Florence Blog

Find here all the interesting news, tips and thoughts about Florence. Reading this page should give you an idea what to see, where to go and eat in Florence. And some info on the lovely apartment you are about to rent!

Pork Stew with Vegetables

Posted by on Sep 21, 2010 in blog, Recipes | 0 comments

Summer is as good as gone, and as temperatures drop and fair skies are more and more a pleasant memory, you have to start fighting back with the winter Tuscan recipes method!
If you have been following Experience Tuscany, you should know that Tuscany up to a very recent past was not a rich territory, and the greatest majority of people lived in the countryside working the fields, with very little comforts, resources and food. Therefore their ingenuity crafted recipes that could help them go through cold winters of hard work with very few and simple ingredients.
Stewed pork with vegetables was one of these recipes. Pigs were raised in farms for the land owner, and the workers got to keep some animal parts, usually the less valued ones, such as the entrails. With time these recipes have become the standard Tuscan culinary tradition, while the cuisine of the wealthy, full of spices and elaborated dishes, was lost.
The timing of this recipe is a bit long, but it mainly is cooking time. So you can attend other things while preparing this dish.

Ingredients:
1 kilo of pork, half a white cabbage, 3 potatoes, a sprig of sage, a sprig of rosemary, 4 cloves of garlic, a glass of wine, 300 grams of peeled tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Procedure:
Cut up the pork in small pieces and place them in a pan with a little oil, sage, rosemary and the whole garlic cloves, and sautè. Add the red wine and let it evaporate. Add the tomatoes and cook for half an hour, then the potatoes, peeled and diced, and the white cabbage, roughly cut. Cook for another hour, until both meat and vegetables are tender, adding some broth if necessary.

This recipe is the “sophisticated” version of scottiglia.

A Hiking and Biking Paradise near Montepulciano

Posted by on Sep 20, 2010 in blog, Nature Spots, What to Do in Tuscany | 0 comments

There is a place not far from Montepulciano, in the heart of Valdorcia, that can take you away from the civilized world, even though the nearest town is few kilometers away. Being there alone can be a mystic experience. It is the natural park and reservation of Pietraporciana. The satellite view shows a large green patch densely woven with trees of many species. But to experience the bliss of this location you have to be in the park.

To get to the location you will need to take the road that from Montepulciano leads to the famous Oris Origo villa La Foce. The white road that enters the park can be traveled by car. You may even go along its entire length with your car, until reaching the other side of the mount named Pietraporciana. However, the advice is to go trough it walking or biking. If you feel the entire route will be too fatiguing, leave your car in a convenient location, then take it from there until you feel like going on. Any second at the park is rejuvenating. The pure air and the fresh smell of the surrounding woods give you an immediate sense of deep wellness and inner peace.

While you travel along the white road, remember to peer through the forest. You will find local wildlife such as occasional groups of deers grazing freely. The sky also offers the spectacular flight of birds of prey like falcons and buzzards. With the exception of a large grassland at the beginning of the path, the road is constantly sided by woods on both sides. The tree species that populate the land alternate their presence depending on the altitude. There are patches of land completely covered with pine trees, others with beech, oak, chestnut trees and firs towards the top of the mountain at 847 meters (2778 feet) of altitude.

On the south side of the mountain is the Mount Cetona. This is the limit of the Val d’Orcia. From here on starts the Val di Chiana. Sarteano, Monticchiello, Chianciano and Pienza are all at a relatively short distance. Therefore you can easily incorporate a portion of the park in your biking tour in Val d’Orcia. Inside the park you can also find many typically Tuscan farmhouses that belonged to the farmers of the area. They were abandoned in the Fifties. Some are being renovated, while some are still abandoned and wait for someone to rescue them.

In the park there is absolutely no restaurant or refreshment spot, so remember to bring all your necessities. Also remember that the forest and the top of the mountain are especially cold and humid, therefore you should be adequately equipped. The route is about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) long, although you can take various detours that will lead you to different sides of the mountain. The entire park can be easily crossed within a half day, but my advice is to take it all in, exploring as much as you can the woods, going mushroom hunting, and resting on the splendid grasslands having a picnic under the shade of a secular oak tree.

