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!