Tag: del duca

Bee Day Day 2, Volterra Comics and Fantasy Day 1 (21/05/2022)

Bee Day Day 2, Volterra Comics and Fantasy Day 1 (21/05/2022)

Another short one!

An unlikely clash of the International Bee Day celebration was with Volterra’s annual nerd-a-thon: Comics and Fantasy, which is more of a cosplay festival, than a full celebration of all things geek. Although it did feature a fantasy film festival for the first time this year (which I didn’t cover).

First things first, I did get up for a walk and although it was a shortish one, it did feature a climb of the stairs at Docciola, so I get brownie points for that! Although it was a downwards climb.

Once I’d returned, breakfasted and showered and had a little chill time, we left the apartment and had a look at what the Comics and Fantasy had to say for itself. Initially, not a lot. I thought I’d read that an opening ceremony was going to take place in Piazza dei Priori at 10:30, but the square was quite a little emptier than I thought it was going to be. Although there was one work of greatness on display – but more on that later. For now, we wandered from the square, up Via Roma and into Piazza San Giovanni to check out the various stalls.

We also bought a verrrry long piece of art, which we have not yet hung up – but are threatening to do so some time in late August. Once done, we brought the artwork back to the apartment and then decided to do lunch. Possibly the greatest thing for me about the festival, and maybe on of the greatest things ever to happen in Volterra, was the arrival of a Katsu Curry food truck into the main square. We got a bowl each and it was quite tasty! In fact, it was wonderful to be able to experience a different type of food in Volterra.

Whilst enjoying the curry, we people-watched the cosplayers!

We walked about the town, then, looking for people in costume.

After chilling for a little bit of the afternoon, it was time for dinner. We chose Terra di Mezzo as we had a hankering to try someone else’s Florentine Steak after our fab experience at Del Duca. We had ‘smaller’ steaks and veggies before at Terra and they were nice so we figured that all-out t-bone steak would be a good choice here too. After a little aperitivo at L’Incontro, we headed there.

The staff was busy, so there wasn’t too much interaction. Still, we enjoyed the food and had fun looking at the people going about the town in their costumes.

We walked back to the apartment full and happy!

Thanks for reading… I hope you enjoyed it – let me know what you think!

International Bee Day, Day 1 (20/05/2022)

International Bee Day, Day 1 (20/05/2022)

A short one!

I got up early before I had to give my time to other tasks and went out for a walk. What else is new. I am glad that I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this again, though.

You can find the full-sized version of it here.

I had some stuff to do during the morning, but when it was done, it was time to check out what was happening for International Bee Day in Volterra. This day (or 2 days, really) is to celebrate all things apian, with a view to promoting both the produce and the conservation of our buzzing little friends! There were some decorations about town, entertainment for kids and shops were promoting produce made using honey.

We headed out to check out Via Gramsci, as most of the action was taking place there. I don’t have too many photos as I was filimg instead. But we got a good look at some stalls and a little bee colony they had on the main stand.

But hunger quickly overtook us, and we did something we haven’t done too often, which was go to Del Duca for lunch! It was a gloriously sunny day, and had refreshing starters followed by pasta dishes.

The food was wonderful, and while it isn’t the cheapest lunch you’ll have in Volterra, it is worth spoiling yourself for sure! We skipped dessert as we had a fair feeling that we would head out later that evening. Plus I had to be back in the apartment to do stuff for the rest of the afternoon.

When I was free again, we headed out for food. First, we made a stop at L’Antica Velathri Café, as Pietro had a special honey-based cocktail that day. He was kind and allowed me to shoot the making of it. My anxiety was peeking at me, and it sometimes makes me a little clutzy. I made a damn nuisance of myself by getting in the way of waiters as they came back and forth with orders and emptied trays. The worst was when I accidentally knocked a wooden tray to the ground – it contained a stack of cards advertising the café. Pietro’s dad had to come and pick them up and restack them while I filmed. I felt a proper idiot.

Anyway, once the humilating part was over Niamh and I enjoyed our cocktails.

Here’s a video of the day – note that some of it was shot the next day.

We headed around to La Mangiatoia, who were by now recognising us freely! I don’t think they have a booking system – you rock up and either you get seated or you queue (or you leave!). Anyway we just had the one pizza each. Yes, I have to say this is probably the greediest we’ve ever been in Volterra on holidays. Next time we have a long-haul here, we’ll have to rein in the restaurant visits and remember what it’s really like to actually live here, as ‘normal’ people.

We tried Forst lager for the first time this holiday and can’t recommend it enough. It’s from the north of Italy, and it seems to have invaded Volterra. So now I have a choice between it and Moretti – happy days. Still no cider though.

I hope you enjoyed this blog. Please leave a like and a comment – I’d love to hear from you!

Fun Lunch at a Flowery Vicopisano and Dinnner at Del Duca (15/05/2022)

Fun Lunch at a Flowery Vicopisano and Dinnner at Del Duca (15/05/2022)

I had no walk this Sunday – sure even God rested on the seventh day, so cut me some slack! We were to head to Vicopisano to attend their flower festival, and film it a little. It’s funny how car journeys seem to shorten the more often you do them, especially when you know you’re going to enjoy the destination. It’s only a little over an hour (if even) from Volterra, and we got parking in the massive overflow field they had opened for the event.

I got out and started filming/papping.

It didn’t take us long to bump into Marie and Lorenzo of Authentic Tuscany (Instagram, website), who offer some wonderful accomodation options throughout the town. They work really hard and giving their guests an opportunity to experience life in small-town and rural Tuscany. They offer guided hikes and experiences of produce-tasting (wine, cheese, olive-oil, truffles) with locals, with whom they have established a fun relationship.

Met Marie and Lorenzo soon after. Amazing couple. Even though it comes naturally to them, they work so hard at keeping people happy. Not many jobs are better.

