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!

Wedding at Villa Castellaccia

Posted by on Jun 14, 2010 in blog, Useful, wedding, Where to Stay | 0 comments

It is always a nice happening when you are invited to a wedding. Especially if the wedding is in Tuscany and even more so when the location is a wonderful villa with private park and restaurant.
That is what happened to me, when some friends of mine decided to marry in Italy. I suggested Tuscany as one of the most wonderful areas in Italy where you can still find gorgeous wedding locations that are not overly expensive.
After a few months they came back to me with the official invitation and the location at a gorgeous villa near Grosseto, in southern Tuscany. The name of the villa is Villa Castellaccia, which I had never heard of before. Therefore I was expecting the wedding day with trepidation. The whole wedding ceremony and the reception was held at the villa’s park, both outdoors during a wonderful hot day.
Upon arrival the gate opens up the private way under secular oak trees. Then the garden opens up with the villa on the left. This section of the garden is rich of tall trees with flourishing tops that provide enough shelter from sun rays and freshen up the environment to create the perfect location for outdoor ceremonies and celebrations. The perfectly groomed lawn continues to include a small olive garden and a small private chapel, for those willing to have an indoor ceremony. However, weather permit, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the poetry offered by the secular trees in the garden, an idyllic setting that flows around Villa Castellaccia. Going to the larger section of the garden, which faces the villa’s facade, you flank the building on the side. Walking on the gravel path that crackles under your feet, you spot a very private section of the property. Here a small paradise is carved out with small fresh buildings and many Mediterranean lush bushes. It is the relax house of the villa, provided of a nice swimming pool, outdoor dining table and comfortable indoors. The large open doors create a splendid continuity between the garden and the indoors as the perfect ambient for a chillout evening with cocktails by the pool.
The front garden provides an even grander feeling of majesty. The tall secular firs create an area where the wrought-iron gazebo stands king of the scene. A number of small tables with comfortable fabric chairs surround the gazebo, where the main event takes place. Here it is where the aperitif was served prior to dinner, and here is also where the cake was cut and the fireworks took place. What a gorgeous setting!
Click on pics to enlarge
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The dinner usually takes place indoors, in the large sun room of the villa. In the past this must have been the greenhouse, and now hosts splendidly catered weddings and events. The staff at the villa relies on an external catering service that takes care of everything concerning the reception, from aperitif to the cake, all the food, scenic arrangements and room and table decoration. I wanted to make sure to take a card from Davide D’Onofrio, the owner and manager of the catering service, as the food was oh-my-god-delicious! Plus I was impressed by their great efficiency and table and room decorations. They were simple, contemporary and yet perfectly sophisticated without being posh. Highly recommended! If you decide to go for Villa Castellaccia for your wedding in Tuscany you will get Davide’s services, as the villa always relies on his company for all events. By the way, Davide also owns his Tuscan restaurant “Il Canovaccio” in Campiglia Marittima, a place I will make sure to visit next time I am in Tuscany.
Finally, the wedding music was excellent. Timed and chosen to perfection by the DJ set who accompanied all poignant moments from ceremony until the last dance, underlining dinner time with amiable Italian and international music that helped conversations being carried on with total pleasure. Here is the official site of the wedding musicians.
What an evening! What a wedding! I wish they would all be this way!
Here is the link to the official website of Villa Castellaccia.

The map of Villa Castellaccia. Zoom in or visit the full page version for all points of interest.

