Tuscany’s Hidden Treasures: Isola Santa Atop the Appuan Alps

Isola Santa, Garfagnana, Tuscany

Village of Isola Santa

High in the Appuan Alps National Park region in the area called Garfagnana (in the province of Lucca in northern Tuscany) lies the fairy tale village of Isola Santa.  It is a village of stone houses amidst the lush greenery surrounding a small lake.  A lovely church with a bell tower is silhouetted against the mountains and cliffs that form the Turrite Secca river valley.

Historical records from the 1200s show that this village was a small hospice throughout Medieval times where pilgrims and the sick could find shelter on the road between Garfagnana and Versilia coast. In the 1500s, the hospice was torn apart and later rebuilt as the Church of San Iacopo (in 1608).  The bell tower was added in 1899. The church still stands today.

In 1949, the power company constructed a dam for electricity on the Turrite Secco River that forever changed the makeup of the village: The dam submerged a part of the village buildings, damaged others and created the lake that is now a part of the scenery. More buildings were constructed higher up the mountain and there are still a few inhabitants, a B&B, a Bar/Restaurant and some tourist activity as people come to picnic by the lake in the summer. On many days you can still see the part of the village that lies submerged in the lake like a ghost town. There are walking trails in Isola Santa that will allow you to explore the town and the lake area and also hiking trails throughout the national park area..

How to reach Isola Santa:

  • From Lucca: through Castelnuovo di Garfagnana (58 km
  • From Forte Dei Marmi (about 30 km from the ”Versilia” Toll Road excit
  • From Massa through the “Del Versilio” Pass (about 28 km)

The Most Architecturally Beautiful Wineries in Tuscany

The Tuscany Tourism Website has published a collection of the most architecturally compelling wineries in Tuscany.  You will find here a beautiful slideshow along with wine quotes from very famous people.

The Italian idea of “La Bella Figura” (the beautiful figure) is a way of life with Italians; a philosophy that permeates all aspects of “La dolce vita.”  This idea is very well represented in the design of these beautiful wineries in one of the most magical places on earth:

Click Here for the full article: Toscana Wine Architecture

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Tuscan Food: Simplicity, Freshness, Details and Love

Experts will tell you that Tuscan food is exceptional because it is based on “fresh ingredients.” Fantastic! What does that mean?

Imagine holding a fresh egg that is still warm from the hen. Hear the distinct snap as you crack that egg and place it on a flat surface. Take in the fresh smell. See the shiny orange (yes, orange) perfectly round, thick yolk that stands about ¾ inch high. Notice the compact and lustrous white of the egg, so very distinct from the yolk. Observe that the entire circumference of the egg is around 4-5 inches. Perfect.

You combine this egg with freshly ground (Italian) flour to make pasta dough. The color of the dough is a vivid gold, the smell of the pasta is enticing and the texture is smooth and firm in your hands.

Toss that pasta into briskly boiling salted water. It retains its shape and easily cooks to an “al dente” (firm in the middle) phase.

Finally, combine your perfectly cooked pasta with your favorite sauce or ragú (that you made using all the freshest possible ingredients). Heaven!

Compare the egg used in this case with that of an egg bought from your local grocery store. Crack it and the shell might crumble into many pieces. Place it on a flat surface; you will often see a pale yellow yolk that blends into the white of the egg. The egg white is runny and quickly spreads all over the surface.

You may, of course, not be able or willing to reach under a hen’s rear end to retrieve a warm egg. The point is, always be meticulous about using the freshest possible ingredients. Learn to read the signs of freshness and quality.

This is how the Tuscans approach cooking – with simplicity, attention to freshness and details and love. This is how my 99-year-old mother still cooks today.

Try this approach, no matter what you are making. This can apply to cooking, sewing, writing, painting or whatever you enjoy. Your outcome is only as good as the attention and love you put into each detailed step of the process, each moment along the way.