So we were led by Marie and Lorenzo to a restaurant called 30metriquadri (because it’s the area of the indoor space!), and is run by a couple of Roman lads. 

We settled down and slowly, but our group began to grow, from the 4 of us, then to 6 as a couple Marie and Lorenzo knew joined us.  The man was a retired pilot and knew Marie from when she was an air Stewardess with British Airways. The lovely lady was a wonderful abstract artist (Instagram). Then three more came, including Chef Celine, who you might know from Nicki Positano’s content if you watch her.  She’s a private Chef in the Lucca region, so if you’re in the area and are in the need of one, look her up (Instagram).  Celine was joined by another British ex-pat couple.  Everyone knew each other, so it was a little overwhelming at first for Niamh and me – and we remained relatively quiet (improving our listening skills, as I imagine it!), but everyone was so lovely, that their manner (plus a glass or three of wine) put us at our ease. 

We then proceeded to have one of those wonderful Tuscan lunches that was about 1.5 courses of food, but lasted almost 4 hours.  If a few people in the party hadn’t been short on time it would have been a little more relaxing, but Niamh and I weren’t in a hurry!  We had little veggie balls of goodness, bread and pasta to accompany our wine – all very delish.  A couple had desserts after, but we held back as we were heading out to dinner that evening. 

Halfway through the wait/food, Marie had to meet up with a couple of ladies from Cork, who she introduced to the table. They looked to be enjoying the hell out of themselves. More happy clients for Marie and Lorenzo!

To be honest, I had always been worried about meeting more ex-pats and being enveloped in an ex-pat ‘bubble’, as we had wanted to try to integrate with locals primarily, but after this encounter we felt no more worries about that. Most of their Italian is fantastic, and it has just given me further impetus to learn and integrate more. On top of that, we met a bunch more interesting people we would never have met otherwise. More people equals more stories!

Once done, we headed out to explore the flower festival a little more.

It was a fun little festival. They combined it with their collectors market, and so there were a lot of people. A little brass-based marching band were playing throughout the town adding to the fun. The fact that the weather was pleantly warm and clear was just the icing on the cake.

You can watch a video of our trip to Vicopisano here:

We had a nice drive home, and were a bit naughty at L’Isola del Gusto (it was beginning to get busy), and sat out with our ill-gotten gains by the Church of the Archangel Michael.

We rested at home for a while, urging on our digestive systems to allow more food to be crammed in. Thankfully, they complied.

What else can I say about Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca that I haven’t already said? It’s not just the food, it’s the welcome, the service, the sense of belonging. I think that sums it up.

We were granted another lovely welcome, and as always the food flipping rocked!

We were plied with offers of after-dinner drinks, but we had to turn them down, as we had to be compos mentis for the next day. The next 5 days, in fact. No more on that, I’m afraid. We were also offered the use of the pool at Marcampo. I had every intention of taking them up on the offer, but I never actually did. We still intend this again in August when we return. A day out by the pool may be just the thing. Despite my hydrophobia and creamy whiteness.

We said our goodbyes, took the shot below and headed home.

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

I waited in again without a walk this morning, as the builder was due (again) to come (again). This time he did! He and his mate took the rest of the junk from the cellar away. Niamh was pretty much asleep when this happened, so she was pleasantly surprised when I told her that they’d already been. She had been settling in for a wait, but now we could head out somewhere instead. I suggested going to Colle di Val d’Elsa – the newer part of town, as we hadn’t really explored it fully. She agreed, and we headed out!

We drove past the old town on the ridge, and down into the newer old part of town to a carpark. Not sure how we avoided the ZTLs, but we weren’t fined so we must have done our job correctly. We parked at first in a carpark with white lines, which caused alarm bells to ring. That usually means that they are for residents only. The signs weren’t terribly obvious, so when we’d parked I ran back to the carpark entrance and saw that unfortunately, yes, it was for residents. Right next to this carpark was another with far fewer spots available. Luckily, a couple of cars pulled out, so by the time we got to it we found a handy place near the back. I put my filming rig together and we headed back into town to have a little explore.

We parked at these coordinates. Google says the carpark is closed, but it’s not: it’s the lift to the old town that’s currently closed (or was at the time of writing this – Mid June). We walked through to the main part of town, only to be immediately confronted by about a 9 or 10 market stalls in a small open area. Niamh was in the market for a small basket for our newly remodelled bathroom, and there happened to be a stall there that sold exactly that! Baskets, not remodelled bathrooms.

We bought a basket, and I thought that was the extent of the market… until we moved to the next open space. Then we saw more stalls. Which, when we reached the main square, turned into even more, with many more spider-webbing throughout the sidestreets leading from the square. The market was immmense – probably the biggest I have visited to date. There aren’t many photos of it, as I was filming instead – you can catch the video of it below. It was a regular market, rather than a collectible/antique market. It was mostly about food (local produce from farms, cooked food), clothes, electronics etc. It was super-impressive and many of the food stalls looked amazing – however, we really wanted a sit-down place.

We had been to a nice restaurant in the new town before under which flowed a stream, and it had a little water mill and everything… but we found out that it was now permanently shut. I’m not sure why – maybe it was another victim of the awfulness of the pandemic.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is famous for its crystalware, and I was hoping to visit the Museum dedicated to the glassware before we ate. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation on the day. There was no other thing left for us to do except stuff our greedy faces.

We found a place up a side street called Trattoria Bel Mi’ Colle. Our initial impression was that they weren’t particularly experienced with handling tourists. The service initially felt quite odd, a little stand-offish, but they soon warmed-up. I didn’t want another Coca Zero, and accepted a recommendation from the lady managing the restaurant. I wish I’d taken a photo of it – it seemed like a form of cedrata (clear, light citrus-based drink), and was really refreshing.

