Archive | June, 2013

Casale della Torre

28 Jun

This is the story of how a casual hello turned into a magical evening and more. Are people we don’t know truly strangers, or just not yet friends? Such was the case with a couple we met at a local cafe.

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Almost every day, Len and I stop at Torreone, about two miles into our morning walk. That morning, we said buongiorno to a couple enjoying the view as they sipped their cappuccino. We talked a bit and discovered we were all Cortona repeaters, they more than we. Over the next few days, and in several locations in and outside of Cortona, we bumped into each other and met new members of their expanding group. Each time, we’d visit a little longer and wonder where our next encounter might be.

Larry and Carrol were staying at Casale della Torre, an agriturismo in Cortona.

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Being “city” people, Len and I had never stayed in one or even visited one, although we knew many people loved them, as did our new friends. They had become close to the agriturismo’s owners, who one night per week, prepare a family feast for them. And one morning, Carrol and Larry graciously invited us to join them.

Len and I cherish opportunities to experience life with locals, and we knew this invitation would be just that. But we couldn’t have imagined just how magical the evening would be as Larry and Carrol started the dinner with a toast to all.

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Casale della Torre is proudly owned and operated by Lapo and Paola Salvadori on land that has been in their family for generations (www.casaledellatorre.com).

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Their daughters, Ilaria and Laura, were also on hand to help with dinner and join in the festivities. As Lapo poured his own bottled wine,

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Paola was busy in the kitchen. First up, fresh porcini mushrooms.

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She explained that there are two recipes, but she only uses the one passed on by her mother. Lucky for us!

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These were served with various bruschette, all toppings freshly made in the kitchen.

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During the day, Lapo had taught the house guests how to make cheese, including ricotta which is used to fill their  ravioli as well as for dessert.

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Their cellar is filled with what they grow and make, and the products are used in the special meals they prepare.IMG_0006

Next up, homemade ravioli for primo. And yes, the tomatoes are as rich as they look.

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Add the homemade ravioli and a touch of freshly grated cheese, and smiles abound!

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IMG_0024The weather dictated that the dinner be moved inside to their cantina, the lower level of one of the houses, and a perfect setting for a family gathering.

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The secondi, or second course, included stuffed tomatoes,

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rabbit (I ate it and it was delicious!)

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and lamb, sorry no picture.

In between courses, Lapo entertained with a variety of music and dancing,

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and at one point, called us all outside to see a 180° rainbow! The rainbow and picture are real. So very Lapo!

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Not wanting dinner to get cold, Paola loudly called out in English “Hey, movie star!” and Lapo answers quickly.

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We learned that Lapo is a man of many talents, and “movie star” refers to his several appearances in Under the Tuscan Sun. Next time you see the movie, look for him as he appears in several scenes throughout. Here’s a photo of him with the lady who wades in the fountain,

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and here he is with Diane Lane and the producer.IMG_0047

But back to dinner. Once the food was served, Paola and her daughters joined the table and toasts were made. We talked and laughed so hard, tears were flowing. And of course, true to a great skill in our Italian culture, everyone was talking yet listening at once. Dinner was delicious…a tribute to Paola and her skill in the cucina!

Dessert consisted of the fresh ricotta made that day with two homemade marmellatas, fig and berry, and biscotti.

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Then some “surprising” entertainment. Some of the men donned “Renaissance” costumes and presented limoncello along with Lapo’s Vino Santo, a dessert wine served after dinner. Suffice it to say, you had to be there. I’m so happy we were!

It is easy to see that Paola and Lapo are hard-working entrepreneurs who understand how to make a living as well as a life off the fertile Italian soil.  They have raised two intelligent, well-educated daughters, operate a successful agriturismo, run a sheep farm, make wine and olive oil, grow and can fruits and vegetables, pass on their skills by teaching others, and most of all, share themselves and the love of  their culture with those fortunate enough to meet them. Carrol and Larry happened upon them by chance some years ago, and their families have forever bonded. And because of their relationship, Len and I had the opportunity to become part of their extended family this very special evening.

To Carrol and Larry, Paola and Lapo, our heartfelt thanks for an evening we will always treasure!

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To our new friends –  such great memories!

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All night long, conversations flowed easily in Italian and English around a dinner table with a 50 year age span. This is truly life at its best. And for us, participating in local Italian culture is another check on our bucket list.

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If we have learned one thing as travelers, it is to never underestimate the power of a simple hello. Magical!

Ciao,

Judy

Foods of Tuscany

25 Jun

Be it simple or spectacular, the food in Cortona always pleases. Whether eating in a bar, a trattoria, or a restaurant, the ingredients are fresh and used in an array of creative dishes.

From salumi to steak

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From formaggio to fondue

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From panini (or bruschette) to pizza

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From pasta to pasta to pasta

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And for dessert, from gelato to gastronomic

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End with a touch of espresso and some food for thought:

Anonymous:
La cucina di un popolo è la sola esatta testimonianza della sua civiltà.
(The cuisine of a country is the only exact attestation of its civilization.)

