Travelling around Tuscany

Hi there Alex,

How’re you doing? You must be immersed in your law school projects and presentations. Well, take a break while I tell you my news!! I’m going to offer you a chance to see the sights and taste the flavors of Tuscany, Italy, sitting right there in the U S of A. Now, how about that?

I’ve been recording in my journal all of my impressions of this beautiful country, and I’ve decided to put them down in letters to you as I travel along. There really are so many new things to see and experience, it is almost 'sensory overload'!

The airport actually surprised me.. I dont know what i expected really, though arriving at Vespucci Airport in Florence was a pleasant experience. It is as modern and convenient a terminal as you’d find anywhere in the States. I was out of there and in my rental car in about 30 minutes. A record for me!

Florence is just awesome! It was like walking back through time yesterday wandering around the city. It’s so characteristic and literally soaked in history. The river Arno runs through it and its nestled among the quaint hilltowns and vineyards of the chianti countryside. Florence is the capital of the region of Tuscany, where craft and culture live happily side-by-side with industry and commerce. Apart from air-links and two major airports, it is well connected by road and rail to other parts of Italy. The trains go down to Siena, Lucca, Pisa and lots of other places , which will be great for me if I decide to nottake the car anywhere but live like a local!

I really didnt have toomuch time to do more than gather fleeting impressions of this beautiful city, which was home to so many giants in the world of art – painting, sculpture, architecture and literature. As I passed through the city, I felt almost giddy when I remembered that Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Petrarch, Boccacio, Dante and Machiavelli had all passed through the same places at one time or another, though the sights they saw must of course have been very different from those I was seeing.

I left Florence to be explored later, and made straight for Lastra a Signa, a medieval town, just about 13 km from the heart of Florence. It’s an easy journey by car along the highway connecting Florence with Pisa and Livorno, but it can also be reached by coach or city bus service and even by train in 15 minutes .

I read up a bit on Lastra a Signa on my way there on the train. The term ‘Lastra’ means slab, and the place takes part of its name from the sandstone quarried from surrounding areas. In fact, the Municipality’s coat of arms depicts the traditional tools of the stonecutter and quarryman. It was originally called Lastra a Gaulandi after the local nobility, and the town has a history dating as far back as the Etruscan period. It is strategically located on the left bank of the Arno, near its confluence with the Vignone stream. It started as a resting place and market village along the route from Florence to Pisa in the Middle Ages. The main town today lies in the valley, along the river, but the green hills surrounding it are of both historical and scenic significance.

The walls of Lastra a Signa were built in the 15th century, and are still more or less intact. The great Filippo Brunelleschi was believed to be involved in the construction of these walls, which still retain long galleries buttressed by corbels. Two of the three original gates to the city still exist – they are the Porta Pisana and the Baccio, which have been restored.

I reached the Signa train station and started off on my easy walk to the Villa Lunetta apartment where I will be staying for the next week. I was amazed when I got here- it is fantastic!! It is an incredible apartment lcoated in the main villa ,complete with frescoes, original artwork and a private terrace looking over the villa's italian gardens. The villa is situated on a magnificent estate which includes a private forest, vineyards and olive groves that yield some fantastic wine and extra virgin olive oil. The owners also told me that the woods behind the estate have wildboar. Don’t you wish you were here with me?

The apartment can accommodate five people, though on the estate they have other cottages and farmhouses for up to about 40 people I believe. They even do weddings here which would be so romantic. It's foundations were laid in the 1200’s and its notable features include 10m high ceilings, fabulous frescoes, gold-gilded mirrors and terracotta floors .It has two bedrooms, a kitchen and dining facilities for six, a loggia and looks onto the renaissance garden of lemon trees. There is also a lovely pool where I spent my day yestarday in the sun overlooking the olive grove.

I was really amazed to learn that the villa had once played host to Napoleon Bonaparte and King Charles VIII of France. Its incredible how close we are here to Florence though it is unbelievably calm and quiet and really feels like we are in the middle of the Tuscan countryside. It was all completely restored five years ago. I think my sister would love this place for her wedding next year, I cant wait to send her the photos.

