Tag: lari

Lari and the Pasta Factory

Lari and the Pasta Factory

We have two guests with us for a short while, so we decided to take them to Lari. We had been there before, but the Martelli pasta factory tours were closed in August (when many Italians go on holiday). We wandered up to the carpark, only to see that they’d strung some brollies over Gramsci. Tonight is Volterra’s culture night (La Notte Rossa), where there are a ton of acts playing around the city, and many of the major attractions are open for free from 21:00 to 24:00. Why do they call it The Red Night? They light up the city with red lamps – like they do near Christmas. It will be a late night, but I’m looking forward to it. Below is a pic of one of our favourite restaurateurs, from La Terre di Mezzo – getting ready for the festivities.


We went to Lari by way of La Sterza, and Terriciola.  Why Google Maps changed our route to take is through Terriciola, rather than go around it is a mystery.  We were rewarded with a different set of sights this time around, as we were driven through village after village, past vineyards and olive groves.  It was pretty cool… except maybe for the driver, who insisted we travel a different route going home!  The roads were quite narrow in parts and can’t have been fun to navigate.

We parked near the old town, with about a 250m walk uphill to the archway which leads into the main area.  It was a warm day, and the climb was understandably a little draining.  There was an organised tour group ahead of us, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the next opening.  This afforded us a mooch around the town for a bit, including a trip to a jewellers who could only give us a price for an 18-carat bracelet after he’d weighed it.  I’d never seen that before!  When the price was given, we excused ourselves and left.

A large group of people had gathered from Ireland (including a pair of people other than ourselves), Germany, the US, the Netherlands and Switzerland to go in.  The tour was only about 15 minutes long, but you got to go into the areas where pasta (specifically spaghetti here – the rest of the pastas are made in the castle in the middle of the town) is dried and cut – and you were given a small sample of pre-cut pasta.  Martelli pasta is cut with bronze dies, which give it a very rough texture.  As the pasta is only made from durum wheat and water, there isn’t a flavour difference, but the sauce sticks beautifully to the pasta in the pan during the final stages of cooking.

The dude that came out to deliver the tour (in English) was dressed in video-game racial stereotype overalls, but he knew his stuff and was friendly.  The main area was really warm… maybe 35-36 celsius, and I wondered how hot it could get in August-heat!

Afterwards, we had a lunch with Martelli pasta.  We had done so before in the same restaurant, but the only new dish was the one I got – maccheroni with a tuscan ragu.

Our guests were a little tired, so we forewent trips to other towns, and headed home – capturing some lovely scenery on the way.  We had an obligatory stop at the ‘O’ on the road just past Volterra, on the way to Siena.

Apologies… you can see reflections in some of the photos.  On the way back to apartment, we grabbed some gelati, because we could!  We pretty much stayed in for the rest of the day, except when I nipped out to grab a little shopping, and Niamh went out to get takeaway pizza for herself and the other ladies.  

I’ve ceased being a fan of pizza at night (acid stomach), and instead got something even more trashy, but strangely nice for a change – a fishburger.  The fish was flaky inside the rough crumb, so it wasn’t the worst thing at all – I might try the burger in the same place (Attutapizza) some other time.


Afterwards, we watched Wine Country on Netflix, which was mis-labelled as a comedy.  Ah, I’m being unfair – it wasn’t a bad flick (although I left about 10 mins before the end).  The Napa Valley looks a bit like Tuscany, so that was a plus – and the characters in it were amiable enough.

Anyhoo, this morning I got up earlier than usual, and compounded by the fact that it is later in the year, the town was a little darker than usual.  I found a new part of the route (well… Niamh had gone that way before me), which made the walk a little more interesting.  I also captured a wide shot of Volterra’s buildings I’d never been able to capture before.  It almost looks like another town from that angle.

The guests are having a mooch about town today, so I will use some of this day to put a hole in my writing project.  I hope to stay out much of the night to capture as much as I can on La Notte Rossa too, so I’m really looking forward to that!

We are bringing one of the guests to the airport tomorrow mid-morning, but I hope to have a blog up before we go tomorrow.


We Blitz-Visit 4 Hilltowns

We Blitz-Visit 4 Hilltowns

Warning! This page is photo-heavy!