Virginia Wolf:
Uno non può pensare bene, amare bene, dormire bene, se non ha mangiato bene.
(One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one hasn’t eaten well.)

A toast to good eating!

Ciao,

Judy

Tuscher Caffé

22 Jun

One of our very favorite places in Cortona is Tuscher Caffé. The setting, food, ambiance, creativity, and especially the owners, make Tuscher a must when you visit Cortona. The beautiful caffé is open every day from 9-9, except Monday, serving delicious breakfast and lunch. In the evening, they serve drinks and very creative complimentary “happy hour”  hors d’oeuvres.

Massimo and Daniela, the proprietors, are among the hardest working people in Cortona. Most evident is their passion to preserve Italian fine culture in everything they do, as they make your visit most memorable. Just this week, as we were having lunch, three visiting American fine arts musicians entered and sat at the table next to us. As they looked around the beautiful two-story palace which houses the caffé, we heard one say, “Ah, la dolce vita!” We certainly agree.

Tuscher Caffé, www.caffetuschercortona.com, opened in 2003 in the beautiful Palazzo Ferretti on Via Nazionale. Massimo and Daniela named it after the building’s architect, Carl Marcus Tuscher, an architect and painter who worked in Italy from 1728-41. Seating is available inside and out in this international gathering place. In addition to having the good fortune to befriend the owners, we have met an array of interesting people from around the world, all who seem to have adopted Cortona as a second home.

Massimo, Daniela, sons Niccolo and Edoardo, and Lucky Luciano, the dog they found last year, are all on hand to make your visit memorable. See for yourself!  I’ve included a few photos from last year as well. (Touch bottom center of photos to progress at your own pace.)

Grazie, Massimo e Daniela, for your friendship and for sharing your wonderful Cortonese traditions with us.

Vi do un bacino, sempre!

Ciao,

Judy

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My Friend Patricia

21 Jun

Often in my winter month writing, I refer to my friend Patricia. We met two summers ago when I wandered into a leather shop in Cortona where she works. Through Patricia, I have learned a lot about what happens in Cortona during the winter when there are few tourists to be found. She has provided me pictures and stories that I am most grateful for, as well as great descriptions of holiday traditions that I have been able to share.

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Patricia came to Italy from the UK some 40 years ago as a student and never left. Just like the movies, she fell in love in Firenze and created a new life. Recently, Len and I had a most enjoyable lunch with her and her husband Massimo, a true Florentine. We shared personal stories and found that our lives parallel in several ways. This year has been particularly interesting for Len and me as we are spending more time with locals and learning more about their lives and culture.

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Since the day I met Patricia, she is the one I buy leather goods from. If you plan to be in Cortona, the shop is T-Nobile on Via Nazionale, not far from Piazza Republicca. Currently, she is there Tuesday-Friday.

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Stop by, ask for her by name, and tell her Judy sent you. I will only shop if she is there!

Ciao,

Judy

Valdichiana Sunsets

19 Jun

This year, Len and I have a detached salon, or summer room. It is a triangular room with a wall of windows, built upon the town wall, and separated from our house by a patio. (Windows across top are ours. Our house is to the right.)

IMG_0054We especially love to sit in the salon in the evening, share some Italian vino, recount the day’s events, and watch the entertainment over the valley.

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Who needs TV when we can watch moving cloud formations (no comment, Vince!), starlings, swallows, and sunsets. These are unedited pictures from last evening, from dusk to  sundown…

Sunset over Valdichiana

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A horse and chariot race, or ancient marathon?IMG_0002
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A dog spotting his island?IMG_0006
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And my favorite!

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From Cortona, sharing our sunsets and hoping you have time to watch your own!

Ciao,

Judy

Fall in Love in Cortona

18 Jun

IMG_0006Italy is a popular destination for weddings, and Cortona ranks second, behind Venice, as the city of choice. Not difficult to see, as this lovely Etruscan town offers an incredible historic and romantic setting. I have written about weddings in the past, including one local wedding where the bride and her father arrived at the church in a horse-drawn carriage and another, a military wedding at the Municipio. Lovely.

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This past weekend, wedding planners hosted the first annual Fall in Love in Cortona weekend. Festivities included a broad display in the park of everything needed for a destination wedding including clothes for the bride, groom, attendees, and children; table settings; floral arrangements; make-up; honeymoon locations; food service; bar service, etc. On Saturday night, a speed dating event took place in the piazza. On Sunday night, a fashion show graced the steps of the municipal building. Wonder if any of the speed daters bought a dress on Sunday???

Not sure why the planners felt the need to make the steps of the Municipio look like the Arizona desert, but they did. They were filled with palms, sand, large pieces of drift wood, etc. It took several men all day. Oh, well, not my choice but the bridal dresses were beautiful.

From the first annual Fall in Love in Cortona:

In the Park:

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Sunday Evening Fashion Show

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As the sign says:

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Get married in style! Why not Cortona?

Ciao,

Judy

Happy Father’s Day!

