Tag: la taverna della terra di mezzo

Christmas Eve in a foggy Volterra – a meal at Terra di Mezzo (24/12/2021)

Christmas Eve in a foggy Volterra – a meal at Terra di Mezzo (24/12/2021)

‘Twas the day before Christmas! We decided to stir, but only stay in Volterra for the day. We had our breakfasts (including some yummy chocolate and orange panettone). It was market day too. It’s usually held on a Saturday, but that would have been Christmas day, so they brought it forward.

Out we went out to a very misty Volterra. I know many locals were lamenting the weather, but to me it made the whole town look enchanting, even mysterious. The first thing we saw was that the market was somewhat lighter that it usually is.

The food market is in Piazza San Giovanni, where the cathedral and baptistry lie. We turned into the square…. and there were only a few stalls available, much to our disappointment. However, it turned out that these stalls had everything we needed.

You might remember in the last blog, that samples are the way to go when operating a stall, and the lady working the fruit and veg one below very much subscribed to that school of thinking.

She had several different types of olives and nuts, and almost everything we sampled, we bought. We had good fun there too. We ended up buying some olives, including some chili-enfused ones which were delicious. We also grabbed a couple of hundred grams of some amazing roasted almonds, and some grapes. I was just a little annoyed with myself that I didn’t film at the time.

We went over to the salumi and cheese stall, and sampled some more! We ended up buying a boar salami (if I recall correctly) and several cheeses (pecorino, parmiggiano, a creamy gorgonzola). We then left the market and extended the walk.

The cathedral beckoned, and we went in. Earlier in the year, they were charging €7 for entry. This is a recent thing, and annoyed me somewhat. Today, the stall was inside the door, but it was unmanned, so we skipped inside. They’re not keen on filming there, and because I’d been there a couple of times before, I just took the one photo.

We continued our stroll.

On the way back to the apartment, we stopped in L’Incontro for a coffee and cake. I had a hot chocolate, not being a coffee-drinker. I also threw a cornetto con crema into me. Ahhh… I wish we had more bakeries where we lived, although in fairness Armelle (a French lady who moved to Kilcullen) makes some amazing treats, so I can’t be too upset!

After having had a lunch of what was bought at the market, plus a few other salumi from the local mini-market, we thought that to spend the day vegetating wouldn’t be a good use of our time, so we took another stroll. Niamh’s brother-in-law was wondering if the Irish bar (Quo Vadis) was open. I was wondering too, as when I took my morning walk a few days previously, I’d noticed that there was a bunch of recycleable boxes left there for collection.

Unfortunately, it was closed, but the Roman Theatre by the pub entrance gave me an idea.

Would our guests fancy a look-see at the new archaeological site of the newly found amphiteatre? Turns out the answer was ‘yes’! We headed through the Porta Fiorentina, and wandered down towards the cemetary. You can’t enter the dig site itself without a a guide, but we were able to have a good look anyway.

They have secured a ton more funding for the dig, so hopefully we’ll soon see a colosseum-like ruin someday in the next few years.

When we’d finished checking it out, we went inside the cemetary grounds. I rarely get a chance to do this, as almost all of my walks are early in the morning, and the cemetary is never open. Anyway, we went inside and had a look. The cemetry here is typically Italian. Some are buried in the ground with ‘traditional’ tombstones, but many are in drawers in the walls of the grounds. This is really typical throughout Italy.

I noticed a couple of things about these “drawers”. Firstly, they were very well taken-care of. Many had lights and fresh flowers. The other thing I noticed was that of those that had photos, almost none of them featured people smiling. I found these two, and one of them moved me somewhat.

That young girl. She was only 14 or 15. It looks like she died during the war. I wondered what her story was. Was it by disease, misadventure or was she a casualty of the war itself. It’s such a wonderful photo, that it was upsetting to think she died so young. If someone from Volterra is reading this by any chance, I’d love if you left me a comment or mailed me to let me know.

We left and headed back up towards the apartment. I took a few shots of the town’s distant skyline on the way back. She is lovely from any angle!