Niamh had a rigatoni pasta dish with a beef ragù, and I had a white ragù (usually one or more of pork, rabbit, hare or very occasionally chicken) with pappardelle, but the pasta was made with the flour of ancient grains – which is a great alternative for those seeking gluten-free options. Personally, I found the dish just a fraction dry, but I liked the texture and flavour. I would recommend the restaurant for travellers, but would suggest you practice your Italian a little! Our dessert was lovely, but was served on a hilariously outsized plate… not matter – we really liked it.

When done, we checked to see if we could get the elevator up to the old town, but it was closed. Niamh wasn’t in the mood to to traipse all the way uphill to visit the place (we have visited it before 3 or 4 times) in spitting rain. In hindsight, I can’t say I blame her! In the end, we ended up going home to place our basket in the bathroom and chill a while.

You can watch our video of our exploration of the market here!

We had been in touch with David McGuffin, a tour operator working out of Florida, who specialises in tours to Europe, especially Ireland and Italy. If you’re reading this in the U.S. I can say David has such a love of Europe and is super-knowledgeable about the places he tours, and is well connected too. On top of that – he’s just a good guy to hang out with too!

We met him in L’Incontro for an aperitivo drinkie, which turned into two or three. We mentioned that we were going to hop off to Ombra della Sera to grab a pasta, after having had lunch earlier. Out of the blue, he invited us to join is tour group in Del Duca for a set meal. We were hesitant at first, as we didn’t want to cramp anyone’s style, plus we weren’t sure that we could put away a Del Duca dinner! However, when he said that one of the courses would be a shared Florentine steak, we couldn’t say no. Neither of us had had it before, unbelievably – so we nodded enthusiastically and agreed. He left us to have another drink on our own, while he gathered his troop together and we met him at the restuarant. He generously offered to pay for our meal too… again, our protestations were not as strong as they could have been. The guy is a mensch, what can I say?

The rest of the people in David’s group were lovely, and some lively conversation was struck up between the 5 courses, most of which were paired with Marcampo’s own wines (the Del Duca family run the winery with with their agritourismo). Here’s the grub, including the fabled Bistecca alla Fiorentina!

Claudia was away in Sweden (if I recall correctly), but we got a warm welcome from Ivana and Genuino, and the waiting staff. The wine flowed pretty freely, and at the end of the meal we were given grappa. Now I am rarely one to turn my nose up at post-dinner amari, but this grappa was a nope for me… it was incredibly strong. We had a dessert wine instead… followed by a couple of other drinks. Truth be told we left the place quite merry.

Of course, one person often overlooked, was this time not forgotten. Niamh and I are huge fans of Del Duca’s head chef: Alessandro Calabrese, and when the restaurant was closing up and we were being kicked out (in a friendly way!), we came out and like a bunch of fanbois got our picture taken with him.

We all walked past our apartment entrance as a group, Niamh and I being somewhat gratified by the ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ when they saw we lived slap-bang in the middle of town.

We got home, and I stayed up a while listening to music, as I often do when a little merry.

David, thanks again for a wonderful evening. We still owe you and Charlotte a return dinner!

Recipe: Sheet Pasta with Jerusalem Artichoke (by chef Alessandro Calabrese, Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca)

The first recipe in a potential series called Our Pan In Volterra. This was referred to in my blog here. I was hoping to get permisssion to publish the recipe, and I got it – so thanks to Claudia Del Duca (who translated it for me), and of course the amazing head chef at Del Duca restaurant, Volterra: Alessandro Calabrese, whose recipe it is.

So here we go! The recipe serves 4-5 people, and is meant for someone with at least moderate experience in cooking. Jerusalem artichoke is referred to as ‘Topinambur’ through out the recipe.

The Pasta dough
200g whole wheat flour
100g “00” flour
100g wheat durum flour
100g manitoba flour (high gluten concentration)
5g salt
10g extra virgin olive oil
5 eggs

Mix all the ingredients, knead the dough until you get it smooth and even. Let it rest one hour in the refrigerator. Then, with a pasta machine, make the sheets thin and of a weight of 80g each.

Topinambur cream
500g topinambur
50g potatoes
Salt and extra virgin olive oil in enough quantity (as you may measure by eye)

Peel the topinambur, the potatoes and slice them thinly. 

Put them into a vacuuming bag and steam them at 100°C for 50 minutes. Afterwards in a mixer blend all of it with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt until you get a smooth and bright cream.

The topinambur skins are boiled for 1 hour: after that, strain and spread them on an oven pan. Dry them for 3 hours in the oven at 80°C. Afterwards deep fry them in  hot seed oil for 15 seconds. Add salt and pepper.

Turnip pesto
200g cleaned turnips
20g pecorino cheese
20g almonds
75g extra virgin olive oil
75g sunflower oil
Salt
Extravirgin olive oil and garlic (to sauté the turnips)

Boil the turnips in salty water for 3-5minutes. Strain them and sauté in extravirgin olive oil with garlic (brown it before). Let them become cold and mix all the above ingredients (without the last line) in a thermomixer for 20 seconds

Blue cheese fondue
500g milk
12g “00” flour
12g butter
150g blue cheese

Melt the butter and add the flour. Pour the warm milk into the flour and butter mix. Cook it. Then put the sauce in the thermomix at 65°C. Add the blue cheese and mix until it melts.

How to assemble the dish
Boil the pasta in salty water, strain it and put it in a pan with the warm topinambur cream. Blend it well making sure you don’t break the sheet of pasta. 

On the plate spread a bit of turnip pesto, add the sheet of pasta with the topinambur cream. Add some more turnip pesto, spread some blue cheese cream and decorate with topinambur chips.

Let me know if you made it and what you thought of it!

Valdichiana Shopping Outlet, Foiano and Lucignano (13/10/2021)

Valdichiana Shopping Outlet, Foiano and Lucignano (13/10/2021)

I skipped the morning walk again that day. This is a feature that plagued me for much of my December visit too, I’m sorry to say. The best I can offer was that it was down to simple laziness, rather than anxiety. Anyway, I knew we had a journey and a half ahead of us.