16 Jun

In Italy, Father’s Day is celebrated on the feast of St. Joseph in March. In Italian, the term for dad is babbo or papa.

In the U.S., of course, we celebrate this special day today. In honor of my Dad (RIP), my husband Len, my brother, brothers-in law, uncle and nephew, and all the other wonderful fathers I know, a very Happy Father’s Day to you!

After seeing all the vintage cars here, I asked Len which of the cars he would pick to drive away. His choice, based on overall style and condition, was the…

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It’s a BMW 327/28 from 1940, and it’s a beauty.

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Len, unfortunately it wasn’t for sale, but nonetheless, here’s to you… Abbracci!

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May your day be filled with sunshine and a top-down breeze!

Ciao,

Judy

2013 Carovana Romantica XXXII

15 Jun

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International Veteran Cars Rally

for enthusiasts only

reads the brochure. Hard not to be an enthusiast as cars from 1927-1965 paraded into Cortona, including various models of the following:

Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Lagonda, Invicta, Bentley, Hotchkiss, Alvis, Sunbeam, BMW

Jaguar SS 100 1939

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Alvis Speed 20, 1934

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Jaguar Xk 140 DHC 1956

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Bentley 4 1/2 litre, 1928

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Bentley 4 1/2 Le mans 1929

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And a bit extra on the 1929 Bentley for you gear heads from Len…

So, you want Active Suspension? Well, just get out of the car, grab your Crescent wrench, and adjust the spring tension straps.  Maybe active applies more to the driver than the suspension!

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Wow, five levels of suspension!   Maybe from hard to less hard?

There are four of these suspension straps to adjust (two on each side), so don’t plan on doing this in the rain.

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Check out the emergency brake below.  Keep in mind these babies had mechanical (cable) controlled brakes.  No brake fluid required! And, the deluxe model included a cool running board!

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So there you have it, an Etruscan piazza filled with vintage automobiles. Stay tuned tomorrow for Len’s best in class choice!

Ciao,

Judy

Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle, Cortona

12 Jun

The Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle, one of the most beautiful and spiritual places in Cortona, was built in the foothills of Monte S. Egidio in a natural gorge carved out by a stream.

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This hill-top monastery, a few miles from the center of Cortona, was founded in 1211 by St. Francis of Assisi and some of his followers. It was then they built the original nine “cells” providing the Hermitage with the name Le Celle ever since.

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When you enter the area, you are reminded of the nature of the holy space as well as encouraged to be open to all it has to offer.

Brothers and Sister, the presence of St. Francis of Assisi has sanctified this place…

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In 1226, a few months before his death, St. Francis dictated his will here. Brother Elia is credited with carrying out the details of the will and ensured that the Hermitage reflected all aspects of Franciscan life. It is believed he created the chapel, shown below, in front of the small “cell” where St. Francis lived for a few years. (Friar Chuck, thinking of you as we walked the grounds.)

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The door from the chapel to St. Francis’ cell is shown upper right.  His small cell, shown below, is just large enough for a bed (wooden plank far wall), a table and a chair, as prescribed by St. Francis himself.

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Over the years and after the death of Brother Elia, Le Celle had different religious occupants and was eventually abandoned. In 1537, however, the Capuchins, the Third Order of Franciscans, took over the facility. They enlarged the Hermitage and in 1634, erected a new chapel shown below, dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. The simple architecture of the chapel reflects the unpretentiousness of the Capuchins. The altar is made of wood and there are no paintings or decorations.

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Today, Le Celle is home to seven Capuchin Friars and offers lodging to those considering vocational life.

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The amazing structure is as serene as it is beautiful, especially in the early evening as the sun is setting over the valley.

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Because there has been so much rain this spring, this waterfall, usually dry in June, is running at full speed.

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Hoping that I learned enough from my brief iMovie lessons, I leave you with a few sights and sounds of Le Celle.

Ciao,

Judy

Giostra dell’Archidado 2013

10 Jun

Once again, and as repeated every year, the people of Cortona celebrate and reenact the 1397 wedding of Francesco Casali and Antonia Salimbeni. Over many days, and with great pomp and circumstance, they fill the piazzas with medieval markets, craft fairs, traditional food, medieval games, falconry, and various forms of entertainment including musicians, flag throwers, fire eaters and jesters. The more serious events include the celebration of Santa Margherita, Cortona’s patron saint; the wedding reenactment; and the crossbow competition. For the latter, five areas of Cortona, called quintiere, each have a team that competes. Last year, our neighbor Vincenzo and his team won. And this year, they repeated, so we were delighted.

Here are some of the sights and sounds of the weekend.

Flag throwers exhibition, one of many…

Participants…think Renaissance Fair, but serious!

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Spectators: not so serious!

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Best Hairdo!

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The Victors:

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The Victors’ Parade. (Note: as my neighbor Vincenzo approaches to give me a hug, video is affected!)

Another weekend in Cortona filled with history, passion and great fun!

Ciao, and Complimenti ai vincitori!

Judy

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