Posts Tagged With: travel+photography

This is Rendezvous Bay

Rendezvous Bay HotelIt’s becoming increasingly difficult to write posts like this considering everything that’s going on in the world today.  Fires in Australia, mayhem in Iran, Hong Kong, impeachment, and this dude is writing about some beach in Anguilla.  But this is a place worth writing about.  And as I get older and wiser its becoming more and more clear that in this fragile world, a beach and even looking at pictures of a beach (which I dont do enough) has crazy healing powers.  Numerous recent studies suggest the same.  There’s a reason why Hawaii is the happiest state in the US year after year, an its not Poke Bowls.

There’s another reason I hesitate to post this one.  I’m not exactly anxious for the world to know about this place.  Its a cliche, I know.  But only once you spend a week here you’ll understand.  In fact I met some nice folks there who asked me in a nice half-kidding kind of way to refrain from writing about it.  With that said, sharing is caring as my mama used to say.  And I do hope, for the same selfish reasons, this place I’m about to mention (the main reason for the post) stays in business long enough.

IMG_2282Rendezvous Bay (special shutout to the person who invented copy and paste) simply put is the perfect beach.  Just like most such beaches, you may not find it at its best behavior when you first see it.  The winds can get too strong, and sometimes it may feel deserted for a reason.  When we first saw it four years ago we werent impressed.  But after spending a week at what looks like its best side, we understood.  It’s one of the most walkable, most swimmable, and most perfect size beaches we’ve seen. But most of all, its almost empty!  From my vantage point, best seat in the theater, one person walking by every 20 minutes.  It’s one of the best sheer beauty to people ratio in the Caribbean.

Just to give you an idea how empty this place is.  One day I was in the water and noticed from a distance a figure, most likely a man with absolutely no one around him for a good mile.  The man pulled down his trunks, bent over and proceeded to either shake the trunks or look for something inside them for a good minute.  It wasn’t clear what exactly he was doing, but there he was doing it.  If he was looking for his keys, there was only one place left to look for them.  His bum can be the symbol of Rendezvous Bay in billboards everywhere with the caption “You can do this here”.

Another big plus is that Rendezvous Bay has arguably the best beach shack in the Caribbean, Sunshine Shack.  Garvey and crew will not rest until you are happy.  Expertly grilled BBQ chicken, ribs, lobster and crawfish when available is pretty much the entire menu, but thats all you need (well, except if you are vegetarian).  Its colorful, inviting, with a bit of a party atmosphere for a change of pace.  Booze, games, and comfortable beach lounges allow you to hang out for as long as you want.  This is the definition of a beach shack if there was ever one.

IMG_2243One of the cool things about this bay is the lack of hotels.  You got CuisinArt in the west as the lone major resort, and a few boutique hotels.  One of which is the reason for the post. Rendezvous Bay Hotel.  Its the oldest hotel in Anguilla, and today for some mysterious reasons, shockingly underrated.  It was 😍😍😍 at first sight for us.  I think I gave the biggest tip ever for just showing me the room.  We loved everything about this place.  From the breakfast burritos, the humongous bed (forget king, more like emperor), the balcony, room size, everything.  I can’t think of another place where I wanted to spend so much time in.  I even loved that we had three keys and for the life of me I have no idea what the other two were for.

But most of all it was the proximity (20 feet) to what seemed like the best and calmest part of Rendezvous Bay.  CuisinArt got the short end of the stick looks like, perhaps because RBH was there first.  We had a safety net, a car, that would take us to any beach we want (and there are 33 of them, many of which stunning).  But every other beach we visited felt like a downgrade.  Its perfectly isolated.  You are not far from some of the best dining in Anguilla, and the public ferry.  Fantastic value (under $300) to boot especially considering what you’ll find 20 feet away.  How often do I write about a hotel.  Not very.

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Anguilla Random

IMG_2365Its that time of the year.  The time we look back, reflect, and look forward.  The time we argue about the spelling of Hanukkah, and wonder how impeachment works exactly.  The time we look back at the wonderful things we ate during the year all over the world.  The time to call your mom, and watch vacation pictures.  In that order.  Yes, call you mom, and buy her something meaningful this time.  A puppy, a food tour, a trip to Anguilla.  Something that will change her life.