View Wedding in Tuscany at Villa Castellaccia in a larger map

Opera Festival 2010

Posted by on Jun 12, 2010 in blog, Nightlife, What to Do in Tuscany | 0 comments

Rich and spectacular as usual the Opera Festival in Tuscany that like every year is able to donate magic and poetry to enchanted spectators.
The locations of the Festival are dreamlike per se. We are talking about world known cornices like the Boboli Garden in Florence, and the San Galgano Abbey in Chiusdino near Siena. Both locations make each staging even more magical. From June 7 to August 7, 2010 the two locations offer a series of operas, pop concerts, musicals, fantasy circus and tango performances of the highest quality.
Unfortunately the performers of Le Cirque Invisible have already performed their last date at the Boboli Garden on the 10th of June. The show of two fantasists that create sounds from soap bubbles, animate plastic animals, make two bicycles fall in love, walk the tightrope with lightheartedness, play objects like instruments and all without special effects, just with their great ability and fantasy. A show that tours the world and is a must-see.
From June 16 at the Boboli Garden the video of the musical Evita will be on screen until the 20th. It is the video of the musical of the world famous story of Eva Peron, the philanthropist wife of Argentina’s president Peron, so loved by her people, and so disgraced in her tragic early death. The video is taken from the immensely successful musical staged at the West End of London by Rice and Webber.
The stage will be transferred in the magical abbey of San Galgano, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni will be staged on June 26th, then on July 4th, 8th, 9th, 17th, 22nd and 29th. The dramatic opera by W.A. Mozart brings to the scene the conflictive relationship between the composer and his father, with a poignant allegory that is rendered universal and could be extended to all father-son relationships on various degrees.
During the pauses of Don Giovanni there will be two pop concerts by two Italian singers. The legendary Patti Pravo at the Boboli Garden on July 14th and the emerging talent Malika Ayane on July 16th at the San Galgano Abbey.
The Magic Flute returns to the Opera Festival on four dates. on July 8th and 15th it will be at the Boboli Garden, while on the 24th and 31st it will be staged in the San Galgano Abbey. The Magic Flute by W.A. Mozart is an all-time favorite, as its splendid dreamlike scenery narrate the story of a coming to age of the young protagonist. The high solo of the Queen of the Night has become the emblem of this opera.
July will also be the month of Carmina Burana, the splendid adaptation of modern music in Medieval key, at the San Galgano Abbey on the 23rd.
Tango is staged with cinq’ Otango by the Otango company at the Boboli Garden on July 19th. The show narrates the true essence of tango with five different couples and styles through the history of Tango.
The Opera Festival will conclude its 2010 cycle with the Four Seasons of Vivaldi at the San Galgano Abbey on August 7.

For more info on times, programs and tickets please visit the official Opera Festival website.

Augmented Tuscan Reality

Posted by on Jun 11, 2010 in blog, Useful | 0 comments

What is augmented reality? It is like in Minority Report, when those special cops would move their hands over thin air to use applications projected in front of them. Well, we do not have projections as of yet, but we do have smart phones that do work kind of that way. You just need the right application, or app.
And that is what Voglio Vivere Così has created. Tuscany+ is the app that allows iPhone owners (iPhones only as of now) to deploy this incredible tool while strolling through Tuscany. They will get plenty of real time information that would otherwise be very hard to find all at once, and would require many books, guides, and time. Will this put guide writers and tourist guides out of business? I bet it will.
You see, you just need to aim your iPhone camera on the area you want info about and the phone screen will populate with a lot of cool information in the form of colored balloons that expand with info. Each is a piece of information regarding historic, artistic, anecdotal and news facts. But it also works as a huge database with info on restaurants, nightlife spots, shops, and everything you need, as a huge and complete yellow pages application. Restaurants and other experience based places also provide user comments and ratings. So long asking passer biers for a nice genuine spot….But, where is all this info taken from? From the Internet, of course. Much is from web pages on various websites, and much is from Wikipedia and Wikitravel content written by the staff of developers for this app.
There are two ways of using this software. The Live mode, above described, and the Map mode. In Map mode you just need to write the street you are on (hey, should it not already know where you are at?) and from there it will map for you the entire surrounding area, with all the interesting spots to visit and see. Then you will be able to choose those you prefer to create your own self-guided tour. Switching back and forth from map to live is possible in any moment. The database is currently being populated and with time it is bound to become the number one reference in Tuscany.
This is the very first tourist related augmented reality application. The team that developed this software is all-Italian and, thanks to the cooperation with Apple, it created the software completely free, and available for download on the Apple site. The software is available in Italian and English and is only available for the Tuscan territory.
Happy augmented holiday to everyone!

Summer Pop Concerts in Tuscany

Posted by on Jun 10, 2010 in blog, Florence, Nightlife, What to Do in Tuscany | 0 comments

Unfortunately Italy is not often hit by big international names of music that prefer not to include the sunny country in their worldwide tours. Which is odd as there usually is a huge affluence of people and everything is sold out. Perhaps other countries buy more records…who knows.
But it sometimes happens that big names of the world of music include one or two dates in Italy. In summer time it is more probable that they would come to Tuscany, when music festivals take place and large outdoor arenas make for a wonderful scenic event.
It is the case of Leonard Cohen, Deep Purple, Cartano Veloso, Mike Patton, and Belle and Sebastian. They will all be playing in Tuscany during the summer of 2010.

Leonard Cohen will be in Florence to delight listeners with his single Italian date on September 1st at 7 pm. Therefore this is a must attend event to see the great artist that is now almost at his 76th year, and still delivering wondeful performances. Even more so because Mr. Cohen will play in the wonderful cornice of Piazza Santa Croce. As usual, this will be a quite “intimate” event as only five thousand seats will be available and the cost of each ticket is quite high. ranging from 35 to 90 euros. Tickets are on sale here.

