Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 16, 2014

Relais Santa Croce in Florence

I’ve got another gorgeous place for you to stay in Florence…but first, a bit of background.

A little while ago I was asked by Margie of Margie in Italy ( If you love Italy you should read her blog) if I would like to write some posts for Italian Talks, Baglioni Hotel’s blog. I love to talk about Italy, so I told her I would be happy to contribute to their blog.

As a result, I was invited to visit one of the beautiful Baglioni Hotels…Relais Santa Croce, one of the most stylish and elegant hotels in the historic centre of Florence. We were met by the very charming Daniele Carta, who handed us over to his young assistant to take us on a tour of the former Ciofi Jacometti Palace, an 18th century property which has been lovingly restored.

It is as though the family home has been brought back to life. Original frescoes decorate the walls and period furniture sits side by side with contemporary designs…all adding to the charm.

The reception areas are particularly lovely.


In the salon behind reception sliding panels hide the space for musicians, or more recently, the DJ.


A huge chandelier used to hang in this room and was so big it had its own device to raise and lower it for cleaning. We were taken upstairs to take a look at this amazing contraption that was actually designed by Leonardo da Vinci, although he didn’t ever put his design into practice…it was left to others.

It is all original, including the wheel which the servants would turn to raise and lower the chandelier. I wish it was still around too.


As you would expect the rooms are beautifully decorated and every comfort has been considered.

There are 2 magnificent suites which I can’t show you, one was occupied and the other was being used for a photo shoot, but it was special enough for Brad and Angelina and some of the children to stay in a while ago. I would have liked to have jumped into the jacuzzi that was filled and looking very inviting indeed.

Some of the rooms have views of the Duomo, and others the Santa Croce church.

After and interesting chat with Daniele Carta, who told us with pride about the hotel and its history, we enjoyed a delicious Tuscan style dinner in the elegant Guelfi e Ghibellini.


Possibly even more important than the gorgeous setting is the friendly staff. Nothing is rushed and the atmosphere is very welcoming.

After a delightful evening we walked to the nearby Santa Croce, looking magnificent on a spring evening.



Grouchy old Dante looks as though he needs a stay at the Relais Santa Croce to cheer him up a bit.


A stay at the Relais Santa Croce would make anyone happy.

The hotel is in Via Ghibellina, 87. (There is another 87 in Via Ghibellina, it is a pharmacy, keep going down the street a little further to the other 87)

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 13, 2014

Perambulating in Perugia

This post is for Janine, who writes Destination Umbria. Perugia is her town and as well as being famous for chocolate it is a gorgeous hilltop town in the green heart of Umbria. It is a university and language school town and has a lively atmosphere in its historical centre.

We parked outside the old city in a huge free carpark opposite the station and took the cute mini train up to the centre…what a great idea.


We began our visit in the stunning main square, Piazza 4th November. It is surrounded by magnificent buildings, including the Cathedral of St Lawrence. Its history dates back to 1,000AD, but it was in the 16th century that the building took its present appearance. The loggia dates from 1423 and below that, sections of Roman wall are still visible. It is presided over by a stern looking gentleman.




The interior is spectacular.


Opposite the cathedral is the equally special Palazzo dei Priori…begun in 1270 with modifications and extensions over the next few centuries. A griffin and a lion guard the entrance.




Inside the building is the amazing Notaries’ room with a ceiling supported by 8 Romanic arches.


There is another entrance around the corner, with a fabulous doorway.


In between the 2 buildings is the Great Fountain, the end of the aqueduct that brings water to the centre of the town. It was built in 1277 and the decorative sculptures were built by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. It was intended to present a city at the height of its political and cultural power. It seems to be doing a fine job still.


By now it was time for coffee and we lucked onto the Sandri, in Via Vannucci,which has been serving coffee and delicious pastries since 1860.


We wandered around the narrow, winding (always) streets and found the most amazing and grand old buiildings.

The views over the countryside are lovely.




There is a pretty park in Piazza D’Italia.


We did a tourist thing and had lunch at one of the outdoor restaurants in Via Vannucci at the appropriately named Il Bacio ( Perugia is the home of Baci chocolates). Our pizza was excellent.


It is easy to see why Janine is a Perugia fan.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 11, 2014

Sleepy sheep, Chianti style

Driving through Chianti is like driving through a postcard. I know I have said this before, but it so incredibly beautiful it just takes your breath away. We did our usual drive from Siena to Asciano and on to Montalcino and Pienza through scenes like this.



I was commenting on the lack of animal life when we turned a corner and found these…it’s a hard life for some.






A little further along were more sheep, this time guarded by some beautiful dogs.



Most of the sheep were resting comfortably.




Some were eating lush, spring, Tuscan grass.


