Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 16, 2020

Art and lunch in Pietrasanta

Pietrasanta is only an hour drive from our apartment in Bagni di Lucca. It is a beautiful and interesting town that I like to visit often. On a recent visit I found the new art installations on display in the stunning piazza.

 

This older, permanent sculpture, is actually in the middle of the car park.

On a more recent visit the sky was blue and the installations took on a different note.

 


We tried a new (for us) restaurant for lunch…Ristorante la Vineria.  It was quite busy, the photos were taken on our way out. The food and service were excellent.

Both primi piatti were great.

Secondi were also delicious.

Dolce held up their end of the bargain.

Now I am torn…I have more decisions to make when next I visit Pietrasanta.

Dotted around town are small art pieces. It is fun to look for them.

The shopping, gallery and restaurant offering in Pietrasanta has grown over the years I have been visiting. It is great to see a thriving town. Covid has been hard on the town this year, but it seems to be holding it own. I hope so, I love it.

Ristorante la Vineria

Via Barsanti 22

Ph…0584 70793

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 7, 2020

A short stay in Florence

Now that the temperature has cooled a little I plan to be out and about a bit more. A couple of friends and I went to Florence for a couple of days last week. The city would normally be crowded at this time of the year, but Covid 19 has kept most visitors away. As much as this makes walking around the city pleasant, I am very aware of the distress it causes many businesses…all the more reason to visit.

We arrived in the late afternoon and wandered down to the Arno where the golden light of sunset settled over the Ponte Vecchio.


After aperitivo we walked onto the almost empty bridge to admire the view.

We had an excellent meal in a trattoria in one of the quieter back streets.

Our first stop the next morning was at the gorgeous Caffe Gilli in the Piazza Republica, the subject of my previous post.

Then it was time to explore Florence.

Near the Mercato Centrale (see more Mercato Centrale ) I spotted the fountain with 7 faces and was happy to see it has been cleaned recently.

The tabarnacle above it is impressive.

This is what it used to look like. Seven heads are better than one

The Ponte Vecchio has a couple of tiny balconies on the outside.


I think I would like to here and watch the world go by from the balcony.


On the Oltrano, the other side of the Arno from the Duomo, a pack of wolves has gathered on the square in front of the Palazzo Pitti. The installation was created Liu Ruowang…100 iron castings, each weighing 280 kg. The wolf pack is an allegory of nature’s response to the ravages and predatory behaviour of man towards the environment. They will there until November 2nd.

The area between Palazzo Pitti and Santo Spirito is developing as an interesting area with new shops and a younger dynamic. We found some quirky graffiti.

There are also lots of antique shops and stunning buildings.

This one had its own bat as well as a beautiful facade.



Walking back across the river this scene presented itself in front of the Uffizzi Gallery.

The copy of David stands in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.


Neptune’s fountain beside it has been recently cleaned and Neptune is sparkling again.


Cosimo I de’Medici keeps watch over the Piazza Signoria, and has been since 1594.

 

A great place to stop for lunch or a cool drink is the terrace cafe at the top of the department store, Rinascente, on the edge of Piazza Republica. There are excellent views of the rooftops of Florence.

 


In nearby Borgo Santi Apostoli is this well stocked shop. If they don’t sell it perhaps you don’t need it.

 


Tucked away in a quiet spot near the Uffizzi is this sculpture on the side of a building. It is near the old Olive Tree of Peace, planted to commemorate the mafia bomb blast in 1993, which killed 5 people. See more here…A walking tour in Florence

 

Back at the Duomo I pointed out to my friend some of the little known aspects on the exterior, including the laughing ox, which coincidentally has been featured in this month’s Italy magazine. I discovered it in a book called Secret Florence, which is full of wonderful things to discover. See the post I wrote previously. Secret Florence


On our second evening we dined at the Cantinetta Antinori on the ground floor of the Palazzo Antinori in Via Tornabuoni. 27 generations of the family have lived in this palazzo and their vineyards have produced wine for centuries. The setting is lovely and the food and wine were excellent.

I always stay at Hotel Scoti in Via Tornabuoni. It is run by Doreen and her family and is a little home away from home. The communal rooms are covered in lovely frescoes and its central location makes for a great stay.

Hotel Scoti…http://www.hotelscoti.it

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 2, 2020

Caffe Gilli is open in Florence

The elegant Caffe Gilli in Florence is open again after being closed for 6 months due to Covid restrictions. This happy smile greeted us when we went for morning coffee and delicious pastry.


Caffe Gilli is the oldest cafe in Florence. It began 270 years ago as a pastry shop near the Duomo. In the mid 1800s it moved to Via degli Speziali and from there to its current location in Piazza della Repubblica, the heart of Florence.