To all the people I met during the last years years, wishing you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a blessed Festivus

The Ziggys

(PS, click on any of the pictures below to view)

 

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24 Hours in Washington, DC

IMG_2108When I was watching the Washington Nationals beat the Astros for their first title in the modern era (post iPhone), I never imagined that two days later we would be trapped on Constitution Ave, trying desperately to swim out of the Red Sea (parade crowd).  We spent roughly 24 hours, which was also the amount it took me to plan for this last minute getaway.  Arlington and Indian – that was pretty much my base, the starting point for this trip.  I’ve never been to Arlington, and I got sick and tired of hearing the praises of Rasika.

Saturday

11:50 am – We park at Colonial Parking (reserved via Parking Panda), and checked into the super convenient (for our purpose), State Plaza Hotel.  We accidentally found ourselves in the middle of a quiet, and picturesque George Washington University where my youngest is applying.  This school visit was not planned, but of course we told her it was.

12:30 pm – Plan was to check out Momofuku CCDC, but that means potentially missing our tour at the Capitol.  A Brunch menu makes this decision easier as I feel places like Momofulu and Brunch dont mix.  But a dumb down eggified version of a Momofuku is still probably better than most brunches out there.  Instead we do a quick take out from errr.. Cosi, along with roughly 654 National fans.

1:23 PM – An uneventful walk through the White House, on our way to the Capitol.  The crowd is getting bigger, and rowdier.  Its like the Astor Place riots except that everyone but us is wearing red.  Not fully knowing the parade route we get caught in the middle of it all.  At some point I even lost Mrs Z for a minute.  One can only dream…

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2:03 PM – At this point it feels like we just completed an Amazing Race task as we are greeted by an Anne Hathaway look-alike at the Capitol who gives us the next clue.  Go downstairs and join a group led by an Elisabeth Moss look-alike (whats going on here).  A 45 minute tour of the Capitol is one of the many cool freebies this city has to offer.

3:10 – Still feeling safe underground we cross the tunnel to the granddaddy of all free attractions, the magnificent Library of Congress.  The largest library in the world, with over 168 million items.  It will add 15,000 items by the time I finish writing this post (I’m a little slow).  Since 2006 it started collecting every one of the 50 million tweets.

IMG_20783:48 PM – We peep out like Meerkats and it looks safe to come out and walk outside.  After a Starbucks emergency (for Coffee…), we are off to walk the 2.6 miles National Mall, arguably the greatest outdoor museum and memorial in the world.  The plan was to check out the National Museum of the American Indian (Free), but long lines and… jet lag kicks in.  It was a 3.5 hour drive after all.  From the outside the museum resembles something that belongs in Bilbao.  Thats a good thing.

4:17 PM – We enjoy a local refreshment called Coca Cola.  “Refreshments” are the US version of the Cicchetti or Tapas.  Small, in between meal snacks like Hot dogs, burgers, fries, etc.  Refreshment stands are the only food options in this part of the capital.

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4:38 PM – We are now staring at the Washington Monument.  Not at the actual monument, but at the row of people lying on their back against it with their feet up.  Clearly we missed an Instagram opportunity, or they are just very tired.  This was the world’s tallest building until it was surpassed by Eiffel Tower.  No building in Washington is allowed to be taller.  We end at the Lincoln Memorial, and perhaps the biggest surprise of them all, the mesmerizing Korean War Veterans Memorial.

