The Torrigiani garden or Giardino Torrigiano in Florence is located between Via de' Serragli, Via del Campuccio and the remains of the medieval fortification along Viale Petrarca. Besides gardens, the property also has a palace known as Casino Torrigiani al Campuccio. It is one of the few green areas still surviving inside the historic center of Florence and represents a wonderful example of Romantic style, traditional in landscape gardening at the beginning of the 19th century.
As early as the 16th century a property named Il Campuccio is documented as owned by the Torrigiani family. As the Torrigiani lineage died out, Pietro Guadagni inherited it along with the family name of his uncle and began planning a garden here. Between 1802 and 1817 he expanded the property that came to include nearly 25 acres. The architect Luigi Cambray Digny was appointed for the project, followed by Gaetano Baccani and they both contributed to the creation of a place full of symbols of Greek mythology blended with free mason references, as the Marquis Pietro Torrigiani was a member.
The garden is dotted with small buildings and botany rarities: a little riding school, a hypogeum, a Merlin's grotto, a big tower, a hermitage, a gymnasium, an orangerie, a rookery, a little stream with a bridge and other curiosities and even has its own small guide book. At the end of the 19th century the Torrigiani garden was even used as a soccer field for Florentine aristocrats and British families temporarily living in Italy and thanks to Pietro Torrigiani, the oldest Florence Football (Soccer) Club was established here.
In the past the Madonnari – the Italian name for street painters - moved from one town to another on the occasion of important festivals. The term Madonnari (from the word Madonna or Virgin Mary) originated in central Italy and refers to their habit of painting sacred images, often the Madonna with Baby Jesus. Nowadays in Florence with the arrival of nice weather you can find them along Via Calimala, where they have three spaces to work at their disposal. They produce their artwork directly on the street pavement using chalk and other materials and welcome donations left by people walking by who admire their creativity and talent. This a picture I took of one work of art while I was leading a private Florence tour. It’s really a pity that these masterpieces get destroyed every night when the streets are cleaned!
The earliest recorded evidence of the production of soap-like material dates back to around 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. Considering that soap was rarely used by the Ancient Romans who preferred pumice, clay, scrapers and perfumed oil for body cleansing, it only became known in the Western world after 800 AD as the Arab influence over European regions expanded. In the 12th century soap factories opened in Spain, in Marseille, France, and in Savona and Venice, Italy. During the Restoration era (1665 – 1714) a soap tax was introduced in England, which meant that until the mid-1800s, soap was a luxury, used regularly only by the wealthy. Soap turned into industrial production only at the end of the 1800s and consequently prices became cheaper and daily use of soap was eventually common among the general population.
The oldest soap still produced today is the one from Aleppo, Syria. It is made with second or third press olive oil and a percentage of laurel oil (ranging from 10 to 50) and the color is green because of chlorophyll but turns yellow with time. The production was reduced because of the war going on but some managed to reopen recently and they still offer an artisanal production. Turkey as well boasts traditional products: in Antioch (less than 100 kms from Aleppo) soap is made with first press olive oil, that’s why the color is white and it has a very delicate aroma whereas in Mardin they add wild pistachio oil, which makes soap bars bright green.
The most famous soap factories in Europe are in Marseille, where soap bars are available in two versions: white for laundry made with palm oil and green for cosmetics with a 72 percent content of olive oil. I buy my soap locally here in Tuscany when I go to the amazing extra virgin olive oil producer Villa Monteoriolo, a family run estate in the Chianti area near Florence... you definitely have to swing by the next time you are in Tuscany.
One of the legends about the origins of tiramisu says that it was made for the first time in Siena, on the occasion of the visit of the Medici Grand Duke Cosimo III (1642-1723) and therefore it was named “the duke’s soup”. It is true that back then the popularity of coffee, one of the main ingredients of tiramisu, was spreading quickly across Italy but we have to say that neither marscarpone cheese, traditional to the region of Milan, nor ladyfinger cookies were of common use in Tuscany. More probably tiramisu was invented in the Veneto region near Treviso.