The Map to Enter the Natural Reserve Pietraporciana in Tuscany:


View Natural Reserve in Tuscany of Pietraporciaia in a larger map

Mushroom Hunting in Tuscany

Posted by on Sep 19, 2010 in blog, Nature Spots, Useful, What to Do in Tuscany | 0 comments

They are armed with long wood sticks gathered on the spot, strong pants, and a straw basket. Some may even carry a snake bite antidote, making them the docs of the group. No woodland may resist them, and no call to action is ever too early. They are the mushroom hunters.
Hunting mushrooms in Tuscany is a passion gathering more and more people of any age. Usually, retired people devote themselves to mushrooms, as it is a practice that requires a lot of free time in one’s hands. An increasing number of amateurs start getting involved with what is a combination of hiking, treasure hunt, passion for food, and a learning experience in direct contact with nature. It is a wonderful family activity you can get involved into while vacationing.

Tuscany is a blessed land when it comes to these colorful and cutely shaped molds. The region boasts the highest density of forests in Italy, where a a large variety of trees grows. The relationship between trees and mushrooms is fundamental. It is indeed the interaction between a specific kind of mold and a precise kind of tree root that generates a specific kind of mushroom. Porcini, a premium variety, grow in areas rich of chestnut and beech trees, among others.

Hunting mushrooms needs some experience. Not all mushrooms are a good eat, and some are outright poisonous. Finally some can be even mortal. To make things tougher is the fact that some very good varieties are extremely similar to bad or poisonous ones. Edible kinds do have very specific traits that make them recognizable, though. Therefore you have two choices: stick to those who know about mushrooms and can teach you how to distinguish them, or get very familiar with a few good ones you like and only pick those. Remember to leave the bad mushrooms in place, as from those spores a good one may spring up in the near future.

When is the best time to hunt for mushrooms in Tuscany? The summer and the fall are the best periods. Heat, humidity, even and moderate rain falls, and absence of dry winds, are the key factors to have a good growth. The ideal temperature is in the mid twenties Celsius (mid seventies F). After a period of rain wait for a few days of sun to allow the fruits to be at their best. All forests and woodlands in Tuscany are a good spot, and with half of the region’s territory being covered by woods, there is plenty of choice. If you find yourself near a pine forest, that is also an excellent spot for mushrooms.

Some important advice
The advice is to avoid going alone, participating to a group of passionate hunters. Your accommodation owner might even be able to help you with that. Some properties in Tuscany organize excursions for their guests with the sole purpose of finding mushrooms. It is forbidden to gather mushrooms in plastic bags. You need straw baskets, which allow for the spreading of spores while you are walking. Bring along a long stick, it will help you walk and clear the ground before you reach for your catch. Better to avoid any undesirable encounter. Let the ground dry up a bit. You will find more and larger preys and your walk will be much safer.

Get Busy in Tuscany in Autumn

Posted by on Sep 18, 2010 in blog, Nature Spots, What to Do in Tuscany | 0 comments

Summer is coming to an end, but the weather is still warm and nice in Tuscany, so it feels like an extra bonus was given to those that are going to visit it in the coming weeks. Some venturous people swim at the seaside, while many others are given the opportunity to enjoy the fair climate participating at the many town fairs that enliven the Tuscan land during this time of the year.
Mushrooms, truffles, steak, frogs, duck sauce on pappardelle, fried food, indigenous pumpkins, chicken, soups, chestnuts, polenta, game meats, sweets, beer, and wine all have their special town fair in Tuscany.

Among the most innovative and characteristic ones are the Tsukimi, the Japanese moon celebration which will be held in Florence on September 22, Boccaccesca held in Certaldo on the weekends of October 2 and 3 and 9 and 10, Aspettando Cibo in Strada show (waiting for street food) in San Giovanni Valdarno on September 19, and the ancient Festa della Torchiatura in Poggio Murella near Grosseto on the 17 and 18th of September. The night of the 18th the grapes will be squeezed along the town streets as the ancient tradition goes. Not to be missed.

Tuscany in the Fall becomes a less crowded place. At this time of the year you will be one of the fewer tourists to visit, and will enjoy all the more not having long lines and busy sights to explore. It is a smart move to be in Tuscany during the coming month or so, even because you will enjoy reduced airfares and lower accommodation prices. Less crowded airports and train stations make your journey pleasurable, while you can rent a car at lower prices to get around Tuscany for your daytrips.

We mentioned the wine fair. This is the wine season indeed. Grapes are being harvested as I am writing these lines, and you could even experience a day of labor in the fields if you wanted to. Vineyard tours are at their peak moment. Grape leaves are changing their color from green to red, then to yellow right before resting until next spring. How wonderful it is to witness this change. The beauty of this is that the change does not occur all over Tuscany at the same time, as the dramatic altitude variation of the land, coupled with latitude changes, create a large amount of micro climates. In each area the turning of the leaves will happen at a different time.