9:00 PM – Dinner at Rasika West End.  I was curious how a restaurant offering dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala can be considered one of the best Indian in the country, but I get it now.  Its really is just solid Indian offering a full menu of inventive, and expertly cooked mainstream dishes.  The signature Palak Chaat is a beautiful combination of baby spinach fried to a nice crisp along with tamarind, dates, and yogurt.  A lesson in texture and balanced flavors.  Another highlight surprisingly was a perfectly flaky Snapper sitting on top of rice vermicelli.  The Dal Dhungaree was like a very rich Dal Makhni.  And if you like your curries spicy and complex, give the Andhra Chicken Curry a try.  The Date and Toffee Pudding will take you back to Grand Cayman (I imagine only 1% of my readers will get that, but its worth noting)IMG_2120

Sunday

8:10 am – a 20 deep line forming for brunch at the appropriately named Founding Farmers.  In a house that can fit roughly 400 diners, we somehow managed to get the worse seats, right between the kitchen, and the line to the bathroom.  I was in perfect position to trip anyone coming out the of the kitchen but I figured we should try the food first.  Excellent French Toast, and Pastrami hash with eggs, a la pastrami egg Benedict.

10:00 am – Ever since I visited the cemeteries in New Orleans many years ago I’ve become fascinated with them.  My so called Food Tour of Brooklyn includes a visit to Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn a place near and dear to my heart.  Arlington Cemetery was at the top of a very short list of cemeteries on my bucket list.  Its crucial to visit cemeteries with a tour and Free Tours by Foot proved to be a fine option.  Tip:  At The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dont leave immediately after the changing of the guards is over as many do.  There may be an important and moving wreath laying ceremony that follows.  Another Tip:  Dont miss the US Marine Corps War Memorial, a short drive away with easy parking.

IMG_21301:30 PM:  We have important unfinished business in other states, so bye for now

Bonus for New Yorkers or anyone driving from the north…

2:45 PM  A crab fest like no other at Nick’s Fish House in Baltimore, right off the highways.  If you never had proper Maryland crab cake, this is a good place to have one.  And its such a great place to experience the Chesapeake Blue Crab.  Yes its an experience.  If you never had them, its worth watching some youtube videos and/or ask the waitress on how to crack them open.  I would go to Baltimore just for this.

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A Day in Cinque Terre

IMG_0671This is it folks!  The moment none of you have been waiting for you.  Fresh, off the boat, Cinque Terre pictures that look the same or worse than the millions of CT pictures out there.  It took me 8 trips or so to finally see the famous five villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Rick Steves, Monterosso.  Its not official yet, but as you can see, there’s a strong push to rename one, so I’m just one step ahead.

But in order to combat the Rick Steves fan club, and fully appreciate the villages, one needs to stay here for at least a few nights.  And since driving inside the National Park is extremely limited, its better to stay outside, in places like Levanto or Porto Venere.  Consider Hotel Abetaia, near Levanto.  Comfortable, quiet (in the middle of the woods, but modern), good food.  And they set you up with a parking permit in Levanto.  Consider staying at least 2 nights in order to have a full day at the villages.  Here’s a full day sample itinerary:

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Park in Levanto by the train station

Take train to Monterosso al Mare

Hike to Vernazza (Moderate.  Wear appropriate shoes, otherwise they will stop you and turn you around.  We witnessed it)

Have lunch at Il Pirata delle 5 Terre.  Sicilian brothers making all sorts of seafood magic.  Try the tuna.  You may experience heaviest crowds at this village

Take a boat to Riomaggiore to see the village from the water.  Explore Riomaggiore – walk up to the church and Castello.

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Take train to Manarola.  Make sure to take the correct scheduled train that will stop at Manarola.  Not every passing train does.  We initially got on the wrong train and quickly came out,

Have an early dinner at the awesome Cappun Magru and have the namesake dish.  Its the perfect place with the perfect opening hours for this itinerary.

Explore Manarola including a walk on top by the vineyards to see Manarola from above.  Then see the Sunset from the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint (see Google Maps).  This is why you are here.

Take train to Levanto

Write thank you note, or name first born, Ziggy

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10 Genoa Tips

IMG_0474Ahhh, Genoa!  The name that triggers no emotion, confusion, and even anger sometimes.  Why is this guy writing about Genoa now.  What happened to Venice, Rome, and that Cinqua Terras place that he supposedly visited and only wrote about one dish so far.  Isn’t Genoa a working town?  What is there to do for three full days (said Mrs Ziggy when I first pitched the idea).  Plenty, turns out.  Genoa surprised me with its cultural depth, cuisine, attractions, and fashion.  Yes, I said fashion.  This post is not supposed to reinvent the wheel and offer you a complete Genoa guide (plenty of sources out there), but offer you some tips that may enhance your Genoa holiday.

Stay for a while – “More Than This” is the Genoa slogan you’ll see everywhere.  Either Genoa has much to offer or they are just huge fans of Brian Ferry.  But you can very easily fill three days in Genoa alone, and even do some day trips to Boccadasse, Anita Garibaldi Passeggiata, the stunning Camogli, Portofino, and more.  A week doesnt sound too long in Genoa once you factor all day trips and all the Focaccia you can eat.

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Make Pesto with a local – Pesto, like jeans, originated in Genoa.  Book a Pesto making class with Enrica from A Small Kitchen in Genoa.  Enrica is a publisher, food blogger, Pesto championship finalist, and just a delight to be around.  This experience, that ends with lunch at the beautiful terrace of Enrica’s apartment will probably be your most memorable.  You can also take a food tour and book other food experiences with Enrica.  My friends are still thanking me for this.

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Visit Staglieno Cemetery – My apologies to Enrica for following her with well, death.  But if you havent quite made the connection between a magnificent old cemetery to local history and culture, this is a good start.  Staglieno is arguably the most important or at least most beautiful cemetery in Italy.  An outdoor museum like no other.  But it helps to do a bit of research (you can start here), and spend at least 2-3 hours here.  Reading about the monuments will bring some of the stories to life.

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Do some Rolli palace homework – Its almost impossible to come to Genoa and not visit the Rolli Palaces, but its important to arrive with at least the basic understanding of the system of the “Lists” and how it got UNESCO’s attention.  This is what makes Genoa so unique.

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Dont overlook the Royal Palace – A most underrated stunner.  The Palazzo Reale, or Palazzo Stefano Balbi is just a little out of the tourist way.  And I can see how it can be skipped on a short visit.  A mini Versailles in Genoa that was shockingly empty when we visited.  I could practically walked the hall of mirrors naked, with only one or two people marveling watching.  This is also a good place to see the Ligurian pebble mosaic style called Risseu.

See Piazza De Ferrari at night – This is why you need to stay overnight.  Its the same story as many Italian towns.  The difference between a rushed day trip and an overnight stay is, well, day and night.  Seeing the families come out, the lights, fountain, with the palazzos in the background including the magnificent old stock exchange, all add up to quite the atmospheric square.

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Ok, trust me, there was atmosphere 😉

See the old town, but be prepared for some ‘Grit’ – Like many such towns all over Europe, Genoa has a distinct personality.  Genoa’s old town is fascinating, especially to the culinary minds.  But it’s not the most attractive.  Dont be surprised to see graffiti, and prostitutes in some corners.  Maybe thats what they mean by “More Than This”!

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Stay at So&leo Guest House – A well maintained, comfortable, quiet accommodations right between the port area, and old town.  Just a few minutes from Focaccia e Dintorni and many more

Get your Focaccia at Focaccia e Dintorni – The Genoese eat Focaccia for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a late night snack.  On my morning walks, I must have tried around half a dozen different places, and Focaccia e Dintorni was the clear winner.  Try the Farinata, soft chickpea flatbread a la Cecina.

Eat at Cavour 21, and Trattoria Rosmarino – These were the best meals.  Cavour, old, no frills, no nonsense institution I already wrote about.  Rosmarino, a dazzling Slow Fooder by Piazza De Ferrari.  Who knew Lasagna’s biggest problem was tomato sauce.  Get the Lasagna.

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The Umbria Awards

IMG_1397Instead of boring you with the usual Best of Umbria this or that, or random tips on Umbria, I will bore you with an award ceremony.

The Charlize Theron Award.  Given to the most picturesque Town – Spello

We visited a number of towns and villages throughout Italy.  Spello is not only the most picturesque town in Umbria, but one of the prettiest in the country.  It helps if you visit during the Infiorate flower festival.  But even at other times you got flowers, bunnies, chachkies of all kinds decorate every balcony.  Some even proudly display the awards their balconies won.

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The Tom Branson Award.  Given to the most charming village – Scheggino

I’ve already written about this little fairy tale village near Spello that so many overlook.  But it helps to see it like I did, without any preconceived notions.  Have dinner at the excellent Osteria Baciafemmine, and visit the Urabni Truffle store.  Pair it with Spello, and give it an hour or two of daylight prior to dinner.

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The Leonard Hofstadter Award.  Most atmospheric square –  Montefalco

You get the sense that the squares of Umbria stick out more than other regions.  Many towns feature interesting streets and alleys full of anticipation to what squares they lead to.  Some, as the great Morrissey once said, are bigger than others.  But few came close to the atmosphere of Montefalco in the evening.

Villa in Umbria

Courtesy of Villa in Umbria

The William H Macey Award.  Given to the sleepiest village – Bevagna

Or did we catch her at the wrong time.  June, midday, hot hot hot.  This is not a full endorsement as we found it a little too sleepy perhaps, but there’s something to learn here.  Avoid middle of the day.  Come with an open mind.  Dont compare them.  And no matter what, have dinner at Antiche Sere.

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The Rick Steves award.  Given to the most important, but couldn’t wait to get out of there town – Assisi

Every time there’s a discussion about wearing shorts in churches, I think of Assisi and the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi.  I havent seen so many bare legs since the last ZZ Top video.  Some places are touristy for a reason, and Assisi is certainly no exception.  Best advice is this:  Take a guided tour to help with the focus and appreciate it better.  We didnt, and that was a mistake

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The Boar’s Head Award.  Given to the best picnic spot – Piani Di Castelluccio

With the aid of Norcia Salami, made by some of the most respected butchers in the world.  Even after the devastation of Norcia and Castelluccio after the 2016 earthquake, there’s just something surreal about being there.  A trip to the stunning Piani compliments any Umbria itinerary well.  But if this is a bit far from you, a picnic overlooking the spectacular Assisi from the vineyards off SAIO may do.

IMG_1276The Milton Snavely Hershey Award.  Given to the best Chocolate – Urbani truffled truffles in the Urbani museum

Umbria is sort of a Chocolate lover paradise.  You got Perugia and its famous tenant, Perugina, the maker of Baci kisses.  In Norcia you can visit Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia.  We purchased so much chocolate, we are still eating them months later.  But it was the marketing nightmare of the truffled truffles in Urbani that triggered a reaction like no other.  A good reaction.

The rest of the awards given in a ceremony earlier…

Best Porchetta – Antica Salumeria Granieri Amato, Perugia

Best I can’t believe it’s not Porchetta – Rabbit Porchetta, Antiche Sere, Bevagna

Antiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

Best Dish – Pigeon at Enoteca L’Alchimista, Montefalco

Best Meal – Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Best Chef – Patrizia Moretti, Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Best Chef South East – Patrizia Moretti, Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Miss Congeniality – Giulia Rossi. Enoteca…  Just kidding.  Its Patrizia Moretti

Congratulations to the winners!

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Random Banff

Peyto LakeAnother incomplete North America National Park visit in the books.  Still, no bears.  Just like with the elusive sea turtle after hundreds of snorkeling sessions (ok, more like 15), this is starting to feel personal.  We even got stuck on two “Bear Jams” between Yosemite and Banff and nada.  A Bear Jam is when traffic builds up on a road because bears were spotted.  Its the National Park version of a NYC accident on the other side of the highway.

Since I live close to Jersey, I might as well try to spot them there since they are everywhere apparently.  Bear population is so high in Jersey, hunters can now hunt for bears in December, a la The Purge:  The Jersey bears addition.  Thats why in Yosemite we were confused at first about the “Speeding Kills Bears” signs randomly placed on the main roads.  Are we supposed to slow down, or speed?

