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
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 .
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: