Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 19, 2019

Strange spring in the garden

We are currently experiencing the coldest May in Italy for 62 years. The cold doesn’t bother me, but the fierce wind doesn’t make me happy. It is a very strange spring.

We have been away for a couple of weeks and it was great to be back at Casa Debbio to see the changes in the garden.

Driving up the mountain to Casa Debbio is a delight in spring. The green is vibrant and glorious. It was a rare sunny day.

This was the garden a couple of weeks ago. The first peonies bloomed.

The wisteria looked great. The pergolas should be covered this year.

Lilacs bloomed.

There were tiny cherries on the tree.

Wild daisies covered the slope in front of the house.

Rhododendrons put on a good show.

 

The gorgeous ricotta flowers turned from green to white.

Violets appeared everywhere.

The lovely beech trees grew new leaves.

Ginestra looked great.

The geraniums are growing.

A couple of weeks later there isn’t a lot of change, but the garden is looking good.The next group of peonies still has only buds.

The lavender is growing well.

The grass in front of the house is growing well.

There will be roses soon.

Wisteria is growing leaves.

The weeping cherry looks great.

The paths on the terrace below the house are coming along.

Things will only get better over the next few weeks, especially if we get some warm sunny days.

 

Our lovely Tuscan mountain house is available for rent this summer. We rent it weekly, but we think it would be better rented by the month. It is the perfect place to a restful break where the only sounds are the birds. Fireflies fill the garden on warm nights and the views are spectacular.

Email at debrakolkka@gmail.com if you would like to stay at Casa Debbio. At the top of the page click Rent our Tuscan House for more photos.

 

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 17, 2019

Siamo in Italia

A little break from Puglia posts to bring you a bit of ridiculous Italy…

We arrived home to find a letter from the Comune waiting for us. These letters rarely bring good news and sure enough the letter was letting me know that I had missed paying something.

I went to the Comune to sort out the problem. The letter waiting for me informed me that in 2011 I had driven in a restricted zone somewhere and had failed to pay the fine for €79.50. An interest fee of €14.80 and another fee of €7.54 brings the total to €162.06. Add another €5.88 to get to €167.94. I have 5 days to pay this.

I have never received a notice about this in 8 years! I am in Italy for 6 months each year. When I am not here a good and trusted friend checks my apartment and collects mail.

Neither of us has sighted anything about this in 8 years.

The fine will be paid because it is not worth trying to fight it. I would get nowhere, but a complaint will be made.

We have history with these things. A few years ago we went the wrong way in Bologna and a few months later, when we were back in Australia a registered letter arrived. My friend tried to collect it, but despite giving her authority the helpful person at the local post office would not give it to her.

When I arrived a month later I collected the letter which turned out to be 2 fines for driving in a restricted zone within 10 minutes of each other, 1 for €80 and the other for €90. I paid them.

A year later I was sent another notice asking me to pay the fines. I sent a letter saying that I had paid them. A return letter informed me that I had paid them late and had to pay again. €340 for a wrong turn!

Just as well I wake to this each day.

 

Siamo in Italia.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 14, 2019

Alberobello

Alberobello is famous for the huge collection of trulli, the dry stone huts with conical roofs that are found in Puglia. The style of house is found only in the Itria Valley. There are over 1500 structures in the quarters of Rione Monti and Aja Piccola in Alberobello.

Trulli were usually constructed as temporary field shelters or as permanent dwellings by small farmers or agricultural labourers. There are many theories behind the origin of the design and when the trulli were built.

One such theory is that due to high taxes on property, the people of the area built dry stone wall constructions that could be dismantled quickly when tax inspectors were on the prowl.

Today they draw thousands of people every day to Alberobello. Many of the trulli have been converted to shops, cafes and restaurants. Some are still lived in by their original owners, who sometimes offer them as B&Bs.

This is the Rione Monti area, where most of the trulli are.