For ages I had wanted to go check out one of the few outdoor retail outlets in Tuscany. Probably the most famous is The Mall, in Leccio, a short ways southeast of Florence proper. But it was a little too high-end for what we needed. Another is Designer Outlet Barnerino, but as it’s a good bit north of Florence/Prato, and we didn’t really want to take the car through that traffic-filled nightmare, we opted instead for the much more leisurely Valdichiana Village, which is a good bit east and slightly south of Siena – near the town of Foiano della Chiana.

That would mean another trip on the Siena road, but it’s a far less stressy drive than going through Florence or Prato. The lengthy motorway stretch is very boring, however. So boring, in fact, that I didn’t film the journey part of the day at all – the rest of the day you can see in the YouTube video further on down in the blog.

The first third of it – the part before you hit the motorway – has some special moments:

  • The countryside immediately outside Volterra (around the ‘O‘) and a good bit beyond.
  • The section before Campiglia, where you’re surrounded by vines and hills, and you cross the Via Francigena and hit those hairpin bends (even better on the way back).
  • As always, going past Colle di Val d’Elsa – the part where the old town meanders along the ridge made our jaws drop when we first saw it. Despite dozens of passings-by now, it still impresses!
  • Even when you’re on the motorway, you’ll get to see Monteriggioni on the way there, and it’s easier to see Siena on the way back (if I recall correctly)

But the rest is kinda yawns-ville. The outlet itself is just off the autostrada, so yeah – you’re looking at a lot of multi-lane driving. Anyway, we got there in the end, and very safely!

It was a nice enough day, as you can see – I just wore a light jacket. Much of the perimeter of the outlet was lightly cordoned off, and where we entered a man was taking temperatures to ensure you could enter. Even outdoors in the outlet, you had to wear a mask. At other locations on the perimter, you had to engage with machines to take your temperature – so if you left (which we did to use the bathrooms at the perimeter walls), we had to get our temperatures checked again on the way back in.

There are some nicely appointed stores there – most of them containing clothing or household stock items. We noticed with a little amusement, that there was a youngish nun wandering around with a group of lay-people friends heading into the stores with tremendous enthusiasm. I thought she looked like one of the nuns we saw wandering around Il Teatro del Silenzio a couple of days previously, but then I have an over-active imagination! The first store we entered was, in fact, a pop-up Christmas store! We got a couple of decorations for the apartment, which we put up when we came over for Christmas – more on that in a few weeks’ time!

Niamh was looking for a couple of throws for our couch, which she managed to get (by going past the perimeter). We got them, and put them in the car, and once again went through to get our temperature taken. Fun times.

We continued to wander.

I had half a mind to buy myself a form-fitting jacket, as I had lost a lot of weight in the first 15 months of the pandemic. Unfortunately, I discovered to my cost that my belly had grown back a little. A shame, as I found a couple of lovely looking jackets I really wanted to get.

What better way to console myself than to grab some pizza? I think I might be in denial! We had wandered up to the food court and were on the verge of, once again, heading into Old Wild West for a burger or ribs, but reminded ourselves that we shouldn’t eat too much prior to dinner that night. Maybe a pizza with a thin base might be an option….especially if we skipped dessert! We knew the place we were going to that evening didn’t do pizzas, and so didn’t want pasta either. Our minds were made up!

We saw a bar/restaurant on the perimeter which looked like it did pizzas – Al Borgo. We headed in, and selected a couple from the menu, and a couple of soft drinks to keep the fluids up. I noticed that they had their own sauces (pasta, pizza etc.) for sale, but the place had more of a ‘franchise’ feel to it, than it being a once-off place. In any event, I have to say we really enjoyed the pizza!

Once done, we went back into the outlet to reach our car on the far side (temperature check!), pausing briefly for cash at a Bancomat. We hopped in, and we had plenty of time to visit the nearby town of Fioano della Chiana. It was only a short drive, but to get to the carpark we had chosen, Missus Google took us through parts of the older town. One always gets nervous about straying inadvertently into a ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato) and having to pay the resulting fine. Google, in fairness to it, has never done so before – but the worried glances between myself a Niamh didn’t cease.

We wound our way through the town to a carpark at the bottom of a very tall section of the walls of the even older town! A forlorn duvet rested at the bottom of the wall and for some reason I immediately thought that this was the rough end of town, where homeless people kept their domains. We were getting ourselves ready outside the car to explore, when a young lady marched towards us, speaking energetically on her phone. Without word or gesture to us, she snatched up the duvet and marched back towards the small opening in the wall. I looked up, and there it was: the ubiquitous washing line beneath a window, overlooking the carpark. This was probably a common occurence, then.

We followed the young lady a couple of minutes later, and climbed the stairs between an even higher set of walls and a church. We saw part of the road we had travelled on to get here, but to our left another collection of steps led through a lovely arched entryway into the ‘even older’ part. We went up, and within minutes were blown away by the beauty of the place. Curved laneways lined with red-bricked 4-storey buildings, strewn with potted plants – almost as if there was constant competition between the neighbours as to how many plants they could pack outside their front doors. We had a wander, and took some photos.

All was quiet, as it always is in a non-touristy town during riposo. There wasn’t much to wander into, as this area seemed largely residential, but the main square was nice. Unfortunately, we seem to have missed Bell’s Pub – I only see it now when looking at maps. An auld pint would have been nice, but such is life.

Instead, alternative refreshment was in order, as we left our exploration of the old town, and headed (past hordes of emerging schoolchildren). We stopped off at the improbably-named “Gelateria Fiordilatte Di Presenzini Mattoli Manuel & C” for (as the name would suggest) gelato. I had coconut and white chocolate, if I recall correctly – I really liked the coconut.