It makes my heart sing to walk into this beautiful place and be served excellent coffee and treats.




The charming man with the smile told us the cafe closed for 6 months because of its size. They employ 60 people and it would not have been practical to keep such a large place open with strict restrictions keeping many people away from Florence. It has been a very difficult time for Italy. I hope things continue to get better.

Caffe Gilli is my favourite cafe in Florence, the first place it head for when I arrive. I like to stand at the bar and pretend I am a local, but there is a lovely room where you can sit for a more leisurely experience and a glass covered area in the piazza for restaurant service.

 

Caffe Gillihttp://www.caffegilli.com

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 30, 2020

Siena…again

I love Siena, it is one of my favourite cities in Italy. I went there a few weeks ago and stayed for 2 nights. The days here have been very hot, so I like to get out early, retreat to the hotel in the heat of the afternoon and venture out again in the evening.

This summer there are not a lot of tourists about, so wandering the streets is a pleasure, not an obstacle course. I feel for all of the traders, who are suffering badly because of travel restrictions. I spoke to a couple who told me the lack of visitors is devastating. There is no end in sight for this. It will probably be next summer before things improve.

I chose Hotel Duomo to stay in. They promised a view of the duomo from my room…here it is.

A bonus was the campanile in the Campo.


…and at night.


Wandering the streets offers peeks of gorgeous rooftops between buildings.


I love the decorative torch holders and places to tie your horse or donkey. Some are jaunty, the artists clearly had a sense of humour.

 

I came upon some young boys learning the fine art of flag throwing…one of the things I love to watch in the many festivals in a Italy.


There are delights at every turn in Siena. Your eyes need to be everywhere.

The Campo is one of the best piazzas in all of Italy. My main reason for the return visit was to sit here and watch the sun go down. The colour of the sky above the buildings is spectacular.

I had dinner on my first night on the edge of the Campo and stayed for hours.


The other night I ate at a restaurant that was recommended to me…Numero Unico on Via di Citta. It was excellent. I wanted the pecorino tart to last forever and the semifreddo with panforte was heavenly.

The Duomo was offering free admission, but I would happily pay the usual €10 to visit this magnificent church.

From now until October the mosaic floors are uncovered. I went last year to see this. Click the link to see the post I wrote. Siena revisited

I drove to Siena and parked at the railway station car park. It costs €2 per day…what a bargain! There is a local bus to take you up the hill to the city centre for €1.

Hotel Duomo…http://www.hotelduomo.it

Ristorante Numero Unico…http://www.ristorantenumerounico.it

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 21, 2020

Pistoia revisited

I love Pistoia! It is an easy day trip from Bagni di Lucca, but the hot weather puts me off doing this. I prefer to stay overnight so I can get out and about in the morning, go back to the hotel in the heat of the afternoon, then venture out again when it cools down a bit.

One of the very best things about Pistoia is my lovely friend Michela. She was born in Pistoia and absolutely loves her home town. She is a fabulous tour guide and has shown me many of her favourite things.

This time we met in front of the Romanesque church dedicated to San Bartolomeo, dating from the 8th century, with renovations in the 12th century. It is almost time for the festival honouring the saint.

In front of the church is the Pasticceria Banci where Michela introduced me to the special sweet made for the celebrations.

 


As well as being a professional tour guide, Michela’s family has owned their restaurant, Il Pollo D’Oro, since 1962. The name, Golden Chicken, refers to the chicken ‘tanned’ in a rotisserie, which is how the restaurant began. They now serve excellent local dishes and delicious pizzas.

Michela and I have made plans for a day in Florence when the weather cools a little. This will be fun, she knows Florence like the back of her hand and is wonderful company.

My wanderings took me all over town. I have been several times before, so I had no particular agenda.

 


The baptistery is magnificent outside and in. The stark interior is enormous, photos cannot show how amazing this is…you have to go there and see for yourself.

 

My favourite building in Pistoia is the 13th century Ospedale del Ceppo. It was built in 1277 and became the city’s main hospital after the Black Death in 1348. There were several renovations until the current facade was built with the Renaissance arcaded loggia in 1502.

 

The loggia is decorated with a ceramic glaze frieze added in 1525 by Santi Buglioni, a student of Giovanni della Robbia.

 


Also from 1525 are the tondoes by Giovanni della Robbia.

…and above the door to the church next door.


The city looks lovely at night.

 



The Piazza della Sala is a fresh food market by day, but at night the market stalls are gone and the restaurants bring out their tables and chairs and the scene becomes lively again. Things are a bit muted this year, but there was still a small crowd of happy diners.

