Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 23, 2014

Secret Florence

My friend Liz bought a fabulous book for me…Secret Florence, by Niccolo Rinaldi. It is full of interesting details that you might not notice on your wanderings in Florence.

We set off, book in hand, to discover some things we had not seen before. The first secrets were hidden around the Duomo. I never tire of standing in front of this magnificent building.


The beautiful baptistery is under scaffolding at the moment, but the Porta del Paradiso, Gates of Paradise, so named by Michelangelo, is visible. This is where we discovered our first secret. On the left-hand door at the 5th level is a self portrait of Lorenzo Ghiberti, the artist who created the door. Who could blame him for wanting to be part of this magnificent work of art?


The next one is on one of the front doors to the church. On the right of the doorway on the far right of the Duomo’s facade is the blasphemous angel. This naughty angel is giving us the finger. It is said to be a reference to the sodomy that was widespread on the banks of the Arno.


We had trouble finding the next secret high above the Porta Della Mandorla, which leads to the top of the gigantic cupola.


It took a bit of searching, but we finally located the bull looking towards a house opposite. It is said that this was the work of a master mason, who placed the bull there in order to mock a man who was jealous of his young wife.




I wonder how he got away with it.

There are many more secrets to be discovered in Florence. I will bring them to you as I find them. We have a Secret Venice too, thanks Liz.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 22, 2014

Why No One Goes to Naples

Debra Kolkka:

You just have to read this.Click on the original post and read the whole sorry story.

Originally posted on Segantini family blog:

From the New York Times:

turistiSpring is here. In southern Italy, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and the weather is balmy. Orange blossom fragrances mingle with wafts of jasmine. The food is good, the wine is inexpensive, the locals are friendly and beauty is all around. But where are the tourists?

The Amalfi Coast, south of Naples, is still a magnet for wealthy Russians and romantic Americans. Yet Naples itself is a tourist wasteland, and the rest of southern Italy is largely vacationer-free.

Only 13 percent of tourists who come to Italy go to the Mezzogiorno, as the south is known. The rest head for the center and north of Italy, or other Mediterranean countries altogether. German airports sent 223 flights to Spain’s Balearic Islands in one week last summer, and only 17 to southern Italy.

View original 756 more words

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 21, 2014

Let Spello cast her spell on you

There were too many gorgeous things in Spello for just 1 post. Here is part 2.

There are lots of wonderful doorways.

…some lovely shops.

…gorgeous frescoes and wall decorations.

There are the remains of a Roman forum.


We found the most beautiful restaurant, La Cantina, in the main street, and were served delicious food.


A beautiful park decorates the centre of town. You can sit and rest quietly in the shade or have an aperitivo from the nearby bar.


The views over the surrounding countryside are wonderful. You can see Assisi in the distance.





Every year, this year in mid June, Spello holds L’Infioriata di Spello. I will return for the event. Enormous floral displays cover the streets, a winner is chosen and a procession comes through and tramples the displays made up of hundreds or thousands of flower petals…stay tuned.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 19, 2014

A spell in Spello

A few years ago, when we were driving between Assisi and Spoleto, a gorgeous hilltop town called out to me from its lofty position…Look at me, look at me…it said. It took a while, but we finally visited Spello in Umbria.


The stone in the area is pale pink and the whole town glows a glorious shade of pink on a crag on a southern slope of Mount Subiaso. Spello has been built and rebuilt over the centuries as different powers struggled for possession since before Roman times. It was severely damaged in 1832 by an earthquake, another blow to its economy, and the years after WWII were difficult.

Spello seems to be quite prosperous now. Very good olive oil and wine are produced in the area and tourism is on the rise. The town is beautifully presented. The buildings dating from Roman and medieval times are restored well, the streets are lined with lovely potted gardens and there is an obvious pride in the town.

Several of the gates which were part of the strong walls that protected the town still exist.

Porta Urbica


Porta Portonaccio.


Porta dell’Arce.


Porta and towers of Properzio.


Porta Consolare.


Here are some of the lovely streets, laneways and buildings in Spello.

Isn’t it gorgeous? I will show you some heavenly doorways, frescoes and food in Spello in the next post.

We stayed in a lovely B&B called  I Narcisi, in Piazza Partigiani, just outside the Porta Urbica. The owners were delightful and had lots of information as well as some delicious olive oil and wine which they produce themselves.

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.

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