Back in the car, we checked the clock and realised we had a bit of time before we had to get home, spruce-up and head over to the restaurant for dinner. So, we decided to head to Lucignano! It’s only about 15 minutes away. The carpark, while decently located – just outside one of the arched gateways to the old town – was almost completely full. We managed to squeeze into an awkward spot on a bend, and headed into town!

We were enchanted as soon as we entered the town. Like Foiano, the central part is arena/oval shaped, but Lucignano is just a little bit nookier, a little bit crannier – if that makes sense. It just appealed to us a little more. We found ourselves going ‘Oooh’ and ‘Ahhh’ every time we turned a corner. There were stairs here and there leading up to a higher level of town, on which lay a residential area and what must have been nearly a dozen churches or chapels.

For some reason, the photos just don’t do the town justice. We honestly both came away from the place thinking it was one of the top 3 towns we’d visited.

We ended our trip under an arch, on which little platforms were placed to provide seats (presumably for the customers of a nearby bar) – I thought this was was very cute. If there was any regret, it was that we visited just after lunch/during riposo, and during the off-season – so it was extremely quiet. I would love to see it a little bit more lively – even at night – at least we have excuses to come back!

We headed home via a petrol station. It was a fun, busy day out! You can watch a video of it below:

But we weren’t done yet! No, after a rest and a shower back at the apartment, we headed out to Del Duca for dinner.

We were greeted enthusiastically as usual, and shown to a table we’d sat at a couple of times before; a round table in a corner, which gave us a complete view of the rest of the dining room. A certain level of amusement ensued, when Claudia Del Duca – her English usually being excellent – fumbled a little at explaining a course that had, just that night, taken over from their previous lamb dish. She couldn’t call it anything other than ‘boiled beef’. She assured us it was delicious through laughter from all parties. The phrases ‘sauce’ and ‘baby cabbages’ were mentioned, and the beef was boiled in a stock. I was intrigued, so I ordered it.

About ten minutes later, after we had gotten our wine, a well-dressed couple with a kid sat at the table next to us. Being the people-watchers we are, we snuck glances and listened. Then there was confusion. I could have sworn that she was Irish, and that maybe he was American – but then here and there, there was snatches of a Scottish lilt from him. On top of that, the kid definitely had a north American accent. What was going on here? Anyway, we settled down eventually, and the food came out.

Halfway through the food, the head chef, Alessandro, saw us through the round window of the kitchen door, and gave us a cheery wave. We returned the favour. It’s so nice to be surrounded by people who care deeply about what they do, and who they do it for.

During the meal, the speculation continued around where this other couple and their child were from, but just when I was near to bursting with curiosity, the lady turned to us and said “I couldn’t help myself, but I heard the accents and had to talk to you.” She was definitely Irish, and as it turns out, so was he – but from the North. I reciproated the sentiment and told them that it was killing me not knowing where they were from!

They were living in Switzerland, and their kid was going to an American school, which explains the accent! They were so lovely. We chatted with them for a while. They were staying at a friend’s house a ways outside Volterra, but decided to come into the town for the first time for a bite to eat. They just happened to have chosen Del Duca. Life is full of coicidence and serendipity. It was a fabulous meeting, and, as if the food and the attention from the staff at the restaurant wasn’t enough, it really made our evening.

At the end of the meal, Niamh had a coffee and I an amaro (Ivana (the Del Duca matriarch) was still waiting on a batch of her limoncello to mature). We left the restuarant less high on caffeine and alcohol, but more on life.

Thanks for reading this. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment or question – I would love to hear back from you!

Wine Tasting at Marcampo (13/08/2021)

Wine Tasting at Marcampo (13/08/2021)

I got up and had a nice walk. Here are some shots:

When we last ate in Del Duca, we were invited to a wine tasting by somelier, Claudia, and took her up on her offer. We’d been at their farm before for a cooking course, and so we knew that both their wine and their food are great. Who could resist?

Podere Marcampo is about a 5km drive from Volterra, and down a dusty, gravelled driveway, that is a little bit steep at times. We got to the house, and saw a few other cars already parked there. We waved hello to mamma Ivana, who was heading off to the restaurant for the evening service. In fact, she used to be head chef there, but those duties are now carried out by talented young Cypriot, Alessandro Calabresi.

Claudia greeted us then, and I saw she was wearing shorts, which is unusual for her. Why was that? Well, because down in the valley where the house is, it was pushing 38 degrees, and she informed us that further down into the valley it was 42. She couldn’t remember it being so hot! Despite the heat, they still live a little slice of paradise:

We waited inside their tasting room, while Claudia assisted some guests who were staying at the agritourismo. Waiting with us was an Italian gentleman (from the south, if I recall correctly) and a young couple from The Netherlands.

We all had a snifter of Marcampo’s wines, interspersed with a cheeses and salumi. They have a bunch of lovely reds – an award-winning Merlot, but I like the Merlot and Sangiovese mixes they have too. They start off with chocolate and cherry undertones, and if you’re having rich food, almost have a buttery finish. So yummy. Niamh in particular is a fan of their Vermentino. I won’t regurgitate all about them here. Instead, you can read about them directly on their website!

Later on during the tasting, a British couple came in, who were well-known to Claudia. They had a house on a hill somewhat north of Volterra, in lovely countryside. They also have a pool. As soon as I heard that, I joked with Niamh about how important it was to get to know people! They took it in good humour, and gave us good tips on where to explore and shop.

I didn’t take shots of the tasting (which was delivered in English), as you should go there yourself to experience it. When we were done, Claudia showed us their remodelled winery and cellary. It was certainly different to the last time we’d visited.

It was certainly much cooler than it was in the tasting room, which was surrounded on all sides by glass. Although there were a couple of air-conditioning units, it was still very warm there!

Then from there, we were allowed to roam between the vines. The soil was so loose, so you we had to watch our footing. I broke out my macro lens and took a few shots of the grapes. Claudia insist I send them to her, which I duly did.