Finally, autumn in Tuscany is extremely romantic. When evenings get cooler you can start a fire in your apartment or villa. The simple gesture of enjoying the warm company of the flame while tasting a good glass of wine with your loved one adds so much to your holiday that you will once more grateful of having come to Tuscany in the Fall season.
There are many experiences to make in Tuscany when summer ends. Come to feel the people and the tradition of the land, spending less for your holiday and enjoying life at a slower pace.

Opera at Sant’Ambrogio Market in Florence

Posted by on Sep 17, 2010 in blog, Cultural Events, Florence | 0 comments

Just a quick introduction note to thank Stef for the great video she posted on here. This one is a keeper. Wish I had been there. Keep them coming!

Hi all,

here to call to your kind attention a video (6:22 min.) shot last summer at Sant’ Ambrogio Market in Florence in which opera singers disguised as market’s folk performed arie from ‘Carmen’ and ‘La Traviata’.

Opera at the Market is a gift to the city of Florence, its people and its historic food markets. At the famed Mercato di Sant’ Ambrogio, on a hot summer morning, crowds grew as the vibrant music of “Carmen” and “La Traviata” emanated from within. Opera singers mingling with the crowds in the market setting joined together evoking expressions of surprise and delight. Breaking down the boundaries between art and everyday life, between music and those who it was written for, and brought to this popular marketplace, this event is an homage to lovers of music, to Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio and the city of Florence.

thanks for your time and have a great day,
stef

Retreat in Tuscany: Yoga, Meditation, Capoeira and More

Posted by on Sep 16, 2010 in blog, Nature Spots, Useful, What to Do in Tuscany, Where to Stay | 0 comments

Have you ever thought of being in Tuscany for a full retreat of your favorite discipline inside a wonderful national park? It is possible at La Croce in the Casentino National Park. Here time is diluted, no need for a watch on your wrist. This is the perfect place to reconnect, all you will need is your body and soul to experience the beauty of an unexpected return to nature.

La Croce sits on the slopes of Mount Penna at 650 meters of altitude. The sun kisses this rural farmhouse from dawn to dusk in a natural setting of unmatched beauty. Oak, beech and chestnut forests partake the surroundings of the retreat with pastures and a river where to safely swim in the summer. The property is inside the large Casentino Sate Park, a wildlife refuge for boars, deers, wolves, porcupines and many bird species. The water running at the property is from two natural springs that deliver a continuous fresh stream. The location is also near the renown Camaldoli Hermit Monastery and the Sanctuary of Chiusi La Verna, where Saint Francis from Assisi received the stigmata. If hiking is a passion of yours, there is a trail departing from the retreat to La Verna, approximately one hour and a half away.

The property is a typically Tuscan farmhouse. The authentic environments with little frills offer all comforts, and bed and breakfast service is also offered. Here you get all the fascinating accents of Tuscany: sloped ceilings with wood pillars and beams, whitewashed walls, authentic cotto tiles and wood planks in bedrooms, a farmer’s fireplace, and a large communal kitchen where cooking is just a pleasure. The food served at La Croce is all organic or cultivated with organic methods on the property grounds. Eating is just one of the pleasures here. The large kitchen accommodates up to 40 people at a pinch, while the splendid panoramic outdoors are the preferred summer dinner spot.

Courses are held throughout the year, and various disciplines are welcomed. The outdoor shaded wooden patio overlooks the valley and provides for the perfect setting for Yoga, Capoeira and other martial arts. There also is an internal room with wooden floors to offer more space. The garden area is also a great exercise location. The beauty is that the retreat is open to already formed groups, but individuals can join in these groups if they wish to. The program run at La Croce is vary varied and includes activities like Yoga, Capoeira, Zen Meditation, Permaculture, Massage Courses, and Body Cleansing. If you organize seminars and stages, La Croce is the perfect retreat in Tuscany for you. Get more informations and contacts at the official website here La Croce website.
If you practice these activities and would like a holiday in Tuscany off the beaten track, check out the website program, or suggest the location to your instructors.

