Tuscany - Week 1

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Saturday 14 December 2019

Roquebrun - Loro Ciuffenna

It was a long (900 km) drive today, but not long enough to split over two days so we had a very early start from Roquebrun at 05:30 in order to arrive at our destination in daylight.  Fortunately, it was not cold, raining or otherwise inclement.  With two of us sharing the driving, it made it a tolerable day and probably about the same duration as it would have been had we driven to our nearest airport, taken a flight and driven at the other end.

Two shifts at the wheel each, with brief stops near Nice and Genoa and we arrived at our destination at 16:00 with some daylight still to spare.

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We are staying at a place called Residence la Ferriera in the Tuscan village of Loro Ciuffenna.  Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?  A ferriera is a “foundry” or “iron works” and it sits beside the torrent “Ciuffenna” in the foothills of the Pratomagno massif.

Our apartment is pleasant and spacious (except for a squeezy bathroom) and decorated in Tuscan “rustic” style.  There are 19 apartments in the complex and it even supports a good restaurant which was greatly appreciated as we didn’t feel like venturing far afield after our long day.

As the food is one of the main things that draws us back to Italy so often I should report that our first dinner was excellent: porcini flan with truffle cream and grilled octopus with caramelised onions for entrée followed by rack of lamb with dill and forest fruit and braised beef cheeks in wine for main with rosemary roast potatoes and grilled vegetables.

Slept like logs.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Loro Ciuffenna

Our bedroom is on a mezzanine level and the lighting is subdued so we did not have sunlight streaming in to wake us up so we slept in quite late.  Time only for a few quick cups of coffee from our Nespresso machine before we were off to explore.

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We decided to head for San Gimignano which we had somehow missed seeing on our previous long stay in this area in 1997.  Even though it is the dead of winter the P1 and P2 car parks were full and we ended up around the far side of the town at the P3 park (or was it P4?).

San Gimignano, a small walled medieval hill town, is famed for its towers and medieval architecture which were built by competing bourgeoise families in the Middle Ages.  All a bit stupid, but what’s changed!

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We had a wander around taking “selfies”, as we do (Ha! Ha!), then realised it was lunchtime so set about seriously finding somewhere to eat.  Some places looked a bit downmarket and some a bit upmarket and we did not come all this way to have a takeaway pizza slice.  Luckily, pausing at one corner, we saw a sign for a “locanda” so we investigated.  It was very good.  It was called Antica Macelleria (the old butchers) and it was indeed an old butcher’s shop complete with overhead monorail, heavy duty scales and meat hooks.  The food was excellent: we shared an antipasti of mixed cold cuts, cheese and olives (piatto del Macello) followed by rabbit (forest style) for Clive, beef tagliata for Cheryl and a good half bottle of Chianti (for Clive) and a San Pellegrino (for both).  Cheryl is driving today so that’s OK.

Our route this morning had taken us along the autostrada in a big loop North almost to Florence so for the return trip we decided to go cross-country as the crow flies.  Luckily neither of us get car sick as it was a very twisty route.  We passed through the village of Panzano, where we had stayed for a week in 1997 when we met up with Anne (sister) and Bill.  We had a quick look around but couldn’t identify the place we had stayed at (strange, as there was only one street that it could have been on and only a few houses in that street?).

Arrived home just before dark.  After such a large and satisfying lunch we had to forego dinner.  A stand-up slice of pizza wouldn’t have been bad but we didn’t feel like walking down into the village.

Monday 16 December 2019

Loro Ciuffenna

Monday is market day in Loro Ciuffenna but it wasn’t much of a market: two veg stalls, one cheese stall, one rotisserie stall and half a dozen stalls selling awful clothes and the like.

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Unlike France, in Italy the rule at veggie stalls is “don’t touch” so you have to wait patiently while the local ladies do their weekly shopping then you have to use your best Italian to ask for what you want and the amount.  Fortunately, Italians have much better English than the French and, unlike the French, they don’t mind using it.  So, not only do you get veggies you get an Italian lesson and a good laugh.

