from the center.  Within an hour the place got filled with locals.  How do I know they were all locals?  Well for starters everyone got kisses from the staff except us.  I tried forcing a wet one but the young waiter got a little confused.Cesare al Casaletto

Appetizer portion of the menu consisted of all sorts of fried staff which is a specialty here.  Started with a very interesting and very generous fried gnocchi on a bed of light cream. Terrific, although the the gnocchi loving little ones declared their preference for the regular kind.  Tough to argue but this was satisfyingly unique nonetheless.  Excellent fresh succulent mussels here. The reason we order them everywhere is because the kids ask for them every time they see them.  But the star of the apps and perhaps the entire meal was probably the meatballs with pesto. Not the meatballs your mamma used to make. Better!  Like an airy slow cooked savory brisket balls.  Well done!

Cesare al Casaletto - bruschettaThe pastas were fine here but again the least memorable course as was the case with all the meals in Rome not named Sorpasso.  More of a testament to the other courses here really. You select a pasta type and the classic preparation. I wanted another Carbonara and Cacio but the wife said lets try something else so I opted for a Gricia with Tonarelli and Bucatini Amatriciana which was more satisfying. I realized I prefer all the classics over the Gricia overall.  Roman pastas to me is like Mexican food. A 3 to 5 ingredient shuffle.  Pasta, Pecorino, Guanciale, black pepper, egg or tomato sauce.  Stuff I would eat over Mexican food any time of course.

Another winner was the last course of oxtail stew. Chunky, falling of the bone juicy, tomatoee, packed with flavor meat.  Although I forgot to take a picture of this one since we were so engaged telling the kids the story of Maximus (gladiator).  I took pictures of pretty much every single dish on this trip except this last one

We skipped dessert this time and left very satisfied.  For the price perhaps the best dinner in Rome (70 something. 100 euros less than Roscioli).

Special thanks to Hande of Vino Roma for all her help with the restaurant choices.  Thanks Hande!

Cesare al Casaletto - fried gnocchi Cesare al Casaletto - Tonarelli Gricia Cesare al Casaletto - Bucatini Amatriciana Cesare al Casaletto - mussels

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24 Hours in Lucca

Lucca - San Michele in ForoWe started our Lucca adventure with a missed turn and ended with something we feared will happen eventually but not in a foreign country.  Lets start with the missed turn

Looking at the map roughly 8,754 times prior to the trip did not stop me from missing the most important turn leading to the Alla Dimora Lucense hotel.  We circled for a little bit trying to get back to the hotel but to no avail, so I just had no choice but park on the street 200 meters away from our hotel.

Ester, our fantastic host:  “Oh no you cant leave your car there.  You will get fined since you are not a local”

Me:  “Ok, so how do I get to your garage”

Ester: “Oh its very easy.  I’ll show you”

Me thinking: Oh thank goodness.  I thought the only way is something drastic like completely leave the old city

Easter: “You need to leave the old city” pointing on the map how easily it can be done

LuccaOh well, out of the gates and back to the same gate we came from and this time I knew exactly where to turn.  After showing Ester how an American backs into an Italian garage with minimum sweat, off we go with some major eating, I’m talking about 5 meals sight seeing.

I just took a moment to think about how to best describe Lucca and I’m having a hard time.  Its either indescribable or the show I’m currently watching (chopped) is interfering with my writing.  (Mrs Ziggy if you reading: I think its time for me to get an office now that my blogging career is taking off.  I highly doubt Katie Parla is writing posts from a noisy living room.  And we are out of Halva).  But Lucca is unique, and being in Lucca just felt different to me in ways I cant quite explain.

First stop:  Palazzo Pfanner and its lovely garden right by our hotel.  We really enjoyed this place and spent a bit too much time here, mostly taking roughly 100 pictures of ourselves jumping from a bench.  I would show you my shots but its NSFW.Lucca - Palazzo Pfanner

Instead of having the customary 2 meals in Lucca I chose to snack around during the day.  We wound up going to 2 particular places 4 times (2 each).

Da Felice is the oldest Pizza in town, and the the most popular with locals.  We sampled some delicious pizza with salami, and another one with prosciutto that blended nicely with the rest of the ingredients.  But to be honest, I wasnt there for the pizza.  I came for the Cecina, thin  pancake like or crepe if you will made of chickpea flour.  But since they were down to the last few slices I opted to come back later for a fresh batch.Giusti

And around the corner is another local favorite, Forno Giusti.  The smells alone in this bakery worth going in.  People love candle scents, perfume, etc, while I feel at home inside a bakery like this.  We sampled some focaccia (plain and with cheese) and Buccellato, a simple sweet sticky cake with raisins.  But everything else including the fine looking focaccia sandwiches looked amazing.  By the end of the trip “Forno” became my new favorite Italian word.  Surpassing Tartufo and Finocchiona.Lucca -Forno Lucca - Giusti

Turn the corner again and you are staring at one of the most stunning church exteriors in all of Tuscany, in my opinion at least, San Michele in Foro (top picture) or San Michele near “Forno” as I call it.  Built on top of a Roman Forum (hence “Foro”), this Romanesque beauty and its ornate facade is not to be missed.  Same goes for their Duomo, Cathedral of San Martino and to a lesser degree the peaceful Basilica of San Frediano.  The good news is that you will not find a more walkable city, so seeing all three and all the sites in Lucca is fairly simple.  Although we biked to the DuomoLucca - San Martino Lucca - Basilica of San Frediano

Right near San Michele is a little square that is all about Lucca’s claim to fame, Puccini.  The composer’s house which is now a small museum, and a statue dominate the square.