Here are some pics.  Click to view

 

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10 Scenic Spots in Tuscany

italy-2013-1310Tuscany is a wildly misunderstood region.  You hear about it.  You read about it.  You finally decide to go.  But unless you plan carefully, you may just miss it.  Its large, very diverse, and it includes some of the most photogenic corners in Europe.  But finding these corners requires time, patience, and a Fiat.

Fattoria Poggio Alloro (San Gimignano) – Even if you remove the San Gimignano towers from the horizon, this would have been on the list.  Its a bustling working farm that welcomes visitors to shop, and stay for a meal  on their terrace overlooking this..

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Castello di Brolio (Chianti) – Its a castle that is a bit out of the way, but very much worth the drive.  Fair entrance fee, easy to park, and splendid views of the estate from the castle.  Drinks are on them!  Seriously you get a free glass with your ticket

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Siena to Asciano Drive– The Crete Senesi is more of a feast for the eyes than the camera due to its depth.  Its like gentle rolling hills meets a desert meets Mars.  As a result dont be surprised to see people stop in the middle of the road, like in a zoo.  You will want to do the same.

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Agriturismo Baccoleno (Crete Senesi) – You park by the gate, and walk on the path to the left until you see it.  Thats the view you saw on paintings in every art gallery you’ve visited so far.  Although the cypresses by the gate are photogenic on their own.

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Capanna Winery (Montalcino) – Just outside Brunello Disney Montalcino is one of the Brunello founding fathers.  Its worth checking it out just for the views from the back of the farm, but the farm itself is striking.

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Cugusi Silvana (Montepulciano) – And you thought there wont be any mention of food in this post.  Oh how silly you must feel right now.  This is a Pecorino producer that sets you up with a picnic basket, and some of the best cheese and salumi in the area.  All to be enjoyed in their picnic facilities just outside the store.  Glorious views of Montepulciano and the country side is a major bonus.  Nice alternative to the picturesque but super popular Podere Il Casale.

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Genna Borborini Maria Eva (San Quirico d’Orcia) – One of the Gladiator locations.  This farm is a bit overlooked when compared to the other hits on Via Cipressi (Montalcino to Pienza).  You park at these coordinates, 43°03’55.8″N 11°36’43.6″E and view the villa from the gate, while humming the Gladiator theme song.

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Cipressi di San Quirico d’Orcia (San Quirico d’Orcia) – Aka Cypresses Valdorcia or Circle of Cypresses.  Its not just about a bunch cypresses bunched together in the middle of nowhere, but the entire most scenic middle of nowhere surrounding that middle of nowhere.  Makes sense?  Just go, and look around at both sides of the road.

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Chapel Vitaleta (San Quirico d’Orcia) – The most photogenic little chapel in the world is a very easy drive and a short hike.  But do it in the afternoon when the light is in your favor.  Enjoy it while humming the Gladiator theme song because you cant get it out of your head at this point.  Dont leave any luggage or anything important in the car

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Le Foce (Chianciano Terme) – This is the classic zigzaging cypresses that is part of the Le Foce estate.  But in order to see it, you need to take a tour of the estate.  Otherwise its close to impossible to find a good view (we tried, and tried again.  Gladiator humming just made it worse)

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Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

This is Castelluccio di Norcia

IMG_1259I tell ya.  There are some beautiful places on this planet.  Some of which look like belong to another planet.  I can think of some parts in south Utah like Lake Powell, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona that look like something you may see in science fiction movies.  The common theme is usually color.  And if you come at the right time to this part of Umbria you might just see every color imaginable.  If you come at the wrong time as we did, its spectacular, still.

Castelluccio is where beautiful mother nature meets cruel mother nature.  It is perched dramatically on a hill in the middle of a large plateau surrounded by the Sibillini mountains.  On October 30, 2016 Castelluccio was the epicenter of a 6.6 earthquake that decimated the village.  Eight months later the famous wild flowers that surround the village were back.  And once the roads opened about a year after that, the tourists started to come back as well.IMG_1276

So when is the best time you ask?  Sometime between end of May and beginning of July.  Its something that is not possible to time properly.  We came in the second week of June and the colors were not quite as robust as the pictures we’ve seen.  Notice the before and after of Castelluccio (Google it).  Although destroyed, its still stunning due to its position.  Today you can drive up, enjoy a meal, or do what we did.  A picnic of Salami e Pecorino overlooking the mesmerizing back plateau, following the herd of sheep.  The feeling of being in the middle of the devastation you heard about years ago, while surrounded by this landscape is indescribable.

