Month: October 2022

Why are people so quiet about you, Follonica? (28/05/2022)

Why are people so quiet about you, Follonica? (28/05/2022)

Back in October of last year, we took an inland route to get to Castiglione della Pescaia. On the way back to Volterra, we drove part of the way hom by the sea. Cresting over the top of a hill, we got a dynamite view of Follonica – it looked so lovely from above, and so we promised to return some day. We drove through some of its suburban areas to get to the E80 and home.

It only took us about 7 months to return! Anyway, we went by the quickest route (the aforementioned E80 from Cecina), and I think it only took us about 75 minutes to get there. I thought I had selected a nice free parking spot. It was free for sure, but sadly when walking out of the urban area, Google led us astray a little and took us too far south. I thought we’d have a 5 minute walk. It turned out to be 15-20 minutes. However, it turned out to be something of a happy accident, as we discovered the free beaches south of the main part of the city.

As we were fully dressed and had no beach gear with us, I can’t say what the water was like, but the sand was nice and golden! So, we continued farther north back towards town. There were houses right on the beach, between which we got more glimpses of free beaches. There seems to be an enormous stretch of such strands immediately south of Follonica’s main promenade – a tip for those of you who are tired of the Lido-life and don’t mind lugging your own gear. One thing negative to note is that you would have a bit of a walk to get to any beachside amenities.

Something that it puzzling to me is that I heard Tuscans extolling the virtues of Castiglioncello, Rosignano Solvay, Marina di Pisa (the south part anyway), the Gulf of Baratti, Marina di Cecina – but nobody ever mentioned Follonica. Does it have a bad reputation? Do they just want to keep it secret? I don’t know either way – comment if you do know, though! Maybe Italians just prefer beaches with all the gear ready for use.

Another thing we found, which we wouldn’t have had we paid for parking in the centre, is that Follonica has a Centro Storico (old town)! It’s far from medieval, but is maybe a couple of centuries old. There only seem to be a few blocks in it – so it’s small.

Soon after, we followed the road over and snaked around to the left to get our first view of the main promenade, before which lay yet another free stretch of beach.

There was a ton of free space on this beach, even though it was a Saturday and quite warm. We might come here next time we have a hankering for some sea. We then hit the beginning of the proper part of the promendade and went a little deeper into town, a little past one of the apartment buildings that towers over the rest of the city, and past that pierside building you can see in the distance above.

It was by now the middle of lunchtime, and we were starving. We took the opportunity of being in a bigger town and headed to an Asian restaurant, in our ongoing quest to find somewhere that serves decent stir-fries. We didn’t quite find it. We went here, and found a pleasantly familiar menu, with a few cantonese favourites – it was typically extensive. Like many Chinese restaurants in Italy, they do fried rice and steamed dumplings very well, but it all falls apart in the stir fries. The meat is cheap, the sauces seemingly flavoured with soy or salt – apart from the curries, which are barely passable. I don’t know why this is! It’s annoying and baffling! The veggies were nice and crunchy at least.

We didn’t want to eat too much as we knew we had a dinner date later that evening. The portion sizes are actually quite small, so that was good.

When done, we headed out to burn some additional calories along much of the promenade.

We stopped after about 500m, and it seemed to go on for at least another 5-700m. It was getting warm, so we stopped at a lively gelateria – Sogni Golosi (greedy dreams). On the way there, we passed by a tented area – the town was getting ready to party! I can’t remember the flavours I selected at the gelateria, but I do remember being hugely impressed. Definitely worth a go if you’re in town.

We wandered inland a bit in a rough direction back towards the our parking spot, and I once again was impressed by the centre’s pedestrian areas, packed full of eateries, shops and bars. It was quiet that day, but I can imagine it getting very busy in high-season.

We enjoyed a nice (if lengthy – thanks, Eoin!) walk back to the car, and took the same road home.

Below you can find a very short and shaky video of footage of our day out.