The streets are very pretty and the house well kept and inviting.

Trulli rooftops.

Trulli shops are quite tasteful even though they have tourists in mind.

At the top of the hill is a trulli inspired church.

Trulli souvenirs.

I like these trulli lights.

Some are really cute. Flowers and plants make a difference.

For something completely different there is an enormous cemetery outside Alberobello. Unlike the centre it was totally empty.

Alberobello is very popular with tourists, making it crowded a lot of the time. I would suggest visiting early in the morning to avoid some of the tour buses.

It is definitely worth seeing and I think staying in nearby Martina Franca would be a good idea, then you can drop in for a few hours and move on.

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 11, 2019

Polignano a Mare…eat in a cave beside the sea

Polignano a Mare is a town in Puglia on the Adriatic Sea, south of Bari. It sits on the edge of a craggy ravine dotted with caves.

Its most famous son is Domenico Modugno who co-authored and sang Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare) which won the Sanremo Music Festival and came third in the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest. He went on to a successful music and film career and later became a politician.

He has a statue dedicated to him on the sea front.

Polignano a Mare has ancient origins and is believed to be the site of the Ancient Greek city of Neopolis. It still has a Greek feel in some areas.

We arrived to fierce wind and a storm approaching. The buildings clinging to the edge of the sea are impressive.

It was not the best day for its famous, and much photographed beach.

It got better.

 

The sun came out briefly.

 

The beach is tiny and is not a sand beach. It is rocky and difficult to walk on. Getting into the water would be tricky and you would need strong footwear.

According to Paolo, the charming owner of the B&B we stayed at, 83,000 people descended on the area for the Red Bull diving competition last year. That seemed a bit far fetched until I looked at this photo from the Red Bull website.

This year it will be held on 2nd June, just in case you happen to be in the area. If you are, stay at Malu B&B. The terrace where we had breakfast has a view of the diving spot which is a private terrace. The divers enter through a living room.

There is evidence of Roman settlement seen with the remains of a bridge on the Via Traiana.

The old part of the town is lovely. The rain squalls and freezing wind kept most people away.

There are another few streets nearby with lots of shops, cafes and restaurants.

We booked dinner at Grotta Palazzese, the restaurant in a cave beside the sea. It really is in a cave! I can imagine it being a good hiding place for pirates centuries ago. Now it is an elegant (and expensive) dining area.

We caught a glimpse of it in the afternoon from one of the nearby cliffs. You can see it in the bottom left corner.

The setting is amazing.

 

The restaurant sits partly on a platform across the cave. Underneath you can see and hear the sea swirling in and out.

Overhead, these metal sculptures that look like sea creatures are really clever gadgets to allow water drips to avoid diners and plop into the sea.

The food was as good as the setting and the service was seamless. The waiters wore overcoats and we were given blankets…you can’t really heat a cave.

 

The beach looked great on the way back from the restaurant.

Malu B&B was excellent. The room was small, but well designed with a good bathroom and a great breakfast. Paolo told us his mother made the breakfast goodies.

It was a pity the weather was so awful. I can see that this would be a fun place to come for a few days.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 9, 2019

Vieste…a long way to come to see a rock

Vieste is a town in the province of Foggia in Puglia, or Apulia, in the south of Italy. It is a marine resort in Gargano, the little bit that sticks out like a spur on the heel of the Italian boot.

In medieval times the port was frequently attacked by pirates, Saracens and other enemies of the Kingdom of Naples. Now it basks in peaceful sunshine.

It has received Blue Flags for the purity of its waters from the Foundation for Environment Education. Decades ago it relied on fishing and agriculture, but tourism is its main money earner. Thousands flock here in the summer.

We drove in through forests and olive trees. We came to what we thought was Vieste, but it was Peschici sitting prettily on a cliff.

Vieste was another 30 minutes away on narrow, winding roads.

Vieste’s most known sight is Pizzomunno, a vertical rocky monolith standing 25metres near Spiaggio del Castello.