At the end of it all, I bought a bottle of Marcampo (Savgiovese/Merlot mix) and Niamh a bottle of Terra-Blu (the Vermentino). We had a fun time, and we’d recommend it to anyone.

That evening, we didn’t stray farther than Porgi l’Altra Pancia, where I had pici with a Chianina beef sauce, and unsurprisingly topped that off with a little gelato!

Finally, a chat and a little drink on the terrace, and then to bed.

I hope you enjoyed the read. If so, please leave a like and comment. Thanks!

Of Markets and Fine Food (07/08/2021)

Of Markets and Fine Food (07/08/2021)

Well, I got up and left the trash out (organico, aka compostable bio waste on Saturdays). Bio waste always has to be taken out, as things get stinky in 35+ degree heat!

I was on my own for the walk, so I decide to go anti-clockwise around the outside of the walls. On the way, I pass by Serena – one of the ladies who works for our property managers, who greets me with a cheerful yell and wave – she was out jogging. Minutes later we pass by Enrico – also out for a trot – the man from the bank who held our hand through the mortgage process – and still is our man contact in the Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra (the bank who gave us our mortgage). It took a few moments for us to recognise each other, and wave a greeting. A wonderful feeling of belonging washes over me – I feel like I’m at home again. I pass by him again on the other side of the town, still running.

Saturday is also market day, and early on in the walk I get to see a little bit of the market setting up in the carpark beside the Roman Theatre.

You can find a video of the walk, followed by a walk around the market I took later on.

Some shots of the walk too:

After I was done and had breakfast, we chilled for a while and then headed out to the market. The wonderful thing about the market, and about Italian markets in general, is the noise. The mingled sounds of laughter, chatter and cries of stall-owners, as they try to capture the attention of shoppers, just warms my soul.

Markets are great to shop at, because not only is the produce generally fresher, as it has travelled far less than it has to get to a supermarket, but it is also usually a good deal cheaper! A complete win-win.

I didn’t get anything, but the ladies got some fruit, and then we walked back to the apartment.

The previous day (I forgot to blog this!) I had ducked into Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca to book a table for us this evening. I was hungry for something for lunch, though.

I decided to head to La Sosta Del Priore for a sandwich. You may have read in a previous blog, that they were recently voted the best sandwich bar in Pisa county (province), so I had to queue for about 20 minutes. Eventually, I grabbed a mortadella with truffle sandwich on focaccia. They added fried fresh pecorino cheese to it. It was so tasty.

We had a lazy afternoon in. I honestly don’t remember what we did, so I assume it was napping, gaming, video-editing and screen-watching!

However, come the evening, we were heading out to dinner! We decided to leave the apartment early to grab an aperitivo at L’Incontro. We sat inside, and if I recall correctly, it was the first time (outside of an airport) we had been asked for our ‘Green Pass’ – which was the Italian name for the Covid Vaccination Certificate. We had our digital versions, and they were scanned quickly enough.

I had an Aperol Spritz (manly!). L’Incontro service nice mini sausage rolls and pizzette (tiny bite-sized pizzas) with the aperitivi. They were yum, as was the drink! It got us in the mood for dinner, which is exactly what it should have done. I don’t go into L’Incontro often enough – and this visit was no difference – this was our only time there. We were going to go in another time, but they had music blaring inside, and we didn’t fancy it. But it’s so good at what it does: drink, sandwiches, pastries. A shame it doesn’t seem to do gelato any more, as used to be lovely there.

Onwards we went to Del Duca for dinner, after a brief stop at the panoramic viewpoint to burn some time and calories. Then we went in, and got our usual warm welcome. In addition, the talented head chef, Alessandro, recognised me from Instagram and Facebook, and smiled and waved at us.

We had food and wine… quelle surprise. It was wonderful, and while we were eating, we had a quick chat with Claudia Del Duca, and we agreed to visit their farmstead (Podere Marcampo) later in the week. Here’s most of the grub!

We had attended a cookery course at Marcampo a couple of years ago, and Ivana – Claudia’s mom and ex head-chef at Del Duca, asked us if we had baked any bread since. We had to tell her no, with a little mortification – she just chuckled. At the end of the meal, we were presented with a glass of her legendary limoncello – it’s the without a doubt the strongest limoncello I’ve ever had, but I yummied down two glasses of it (I had mine and someone else’s, if I recall correctly!).

We were certainly fit for bed after that, and that’s exactly where we went.

Thanks for reading. Pleae leave a comment below if you liked the blog, and if you have any questions about Volterra, or staying nearby.

Virtual Tour of Volterra #1

Virtual Tour of Volterra #1

With the rollout of the vaccines (particularly for us in Ireland), and the fact that Volterra’s positive case numbers seem to be falling rapidly again, we have gotten a hankering for visiting Italy again. Truth be told, it’s on our minds daily!

So, we’ve decided to take our brains on a tour, and we’ll take you guys with us. This will be a little different to our regular older posts about Volterra in a couple of ways:

  1. We’ll be following a set route;
  2. Most of the photos we’ll be showing will be at full iPhone resolution (some iPhone 7, some iPhone 11)

Let’s begin. Below is a map of the route:

Starting at ‘1’, we’ll move in numerical order, through to ’17’. On the way we’ll be showing some sights, giving little insights here and there. We will skip some sights so we can show them on other tours – we’ll see how this one goes.

This will be lengthy, and will require a bit of data consumption, due to the size of most of the photos.

#1: Ok! Welcome to Via Giacomo Matteotti! This is the street on which the entrance to our apartment lies. A curious thing about some of the streets in Volterra. They’ve had their names changed (probably multiple times), but many streets have two names: the current one, and the one it was previously known by, which is still frequently used by locals. In this case, our street will have two labels: ‘Via Giacomo Matteotti’ and ‘Gia Via Guidi’, the latter being the ‘previously known as’ street name. Anyway, here’s the entrance to our block:

There are a couple of restaurants, a bar and a pasticceria nearby, but we will cover those another time.