We rested back at the apartment, dollied oursselves up and then headed out to Terra di Mezzo for our Christmas Eve dinner. I had booked it a couple of months previously. We took one of our cartons of Bailey’s truffles with us to give to Robbi and Aurora. We got there and found the restaurant quite empty. We were nonetheless welcomed warmly, and asked where we’d like to sit. It was cold out, and the only table large enough for us is pretty near the door, so I suggested we head down to the cellar. In hindsight (in fact, not just in hindsight) this was a mistake. The cellar here dates from Roman times, and was probably used to keep foods fresh etc. It was cold and a little damp down there. They hadn’t been open all week, so the sting of cold hadn’t been taken out of the air by the time we arrived, and there were heaters and dehumidifiers working overtime there.

Still, aside fromt that, it’s a really nice environment – it’s not often you get to eat in a near 2,000 year-old cellar! We’d eaten in the cellar a couple of times before, and so were not expecting the cold. Anyway, we got settled-in, a couple of us throwing on a scarf or light jacket as an extra layer and presented our gift. Robbi came back down to thank us, but said “Next year two, eh?” which made us crack up. Fortunately, the tube of sweets have separate bags of truffles within, so sharing wouldn’t be a problem.

I had to go back up to Robbi before our food landed, to see if we could do anything about improving the heat situation. He adjusted and moved a couple of heaters, and it did get a little bit better. I did notice, however, that there was only one other table occupied upstairs. I had been expecting the restaurant to be a bit more full, but remembered then that Italians often celebrate Christmas at home on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t going to let the lack of bodies reduce our enjoyment.

We ordered, and got an antipasti sharing platter. I followed that up with some Zuppa alla Volterrana (che sorpresa!) and a pici cacio e pepe with truffle. I think the winners of the night were Niamh and her brother-in-law who order a beefsteak, each about the size of an adult face! I’d had it before in August, and it was very tasty.

I didn’t take photos, as I knew tomorrow was going to be a day for food photographs, and I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself. Although I did grab another bad selfie!

When finished, we said our goodbyes (and tipped well for Christmas). I saw that the restaurant was still so empty, and not only did I feel a little bad for Robbi – and I hoped he hadn’t opened just for us – but I was beginning to wonder about our Christmas lunch the next day. Would it be similarly quiet?

Thanks a lot for reading – I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment to let me know!

The Vicopisano Market (10/10/2021)

The Vicopisano Market (10/10/2021)

I didn’t go for a walk that morning, as I knew we were heading off early to travel. I did take a pic from the terrace, and one on our way to the car, though.

We’d been following people from Vicopisano on Instagram for a while (Authentic Tuscany – check them out). It seemed like a nice town, but what really clinched the deal was the collectors’ and antiques market they hold the second Sunday of every month. We’d passed it by on the way to Montecatini Terme in August too (and yes, it still galls me that I lost the video footage of that trip), and there were a couple of historical features that certainly looked worth checking out.

We set Mrs. Google to the carpark that looked most promising, and got underway. The trip is about 54km and took a little over an hour. I didn’t take any photos, because I was filiming! You can scroll further down the page to check out the video of the journey and the market itself.

We arrived around 11-11:30 and found that it was only a short stroll to the market itself. And what a market! I’d heard that Arezzo had the biggest regular antiques fair in Tuscany, which is probably true – in that it is strictly antiques. But Vicopisano’s market is absolutely enormous, and so lively. I’m struggling to think of anything that wasn’t for sale! There were books/comics, toys, old wireless radios, furniture, crockery (including very fancy dinner sets), cutlery, wonderful stalls with gramaphones (being demonstrated), clothes, weapons, musical instruments, old bikes, alabaster and terracotta-ware, mirrors, glasses, genuine war memorabilia. The market wrapped around Piazza Cavalca – a large square just west of the oldest parts of the town, and snaked its way along multiple adjoining streets. We really couldn’t get over the size of it. It was so huge, that while we didn’t buy anything (we came close), we still spend a good 60-70 minutes simply strolling through it while stopping only briefly to check out a few stalls of interest.

One of the best things about Italian markets (I think I’ve noted this before), is how lively they can be – the excited chatter of Tuscan accents buzzed about us and really added to the overall atmosphere. I really couldn’t recommend this enough! There was one stall in particular that grabbed me. A man was demonstrating a gramaphone, and despite the age of the technology, the massive horn was blaring out the old tune ‘Roses of Picardy’. You can check it out in the video towards the end of this blog.