We showered and made ourselves pretty, then went to the bank (Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra) to renew our online banking security token. They are our mortgage provider. We had to go to an Italian bank, as Irish banks at the time (and still maybe today) were refusing to grant mortgages for foreign properties. Anyway, we were super-lucky that a local bank was willing to assist, and we felt comfortable with them from the get-go.

We entered, took our ticket and glanced at the digital display of which number was being served next, and at which teller. There are many institutions and stores at which you have to take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. It’s not a bad idea, as it means you can find somewhere comfortable while waiting, and not be worried about being queue-jumped.

Our number was called, and we explained that we didn’t have much Italian, and then showed them a Google Translate of what we wanted. Fortunately, she gave us an immediate appointment with the representative with whom we were dealing for our mortgage. He greeted us enthusiastically, and in about 15 minutes we were done and dusted. Excellent!

With that done, we stopped to get a quick bottle of water each and headed to the carpark. We drove a familiar route (which takes us to the airport) for much of the way to Lari, before Google Maps showed us an alternative route. We took it, and were glad we did. There were some fantastic views to be had. Unfortunately, as we didn’t know the road, I didn’t take any photos, as I was fixated on the route displayed on the phone (our Lancia POS does not have on-board GPS). In addition, there were no points on the road at which you could stop and take a few snaps in comfort. It can be frustrating sometimes, but we will take this road again and do our best to capture it for you at another time.

We got handy parking (with just a short walk), and wandered up to the main walled part of the town, which is quite small. The whole area is dominated by the fortress, which lies in the middle, atop huge, conical walls. The views from there were impressive.

One of the main reasons we visited Lari, however, was to check out the Martelli pasta factory.  Unfortunately, the August curse struck and the place was closed until September.  Generally, unless you’re in an area likely to be swamped with toursists, you take your holiday in August if you’re Italian.  This was a bit of a recurring theme later on.  Almost everything was closed, including the factory.  We’ll go again in September with guests, so all is well.  Plus, we consoled ourselves with food in a nearby restaurant.  Niamh had a salad and spaghetti all’aglione, and I had a carbonara, but with sausage instead of pancetta or guanciale (the latter is pork jowl, and is the preferred cut to use for carbonara).  The pastas were Martelli and were nice and toothsome.  

I then had a chargrilled pork steak in one of the most unusual sauces I’ve ever had: gorgonzola, green peppercorn and paprika.  I’m still not sure what to make of it… I think I liked it, but I might have to have it again to be sure!  

We decided to wait for dessert until the next town.  This was a mistake.

Seeing nowhere open we could actually buy Martelli pasta, we headed back to the car, and contemplated just heading home, but then I suggested we visit the spa town of Casciana Terme, as it was only 20 or so minutes’ drive away.  We arrived from a height and saw the town neatly nestled below us.  It is not an old medieval town, but still has its charms.  It was getting very warm, and so we hunted for a place near the spa itself for gelati.  We found one, and sadly it was one of the worst ones I’ve ever had.  The lemon sorbet had a sort of cardboard-like undertone… not pleasant at all.  I won’t name the place.  At least it did it’s job of cooling us down.

Casciana Terme also fell foul of both August holidays and the afternoon siesta.  There was virtually nobody on the streets.  It might be an idea to try again in September, complete with a visit to the spa itself (which, in fairness, was open).

We returned to the car, and I spotted that a couple more places were nearby: Rivalto and Chianni.  We drove to the former, almost via the latter thanks to a bum-steer by me.  I must say, that while all the literature proclaims Volterra to be the highest hilltop town in Tuscany, Rivalto can give it a run for its money.  Maybe it’s not included in the list, as it’s really more of a village.  But the views were impressive, especially as you could see Volterra on its plateau way off in the distance.

Onwards to Chianni.  I’m sorry to say we didn’t spend nearly enough time in it – maybe only 20-30 minutes, as we were seriously beginning to cook under the sun at that point.  It was about 32-34 again yesterday.  Chianni looks gorgeous, and we will definitely be back soon for a better mooch.

We drove home after that, and chilled.

In the evening we used up some perishables in the fridge and Niamh cooked a little vegetable pasta dish, which was nice – althought I wasn’t especially hungry after my afternoon meal.  I then went out for a passeggiata (a stroll, usually taken en-masse by Italians in the evening), and took some snaps.  There was a jazz orchestra playing in the Roman amphiteatre, so I stayed a while and listed to that.