There is a bit of history to the palazzo in which our apartment lies, as we think it might have been a sixteenth century customs building. We will dig around and see what we can find for another tour. For now, though, we’ll carry on uphill towards the main square.

#2: Let’s take the first right. If it’s during the busy season, you will always find tourists here taking this shot.

For us, this is one of the prettiest lanes in Tuscany, and is called Vicolo delle Prigione (Lane of the Prisoners). Up this laneway and almost immediately to the right is a sandwich bar called La Sosta del Priore. It was recently voted best sandwich bar in the province (think of provinces as counties over in Ireland). Volterra is in Pisa ‘county’. We’ve eaten here more than a few times. It may seem expensive, but the sandwiches are huge! Our faves are porchetta (roast whole pig) and their burger… both with pecorino cheese. On top of that, the welcome from Ilenia is always heart-warming!

We’ll continue upwards through this lane. Whenever exploring, and you find yourself blinkered on a path forward, please also remember to look behind you every now and again, for views you may be missing. This goes for towns and nature! Here’s a pic looking back down from where we’ve just come.

There’s a slight difference in the sky here! Many photos were taken at different times – we hope the 4th wall isn’t completely shattered for you!

#3: We’ll head back to to the T-junction at the end of this laneway and then swing a right up the remainder of Via delle Prigione (note Via rather than Vicolo). You may be able to see part of Volterra’s main piazza from here Piazza dei Priori.

#4: We’ll head steadily upwards towards the square, and under the archway. Turning back and looking up gives us…

You might just be able to see a tiny statue peeking out near the top of the tower on the left. This is the Torre del Porcellino (there is a restaurant of the same name, not covered in this tour), which is Tower of the Piglet. Why there is a piglet there, is not fully known, but it is guessed that it was a show of wealth by the original owner, given that meat would have been so expensive many centuries ago (the tower having been completed in the early 1200s).

It is with no small sense of irony that Volterra’s municipal police are stationed here! Here’s where we need to go when we need to renew our annual resident’s parking permit.

#5: We’ll pivot back towards the piazza.

Dead ahead of us is Ristorante Etruria, with its covered seating area. We have eaten here a bunch of times, and always receive a warm welcome. Eoin likes the Zuppa Volterrana here, and Niamh swears by the grilled boar chops. At the end of the night, we’re given a grappa or limoncello on the house, and a half-bottle of Chianti to take away. Inside, while Eoin isn’t a huge fan of the clear plastic chairs, the restaurant itself is beautifully decorated.

Turning our heads to the far side of the square, length-ways will give you this view, which is our bank in Volterra (Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra).

Banks in Italy are actually quite local, and yet are quite feature-rich. This bank also is deeply involved in providing funds and sponsorship to various arts and humanities projects, which is pretty cool.

#6: Turning back towards the main near side of the square, is the Palazzo dei Priori, essentially the ‘town hall’ in Volterra – and is the oldest continuous seat of local government in Tuscany, at nearly 800 years old.

There are many council buildings in a similar style throughout Tuscany, most notably the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, but this is the origin of the species – the Florentine seat of government for the Medici was inspired by the Volterran original. The main council office is here.

Inside, as well as local governmental offices, are rooms for exhibitions, and the bell tower, which can be climbed up for some wonderful views.

Coming out of the palazzo gives us a view of the arch and the Torre del Porcellino again.

#7: We turn right after leaving the palazzo and continue south a bit. Just past the palazzo is a foodie place called Volaterra.

We have ordered pasta sauces, olive oil, cantuccini (hard nutty biscuit ‘slices’) and limoncello during the pandemic crisis, to give us a little taste of our second home.

Walking past it we note to the left what we think is Volterra’s most moody laneway: Vicolo Mazzoni. Here’s a suitable shot of it.

We fondly call it ‘Pigeonshit Alley’, as the place is replete with those little flying rats. However, it’s worth a stroll, as it’s quite snappable – we’ll reserve it for a different tour. Walking on again, we hit a crossroads of the street where we live, to the left, and Volterra’s artisan street, to the right, that leads down to an Estruscan gate (some would say ‘the’ Etruscan gate): Via Porta all’Arco. Again, we will reserve this amazing road for a separate route, but here’s a preview.

We’ll continue on, walking past the road that leads to Volterra’s premier panoramic viewpoint (you guessed it – another route!). You may remember what I said earlier: always look back to see you’re not missing anything. Here we are looking back at the main piazza, and again further on and looking back. One of the most dramatic views in Volterra, infrequently snapped by visitors… who never look back!

Lovely.

#9: For now we’ll make a stop at Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca. This is one of our favourite places to eat. The Del Duca family is so nice, and this year are celebrating 30 years in the restaurant business. They run an agritourismo called Marcampo (think a bed & breakfast farm-stay) about a 5-7 minute drive outside the town – and we love the wines they produce there – principally by sommelier Claudia Del Duca. We always get a warm welcome, and the restaurant features the best technical cooking in the area. The outside seating area in the back is perfect if you need a little calm from crowds.

We’ve also attended a cooking course in Marcampo – well worth the money, as you get to eat your efforts and drink complementary wines.

#10: With full bellies, we swing towards the east, and somewhat uphill, past another of Volterra’s prettiest views.

#11: Heading up the steep lane, we hit one of the entrances to Volterra’s municipal park (Parco Archeologico Enrico Fiumi). We’ll walk around this park some other time – as well as having a green area, there are a couple of archaeological ruins of note (the clue is in the name!).

Opposite the entrance is the back gate to Albergo Etruria (its Cafe Etruria entrance, essentially). I’ve never gone in there (to my shame), except to take this lovely shot:

We carry on through this laneway, until we hit a set of stairs heading down towards our next stop.