I had a wonderful meal at i Salaioli. Tomato stuffed with stracciatella, gnocchi with saffron and zucchini and perfect pork belly.

I stayed at Palazzo Puccini, sister accommodation to where I stayed last time, La Locanda San Marco. They also have apartments called Il Ceppo.

My bedroom was enormous and the bathroom was a generous size also.

The breakfast room and common rooms are beautiful. I always want to go home and paint my walls and ceilings after staying in lovely places like this.

http://www.lsmpistoia.it

Here is a photo of Michela that I took a while ago in front of my favourite cafe in Pistoia, regretfully closed for holidays this time. Below is a link to Michela’s blog.

http://www.passion4food4fashion.com

Here are some links to previous posts about Pistoia.

I want to live in Pistoia

 

Picturesque Pistoia

 

Pole dancing in Pistoia

 

Pistoia is a great place to visit. It is close to Florence, but even in busy seasons has been able to avoid the throngs of tourists and is always charming and manageable. It would be a great day trip if you were staying in Florence or Lucca, or better still, stay a night or two.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 16, 2020

Tiny Tellaro

On the way home from my recent visit to Lerici I stopped at the nearby town of Tellaro.

 

The town centre is limited zone, which means no driving in, so I found a park above the centre and walked down.

The main piazza was almost empty when I arrived. COVID 19 has severely affected tourism this summer in Italy. This little square should be bustling at this time of the year.


After a coffee at the cafe I walked down this narrow street on my way to the water’s edge.

I went through an arched portal into what looked like the entrance to a castle or fort.

But it was another narrow street.


Through another arched entrance the path became even more narrow.

…until I came to the water’s edge.

The tiny harbour is gorgeous and the water looked clear and welcoming on a hot day.

On the edge of the water is a tunnel, the Soto-ria gallery, with an 18th century wrought iron gate.  The tunnel is 70 metres long and 2.20 metres wide. It is what remains of the covered curtain built in the 14th century by the residents as part of the defence system against the Saracen invasions.


The Piazza della Marina, together with the small piazza beside it has always had an important role in the Tellaro community. It is where all the local feasts and meetings are held and where the residents keep their boats. The Festival of Saint George was held here as well as the Festival of St Anthony when people brought their animals, sheep, donkeys, mules, pigs and poultry to be blessed.

There are great views across the water to the towns an villages clinging to the rocky edge of the sea in the Gulf of La Spezia.


This little cactus garden appealed to me on my walk up the hill to the top of the town.

Then another walk past pretty gardens to get to my car.

Tellaro is a lovely village, worthy of a return visit.

It would be fun to see the Sagra del Polpo, Festival of the Octopus. It celebrates a giant octopus who apparently saved the town from a Saracen pirate attack in the Middle Ages. The pirate Gallo d’Arenzano chose a night of a storm to attack the town. The guard in the tower was asleep, but the giant octopus climbed up the church tower and rang the bell, alerting the sleeping residents.

The festival, where you can eat octopus cooked in all manner of ways, usually takes place on the second Sunday of August. That seems an odd way to celebrate octopus. Maybe they should free captured octopus and send them back to the sea, but I’m sure it is a fun event. It was cancelled this year, another casualty of this wretched virus that is ruining so many things.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 7, 2020

A quick visit to Casa Debbio

My first guests of the season, who have been at Casa Debbio for 8 weeks, left yesterday and I had more people arriving today so I got to visit the house to do the change over. Between washing, ironing, cleaning and watering the garden I got to see my garden for the first time in high summer.

The lavender is huge! Filippo told me it has lost colour in the last couple of weeks because of the extreme heat. He said it was also standing up a bit straighter then too. I think it looks great, thanks to his loving care.


The fragrance is divine and it is full of happy bees.

 

The lavender on the driveway brushes the car as you drive through.


The hydrangeas behind the house have finished but the oak leaf hydrangea in the driveway is still flowering.


This blurry photo is one of the new ones on the driveway. I am very happy with the progress.

The view from the front door over Vergemoli always makes me happy.


Evening at Casa Debbio is glorious, especially when Sisto plays his music. He had his tango set on last night.

 


Here is the same scene this morning as the sun began to shine on Vergemoli below.

…and in the middle of the day. Could it be any lovelier?

 


The little vegetable garden is guarded by our scarecrow. She is not great. We got no raspberries because the goats ate them, but we do have a few tomatoes, egg plant, rocket, parsley and zucchini. The gooseberries did well but have all been eaten.

 

 

The garden bed has had a rough trot. The wild animals won’t leave it alone. It has been chewed, climbed on, dug into and generally been treated as a feed trough. It will need a rethink next year.


Some of the roses are still blooming.