This morning I headed to the balze (the cliffs and bluffs of the Volterran plateau), and realised that I was very near the Witches Stone.  Here, it is said, the mother of all witches, Aradia the daughter of Diana, held her masses, during which orgiastic and sapphic pleasures occured with avatistic abandon.  Sadly, today there was only an old font 😉

No strict plans today, so lets see whats what.  I hope you enjoyed this post.  Please let me know what you’d like to see more of.  Cheers!

Booze and Books

Booze and Books

We drove 35 or so minutes from Volterra to La Rosa to check out (no pun intended) the MD Supermarket there. We were a little disappointed – no intrinsic fault of that supermarket itself – when we got there, and found out that it’s a bit of a reverse-tardis: it’s smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside. In fact, it isn’t much bigger than the Co-Op Supermarket we have in Volterra.

One slightly curious thing about supermarkets in Italy, and their fresh produce: it is considered both rude and unhygenic to handle fruit & veg without using the disposable plastic gloves (so nicely modelled by Niamh in the photo below), even if you’re handling stuff to put in your own basket.  


In fact, our own local grocer’s has a sign saying “No self service!” – they pick out the produce themselves for you.  I guess they know where their hands have been!

Anyway, we picked up stuff for lunch and dinner (which at least seems to have been more inexpensive than other shops) and went straight home.

Lunch was a series of cold-cuts and cheeses.  With added balsamic and a truffle-enfused honey, I had a plethora of flavours on the plate – from creamy to earthy, from fresh to salty and sour.  Yummy.


We had a bit of a kip after lunch, and then ventured outside again.  We had to get wine refills.  On the way, we stopped into a bookshop and antiquary to check what it had.  We were greeted very enthusiastically by a thin man, who took it upon himself to talk rapidly in Italian to us, while miming everything he was saying.  We told him we were Irish, and he showed us… no wait… he literally capered from shelf to shelf, indicating a map of Ireland with a shamrock-laden Leprechaun’s hat perched precariously on it; elsewhere, printed quotes by WB Yeats, one of which he discussed at length.

He was very handsy, but not suspisciously or creepily so – he’s just a really nice guy, who happens to love what he does.  I asked him if he had any books in Italian suitable for ‘an idiot’.  He cackled at this, and showed us a couple of novels.  With each one, he showed us the synopsis blurb on the back, and not only read it out, but mimed it too.  Bless him, he was like Mr. Rogers on crack.

I ended up buying a chick-lit book in Italian.  Two reasons right there why I won’t be reading it today or tomorrow – so he got his sale!  We signed his guestbook and went back outside.

I don’t know how much money he makes, but he seems a great deal happier than most people I know.  I’ll be back.

There are a couple of wineries which have stores in Volterra, which sell directly to us great unwashed.  One of these is Santa Lucia, which is a farm about a 40 minute drive, north-east of Volterra.  Not too sure about their whites, but their reds (I think) are 100% San Giovese, and so are very drinkable.  And cheap.  

You can waltz in, and sample up to 5 or 6 wines, and then take home what you fancy.  The wines are there in vats.  You can either get a bag-in-box or bring your own bottles, and fill them up like you would a car with petrol.

Did I mention how inexpensive they are.  The wines vary from €1.20 to €2.10 per litre.  We got 5 litres of red and 5 of white and paid just under €18 for the lot.  That’s 13 bottles of wine.  And it ain’t plonk either – it’s very drinkable.

There’s another place outside town (Cantina di Fabio) that does this too, but they do 8 litre bags, and given that it’s an uphill struggle to the apartment, we tend to stick with Santa Lucia.

I wrote a little bit in the afternoon, and lazed some more.

That evening, Niamh served up gnocchi, with mushrooms and smoked pancetta (bacon lardons, essentially) in a cream sauce.  It was yummy – next time we’ll had something with a fresh taste to offset the other flavours – parsely or peas, maybe.  But look how tasty this is!


I’m sorry to say we stayed in all night.  I looked at telly for a bit, finishing off the John Callahan biopic “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot”, on Amazon, and the next ep of Orange Is The New Black on Netflix.  The movie was really good – give it a go – but OITNB is still a bit rubbish (although this episode was better than the previous one).

Despite being early to bed, I woke up tired, and thought I was going to cut short my walk, but I gave it a bash anyway, and went a particularly hilly route.

Not sure what the plans are today – maybe head up to Lari to check out the producer of one of the poshest pastas in Italy: Martelli.

See you in the next one!