Needless to say, we chilled after we came back, and then we went out for our last meal of this stay in Volterra. Where better than Del Duca? We skipped aperitivi (our lunch was big enough!), and got treated like minor royalty as always! The food was pretty damn good too! I will really miss that place when it closes.

And that was that! We few home the next day and life began as normal on the Monday.

The good news, though? We came back in mid-August to mid-September… met new friends, experienced the Medieval Festival and Red Night again and enjoyed weather than was hot, but thankfully not appressively so. More to follow over the coming months!

Please let me know if you enjoyed this, or if you had any queries about travelling in Tuscany – especially west-central Tuscany. I’d love to hear from you!

A Del Duca Memory (14/04/2018)

A Del Duca Memory (14/04/2018)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this little nostalgic broadcast – yes, you read the date at the top correctly!

In early November the Del Duca family will shut the doors on their restaurant for the last time. In fact, they will no longer be running a restaurant after having run one for over 30 years. Niamh and I will miss them and their wonderful enoteca very much.

We first fell in love with Tuscany back in 2008 after an organised tour brought us to the hilltop towns/cities of Montecatini Alto, San Gimignano and Siena. We were blown away by the beauty of these places, the food and the surrounding countryside. As the years went past, we had other trips to Italy (Rome, Lake Garda, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily), but it was Tuscany that captured our hearts.

Fast-forward nearly 10 years, and we decided that we had enough money saved, and were earning enough to be able to buy a property in Italy. I used Google maps to look for coastal towns in Liguria, Le Marche, Umbria and Tuscany. It turns out there aren’t many hilltop towns right on the coast! So, we looked farther inland, and settled for a deeper scan of Tuscany, as although the prices were higher, air transport there was easier at the time than anywhere else, and Tuscany was just so huge and open, with plenty of things to do and see. That research, which took us nearly 6 months, had us eventually settle on Volterra. I had not heard of it (Niamh had, thanks to the Twilight Series), but I was amazed at how beautiful it was, how central it was and that it had all the amenities we could ever need. We bit the bullet, and made arrangements to meet with VolterraCasa and Milianti. We would arrive in Volterra on April 18th, 2018.

While we waited for that date to come, we entertained ourselves with videos on Volterra, especially ones by David McGuffin and Denis Callan.

The above is Denis Callan‘s video, with a great introductory guided tour by the incomparable Annie Adair.

Below is the video which helped us decide where we’d eat as soon as we’d arrive in Volterra: Del Duca. It’s by David McGuffin.

Aaaannnnyway… we arrived in Pisa in the evening, and took a bus to the farthest car rental area (thanks, Ryanair). I cannot for the life of me remember what we drove, but I remember it was the first time either of us drove on the other side of the road! I remember (being the passenger) that we always seemed so close to the verge! I think this is a common occurence with those who first do this. You lose the fear of it eventually.

Some time later (after super-careful driving) we arrived at our hotel outside the walls – Hotel Porta all’Arco. We chose this place as it had (just!) enough parking for our car, without having to pay for it. The place had advertised a bar, but really it was tiny and rarely manned. There wasn’t much choice in breakfast, but it was adequate. What sold the place for us were the people and the rooms. They were so friendly, and the rooms were spacious, well-decorated, air-conditioned and clean, the hotel being a converted palazzo. As I had not started my blog at that point, I didn’t take as many photos then as I do now. While I can say I was hampered by the iPhone’s 7 limitations, in reality you’ll see below that sadly my shot composition was generally terrible too!

After we had settled and freshened-up, we strode confidently outside. Then we took a good look up. I’m not going to lie: we thought ‘Oh shit!’. We had been to three other Tuscan hilltowns/cities at that stage: Montecatini Alto, San Gimignano and Siena. To get uphill to those, you have a funicular, a long gently-sloped road (to the most commonly used entrance) and multiple escalators, respectively. This time, we’d be using our own legs to travel just under 250 meters, but about 50 meters up…. on average a 1/5 gradient. That’s pretty steep!

