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.

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.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 10, 2019

Neptune shines again

The magnificent Neptune Fountain in Piazza Signoria in Florence is on full view again after being covered for restoration for 2 years. The restoration project costing €1.5 million was funded by Salvatore Ferragamo.

The first public fountain in Florence, it was commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici in 1559 after a competition to chose a design. Baccio Bandinelli was chosen as the winner but he died before the work began. Bartolommeo Ammannato took over the project. The 4.2 metre Neptune stands high above all else in the middle of the fountain. It is said that his face resembles that of Cosimo I de Medici.

The central part of the fountain with Neptune on a pedestal with the mythical figures of Scylla and Charybdis was completed in 1565 in time for the wedding of Francesco I de Medici and the Grand Duchess Giovanni d’Austria. The basin surrounding Neptune, decorated with bronze nymphs, fauns, satyrs and marble seahorses took another 10 years.

Neptune Florence

Neptune is made from white Carrara marble and was sarcastically called Biancone, white giant, when he first appeared. The one on show now is a copy made in the 1800s. The original is in the National Museum.

The detail in the sculptures is now easy to see. The inner workings have been renovated too and water flows in the fountain for the first time in years.

Cosimo I de Medici sits calmly on his horse beside Neptune. This statue was commissioned by Cosimo’s son, Ferdinando I de Medici in 1594.

The work continues with workers concentrating on cleaning.

Piazza Signoria is the beautiful heart of Florence and the restored fountain is makes it even better.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 8, 2019

Amazing Lucca

Meet Federica and Alessandro. They have started an exciting business in Lucca called Amazing Lucca. They organise and lead historical and adventure tours in the Lucca area.

Amazing Lucca

They can take you to Renaissance villas, medieval churches, stunning countryside, vineyards, glorious mountains and much more. On foot, mountain bike, or E bike you can discover secret places off the beaten track with people who know the area.

Meet locals and taste the local produce of this incredible land. Trudge or ride up rugged mountains and find hidden streams, enchanted forests and breathtaking landscapes. Federica and Alessandro will guide you to spectacular places.

I met them recently in the lovely rural village where they live.

Amazing Lucca

Amazing Lucca

They are planning local stays with Italian cooking lessons. Afternoons could be spent foraging in local fields for wild food which will then become the ingredients for dinner…what fun!

Please share this with anyone you think would be interested in getting to know the Lucca area with Federica and Alessandro.

Amazing Lucca

Federica……..(39) 338 7901829

Alessandro….(39) 3402798654

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 5, 2019

Flowers on the wall

Every year in early April there is a wonderful plant expo on the wall of Lucca, Verdemura. We go each year in search of some interesting plants for our garden and we find them. Most of our plants come from local nurseries which are excellent, but at Verdemura we find more unusual things.

This year Verdemura is being held on Baluardo San Donato and Baluardo Santa Croce and the wall in between. There is an entrance near Porta Santa Anna, one at Castello San Donato and near Baluardo Santa Croce. You can pick up a trolley at each end. (You will need to leave identification)

Verdemura 2019

Verdemura 2019

Today we found some gorgeous peonies, lupins, a black raspberry some stunning poppies and bleeding hearts.

There is also food and some great products.

Verdemura 2019

Verdemura 2019

Verdemura 2019

Verdemura 2019


Entry costs €7 and €4 for concessions. Verdemura is open tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. Tomorrow from 9.30 – 19.00. Sunday 9.30 – 19.00. Last tickets sold at 18.00.

Read More…

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 2, 2019

Portofino revisited

It has been several years since our last visit to Portofino, a fishing village and holiday resort on the Italian Riviera, so we decided to return.

Last autumn a terrifying storm hit the area and part of the road into Portofino from Santa Margherita Ligure was destroyed. It is still being repaired so we took the 15 minute boat ride from the pier in Santa Margherita.

Arriving in Portofino by boat is an excellent way of doing things. It is a tiny harbour with a semicircle of gorgeous colourful buildings. We even managed some blue sky after a cloudy start.









I spotted this interesting relief above one of the churches near the harbour.

…and this above an old door.


It doesn’t take long to wander around the harbour, so a short walk up the hill behind the village was in order.

From the path is an excellent view of 16th century Castello Brown. The 1922 novel Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim was inspired by the author’s stay there. A film of the same name was filmed in the Castello in 1991. I recommend both the novel and the film.


There is a pretty church at the top of the path with a kind face watching from beside it.

The view of the harbour from the top is worth the walk.


We enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch at La Gritta.

The open air gallery was not open, but some of the exhibits can be seen from below and above.



The boat sailed past an enormous yacht and some spectacular houses on its way in and out of Portofino.






Many of the businesses along the water’s edge were damaged in the storm last year, but most are well on the way to being ready for the season. We were informed that the road will open this Sunday, 7th April. I’m sure things will be back to normal soon.

The road in to Portofino is narrow and there isn’t a great deal of parking in the town, so the boat from Santa Margherita Ligure is a good idea. Tickets cost €12 return and can be bought on the pier from where the boat leaves.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 29, 2019

Fico, Eataly World

Just outside Bologna, FICO is the world’s largest food park. Food from all over Italy is on display in a huge 100,000 square metre area that used to be a wholesale market in the 1980s.


Helpfully, FICO has installed a selfie platform in front of the sign.

The complex took 4 years to complete, cost €120 million, and works with more than 150 Italian companies. It was opened in November 2017.

The entrance has a wall of apples, along with a sign asking you not to take them. The sign above the entrance informs us that there are 1200 varieties of apples in Europe, 1000 of which are in Italy.



Inside there is an amazing display of producers, offering people of all ages classes in the history of food, the relationship between humans and nature and the importance of eating well.





There are 45 eateries all with visible kitchens, many offering hands on involvement with visitors. There are pizza and pasta making classes among other things.





There is a farm area with animals.


It was a bit cold and too early in the season to wander in the crop growing area…another day.

Most of all there is food, glorious food, starting with the delicious Napolitana pizza we had for lunch.


It was a tough choice with so much to choose from.



There is a beach volley ball court and other sporting activities. You can ride bikes around the space.


Of course wine regions are covered well.


There is Italian cookware and homewares.


When FICO opened there was quite a lot of negative press. Many people felt that it was the IKEA of Italian food. I can understand this. I would rather wander in the gorgeous market streets in Bologna, Florence or countless other towns and villages, but I spend 6 months each year in Italy and have time to do this. Not everyone does.

Eataly World offers a very well presented overview of wonderful Italian produce, a great place to gather information. I found many brands I recognised and lots of new ones.

We saw people of all nationalities there, mostly Italians. There were lots of school groups, very young children to high school students. I don’t know whether is achieving its goal of 10,000 people a day, but it was certainly popular the day we visited. We arrived early, before it became busy, which is when most of these photos were taken, but by the time we left mid afternoon most of the eateries were full.

We took the shuttle bus from Bologna to Fico. The bus stop is opposite Central Station. We finally found the bus stop and then had to find a place to buy bus tickets. A very helpful man at the Tabacchi behind the gelateria nearby sold us our return tickets (€7 each) and made sure we knew where to catch the bus.


Buses leave every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour and take 20 minutes to get to Fico.


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