Then on an invisible cue they all moved off to an important sheep meeting, slowly of course.




…another day in sheep paradise.

See more of Chianti here.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 8, 2014

The most impressive door in Lucca?

There are many wonderful doorways in Lucca, but this one in Via Filungo is my favourite. It is really 2 doors, but that old arch brings them together.


The big carved wooden doors are usually open, leading to a private courtyard. They must have once allowed horse drawn carriages through.


The wooden doors have 2 huge knockers.


…and beautiful carved panels.



There is a device above to hold a torch.



I’ll be on the lookout for a better one, but I doubt I will find anything as impressive as this one.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 5, 2014

My new peonies

I went to Verde Mura in Lucca today. It is an annual garden show on the wall of Lucca. You see more on the event here.

I was on the hunt for my favourite flowers, peonies, for Casa Debbio…look what I found.






I bought the pink one (last photo) and a lilac one to be planted in the garden in October when the season is over. I also bought 6 bulbs (they are not really bulbs) to plant now.

I didn’t restrict myself to peonies. I found a Japanese maple,  clematis to go with the one that has sprouted this year, some aquilegias to join the others, lily of the valley, violets, hellebores and some things I have never heard of.




…and a bird.


Here is my haul ready to be taken back to the car.


They will be taken to Casa Debbio tomorrow and I will show you the results of my plantings soon.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 3, 2014

Lunch at Ghinko in Lucca

It was the green chairs that enticed me into Ghinko. They looked so bright and cheerful I thought it would be a happy place for lunch.




Ghinko is open for coffee and a snack, lunch, aperitivo and dinner.

For lunch I had a delicious pumpkin risotto.



…and I just had to have one of those little peach cakes with my espresso.




I met the delightful owner, Christina, who told me she does a slightly more international menu in summer. I will definitely be back for more. Ghinko is in Piazza XX Settembre, just off Piazza Napoleone.


Call in for a coffee and say hello to Christina.

Closed Tuesday

Ph 347 883829


There is a postscript to the piggie story. Piggie escaped the other day and went for a walk through the village. She frightened a small child out for a walk with her Nonno, visited the shop, the pharmacy and the bar and called in to a nearby tourist site, Grotta del Vento, before returning home with a friend in the form of another cinghiale.

She is not all that popular right now.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 1, 2014

The spaghetti harvest


I was just watching BBC World and delighting in the story of an April Fools’ Day hoax in 1957 about the spring spaghetti harvest, and thinking about finding the clip, when I opened a post from one of my favourite bloggers. Trust Frank, from A Frank Angle, to have already found it.

Please go to Frank’s post and enjoy this wonderful story. I’m sure it will make your April first.

Enjoy a plate of freshly picked spring spaghetti today.



I remember watching the ABC in Australia when I was about 13. The program informed us that gamma rays from our TV kept flies away. There was much family discussion about the scarcity of flies around our set.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 30, 2014

The return of piggie

You may recall that we had a visit from our neighbour, Vittorio, and his pet cinghiale last year at Casa Debbio.

Here they are in my tomatoes last year.


Yesterday they returned and how piggie has grown.


I mistakenly referred to piggie as ‘he’ before, but she is a very lovely young lady. She is 1 year old now and loves to go for a walk with Vittorio.




She likes to find new things to eat.



She was heading off towards my new garden when Vittorio called her back. She does respond to commands, reluctantly.


They were last seen trotting towards the waterfall, she loves her bath.


It seems she has become part of the family and is unlikely to be eaten.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 28, 2014

Above a door in Genova

In the Via degli Orefici in the old city of Genova in the north of Italy is the doorway to a shop, nothing special really.


…but look above the doorway.


You will see a relief…Adoration of the Magi, attributed to Giovanni Gagani and dated 1460.





That it is still there intact is amazing. We wouldn’t have noticed it if a kindly local had not directed us towards it.

Italy is full of surprises like this.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 26, 2014

Some spring snow

Our run of gorgeous spring weather came to an end a couple of days ago. We have had some much cooler weather, rain and snow on the mountains around us. I love a bit of snow so I headed towards Montefegatesi so see what I could see.

It was a bleak day, but I was soon rewarded by the sight of Prato Fiorito with a snowy covering.



As I drove higher on the road towards Montefegatesi it was clear that spring had been put on the back burner for a while. Everything looked desolate and cold.




I’ll come up in a couple of weeks and show you a completely different scene. These trees will all be green and gorgeous.

Prato Fiorito looks pretty spectacular in any season and in any weather.




…and on the other side of the ridge.


I drove on to Montefegatesi and down the other road via Monti di Villa, Pieve di Monti di Villa and Granaiola.










I think it is very beautiful, but I am ready for spring. I have just planted a weeping cherry at Casa Debbio and I don’t want it to get cold.


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