We walked the first 50m, across a zebra crossing and up steps, then more steps, then a steep gravel slope, then even more steps until we reached Porta all’Arco itself, and the very first photo (fittingly) I ever took of Volterra.

Because we had never really heard of the phrase piano piano! we powered on up Via Porta all’Arco after a short break. We were pretty breathless when we reached the top!

It was so quiet! This was ok by us, as this town, if we could find a property, would be our chill zone.

When we had reached the top, I consulted Google maps, and saw that Del Duca was 30m to our right. I said to Niamh “Let’s go to that place the beardy lad recommended!” (Sorry, David!). So, in we went. It, too, was relatively quiet. We didn’t know the family, and so can’t quite recount who we were greeted by. I can remember for certain that Claudia wasn’t there, but Genuino was. Anyway, our waitress for the night was really lovely, and settled us at a large circular table, in a corner, quite near the entrance to their wine cellar. If I recall correctly, Alessandro Calabrese, their head chef, hadn’t been too long there – please correctly me if I’m wrong! I didn’t know that at the time, and assumed Ivana was still heading things up in the kitchen.

While we waited for our first course, two amazing things happened: we were given some bread, and then an amuse bouche. The latter was one of the most extraordinary things I had eaten up to that point in my life – I remember the crispy pork belly and anchovy on the top, but I can’t remember what the central part was. Here is a picture of it from a later blog. Do you remember Willy Wonka’s Three Course Dinner gum? This was like that! I took it all in one bite. I got the crisp of the belly first, then that was followed by a savoury pesto-like flavour of the middle substance, and finally at the end was a gentle hint of fishiness from the anchovy. It was incredibly tasty! Then we destroyed everything by thinking we were sophisticates and ordered olive oil and balsamic for our bread. Brutta, brutta, BRUTTA!!

Oy! We were obliged, which was nice of them. Our primi arrived, and I grabbed my first ever taste of cinghiale – I had the pappardelle. Niamh was likewise blown away by her ravioli with their delcious sweet and sour tomato sauce, topped with crispy pancetta.

Our secondi were just as tasty. I had fish with cabbage (a first for me!) and Niamh had lamb 3-ways.

I think we both had a chocolate fontante bomb for dessert. So yummy. We actually made both the sweet and sour tomato sauce and and these desserts when we attended a cookery class in the Del Duca’s home.

We had some wines from the Del Duca’s own range, so the waitress asked us if we wanted to have a look inside the wine cellar, which is in a small cavern at the back of the restaurant. I took a photo (with reflections) from outside the door, but not inside the actual cellar itself – which is a shame, as it was impressive!

We left, fully satisfied, and took some more awful photos outside.

So that was our first ever night in Volterra! We went on to visit 3 more times in 2018, eventually sealing the apartment deal in December. We got a lovely little plate from the Del Ducas as a warming gift.

We’ll miss this restaurant hugely, and can only hope that the new owners will still offer Volterrans a fine-dining option going forward.

The Del Ducas themselves are still carrying on with their other businesses (their highly recommended agritourismo and wines), so I am sure we will still see them about the town. And we have been offered the use of their pool on more than one occasion – we’ll take them up on the offer some day! So, thanks folks for all the fun times we’ve had in the restaurant. I think you are doing the right thing in slowing down a little. Your health is your wealth, and in the Pisan colline, there is no finer place than to take as much time as you can grab and enjoy your surroundings and each other’s company. In bocca al lupo!

That was the food of the week that was 2 (23/05-27/05)

That was the food of the week that was 2 (23/05-27/05)

Well it was another week where my time wasn’t my own, but I still managed to get out and about and we still stuffed our faces, so let’s go!

Monday 23rd May

I still got out for a walk! There were stairs!