Reaching La Croce:


View La Croce Retreat in Tuscany in a larger map

Organic Farming in Tuscany

Posted by on Sep 15, 2010 in blog, Shopping, Useful | 0 comments

The land of Tuscany is extensively cultivated. Olive groves, fields covered with barley, wheat, and sunflowers, vineyards, and orchards are the main cultivations that you will see over large pieces of land when visiting Tuscany. The beauty of the Tuscan agriculture is that it uses antique farming traditions and methods to maintain the delicate natural ecosystem intact.

After a period of intense exploitation of the land during the Seventies and the Eighties, which saw a heavy usage of chemicals, a new consciousness about farming sprung up in the Nineties. Analyzing the land agronomists discovered that years of chemicals had impoverished the land and there were fears to be at a point of non-return. Therefore more and more attention started to be paid to traditional farming methods in order to replenish the natural equilibrium of nutrients in the land and guarantee no watershed pollution.

Techniques such as, but not only, crop rotation, animal byproducts fertilizers, the employment of alfalfa and other plants to replenish the land at rest, and the usage of plants working as natural parasite defenses, have given exceptional results, also considering a series of stricter regulations that promote organic farming on a larger scale. Bee hives and safe environments for bees, free from pesticides, are being increased to prevent the disappearing of these insects so fundamental for plant reproduction and human life.

Of course there still are problems that can only be solved with a continued and always renewed work to improve the condition of the fields. There are many parts of Tuscany that still suffer from land erosion due to intensive faming. Water usage still needs rationalization plans as it is often used in quantities that exceed the soil’s capacity to replenish its reservoirs. Chemicals are still being used by a considerable number of farmers that do not employ the alternative methods described above. With the help of Legambiente the process of creating an environmentally viable set of solutions is ongoing.

The following is a video sponsored by the Tuscan Regional authority about the main Tuscan organic cultivations and culinary products. Remember to try some when you get to Tuscany, and always ask for organic products when shopping for food.

Tuscan Bollito Misto Recipe

Posted by on Sep 14, 2010 in blog, Recipes | 2 comments

The “bollito misto”, boiled mixed meat, is an aristocratic dish, a combination of boiled mixed cuts accompanied by various delicious sauces, which has always appeared as a main course in sumptuous banquets. It is not to be mistaken for “lesso”, which in Tuscan farmhouses was “just a piece of boiled meat” used to make stock for everyday soups. Bollito misto is usually prepared at Christmas and in special occasions when the colder weather starts towards the end of October and continues through the end of February.

Ingredients:
800 grams of mixed young beef cuts including steak trimmings, the muscle, flank, half chicken, 1 veal’s tongue, 1 pig’s trotter, 1 tail, a small bunch of parsley, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, 1 carrot, 3 tomatoes, salt, pepper.

Preparation:
Fill a big pot with at least 3 liters of water and the beef cuts. At boiling point, add salt and pepper, the parsley and the vegetables. Simmer for approximately 90 minutes, then add the chicken and leave to boil until it’s cooked. The filtered broth is excellent for making soup. Place the tongue the tail and the trotter in a separate pot and cook in the same way. It is better to cook these cuts separately, otherwise they would spoil the beef broth. All the meat, drained from its broth, is sliced and served with traditional sauces. Besides salsa verde, in Chianti other sauces are traditionally served with boiled meat: one is a “mostarda” made from must, fresh and candied fruit and spicy mustard; another is the “agresto“, made from unripe grapes and dried fruit crushed in a mortar.

Chinese in Prato Hinder Made in Italy

Posted by on Sep 13, 2010 in blog, Towns, Useful | 2 comments

While I remain optimistic about the Chinese community in Prato and their integration in the long run, the short run effects are showing to be quite troublesome.

Just today the New York Times occupied a section of its front page with an article about Prato in Tuscany. The journalist Rachel Donadio focused on how the Chinese cheap textile manufacturing is hindering the Made in Italy brand with its low tier textile production.
It is true that the 3200 Chinese manufacturers in Prato are producing a much larger output than their Tuscan counterpart of 3000 manufacturers. It is also true that the former could not care less about the quality of their products, while the latter employ highly skilled labor that produce a low high-quality output.

Reading the article on the New York Times the culprit would be easily found in the Italian institutions. The high tolerance for rule breaking and the corruptible nature of some key members in the town administration of Prato are the first accused, especially by the Italians living in Prato. The people of Prato has been long voicing their dissatisfaction, then turned into rage, with the Chinese community handling. It must be said that over a population of 190000 people, more than 11000 are Chinese, while unofficial estimates include an additional 25000 illegal immigrants. This makes of the Chinese community in Prato the largest one in Europe.
When the first Chinese immigrants landed in Italy at the beginning of the 1990′s, the immigration policy of Italy was very naive and unprepared to the large numbers of immigrants that in a few years would have clogged its bureaucratic machine. When authorities were just realizing there was a problem, the number of clandestine workshops, illegal barracks, and humans trafficked from China was already soaring beyond control.