The recipe is not mentioned in cookbooks before the 1960s and for this reason it is considered a recent invention. The most surprising thing is that tiramisu never became a registered trademark and many people claim to have invented it. However, it is fairly widely accepted that it was invented at Alle Beccherie restaurant in Treviso by Roberto Linguanotto, a chef that had worked across Europe. The original dialect name tiramesù was turned into the more standard Italian tiramisù, referring to its high nutritional value or maybe to its aphrodisiac power (literally pick me up or lift me up). The original recipe includes ladyfingers or Pavesini cookies, eggs, sugar, coffee and cocoa powder. Initially there were no liquors like Marsala or rum added, so the dessert was suitable for everybody, children as well. Today countless versions of tiramisu exist: with chocolate, amaretti cookies, wild berries, lemon flavoring, strawberries, pineapple, yogurt, banana, raspberry, coconut and even beer. It’s one of my favorite desserts and I love preparing it … Maybe I should think about a private tour of Siena ending with a tasting of my very own tiramisu!
Photo Credit: Thanks to my friend @smness for the nice pic, I bet this is one of Vincenzo's creations
#food #travel #explore #italy #elisabettamarchi #tuscanytrotter
In 2011 some works by Jean-Michel Folon were returned to Florence, a city he deeply loved, as a permanent exhibit located inside the Rose Garden. Ten bronze casts and two plaster models were given by the Belgian artist’s wife and were set in a wonderful scenic context just below Piazzale Michelangelo. They are very unique, like for instance the big suitcase sculpture, Partir, where through the center a breathtaking framed view of Florence is created. Or further up, walking among the rose bushes, one can sit on a bench next to Personnage deeply immersed in his reading and thoughts or pet the big cat Chat relaxing on the grass. Folon dreamed about his masterpieces being given a new life in a neglected place in the capital of Tuscany and for this purpose the Rose Garden was completely renovated: this botanical-artistic combination is a gem and creates a bridge with his last exhibit organized at Forte Belvedere in Florence in 2005, the year Jean-Michel Folon passed away.
photo credit Auro Giotti
No matter which direction you might be arriving from, you can't help noticing San Gimignano set on a steep hilltop with its unique skyline boasting 13 towers. In the 14th century there were probably 72 of them, each noble family had one to show off their wealth. Often remnants of former towers are visible today as part of a more modern facade or building. Back then, the way of living was very simple. Rooms were very small, there were very few windows and walls were up to 2 meters thick in order to provide cooler inside temperatures in the summer and insulation during cold winters. The layout still makes sense for safety today, with shops or workshops on the ground floor, bedrooms above and the kitchen on the very top floor. In the case of a fire originating from the kitchen, family members could have had time to leave and hopefully limit the damage to the kitchen area. Certainly in the Middle Ages a tower was a symbol of power too: the building process being so complicated, only merchants or usurers could afford one and these small fortified houses that provided defense from their competitors and enemies. Photo credit Auro Giotti #italy #sangimignano #tuscanytrotter
This is a work by Michelangelo, begun in a very complicated moment in the life of the artist. The Deposition or BandiniPietà is a marble sculpture from the Italian High Renaissance. The sculpture, on which Michelangelo worked between 1547 and 1555, depicts four figures: the dead body of Jesus Christ, newly taken down from the Cross, Nicodemus (or possibly Joseph of Arimathea), Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary. The work is housed in the Opera del Duomo Museum in Florence and is therefore also known as the Florentine Pietà. According to Vasari, Michelangelo made the Florence Pietà to decorate his tomb in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. He later sold it however, prior to completion of the work after intentionally damaging Christ's left arm and leg and removing several components for reasons still under debate. Some experts believe it was because the marble was flawed and the sculpture could not be completed without the addition of a piece of marble from another block (a technique called "piecing").
Vasari noted that Michelangelo began to work on the sculpture around the age of 72. Without commission, Michelangelo worked tirelessly into the night with just a single candle to illuminate his work. After 8 years of working on it, Michelangelo would attempt to destroy the work in a fit of frustration. This marked the end of Michelangelo's work on the sculptural group, which found itself in the hands of Francesco Bandini, who hired an apprentice sculptor, by the name of Tiberio Calcagni, to restore the work to its current composition. The left leg of Christ is missing. Since its inception, the sculpture has been plagued by ambiguities and never ending interpretations, with no certain answers available.