Tuesday 24th May

I can’t get over how green the hills still were – althought it had signs that they were beginning to turn grey/brown. For lunch we went to a place to which we very infrequently go: I Ponti Volterra. I guess I consider it touristy given its location (by the main viewpoint). But sometimes anywhere new is good.

I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of an Orzotto on the menu (think Risotto, but made with barley, instead of rice). I love them, but they’re damn hard to come by in Tuscany. Anyway, this one was made with sausage and cabbage. It tasted lovely, but… well… maybe my stomach was nervous on the day. Let’s just leave it at that. I’ll give it another go some day – if even just to test my, em, theory.

We carried on the theme of new places to eat (for us) that evening and ate in Life Bistrot, a plant-based restaurant at the top of the lovely Via Porta all’Arco. We were put sat in the half of the restaurant that doesn’t have the glass floors looking down on the Etruscan ruins. It gets good reviews on Google, so we thought we’d give it a bash. The service, it must be said, was friendly and their English excellent, if your Italian is lacking.

We noted that they had chefs that looked like they were from the Indian continent, noted with joy that they had a couple of Indian-influenced dishes on the menu. The Chapati was ok, I guess – it had a hint of Indian spices, but needed more kick. Niamh’s salad was merely ok too. I cannot remember what Niamh had for primi, but I had pici ‘cacio’ e pepe. Instead of using vegan cheese, they used ceci (chickpeas). While the noodles themselves were nice, the sauce was a little bland – and frustratingly the ‘pepe’ side of it – the part truly vegan – was barely there at all.

Wednesday 25th May

Another walk today, this time around the maze-like lanes just off Via Porta all’Arco.

Carrying on the theme of eating in places we’ve never tried before, we tried Il Peschereccio for lunch. I had the high end fried fish mix, and Niamh the less expensive one. I think Niamh one that round. I think next time I try here, I’ll either go with the standard fritto misto or just a bit of grilled white fish. I had white wine to wash it all down – a rarity for me!

For dinner, we went to La Vecchia Lira. I had chickpea soup to start – not sure what Niamh had – I can’t recognise it from the photo. For primi, I had my new favourite – the tortelli stuffed with shredded lamb in a savory apple sauce, and Niamh had the pici cacio e pepe – they do it very well here. Delicious. A tirimasu might have been had. I’m sure it didn’t last long!

We burned calories by taking a gentle nighttime stroll.

Thursday 26th May

Well, today was clearly not one to remember. What little I remember is that Niamh hadn’t been to the park yet this visit, so we headed out during lunch for our walk there. Dinner was a couple of yummy pizzas in La Mangiatoia. They had definitely started to recognise us there! I love their speck and mascarpone! Afterwards, a short trip to Antica Velathri CafĂ© for a couple of quick post-dinner drinkies.

Friday 27th May

A nice uppy-downy walk in the middle of, then around the outside of the town. I bumped into Volterra’s most photograhed cat on the way.

On my mid-morning walk I snaffled some gelato, because…. actually there’s no excuse needed! Thanks, as always, to L’Isola del Gusto.

We pigged out a bit that day, firstly going to our neighbours Porgi l’Altra Pancia for lunch. Unusually, we sat outside and were given a little surprise of some Prosecco on the house. Niamh had her beloved Caprese salad, and I had a vegetarian dish – paccheri with a hazelnut-based sauce. Very tasty. We had cheesecake and tiramisu for dessert.

Later that evening for dinner, we did the touristy thing and ate in the main square, in Ristorante Etruria. The food there varies from ok to good, but they usually treat us to a half bottle of Chianti when we’re done with our meal. Tonight, the food was good! I kept up my veggies with Zuppa alla Volterrana, and followed that up with 4-cheese gnocchi. Niamh just had a carbonara. We enjoyed it so much that we had our second dessert of the day (or third, in my case!).

That was that week! Our next day would lead us to somewhere new, and would be our last full day for this trip. So, more on that soon!