And, when your end result is something totally wonderful? Like the Tuscans, share it joyfully with people you love!

Maremma, Tuscany Beaches Among the Best in Italy

On my very recent trip to Tuscany I was in the Maremma area (Southwest Tuscany) famous for its wines, Italian cowboys, Etruscan ruins and beaches.  As I visited the Necropolis (burial ground) of Etruscans in Populonia.

While there, I was captivated by the beautiful colors of the sea and the seashore. So now I learn that some Maremma beaches are among Italy’s 15 best as chosen by the Italian Touring Club’s top 15 list for 2013.

Click here for the article on the Maremma, Tuscany site

Pietrasanta, Tuscany: Living With Art

My husband and I have been traveling around Tuscany for the last two weeks.  There are so many beautiful places that one can soon lose count of all there is to see.

One town not well-known by American tourists is the historic town of Pietrasanta in northwestern Tuscany.  Pietrasanta has been a marble and art town since before the time of Michelangelo who came here to find the whitest possible marble.  Henry Moore also spent much time in Pietrasanta and, today, artists such as Fernando  Botero live here part of the year.

On of the most valuable gifts from Pietrasanta to the world are the marble artisans who take the clay or plaster cast sculptures of the artists and transform them in beautiful marble statues.  They still use their old manual instruments to transform the dimensions of the small originals to the large statues.  They do have some modern machinery and computer help now but most of the work is still done by hand by specialized artisans.

The statuary was beautiful and it was also fun to see works by Gina Lollobrigida and the figures of Superman and Batman.

Most any significant marble work of art or architecture has originated in Pietrasanta.  Pietrasanta is also a center for foundry work. Old works of art stand next to the new such as the paradise and inferno frescoes by Botero.

Our dear friend Ambra escorted us to a very large and well-known marble workshop Laboratorio Cervietti where we witnessed some of the marble workmanship first-hand and saw sculptures from past exhibits.  This was indeed a special treat.

The small town is also full of art galleries, shops, excellent  restaurants and wine shops and boutique hotels. There are often exhibits near the central ‘piazza’ near the beautiful duomo and campanile.  One can sit at the Caffe Michelangelo and gaze out at all the goings on.

Pietrasanta is definitely worth a visit.

See photo gallery: Click here

Next Posts Will Be From Italy

I’m off to Italy with my husband and will be posting events and pictures directly from there.  We hope to get to the Internationl Gelato Festival in Florence, among other things.

Provided our baggage weight can pass inspection (too many gifts for relatives), I we will be in touch from Florence, Tuscany.

Ciao for now,

Serenella

Creative, Passionate Chef Teaches Tuscan Cuisine At Lorenza De Medici’s Cooking School in Tuscany

When Lorenza De Medici,  famous author and cookbook writer, founded  the Badia a Coltibuono cooking school over 20 years ago in the Chianti region, she provided an idyllic setting for visitors to learn the secrets of authentic regional Italian cuisine. Highly-trained Tuscan chef Andrea Gagnesi is carrying on her original idea while adding modern techniques and recipes to his teachings.

I was fortunate enough to visit the school when I visited Italy last September and witness an actual class. Chef Andrea’s English is excellent and the group of tourist/students were captivated and enthusiastic.

The rustic kitchen in this 1000-year-old abbey is amazing.  Add to that ambiance the juxtaposition of the freshest possible display of simple-but-exquisite ingredients (like fresh sheep milk ricotta, beautiful garden vegetables, and the abbey’s own organic e.v.o.o) and you have magic.

On the particular day I visited, Chef Andrea created a number of courses.

Among these were freshly made Paccheri (a rustically cut pasta) with a sauce made from uncooked tomatoes and fresh herbs, individual servings of eggplant parmesan, and an aromatic Panzanella (a Florentine summer salad of bread and tomatoes).  The dessert was individually baked crostate (tortes) with extra virgin olive oil dough instead of the usual butter dough (pasta frolla).