From Canada to the UK with another legend of music, Deep Purple. Hard rock from England. This is one of the two Italian dates, and will be on July 23rd in Arezzo at the Play Art Festival. The band still retains most of its original elements, the singer Ian Gillian, the drummer, and the bassist that after a short while with other groups returned to join the guys. It is a must-attend event also because this one too is inserted in a wonderful scenic context like the Arezzo Fortress. Tickets are sold at 35 euros and can be purchased online here.

Mike Patton has always been fascinated with Italian music, so much that few years back he sang some songs in Italian. Now he has created a whole album called “Mondo Cane” where he sings only in Italian. Moreover, all songs are covers from old Italian pop hits from the Fifties and Sixties. He tours with a full bodied orchestra to create that wonderful atmosphere that lived with the Italian pop songs of that time.
The concert will be in Florence at the fantastic Fortezza Da Basso on July 26th. Tickets are a bit pricey ranging from 35 to 55 Euros, available here.

Brazil and the unique music of Caetano Veloso will play in Tuscany in Sesto Fiorentino, near Florence, at the park of Villa Solaria, immersed in a green and peaceful setting with secular trees. The concert will be on June 29th and tickets can be found here from 27 to 38 Euros.

Indipendent Pop to conclude this collection of must-not-miss concerts in Tuscany. The band Belle and Sebastian at the PlayArt Festival in Arezzo on June 24. The location is the same as for Deep Purple. Tickets sell at 23 Euros here.

Peasant Tuscan Risotto Recipe

Posted by on Jun 10, 2010 in blog, Recipes | 0 comments

The Peasant Tuscan Risotto recipe is very much in season as the main ingredient is fava beans, which are available fresh and tender right these days at the grocery veggie section. At least I hope they are where you live as they are delicious and incredibly nutritious. In addition all other ingredients are seasonal and fresh (well you should try to have them fresh, it makes the taste and the nutritional value so much better!). This is why it is called the Peasant Risotto, as it is made with all the fresh ingredients that women would find in the past during their daily market grocery shopping. They would buy only those things they would cook right away (refrigerators were not available yet, and only the richer people had the ice room to store foods), and markets only had seasonal fresh vegetables. So for a great taste, try to buy fresh seasonal ingredients and cook them right away.

- 400 grams of fresh fava beans with pod
- 400 grams of ripe tomatoes
- 300 grams of fresh peas with pod
- 300 grams of rice
- 80 grams of extra virgin olive oil
- 50 grams of bacon
- A zucchini
- An onion
- A fresh young carrot
- A stalk of celery
- A handful of parsley
- Some basil leaves
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt
- Pepper

Shell the peas and fava beans, keeping them in separate bowls. Chop the onion, the carrot, the celery, the parsley and the basil, then set them all in a saucepan pouring in the olive oil and the chopped bacon. When they are browned, add the previously peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, and the fava beans. Also add the zucchini that you must previously scrape then finely chop.
Season with salt and pepper. While the vegetables are cooking over slow heat, heat a quart (a liter) of salted water. After about 20 minutes of slow cooking, add the peas to the vegetables, and after 10 minutes also add the rice. Stir the rice and vegetables, then let it roast a little, about 5 minutes, then pour in a ladle of boiling water. Keep stirring, and add a ldle of boiling water each time you see the one you previously poured has been absorbed. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked. Just before removing from the heat add three tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and gently stir. Let it rest about 5 minutes with the lid on, then serve hot.

New Forum on Tuscany!

Posted by on Jun 9, 2010 in blog, Useful | 0 comments

After a little over a year the forum on Tuscany has grown considerably. Thanks to all those that have and continue to find in the forum a valid resource of first hand knowledge on Tuscany, the information on the forum is increasingly useful and relevant.
With a lot of useful information on Tuscany and the properties advertised on Thriftytuscany.com, but also complete freedom of information regarding any other resource on the Internet, the forum gives a 360-degree vision on Tuscany. It covers the culinary tradition of the region, includes a section dedicated to personal experiences in Tuscany, another on what is the best way to get to, from and around Tuscany, and of course sections dedicated to helping users with any issue related to this blog and Thriftytuscany.com and finding the best property in Tuscany for you. In addition, if you have a specific request concerning a property on the website, you can ask on the dedicated section to get a reply from other users that have stayed at the property before.