Our hotel was right beside it. They said they had a good view of the rock and they were correct.

The pictures of Pizzomunno don’t show the hotel on the top. Town planners have a lot to answer for.

The beach beside Pizzomunno was pleasant enough, with reasonable sand.

We wandered in the historic centre, which was practically empty. We were a bit too early in the season.

The cathedral is in Apulia Romanesque style. The bell tower is 18th century Baroque built after the original collapsed.

The church was dressed up for an event.

The lighthouse was built in 1867.

There were some pretty views from the top of the town.

…and some not. Those town planners again. The new part of town is quite large, to cope with the hoards of tourist who descend on the town in summer. I thought it was completely charmless and a bad introduction to the town, a chaotic, ramshackle collection of buildings.

This is the best view of Vieste.

The hotel recommended Vecchio Vieste for dinner. It sits beside one of the old entrances into the town.

The food was great and our charming waiter, Renato,told us with pride about the local ingredients and the story of the pirates who broke through the door on the entrance beside us and killed 500 residents.

I know Vieste looks quite nice in the photos, but I tried to pick the best of it. I was disappointed with the town. It needs some serious love. If I close my eyes and imagine it in the season, at night, with lights on, shops open and people about it would be better.

Here is a photo of Pizzomunno in the late afternoon.

…and the early morning.

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 6, 2019

Spello revisited

Spello is one of our favourite  towns in Italy so we don’t need much of an excuse to revisit. It seemed a natural half way stop on our way from Bagni di Lucca to Puglia.

It was a strange, stormy afternoon when we arrived but the rain stayed away and there was some blue sky here and there.

The town is famous for its Infiorata, the flower festival where works of art are created in flower petals on the streets. There are lovely courtyards filled with flowers always. Spring is a good time to visit.

The town is elegant and well kept. The streets are lined with shops, art galleries and delis filled with delicious food and wine…there is much to choose from.

Spello has a long history. One of the entrances, Porta Consolare was built from 43 -33BC. It was the main entrance on the south side of the town. It was constructed with large blocks of perfectly dressed white Subiaso stone without mortar in rows of varying heights.

The central arch was used for carts and the smaller arches for pedestrians. The appearance has changed over the centuries. The well preserved tower at the south side of the gate is Medieval.

During the Renaissance the outside part was raised and 3 marble statues were placed there. The statues were found in the amphitheatre area. They date from the 1st century BC and were from funerary or honorary monuments.

Another old entrance is Porta dell’Arce, at the other side of the town.

There are some narrow streets in Spello.

Look for gorgeous views over the Umbrian countryside.

We stayed at the very lovely Hotel Palazzo Bocci in Via Cavour.

The rooms are spacious and comfortable and the common rooms gorgeous.

La Cantina was our favourite restaurant on previous visits so we went again…creatures of habit.

I would return to Spello just to eat at La Cantina.

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 3, 2019

Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta…again

This tiny chapel sits outside the village of Vitaleta in beautiful Tuscany. The Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta has to be the most photographed chapel in Italy…as I have said before.

We stopped for another look after our recent visit to San Quirico d’Orcia. The chapel is on the road between San Quirico and Pienza. There are a couple of places to park on the side of the road where you get a great view of the chapel.

The weather was patchy the day we were there and the look of the chapel changed by the minute.

There are gorgeous views of the countryside around the chapel as well.

 

You can see Pienza in the distance.

One day we will walk to the chapel.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 29, 2019

Sensational San Quirico

We have driven past San Quirico d’Orcia many times on our way to Pienza, but have never stopped there. We went for one of our favourite drives through the rolling hills of Tuscany recently and decided to visit San Quirico for a change.

The Val d’Orcia is considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in the world and was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004, the first rural site to receive this recognition. San Quirico is one of 12 towns in the area.