You will most likely pass Norcia on the way, which also got severely damaged during the earthquake.  One of its main attractions, the Basilica of St. Benedict, totally destroyed.  What remain is the facade facing the statue of St. Benedict, still standing, all defiant in the middle of the square.  The city was a ghost town when we popped in.  Many stores, and restaurants closed, or relocated after the quake. IMG_1296

The Norcia pork butchers are so famous, they are called Norcino across Italy, and their shops are Norcinerias.  They are the Culatello of Pork butchers.  Inside a typical Norcineria you’ll find cured meats galore including Grandpas balls, Palle del Nonno.  The Italians call them like they see em, although Grandpas balls seem a lot larger than mules balls, Coglioni di Mulo for some reason.  Be careful when slicing them.

On the way to the flower fields, pass by Antica Norcineria F.lli Ansuini for some picnic supplies including bread.  Or better yet get it from the store with the same name inside Norcia.  Although same name, they dont seem related somehow.  Like twins that are not in speaking terms.  Then stop by at Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia di Arianna Verucci for your chocolate needs and perhaps a tour of their facility as we did.  But if you prefer to sit down for lunch, reliable sources told me to head to Agriturismo il Casale degli Amici just outside Norcia.  A day trip to this area in the summer is memorable to say the least.

 

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This is Colle di Val d’Elsa

IMG_9318What is the perfect base?  Its not rocket science.  Put your destination stars on the map, and pick something in the middle.  The only decision is whether it will be a city, a town, village, or something in the countryside like a villa or Agriturismo.  You’ll find many advantages and disadvantages with all options.  Thats why mixing it up a little works for many.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is a town in central Tuscany, or “North” Tuscany when you look at it from the tourist or wine vantage point, with Val d’Orcia in the south and Chianti in the north.  Its perched on a hill on top of River Elsa and the Esla Valley, hence the name which took us a good three days to pronounce.  Its smack in between the “The Kings of the North”, Siena and San Gimignano.  That makes Chianti well within reach, and Florence less than an hour by car.

But what makes Colle even more unique is the town itself, and the lack of those pesky tourists.  Its not in the destination level of Lucca, Pisa, or Siena as its lacking the monuments and attractions.  But as a base, it offers just enough.  Colle has a picturesque old town (Colle Alta), a new town surrounding a beautiful square, and another “town” which is sort of something in between the old and the new.  The old town sits on top of the new town.  In fact the only modern structure you’ll see in the old town is the elevator connecting it to the new town below.  It looks and functions like a time machine.  I’m slightly influenced by a dark German series I’m watching now on Netflix called well, Dark.  Everything looks like a time machine to me these days.

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But lack of tourists can sometimes feel that, lacking, if you dont find a thriving local life.  Thats not a problem with Colle.  Plenty of bakeries, restaurants, markets, atmospheric squares and even a glass museum.  Colle di Val d’Elsa produces 15% of the world’s crystal, and roughly 95% of Italy’s production.  Its the birthplace of the famous artist Arnolfo di Cambio.  One of the most famous restaurants in Tuscany, and the only Michelin star establishment in Colle, took his name.

Stay – Palazzo San Lorenzo.  A former hospital turned into a serviceable, modern hotel.  Easy to get in and out with a car.  Ample parking within 5 minute walk outside the only gate remaining.  Comfortable huge rooms, decent breakfast, with a restaurant and spa.

Eat – L’oste di Borgo.  A  young couple running what looks like one of the more popular restaurants in town.   More to come on this gem very soon

See – The mentioned glass museum, old town and the palazzos lining the main road on top, the new town at night, and more vistas than you can count.  Well, on two hands at least.

 

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