 

Some of the pear trees are laden with fruit and there are plums. Filippo is watering the fig trees because he knows I love them. They should be ripe in a few weeks. I didn’t have time to climb up and down the terraces to look at the fruit trees, maybe next time. I saw 2 deer and a squirrel on the way out…there goes some more garden.

I will be back next week, even more briefly, for the next changeover. Then after that I am hoping it will be all mine for a while…can’t wait.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 3, 2020

The rolling hills of Tuscany

Every time we come to Italy we take a drive from Siena to Asciano and then on to Pienza or Montalcino just so that we can enjoy the gorgeous Tuscan scenery. I have done the drive in spring and autumn but never in summer. This year is the first time I have been in Italy in July and August so I decided to take a look.

Siena is in the background of the first photo.




The hills look quite different without their green cover. Summer has its charms, but it is difficult to beat spring. Click the links for some spring posts.

Sleepy sheep, Chianti style

Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta…again

Blood in the hills

Drive through a postcard to Asciano

I called into Pienza for lunch and to buy some delicious pecorino cheese that the area is famous for. Come for a walk through this lovely town.

 




Here is a post I did many years ago.  Perfect Pienza

I think it is time for a longer stay, maybe in nearby San Quirico d’Orcia as well. Sensational San Quirico

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 27, 2020

A concert at Villa Reale

Villa Reale is a stunning Villa and garden just outside Lucca. It became the home of Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister. She lived on the estate during the years she was Princess of Lucca and Piombino.

Previous owners, Oliviero and Lelio Orsetti, extend the original castle dating from 1517 and added the Clock House and the Green Theatre in the 17th century. Elisa purchased the complex in 1806 and acquired the adjacent villa, transformed the estate and redesigned the garden, turning it into an opulent villa once again.

It passed through several owners and various states of disrepair until it was bought by a young Swiss couple in 2015. They are bringing it back to its former glory and share it with the public. Both the house and garden can be visited for an entrance fee.

The house is impressive.

The gardens are exquisite.

The Green Theatre is the oldest in Europe.


The Clock House has an unusual 6 hour clock.


We attended a wonderful concert held in the lemon house…what a delightful way to spend an afternoon. Thank you to my friends who organised the day.

http://www.villarealedimarlia.it 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 21, 2020

Lido di Camaiore, a day at the beach

Being in Italy in summer is new for me. I am usually back in Australia at this time of the year. Because of the virus that is creating havoc all over the world I thought it better to stay here rather than travel half way around the world.

I thought another beach visit was in order so I decided to visit a friend who has a lovely family run hotel in Lido di Camaiore, about an hour from Bagni di Lucca on the Versilia Coast.

The town has 4 kilometres of sandy beach and an excellent promenade lined with shops, gelaterias, restaurants and bars. It would be a fun place to be in the evening at passeggiata time when everyone is out for a stroll.

 

There were even some waves at the beach.



As well as the long promenade, there is the Pontile Bellavista Vittoria, a long pier jutting out into the water. I took a walk to take in the views of the sea and the stunning mountains that form a dramatic backdrop for the town. It has a 2 level observation deck and a bar where you can relax and enjoy a cool drink on a hot day.

 


There are free places on the beach where you don’t have to rent and umbrella and a sunbed, but I have to admit that some of the concession beaches looked like mini resorts.

 

This one had a great garden with the biggest hibiscus I have ever seen.



I stopped at one to have lunch beside the beach. You could come in your swimsuit and sit with your feet in the sand. One of my favourite things to eat in Italy is pasta with vongole (small clams). This one was excellent as was the fritta mista that followed.


Lido di Camaiore would be a good place to base yourself for a beach holiday. As well as the beach and water sports there are lots of options. There is a bike path that will take you south to Viareggio or north to Forte dei Marmi and further on to other resorts. Cinque Terre and Portofino are close by and can be reached by car or boat.

The wonderful Apuan Alps have walking trails to explore, horse riding, mountain biking or the marble excavations around Carrara. The lovely towns Lucca and Pisa are also close by for an easy day trip. I think you would need a week to make the most of it.

The town also has regular art exhibits, concerts and lots of festivals, maybe not this summer, but they will be back as soon as possible.

 

If you do visit Lido di Camaiore, Hotel Fortunella is a great place to stay. It is family owned, friendly and close to the beach, but far enough back to be quiet and relaxed. As well as regular rooms they have a Villa option where can rent the whole space. It is bright and new and I could happily stay a while.

They were going to turn their garden into a pool and restaurant area, but plans have been put on hold this year…maybe it will be ready for next summer.


Everyone is hoping for a better season next year.

http://www.hotelfortunella.it

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