The town has Etruscan origins but its earliest written records date form 712AD. From the 11th century it grew in importance partly because of its situation on the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrim road to Rome. It has some of the most noteworthy examples of Medieval architecture in the province of Siena.

As well as all of that, it is gorgeous! We can’t believe we have bypassed it for so long.

Driving towards San Quirico….I was a passenger.

We found a car park below the town and wandered up, completely entranced by this lovely town.

We first came upon a tiny Romanesque church, Santa Maria Assunta, with a lovely rose garden behind it. The church is mentioned in records from 1014. Its current incarnation dates from the 12th century. The gabled bell tower and vestry are original.

The portal is embellished with decorations that may originate from another church, the Abbazia di San Antonio.

I was most taken with the decoration inside.

The rose garden behind the church is quite new. The roses were not in bloom for our visit.

The rose garden leads to the  Horti Leonini, gardens created around 1575 by Diomede Leoni during work to restore the village walls damaged in the war between Florence and Siena. It is a late Renaissance garden independent from any house, created for travellers, especially the nobility…a lovely place to rest on pilgrim walks.

The sculpture in the lower garden is of Cosimo III dei Medici by Giuseppe Mazzuoli from Siena, commissioned in 1688.

The town was bustling the day we were there, despite the patchy weather. It was a busy spring day and the many shops were open and full of people. There are several very good wine shops, the area is known for its excellent wine, including Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montalcino.

Pecorino cheese and olive oil are also produced in the area and there are several places to try and buy these.

In the main square is the church dedicated to San Francesco.

The most interesting church is Santi Quirico and Giulitta, a magnificent example of Romanesque style. It is mentioned in the 8th century but its current architectural appearance dates from the 13th and 14th century.

It has 3 doorways, or portals. I will begin with the plain one.

The one beside it has 2 double lancet windows and a portal in the Lombard style, surmounted by a triangular vestibule resting on 2 caryatids supported by 2 lions, dating from possibly the second half of the 13th century.

The front of the church has decorative arches and a Gothic style Rose Window. The 12th century portal’s vestibule is supported by columns resting on 2 lionesses. The architrave is decorated with a carved bass relief with 2 fighting monsters.

I would like the candle holder hanging beside the church.

We wandered off the main streets and found some quiet corners.

We came to what appeared to be part of the old walls surrounding the town, and the lovely entrance, Porta a Cappuccini, dating from the 15th century.

Many of the restaurants along the main street were full so we wandered up a couple of side streets before we found Trattoria Toscana…lucky us! The food was delicious and the setting lovely.

San Quirico d’Orcia will become a regular destination for us.

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 17, 2019

April flowers at Casa Debbio

My garden is growing at Casa Debbio. We have had some rain and lovely sunshine to speed things along. The weather has been patchy and not all that warm. We had snow on nearby mountains last week.

Our biggest cherry tree has bloomed and soon there will be tiny cherries appearing.

My favourites, the peonies, are developing at different times. Some are still just poking their heads through the soil while some are flowering.

My most favourite peony, the one that gets more than 50 blooms, is well on the way.

This year I have planted Schiaparelli pink geraniums in the pots around the house.

Red ones are planted on the terrace beside the house. There are violets and little white flowers under the pots. I planted the white ones last year and they appeared to drop dead immediately, but they reappeared thus year…what a surprise!

Lilacs are flowering for the first time.

Rhododendrons are looking gorgeous.

Yellow tulips appeared.

Wisteria is about to bloom.

I have planted lupins in the hope they will spread over the terraces.

Roses are about to appear.

The kiwi plants are growing like mad.

The sage has grown yellow flowers.

 

Aquilegias are popping up all over the place.

Tiny grape hyacinths have bloomed and are on the way out.

I’m hoping the petunias will spill over their pots soon.

At the moment the garden is still patchy…I want it all to happen now! In a few weeks the lavender will be looking great and the paths will smell delicious when I brush past the lavender flowers. It is fun to watch the garden change every day.