It was time for lunch, though, and perhaps we were a bit optimistic in thinking we could walk-in just about anywhere – especially during the pandemic. I saw the reviews for Ristomacelleria Testi seemed to be quite good on Google, so I chanced my arm. They looked like they were opening, and I approached who I assumed was the manager/owner, who was on the phone. I waited until he finished, and said to me ‘Dimmi!’. So I asked him in Italian if there was a table for two available now. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. In hindsight, that was probably just as well, as we were going to go out to eat at Terra di Mezzo in Volterra later that evening, so something smaller would have been better. We walked past that restaurant again after we’d explored the old town, and the smell coming from it was amazing (definitely for meat lovers!) – so one day we’ll return with a booking!

Instead, we went to Le Belle Torri, and ate inside. Our waitress was so enthusiastic and friendly, so in the end our choice was right for that reason too. We had a pizza each – they were pretty nice, and just what we needed.

We had a ramble through the old town of Vicopisano afterwards, hoping to maybe catch an attraction or two, like the Palazzo Pretorio and the recently re-opened Rocca buttress for walking over – part of the fortifications created by Brunelleschi (yes, the same lad who fashioned the dome of the cathedral in Florence).

So we walked through the town, and were delighted by its old charm. It seemed to be built on terraces, and towers dotted the views throughout. At one point I thought that it might even rival San Gimignano for its towers, but that was just my over-active imagination. But just look at the pretty:

We walked to the Rocca and found it closed to public tours. On our way back we passed by a large group of Italians outside the gate, and assumed that they had organised a special private tour. It was Sunday, and we probably should have realised that many places stood a good chance of being shut, just slightly the wrong side of the tourist season. Onwards we went to Palazzo Pretorio (pausing to let a massive 4×4 perform a complicated 17-point turn), and saw that it too had closed just after lunch on Sundays. D’oh! I had a little explore of its courtyard, and then we had a look at a sequence of switch-backing steps leading all the way down to the river. A little disappointed (as much in our lack of preparation as well as ill luck), and wandered through the more residential area of the old town.

By the time we’d gotten back to the newer part of town, I was pleasantly surprised at how the two seemed to successfully mingle. The blend is very subtly balanced. The old with the new – the border isn’t hugely evident. We entered a bar to grab a coffee/hot chocolate, but for some reason we lost confidence on the protocol on grabbing a table. Some tables seemed to be for dining – or maybe all of them, but we weren’t sure. We chickened out, sadly, and went for one final stroll past the restaurant in which we had failed to secure a lunchtime seat – the smell of grilled meat was wonderful – even after having eaten. We walked past Le Belle Torri, and saw a gate beyond which were other gravelled-and-green-area seats and a couple of other establishments. It was a lovely little mini-park. What a fine little town this is! We wandered up and down it for a few minutes before heading back to the car.

I have to say, we didn’t do Vicopisano full photographic justice, as we missed the ‘classic’ shot of the tower with sloping battlement – but it’s best captured a little way out of town. Maybe next time.

Should you wish to make Vicopisano your base, rather than Volterra, then please out these excellent people – Authentic Tuscany!

Here is the video of our journey to, and exploration of, Vicopisano:

A little while after we had returned to Ireland, and I had published the above video, Vicopisano was awarded the Bandiera Arancione (orange flag) from the Italian Touring Club – basically a recommendation to visit one of the finer towns in Italy. I’m pretty sure it was coincidence! *wink* To be honest, I was amazed it wasn’t already on their list.

But the day wasn’t over. When we got home, we found we had a fondness of our own little town, and had a little walk before heading back to the apartment.

Later that evening, we went to one of our favourite places for food: La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo. We were welcomed warmly, as always, and then had a three-course dinner.

Afterwards Robbi, the owner, handed us a bottle of dessert wine – an almond variety. We haven’t tried it yet, but I look forward to the day we can crack it open.

Before I go… a quick art update! You may remember a few blogs ago that we bought a little original painting from a lovely old gent in Montecatini Alto, just outside the funicular station. I promised I’d post a pic of it next time I got over (and remembered!), and so here it is!

Well that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please leave a like and a comment or question. Thanks!

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!