My fellow traveler Ginny and I were lucky enough to sample all the courses among the general ooohs and aaahs of the students.

The cooking courses are held from March to November, and offer a splendid chance to immerse oneself in the unique lifestyle and hospitality of a 1000 year old abbey while savoring the fantastic tastes and sights that this beautiful region offers.

The lessons are taught by Tuscan Chef Andrea Gagnesi who has a perfect command of English , a natural easy going style and a hand’s on approach, Andrea ensures that guests bring home authentic Italian recipes and menus to be used year round for all occasions.

Cooking School: http://www.coltibuono.com/pagebase.asp?s=18&s2=61

Chef Gagnesi’s Blog (With Recipes): http://andreagagnesi.blogspot.com/

First Time Ever: Sky Section of Siena’s Duomo Open to Public

From now until October 27, 2013, the “Sky” section of the beautiful Duomo of Siena will be accessible to tourists.

Finally, after centuries of renovations, visitors will be lead by a guide through hidden walkways, indoor and outdoor balconies and spiral staircases to view the famous ceiling.

Duomo of Siena on view for the first time ever.

See the “Starry Skies” of Siena

This is the first opportunity to view the starry sky frescoes on the vaults of the structure – also known as Porta del Cielo (Door of Heaven).

This is worth a trip to Tuscany!

Click here for complete story at Dream of Italy:

Florence, Italy Gelato Festival May 2013

Festivities | 17 May 2013 from 12:00 a.m. to 26 May 2013 23:45 p.m. Florence (FI)

In May 2013, the“Italian Gelato Tour,” road show involving the best ice cream makers and industry leaders from Italy and abroad, aims to promote this amazing, traditional Italian frozen dessert.  Gelato was invented during the Renaissance by the versatile artist Bernardo Buontalenti.

The event takes place in some of the most beautiful locations in Florence.

The Italian Gelato Tour is designed by the creators of Firenze Gelato Festival to spread the culture of ice cream all over the country and increase the involvement of all the Italian regions in the values, pleasures, and  traditions of the best-loved frozen dessert in the world. Particular attention will be dedicated to all participants, from professionals to entrepreneurs to amateurs, who want to get closer to the world of gelato.

The Italy Gelato Tour will stop in Florence from May 17 to 26, 2014 with the Firenze Gelato Festival.

One hundred days before the inauguration of Firenze Gelato Festival 2013, the selection of ice cream masters for all stages of the Tour began.

Firenze Gelato Festival 2013 and Italy Gelato Tour 2013 are indeed the perfect settings for any gelato maker: For those who make ice cream with passion, for those for whom gelato is a vocation and for those who have personality, charisma, communication skills and team spirit and want to propose a product that is innovative, creative and of high quality.

For info and contacts:

mail: info@italiagelatotour.it

tel: 055 47891322.

 

Where it takes place

Piazza Santa Maria Novella, 1 – 50123 – Florence

How to Have a Meal Like a True Italian: Do’s and Dont’s

Italians to do not add Parmigiano to any dishes with seafood (pasta or main course). Tuscan Meals and Drinks – Do’s and Don’ts

  1. ‘Just say no’ to Parmigiano: I must agree with Mario Batali (one of my heroes) when he says that Parmigiano Reggiano is the “Undisputed king of cheese.” Italians sprinkle parmesan onto and into many dishes, from appetizers to main courses.
    Exception to note: Italians to do not add Parmigiano to any dishes with seafood (pasta or main course).It is considered somewhat sacrilegious to add such a strong-flavored ingredient as Parmigiano to the (incredibly) fresh and delicate taste of fish or shell fish.I have actually seen waiters at restaurants in Italy refuse to bring Parmigiano to someone who has ordered seafood pasta!
  2. Names and sequence of courses in a meal:At a restaurant, or at home for special occasions, Italians meals flow in this order: Read more

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