After this initial success we have deemed necessary to improve the quality of the forum, giving it a sleeker look, and a much more powerful platform with state-of-the-art tools that make asking questions and getting help a fun and richer experience. Videos, cool icons, images and a great deal of personalization tools have been added, making your writing richer, fun and clearer. Also, private messaging was added, to give each one the possibility to share personal information privately without everyone knowing about it, nor giving out your personal email.

You find the forum at http://forum.thriftytuscany.com. Go there now to check it out and start getting fresh info all concentrated on Tuscany! Plus, registering is quick and easy, so you can contribute and get your questions answered right away!

Of Guelphs, Ghibellines and Broken Hearts

Posted by on Jun 7, 2010 in blog, Florence, Historic Places | 0 comments

It may seem absurd, but the war between Guelphs and Ghibellines begun because of…a broken heart!
First of all, who are Guelphs and Ghibellines? They were two factions, or parties to say it in modern political terms, that polarized power in Tuscany, parts of Italy and spread the consequences of their deeds and decisions up to Germany. Florence has always been the headquarter of Guelphs, although it did have Ghibelline followers. The great poet and writer Dante Alighieri was one of them, and he paid his beliefs with exile. Siena was the Ghibelline headquarter. Guelphs pledged their loyalty to Otto IV of Germany, while Ghibellines to Frederick II Emperor of Germany and over the Tuscan territory of the time. But why?
The story goes like this. Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti was a very rich, handsome, and young lord of Florence. He lived by Ponte Vecchio and used to come to town on his horse, never failing each time to stir the heart of the young women of Florence, many of whom were secretly in love with him. He was considered one of the best catches in town, and two girls particularly loved him, the not-so-wealthy and not-so-beautiful Reparata Amidei, and the very beautiful and wealthy Beatrice Donati.
The Buondelmonti and Amidei families kept a quite hatred between them, for reasons we do not know. At one lunch celebrating a common friend, Buondelmonte and Oddo Arrighi, a friend of Amidei, started to brawl and Buondelmonte fending his sward hurt Oddo Arrighi’s arm.
This of course further enhanced the hatred among the two, so that the rival families decided that Buondelmonte had to marry Reparata Amidei to wash away his deed. Buondelmonte accepted not to worsen the tension.
During that time weddings were arranged in three stages. There was the engagement, then the impalmamento, then the marriage. Normally, if one of the parties broke the engagement, a refund fee by law to the other party had to be paid. The fee increased manifolds if the breakage happened after the impalmamento. However, among noble families, although the law prohibited this, there was no acceptable monetary refund, and the only way to solve the issue was to kill the retreating party, usually the man.
So it happened that after the impalmamento of Reparata Amidei, Buondelmonte saw and immediately fell in love with Beatrice Donati. So much that he broke the engagement, paid the fees by law and married Beatrice. The Amidei family and their friends decreed a death sentence for Buondelmonte, who had dishonored them twice. They killed him on Easter day 1216, while he was walking to Mass with his wife on Ponte Vecchio, among hundreds of spectators.
The brutality of the act against the happily in love couple created scandal among the people who mourned Buondelmonte and asked the Podestà, the head of Florence, to make justice condemning the publicly known assassins by law. Faced with such a pressing request the Podestà had to comply. The assassins therefore felt that their deeds may have sent them to the gallows. They therefore invoked the “Imperial Rights” that did not recognize as valid the laws of the municipality of Florence as they had never been approved by the emperor Frederick II of Germany, the Weiblinen, or Ghibelline. On the other side the people of Florence and the municipality had to take parts with Otto IV of Germany, the Welfen, or Guelph, and rival of Frederick.
The Guelph party ruled over Florence for 50 years, therefore we can hypothesize that the conjurers against Buondelmonte were condemned by law. But most importantly, this event started a political division and a series of important events that polarized the superpowers of the time spawning large parts of Italy and the German Empire.