Loro Ciuffenna is a fair size town and quite scenic as the old town is perched above a ravine where the river has cut down through the rock.  It even has the ruins of a medieval chestnut flour mill down beside the river.

There is not a lot to see in the town so we got on with our food shopping.  Again, the differences between neighbouring countries in Europe is quite marked.  Whereas in a small town in France one would usually head to the nearest big-name Supermarché on the outskirts of town and fill up a trolley, in Italy one has to go from shop to shop in the old style.  First the butcher then the greengrocer, then the baker, then the general store for all remaining bits and pieces.

With sufficient supplies to keep us fed for a few days and a heavy shopping bag we stopped for a coffee and panini at the bar/café next to the bridge then it was time to head back to the apartment to make lunch.  Very nice it was too; cappelletti with prosciutto in a cream sauce and a nice salad with a local extra virgin olive oil as dressing.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Loro Ciuffenna

We exempted ourselves from our no-breakfast rule this morning as we have some nice pancetta (bought at the butcher’s yesterday) to have with some fresh scrambled eggs before setting off to visit Arezzo, the provincial capital for this region.

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For once the road was both reasonably direct and not a motorway so we had a pleasant drive along with all the old guys in lurid lycra on their carbon fibre biciclette.  You do wonder why this type of cycling is such a “male” sport.  Where are all the ladies?  At home cooking lunch probably.  Hopefully all that effort and good eating (for both sexes) reflects in healthier and longer lives.

Arezzo has an historic centre separate from its modern commercial centre so we followed the signs for “Centro Storico”, parked the car and headed way up into the old town on the thoughtfully provided escalators, popping out right next to the front of the Duomo (main cathedral).  A quick whiz around the cathedral, Palazzo dei Priori municipal building, the church of Santa Maria della Pieve (10th century) and the Piazza Grande worked up a sufficient appetite for a light lunch which we enjoyed sitting outside in the covered arcade “Vasari Loggia” of the Piazza.  While Sienna has its Palio in its main square, Arezzo has its re-enactment of a medieval jousting tournament – Giostra del Saracino (but not today though), which is held twice a year (June & September) in the Piazza.

Arezzo’s city buildings suffered heavy damage during WWII and the Germans made a stand in front of Arezzo in July 1944.  After fierce fighting the British, assisted by NZ troops, liberated the town on 16 July 1944.

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For those of you wishing to make sure we are eating well we can report that we are indeed: Cheryl had a tagliatelle with black truffles and Clive had a gnocchi with ragu sauce made from Chianina beef, both good.  The Chianina is an Italian breed of cattle and is the largest and one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world.  The famous bistecca alla Fiorentina is made using this beef.




Back to Loro Ciuffenna to make our train bookings for travel to Bologna and Florence.  We are off to the opera; to see Cav & Pag in Bologna on Wednesday and la Bohème in Florence on Thursday staying overnight at both cities.  We’ll probably have a meal or two as well.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Bologna

We are leaving the car at Loro Ciuffenna and taking the train to Bologna today then on to Florence tomorrow and arranged a taxi to take us to the nearest station at Montevarchi (about 15 minutes away).  We had time enough when we arrived at the station for a good macchiato and cornetto each before the regional train arrived for Florence where we again had enough time for a good macchiato and panini each before taking the Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) onward to Bologna.  The maximum speed on this trip was 260 km/hr though you do not get to appreciate the scenery, mainly because 95% of the route goes through tunnels.

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Even arriving before midday at our hotel room in Bologna was ready so we dropped off our bag, did the needful and set off to find our lunch venue of Trattoria Anna Maria which was a recommendation of Gino D’Acampo on his Italian TV series “A Taste of the Sun”.  The trattoria serves good Bolognese home cooking and Anna is still hard at work in the kitchen.  We had tortellini in brodo and tortelloni burro e salvia (butter and sage) for primi and fegato alla Veneta (liver and onions) and Agnello al forno (roast lamb) for secondi.  No room for dessert, just coffee.