We then proceeded with a little bit of shopping.  By shopping I mean the girls went inside a large store while I waited outside with other annoyed husbands.  They were inside long enough for me to get invited to a Bat Mitsvah in Israel.

“My name is Lucca and I live on the second floor” couldnt get the song out of my head.  Especially after numerous stops at our hotel where we stayed on the second floor.  Italian 2nd floor, like American 3rd floor.  In Lucca you have to stay inside the walls to maximize convenience and Alla Dimora Lucense really did the trick with its clean and spacious accommodation for the 4 of us.  Breakfast by Ester not too shabby either.  More on what we left behind soon

Lucca - lawnsInternet connection issues limited my ability to explain to the family some of the sites.  I was relying on some websites I had saved but couldn’t open them.  So in order to make it interesting for the kids I had to invent things.

Me: “And here you have what looks like a statue of Lenin” (some statue that sort of reminded me of Lenin)”

kid 1: “John Lenin?”

Me:  “Ahhm Yes, John Lenin.  Liberator of Lucca”

Kid 2: “I’m hungry”

Lucca bikingMe: “But we just…never mind”  It suddenly hit me that all the numerous “but we just ate” arguments never really went anywhere

After a short rest it was time to take advantage of Lucca’s main attraction.  The one of a kind Lucca walls, a 4 km park encircling around the old town.  We picked up the bikes in Piazza Santa Maria but there are bike rentals all over town.  Some of them I pointed on the map below.  We simply had a blast biking all the way around.  And to truly appreciate this scenic town biking around it is the way to go.  Dont forget to look outside of the walls for more views, and to go down occasionally to visit other areas of the old town and some gelato of course.

Lucca Walls

Time for Cecina.  Delicios!  Add a little bit of seasoning, Delicious-er!  And since we are already in the neighborhood, more yumminess from the Forno where we enjoyed mini flat pizzas.  Basically I just went in to get another whiff and wound up buying more food

Lucca - Cecina Lucca Giusti Pizza

Lucca - De FeliceAfter another short break we went on to climb Guinigi Tower, one of numerous towers all over Tuscany built by wealthy families to either symbolize wealth or for protection (the towers of San Gimignano).  Again, I have to use the word unique here as on the top of the tower you find shade in 2 oak trees, with plenty of breathtaking views to go around.  No wonder John Lenin found refuge here as a small child.Lucca anfiteatro

Lucca Guinigi TowerAt this point most of the tourists are gone and walking around is a little more pleasant, although you dont mind the tourists here so much.  I couldnt help but notice the Lucca dogs dont stop to poop but do it while walking.  Possibly foreign dogs walking around marveling at the architecture while their owners desperately trying to clean their mess.  I almost felt like grabbing a few napkins to help this poor woman.  Almost!

On the way to dinner we bumped into a lovely couple I met on Trip Advisor.  They drive to Lucca every year from England and stay for a while.  It was very cool meeting them.

Lucca - Piazza AntfiteatroOne benefit of staying in Lucca overnight is visiting Piazza Anfiteatro during the day and night.  The site of a former Amphitheater holding 10,000 spectators.  And of course the site of John Lenin’s eventual execution for giving away Chianina secrets to the Florentines, as I explained to the family.

For dinner I chose a place called Baralla and was very pleased with the meal overall.  A fantastic antipasti including a very different Sopressata, farro with sundried tomatoes, bread soaked with vinegar and onion and basil which tasted much better than it sounds.  I got spoiled with all the Tuscan spoiled bread specialties.Lucca - Baralla Starters

Loved the pastas here. Seeing truffles on the menu finally was like seeing David.  These were black truffles from San Miniato shaved on tagliolini and although summer black truffles arent the best quality every little piece counted big time especially now that the entire family is into them.  And of course I had to try the Tortelli Luchese which reminded me of Russian Siberian pilmeni stuffed with mystery meat with a meat ragu on top. Really enjoyed this one.Lucca - Baralla Truffles Lucca - Baralla tortelli Lucchese

The Bistecca Di Chianina was surprisingly a little overcooked (more like medium) which I didnt think was possible in Italy.  The rabbit cacciatora was more like it.  Tender and flavorful.  Good tiramisu and a fantastic parfait with pistachios and dark chocolate capped a fine meal overall.Lucca - Baralla Chianina Lucca - Baralla Rabbit Lucca - Baralla

As we were saying our goodbyes to Lucca it was time to say our hellos to… Lucca.  We expected this moment to happen as we’ve seen it happen to all our friends numerous times, sometimes even digging through the trash cans outside with gloves.  But we never expected it to happen in a foreign country.  My oldest forgot her retainer inside a napkin over breakfast and so we had come back.  Basically just delaying my next anxious moment:  Taking pictures of people trying to straighten the tower of Pisa.Pisa

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