Here are my newly planted red geraniums enjoying the view and some spring sunshine.

 

June would be the perfect time to stay at our lovely Tuscan house.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 13, 2019

Pisa, the tower and more

The Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) in Pisa is surely one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy. It is outside the centre of Pisa and the stunning buildings are surrounded by lush green grass rather than buildings.

Until recently there were market stalls beside the piazza, but they have now been moved outside the wall nearby…what a brilliant idea. The piazza is looking better than it ever has.

The leaning tower, which is actually the campanile (bell tower) of the cathedral, is not the only building in Piazza dei Miracoli.

The Baptistery is magnificent. It is the largest in Italy, begun in mid 12th century and finished in 14th century.

Construction of the Pisa Cathedral began in 1064.

The Camposanto Monumentale (walled cemetery) was bombed by Allied aircraft in July 1944 and almost destroyed. Restoration work continues.

The Campanile began in 1173 and was built in 3 stages over 177 years. It began to lean 5 years after construction and it was left to settle for a century. In 1272 building resumed. The upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. The 7th floor was added in 1319 and the bell chamber in 1372.

By the time the building was complete the lean was 1 degree. At its greatest, prior to 1990,  it was 5.5 degrees. It is now 4 degrees after much work.

It is now open for climbing and I suggest you do. You can feel the lean as you walk up the narrow stairs and the view from the top is excellent.

The site is well managed and easy to navigate. Go to the ticket office and choose what you want to see. You can just climb the tower or buy tickets for the other buildings. Only 45 can climb at a time. Book a time, arrive at the tower 10 minutes before and off you go.

After leaving Piazza dei Miracoli we headed for the next most impressive square in Pisa, Piazza dei Cavalieri, the Knight’s Square, the political centre in Medieval Pisa.

The main building on the square is Palazzo della Caravana . It was modernised in Renaissance style by Giorgio Vasari. The facade is decorated with sgraffiti by Vasari and contains 6 niches with busts of the grand dukes of Tuscany.

In front of the palace stands a statue of Cosimo I de Medici by Pietro Francavilla.

Beside the palace is the Church of the Holy and Military Order of St Stephen, built over the foundation of St Sebastian’s church.

The buildings in the Piazza dei Cavalieri are now a centre of education – part of the university of Pisa.

Moving on, we came to Borgo Stretto, the main street of the older part of Pisa’s centre.

There are some stunning buildings here, and the street is well named. Stretto means narrow.

At the river end of the street is an old wooden tabernacle.

Even though the wood looks really old, this is a copy. The original is from the 16th century and is now in the National Museum of St Matthew.

Garibaldi keeps watch over the square in front of the River Arno.

The river is lined with intetesting old buildings.

On the other side of the river there is a narrow street which opens to a wide pedestrian only shopping street.

There is a wonderful mix of old and new buildings.

Vittorio Emanuele I looks over the piazza at the end of the street, looking towards the railway station.

Keep an eye out behind Vittorio for the Keith Haring giant mural, Tuttomondo, painted on a wall of the church of St Anthony. Haring painted it with local help in 1989 just months before he died. It is his last public work. There is a cafe in front of it where you can stop for a coffee, snack or aperitivo and pick up a souvenir or 2.

 

Pisa is more than just the leaning tower. Take some time to wander the well cared for streets. The shopping offer is varied and there are some great cafes, markets and restaurants.

We enjoyed lunch at Osteria La Mescita at 2, Via Cavalca.

http://www.osterialamescitapisa.com

Our shared first course was particularly good. Mille folglie with beetroot pate and ricotta.

Jim had tagliatelle with leeks, sausage and pecorino cheese. It was just right.

I ordered tagliata di maiale, sliced pork with rocket.

Dessert was ricotta cream with chocolate and almonds…delicious.

We are definitely going back. The restaurant was full of local businessmen, a sure sign that the food is good.

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