Having spent a week in Bologna only 2 years ago we were happy to wander around the city centre including the main piazza and the wonderful streets running off it that sell all the delicious food from the Emilia-Romagna region.  If it were physically possible one could eat six times a day in this city and not get tired of it.  It really is the place to come to in Italy for food.

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Piazza Maggiore Bologna


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We returned to the hotel for a short rest before the opera this evening.  The opera house in Bologna was completed in May 1763 with a horseshoe-shaped auditorium with small boxes rising up five levels.  We were in a box and the sightlines were not ideal.  You are sitting facing mainly across the auditorium not the stage and you can see about half of the stage, unless you lean right forward.  Fortunately, there was only one other person in the box (not the three more it can take), we also had 2 of the front seats and we were able to move our chairs 90º and sit right up to the balustrade.  Comfort complaints aside, the acoustics were perfect and we enjoyed both Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.  In Italy you get English surtitles as well so we finally appreciated what the story was about.  We’d seen the opera before in Bratislava but without any English surtitles.

It was 23:00 by the time the performance ended but the streets were buzzing with activity as Bologna is a university town with lots of students out having a good time.  We were feeling a little peckish so had a large slice of pizza each on the walk back to the hotel – very good it was too.


Thursday 19 December 2019

Florence

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More trawling of the culinary byways of Bologna this morning to stock up on some specialities for our Christmas: some balsamic vinegar, white truffle infused olive oil, truffle infused salami, a second salami (capocollo) not infused with truffles, a 4 year old king of parmesan cheese (Sua Maesta Il Nero) and a Panettone artigianale classico, before getting stuck into another lunch; this time tortellini with parmesan cream sauce and pork cheeks in red wine sauce with roast potatoes.  What can we say – we’d kick ourselves if we didn’t try the local fare, wouldn’t we?

Our train back to Florence was delayed by 50 minutes but it wasn’t critical and we arrived with plenty of time.  Our hotel is very posh and is midway between the station and the opera house.  The opera tonight is Puccini’s la Bohème and was again most enjoyable.  Florence’s opera house is modern so the seats are comfortable but, surprisingly, coming so soon after last night’s experience, we noticed that the acoustics were not nearly as good.  The poor tenor seemed a bit underpowered and the voices were not nearly so clear.

Evening performances really mess up your dinner arrangements but we survived on a shared panini and a glass of wine before the opera.

Friday 20 December 2019

Loro Ciuffenna

The hotel did a good breakfast and made “proper” coffee so we were well fortified for our walk back to the station where we left our bag at the “Deposito Bagagli” (left luggage) while we strolled around the city.  Again we had spent a week in Florence just two years ago and visited all the sights then, so we could just relax and wander today.  We revisited the bar on the Piazza della Signoria where we used to go for our coffee every morning when we stayed here.  Still the same people working there and the coffee is still only Euro 1.10 (standing only inside as there is no seating).

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We drifted down to the main central market to buy some more supplies for supper tonight when we get back to Loro Ciuffenna and then went upstairs to the eating area for lunch.  Once again we were seduced by the pasta with truffles at Il Tartufo Luciano Savini and had one plate with black and one with white truffles.  The chef was very generous with grating the truffles over the pasta but objectively speaking truffles are overrated.  The on-line price of Italian white truffles is currently USD 2,000/kg so (if each slice is one gram) we suppose the chef goes (Euro) 2, 4, 6, 8 as he grates the truffle over the pasta!

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We had time after lunch to have a quick look around a kitchen supply shop near the market and buy a natty ribbed rolling pin to make fettuccine, then back to the station to retrieve our bag and have a final macchiato before boarding the train back to Montevarchi.  The train was packed and we were lucky to get a seat but it is only 3 stops and half an hour so it wouldn’t have been a problem.  Nino, “our” taxi driver, was at the station to meet us and drive us back to Loro Ciuffenna.



© Cheryl & Clive Miller 2019-20