There is so much to do in this area, and after going down to the local tourist office I plan to go to the hamlet of Artimino to see the medici villa and the etruscan museum and their tombs, then visit the antique markets, locally here there is also the Spedale of Sant’Antonio, the Tabernacle of the Podestà and the Podestà Palace. The Spedale was built by the Arte della Seta or Silk Guild of Florence in the 15th century for the use of travelers and has a loggia with seven arches on octagonal pilasters. The Tabernacle of the Podestà is famous for a 16th century fresco of the Madonna with Child and St. John the Baptist and St. Francis. The Podestà Palace also has valuable frescos. A villa that belonged to the famous tenor Caruso is also close by and apparently a short walk through the forest.

I’m told that the trekking and horse-riding facilities are also particularly good, and plan to try both if I have time. Yesterday while I was sitting on the terrace reading my Travel Guide I smelt the most fabulous aroma's. The owner of the villa told me that they also have cooking classes in the galley kitchen so that is something that I am definitely going to do before I leave. Mum wont believe it if I come back home making fresh pasta and tiramisu!!

I’ll sign off with something that’ll set your stomach rumbling – I had the most delicious T-bone steak at a little restaurant called Antica Trattoria Sanesi. Located in the little nearby village of Lastra Signa, it looked modest, even inconspicuous from outside, but what a surprise I got when I went in. It was absolutely packed, and there were more than a couple of groups of Americans.

I’d been told that the place is famous for its Bistecca alla Florentina, some rating it as the best in the world, so of course I ordered it. It came topped with a great porcino mushroom cap, and was every bit as good as its reputation.

The word Bistecca is derived from the English “beef steak” and the Bistecca alla Florentina is a porterhouse cut believed to have been introduced to the region by wealthy English residents in the 1800s. The Bistecca alla Florentina is made from the meat of the Vacca Chianina (pronounced Kee-a-nee-na), a large white breed of cattle that takes its name from the Chiana valley and was originally raised in this region for agricultural work and also to pull carts. But it was found to yield wonderfully tasty and tender meat, and is now valued for this attribute. The people of Florence consider the Bistecca alla Florentina one of the highest expressions of Tuscan gastronomical achievement, and, after eating my fill at the Trattoria Sanesi, I agree with them. By the way, the Trattoria Sanesi also serves crostini, pasta and truffles.

After that succulent steak, accompanied by some excellent wine, and all that wonderful fresh air, I find I can’t keep my eyes open. Luckily I walked home from the restaurant as it gave me some more energy to write you this letter!

Hope you enjoyed this first installment of my 'Travels in Tuscany'. I’ll keep you posted on further adventures which no doubt will start as soon asmy eyes open tomorrow......

Ciao,
Philip ( aka Fillipo)

 

Cooking School in Tuscany

If you like to cook or just love food , we support a cooking class close to Florence due to the great quality, friendliness of the chefs and the incredible response we have had from the people who have attended the classes.

The cooking class is called “Good Tastes of Tuscany “ and the classes are held in the magnificent kitchen of a 14th century castle . The classes involve hands on fresh pasta making , the tricks to the tuscan cooking techniques and a vast menu even for the basic classes from antipasto to desert.

You'll cook together with the Chef and you'll eat what you prepared all together following the class. A full meal is served so you can relax and savour your efforts making new friends , having a laugh over a glass of wine and experiencing the tuscan lifestyle of times gone by.

The classes are run by 2 italian english speaking chefs.

One of the chefs learnt by the most important teachers ; her family. The traditional Italian housewife that takes care of the house was the center of everything in a home and also for entertaining. The chef was taught by her grandmother and mother the skill of true Tuscan cooking and later through many courses and a catering business.

Another chef began as a restaurant owner in Florence and then expanded his knowledge through the most noted italian courses for professionals . They also have a indepth knowledge on the history of Tuscan cuisine, the variety of dishes from each area and seasons.

They are both warm , passionate and friendly people and very eager to please , when I have commented to them about the satisfaction of the attendees they responed “ we just love people and what we do so much that this obviously transmits to the clients”.

You can obtain information about the classes and also costs from the website:
www.tuscany-cooking-class.com

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