The face of Nicodemus under the hood is considered to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself.
The name Antinori evokes a very long history, the marquis have been in wine business for decades and own wineries in Italy and other countries. Since 2012, it has been possible to visit their new cellars in the Chianti Classico region, near the little village of Bargino, half way between Florence and Siena. The project required almost 7 years of work and a considerable investment. The Florentine architect Marco Casamonti designed a building perfectly integrated into the surrounding environment. The structure is almost invisible from the road, with an exterior cultivated with vines and the surrounding landscaping made up of oak and olive trees. The three floors are connected with a unique spiral stairway, whose shape recalls a corkscrew. The huge glass windows allow light to filter through and people to feel immersed directly in the landscape.
On the production side, special attention has been paid to saving energy. For instance, at harvest time the grapes are transferred to the tanks by gravity, avoiding mechanical pumps and making for a smoother operation. During a winery visit, guests can see the fermentation cellar, the barrique aging cellar, the museum, the wine library and perhaps finish at the little restaurant or wine shop where the Tuscan, Lombard, Californian and South American Antinori wines can be found. There is also a stunning auditorium, completely paneled with oak (the same wood as the wine barrels) as well as green and brown chairs, the same colors as the forests near the property. I love to accompany my clients to this winery during a day trip in the countryside, and after the visit we can continue on for a tour in one of the small villages nearby such as Greve in Chianti or even San Gimignano or Siena.
#travel #explore #italy #elisabettamarchi #tuscanytrotter
Drinking wine while relaxing in St. Mark’s square in Venice has been common for decades if not centuries. During the Venetian Republic wine dealers used to store their big bottles of wine in the shade of the Basilica’s bell tower, hence the name ombra di vin (shade wine). The same system was adopted by taverns or bacaro that decided to move their outdoor tables to the little side streets to keep their wine cooler.
During the Austrian domination in Venice and Milan, soldiers watered down the local wine because it was too strong for their palate. This came to be known as spritzen, meaning spray or splash. At the beginning of the 20th century seltzer replaced carbonated water but only after WWI, when people started looking for sophisticated things after the deprivation of the war, did Vittorio and Mario Pilla established their distillery near the Canonica bridge on Sestriere di Castello. Starting a business inside the historic center meant contributing to the entrepreneurial regeneration of the city of Venice. Mixing different aromatic herbs is how they created their Select liqueur recipe – an essential ingredient of the Venetian Spritz. During a private party on the Feast of the Redeemer the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio coined the name from the Latin word selectus as he loved the new drink so much.
Since then the distillery producing Oro Pilla Brandykept using the same old secret Select recipe, a combination of 30 different herbs including mace, clove, juniper berries and rhubarb roots. As the Pilla family died out, the Select brand was bought in 1954 by the Buton company and eventually became part of the Montenegro Liquor group. Thank you to @frascoli_bacaro for introducing me to this tradition!
#italy #tuscanytrotter #spritz #venice
Florence has been known since the Renaissance as a center for art and creativity of all types, including the creation of incredible jewelry. Today, Florence is still home to goldsmiths who create stunning pieces from high quality gold, silver and precious stones, creating some of the most beautiful pieces you will find in the entire world. The heart of this activity has been centered on the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) for over 400 years! The bridge, thought to be originally constructed in Roman times as a way to cross the Arno River at its narrowest point, was once lined by butcher shops. In an effort to clean up and gentrify the bridge, the butchers were banned in 1595 and only goldsmiths and jewelers were allowed to set up shop in this prestigious location from then on. Today, tourists and locals alike flock to the beautiful stores to purchase necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other types of jewelry.
While I love to take my clients shopping along the Ponte Vecchio, there are also other stores not far from the bridge where you can even see the goldsmiths hard at work in their workshops creating unique pieces of jewelry. It is possible to request custom pieces and work directly with the goldsmith who will be making it! I love gold jewelry and the photos included with this blog are of two rings that I recently had made for me in Florence. One of my favorite stores is Jean Saadè and another one is Nerdi which is located in the Casa dell’Orafo historic workshops that have been in use since the Medici family ruled Florence. Come with me on a fascinating day to select your own piece of gold jewelry to remind you of your trip to Florence!