To curb the issues the traditionally left-wing Prato in 2009 elected a right-wing administration that promised to tackle the problem. Some left-wing officials have advanced the hypothesis that the Chinese government is trying to gain a European stronghold through the Prato community. Although perhaps a little too far-fetched, it is true that the Chinese community seems quite unresponsive to any Italian authority call to rule observance. Even the Chinese mafia episodes (which strangely interest only Chinese citizens) do not decrease.

The bottom line is that the capitals created in Italy producing and selling textile items that destroy the hard-earned Italian image of quality abroad flow back to China by the millions of dollars every day. All of which evading Italian taxation. How hard it is to control 3200 manufacturers and 30000 people over a relatively small territory, and what would take to bring things within the boundaries of legality and fair trade?

Verrazzano Wine and Cellar Tour

Posted by on Sep 12, 2010 in blog, Castles in Tuscany, Historic Places, Nature Spots, Wine | 0 comments

The Castle of Verrazzano Wine farm in Tuscany offers splendid tours of its estate and cellars located in the basement of the castle. There is a total of five different tour solutions designed to satisfy wine lovers and connoisseurs, where the more elaborate ones include local products tastings and lunches.

The Castle of Verrazzano is located near Greve in Chianti, in the Chianti Classico area, right smack in between Siena and Florence. This area was the very first official Chianti wine production soil delimited in 1716 by Cosimo III of Medici.
The sight is simply stunning. Perched on the summit of a hill that dominates a vast hilly estate all around, the castle was property of the Verrazzano family of the same lineage of the sea fearer Giovanni da Verrazzano. Nowadays the owner is the Cappellini family that brought the castle to its original splendor. The Italian garden occupies the immediate surroundings of the building. From the terrace the eye gets lost in the sea of vineyards that comb the sides of the gently rolling hills. It is from these vineyards that the world famous wine production of the castle takes its precious grapes. The borders of this land have remained unvaried for the past 1000 years.

The best production of Castello di Verrazzano includes wines such as Verrazzano Rosso IGT Chianti, the Chianti Classico DOCG, the Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva, Ser Chiaro IGT white, Supertuscan IGT and VinSanto DOC. There are some noteworthy reasons that determine the high quality of these wines, such as the entirely organic fertilization of the land, a careful grape selection that yields very few high-quality fruits, a thorough microclimate study, and the calcareous nature of the soil, perfect for Chianti wine.

The tours at the castle start with the least engaging “Wine tour classico” up to the highly customized “Exclusive Wine Tour”.

Wine Tour Classico: 20 guests per tour max, visits to the gardens and the cellar of the castle and wine tasting. The tour lasts 1 hour and a half and costs 14 Euros per person. Available from Monday to Friday from 10 am to 3pm.

Chianti Tradition: 20 guests per tour max, visit to the gardens and cellar of the castle, wine tasting, and local products tasting (Tuscan cold cuts, or vegetarian). The tour lasts 2 hours and a half and costs 28 Euros per person. Available from Monday to Saturday at 11am.

The Wine & Food Experience: 20 guests per tour max, visit to the gardens and cellar of the castle, wine tasting and lunch with local products and meats. The tour lasts 3 hours and costs 48 Euros per person. Available from Monday to Friday at Noon and on Saturday at 11am.

It’s Magic!: 20 guests per tour max, visit to the gardens and aperitif on the terrace, visit to the historic aging cellars, wine tasting, and dinner of local products, meats and sweets. The tour lasts 4 hours and costs 52 Euros per person. Available Tuesday to Friday, April through October at 6pm.

Executive Wine Tour: Customized tour for a 8 guests max. Guests will be picked up in Florence and accompanied to the castle where they will be treated with the The Wine & Food Experience tour exclusively dedicated to them with visits to reserved production areas of the wine farm. Guest swill be accompanied back to Florence. Minimum 2 people allowed at 110 Euros per person. Availability and tour hours as in The Wine & Food Experience.

If you are a wine lover, you cannot miss a good wine tasting of Chianti Classico, and Castello di Verrazzano will make this an unforgettable experience. For more information the official website is a great resource.

The Map of the Area and Directions to the Castle:


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