Cantine Aperte Wine Event

Posted by on Jun 7, 2010 in blog, Nature Spots, Wine | 0 comments

Every year on the last Sunday in May wine lovers have an appointment not to be missed. Yes it’s already gone for this year, but you must jot down the event name and date if you love wine! Throughout Italy wine is celebrated with Cantine Aperte, and the 2010 edition was the eighteenth. The event interests all of Italy and for the first time this year it also interested foreign countries. It undoubtedly is the most important wine event of Italy, and Tuscany is one of the main players with its wine its people and its territories.
The organization behind is the Wine Tourism Movement encouraging direct contact between wine lovers and producers. The Wine Tourism Movement aims at spreading this celebration to all those territories in the world that have the same strong attachment to wine and the same strong bond with culinary tradition.
The event has significantly grown over time as a great human and cultural experience. More and more young people approach wine with the conscious feeling of the world around it and with responsible drinking in mind. During the event there are many parallel events that happen in the wine territories of Tuscany and Italy, especially gastronomical happenings.
The numbers of Cantine Aperte are quite impressive. There are more than 800 open cellars over the Italian territory with over a million excited visitors.
In Tuscany wine tastings must surely be directed to great wines like Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. Wine experts teach you to appreciate not only the taste but also the intensity of color and fragrance. Expert producers take you through the vineyards and wineries to learn about all the different stages of wine production.
In addition to wineries, the event involves many restaurants and small shops where you can taste local products matched with wines local. An excellent way to discover the delicacies of each portion of Tuscany and to know the area under all its different facets of art, nature, culture and traditions.
Tastings will indeed be accompanied by art exhibitions, special openings of museums and monuments, concerts and many other cultural activities. For those that want to take the experience deeper in the territory and make it even richer, you can take advantage of the organized strolls on foot, bicycle or on horseback through the colors and scents of the Tuscan countryside. So save the date, Cantine Aperte is every year on the last Sunday of May!

Baker’s Pasta Recipe

Posted by on Jun 5, 2010 in blog, Recipes | 0 comments

A very easy and quick pasta recipe perfect for those hot summer days. No ingredients to cook, except, for pasta, of course.

- Half kilo of long pasta (like spaghetti, bucatini)
- 200 grams of walnuts with the shell
- 150 grams of salty aged cheese, like the Sardinian or Parmesan cheese
- 100 grams of fresh basil leaves
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Salt

Get a pestle and mortar and start mashing in the cheese with the basil leaves and the shelled walnuts. Pou in the olive oil to get a homogeneous mix. While you are preparing the sauce, set a pan full of water over high heat. 4 liters of salted water are sufficient for half kilo of pasta. When the water is at a rolling boil, pour in the pasta making sure the strings do not get attached one another by turning the pasta while it is boiling, especially the first few minutes. Taste it to know it is at your desired cooking stage, then drain it and add the sauce you have prepared, then mix. It is important that you do not let the pasta sit there either in the water or after draining it. The pasta should go straight into your sauce right after draining it. One secret for a soft sauce is to add a little of the cooking water (two or three tablespoons) to it after you are done with the pestle. Serve warm.

Why is Florence Called Florence?

Posted by on Jun 4, 2010 in blog, Florence, Historic Places | 4 comments

Florence, Firenze in Italy, originates from a Latin name, Florentia. A name that has always reminded of flowers, and meadows covered with flowers. Hypothesizing therefore that the land it was built on had been one particularly rich of flowers, especially irises, everyone has always considered this explanation straightforward, so much that the symbol of Florence has aways been an iris since the very inception of the city. The symbol even got coined on the strong currency of pure gold that the city produced, called Fiorino, or little flower. However, this is not why Florence is called as such.
Who funded the city? The Etruscans of Fiesole (now this is an Etruscan name!), a well developed center on the hills above Florence which still today exists, 150 years before Christ decided that they needed a closer access to a waterway. The river Arno was flowing just few kilometers down the bare valley, on a flat land that run for kilometers in the four directions. What better place? Therefore the first nucleus of Florentia started and was developed, but soon encountered the fury of Rome, that tired of having to deal with the unruly Etruscans that would not subject to the imperial power, decided to destroy the city, kill everyone, and plow the land it used to be so that only cultivated fields would be in its place. To make this a sure deed, the land got sold in plots to Roman officials and high charges of the empire.
However, the new owners of the land did not like the country life and soon entered an agreement with the Etruscans of Fiesole to rebuild the city just a few hundred meters down the river, on its right bank. The former rebel Roman emperor Catilina, escaped to Fiesole, and many of the former centurions that had razed the city few years before, became the new citizens of Florentia, which preserved the name. Rome got word of what was going on, and sent other legions to raze the city again. After a strenuous defense and a large bloodshed of more that 3000 killed, the Romans wanted to raze the city, but the valor of the defense graced the city and kept it standing.
The origins of Florence, Italy help to understand why the name of Florence has a Latin root instead of an Etruscan one, and why it does not imply flowers. The Etruscans that lived in the area had always been in close touch with the Romans pilgrims and merchants that passed by the area. Therefore they must have picked up their definition of this land as a florents, meaning a lush, fertile, flourishing land. Therefore the word Florentia comes from the Latin word for flourishing. And its history has indeed been one of a flourishing people and culture!