#12: Antica Velathri Cafe. We love this place. The manager here is a mixologist of some skill, and is super-friendly. He always encourages our use of Italian, so we get rare opportunities to practice our spoken Italian here. The cocktails are sublime, and the nibbles all home-made. They make lovely almond-based cookies to take away here too. It’s primarily an apperitivo place, so it often closes early as a result (21:30-22:00), so go there before dinner!

We leave the Cafe and swing a right. Here we can see Piazza XX Settembre (a tour on some other route), and the junction of Via di Sotto and Via Antonio Gramsci. We will take the left fork down the latter street, one of Volterra’s premier pedestrian ways.

#13: Almost every time we re-visit Volterra, La Taverna di Terra di Mezzo is the first place we eat. Why? The welcome from Robbi, the owner, and Aurora the ever-present waitress. The second time we visited Volterra, Niamh had been driving and was super-tense, so Robbi gave her an honest-to-God shoulder massage! Not to feel left out, Eoin pointed out that his glutes were similarly tense. Robbi didn’t take him up on the offer, much to the amusement of Aurora, Niamh and a couple of Belgian guests who where sitting near us.

Niamh loves the penne arrabiata here, and I love the Zuppa Volterrana (the best in Volterra) and pappardelle (thin, wide pasta) with bacon and black truffle in a gentle lemon ricotta sauce is one of the best plates of pasta he says he’s had. Robbi also puts together killer antipasto plates and is skilled on the grill. Tourists stop all the time to take a shot of the cute exterior (of the restaurant, not of Robbi).

We carry on down Via Gramsci… a pretty and busy street.

#14: Next stop: La Mangiatoia, the first canopied place you can see in the photo above. When we feel like a pizza and a beer (although we usually go to Pizzeria Ombra dell Sera for that), or some other grub like a hot dog or burger and fries to change the food-mood, we stop off here. A fun, busy place. The food is good and service is pretty fast if you’re in a rush.

One of the features we love most about this street is how the rooftops are all higgledy-piggledy with many towards the one end of the street not forming anything like a straight line. It just gives a sense of character to the place.

#15: Whenever Eoin goes out for a morning walk in Volterra (which is most days) he ends up either here or at the stop after this. Welcome to Pasticceria Migliorini!

This place is perfect for an Italian breakfast, and has a range of delicious pastries, and some gelati later in the day. You can, of course, take some pastries away!

#16: This might seem weird. We don’t have a photo of this place. Another reason why it’s weird it’s because it’s a mini-market (La Bottega, previously known as Il Punto). They see Eoin in here most mornings, topping up on water and sodas, and maybe later we’ll call in to the deli section at the back for some of the most delicious bresaola (cured beef) and prosciutto alla griglia we’ve ever had.

Couple that with a lovely welcome every time from the lady who usually works there in the mornings, and this has become one of our favourite places to give our business to. In fact, she welcomed us back with an enthusiastic ‘Bentornati!’ after almost a year after not having seen us. All too often it’s the little things in life that make you happiest.

#17: Like a good gelato, for instance! Almost opposite the mini-market is one of Tuscany’s finest gelaterie: L’Isola del Gusto. Propietor Ersilia Carboni has been a regional finalist and/or winner in competitions for several years now. The mint, chocolate, hazelnut, cherry and ‘crema di Ersilia’ flavours are just amazing, as is their deliciously cooling lemon sorbet and granita. Do you ever get a hug from food? Well you’ll get one from the gelati here.

And the ladies serving you are always super-friendly too – even welcoming us back to Volterra with grins. We love this place, and honestly, we suspect we buy something from here every second day we’re in Volterra. Not to worry, though – gelato has less fat and fewer calories than ice-cream!

Well that’s it! That’s tour route number 1. We’re just a 30 second walk back to our apartment building! Did you enjoy it – please pop us a comment if so and we’ll have a good think about the next route!

Cosa sta succendo a Volterra?

Cosa sta succendo a Volterra?

In an effort to remind folks that this blog is supposed to be about Volterra, we thought we’d post something at least themed in that direction – even if it is rather short!

First and foremostly, we’re not there. Bummer. But our property manager is, and managed to grab some shots – one of our kitchen, and a couple of angles from our terrace. Thanks again to Alice of Milianti. If you’re looking for property in the region (hi-diddly-ho, neighborino!), we would sincerely recommend them… not only for their portfolio and assistance, but also for the peace-of-mind they give us by looking in on the property from time to time (for an annual fee).

We wish we were there!

The last time we wrote about Volterra, they only had 2 or 3 Covid cases. Unfortunately, that has rocketed back up again to 57, due to a large outbreak discovered over the past few days in the medium-security prison, housed in the Medicean Fortress (Eoin managed to get a tour of one of the towers some time back). As there is a real chance that not only prisoners are impacted, the schools are closing for a week to ensure tracing can be carried out and potential carriers identified. Scary stuff – but hopefully it’s reasonably well-contained.

We also hear that while Italy has been slow to vaccinate, Tuscany is one of the better regions (albeit now an Orange Zone region again). Although we only have anecdotal evidence of that. Anyway… we hope it gets moving there, for their sake. No idea of what’s holding things up!

In better news, Volterra will be the inaugural City of Culture for Tuscany in 2022. We’d love to get involved in promoting it in some way, even if it’s informally like this. A typical calendar in Volterra is usually replete with festivals, so we imagine the stops are really going to be pulled out next year. The site still lists it as a finalist for Italian City of Culture, so we assume it will be updated soon enough.

Volterra has also been named a ‘Salt City’, to add to its tourism-feathered cap. Salt has been mined there since Etruscan times, and it was an important source of salt during the Medicean regime. Nearby town, Saline di Volterra, still produces, and it is known as a the purest salt in Italy.

Lastly, but by no means the least, Agriturismo Marcampo will be hosting a free Wine Tasting and Foor Pairing session through Ciao Tours. You have to register for the Zoom link. Given how fantastic their wines and the Del Duca restaurant is, it’ll be worth a look!

A presto!

Eoin & Niamh.