Many clients ask my advice about how to get around Italy, especially those who are trying to cover the boot from north to south and see as much as possible in a short amount of time. I can highly recommend using the fast and efficient high speed train lines that connect the major cities in Italy, especially the trains that run north to south (or vice versa) such as Milan, Bologna, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. These are the main train stations and those with the best connections, with trains running constantly and not only serviced by Trenitalia (the former state run company) but also by the Italo train company, a private venture that has newer trains and cleaner bathrooms and sometimes even better fare deals. Please note that taking Italo trains is recommended/possible only for the major cities as they do not run regional trains out to the smaller cities and towns. However, train travel to secondary destinations is not usually the best solution as the regional trains are usually older, dirtier and much slower and can require complicated train changes depending on where you are going.
The famous Palio of Siena horserace takes place twice a year, once on July 2nd and a second time on August 16th. This fascinating historical race has origins that go back hundreds of years and the race still plays a treasured and very central role in Siena civic life today.
The city of Siena is divided into 17 historic contrade (listed below) or neighborhoods/districts that participate in the running of the race each year, with ten contrade running in each race. To join a contrada you must be baptized into it and from then on you spend your free time and money supporting your neighborhood in the hopes of winning the next Palio. Contrada members take part in the many events of the Palio including the massive dinners held in the streets and squares, the blessing of the horse, and the historical parade with special costumes, musicians and flag throwers.
Attending the Palio horserace is an amazing experience, and one that not many tourists get a chance to do. There are several ways to be able to feel the thrill and witness the extreme joy as the winner is proclaimed and despair as the loosing contrade accept their fate. Watching the Palio from the center of Piazza del Campo is actually completely free and does not require a ticket. However, people attending for the first time should be aware that the race is very short and the wait is very long, and from the center it is likely you will see very little of the race. Balconies above the square and seating in the stands that circle the piazza are available at steep prices and should be reserved far in advance, some even come with refreshments and facilities.
Another way to experience the Palio is by attending one of the many trial races that occur once or twice a day in the few days leading up to each Palio. These are trial races similar to the actual Palio, but with many fewer spectators and way less waiting time. Or if you are coming to Siena in a different period, I am more than happy to take you on a Palio-themed walking tour of this medieval city. The tour can include a stroll through different neighborhoods, lots of interesting information about the Palio, and even a private visit to a Palio museum (that are usually closed to the public) to see the memorabilia of a specific neighborhood.Here is a complete list of the 17 contrade with name translations according to the Palio di Siena wikipiedia page:
Aquila (Eagle), Bruco (Caterpillar), Chiocciola (Snail), Civetta (Little Owl), Drago (Dragon), Giraffa (Giraffe), Istrice (Crested Porcupine), Leocorno (Unicorn), Lupa (She-Wolf), Nicchio (Seashell), Oca (Goose), Onda (Wave), Pantera (Panther), Selva (Forest), Tartuca (Tortoise), Torre (Tower), Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram).
Many of my clients are curious to know which area of Tuscany is my favorite. My answer is: all of them! It is so hard to choose a favorite from the many different areas, mostly because they are so diverse. Tuscany has everything from mountains and the sea to bustling art cities and tiny villages, but one of the most special areas has to be the Crete Senese. This is the landscape that you picture when you close your eyes and day dream of Tuscany.
The area to the south of Siena, referred to as the Crete Senese (that roughly translates to clay hills of Siena) is a unique landscape that I love. This region has a heavy clay soil that creates a very particular always-shifting lunar landscape, especially in the winter when the fields lay fallow. In contrast, the spring and summer offer lush waves of green grasses with a line of cypress trees all pointing toward the sky. This area has a history deeply connected to the mezzadria or sharecropping system, in fact you can visit the Mezzadria Museum in Buonconvento to learn how the population lived over the last centuries. Here you will see lots of farming still going on today, with fields planted in crops such as wheat, sunflowers and hay among others. This area also features many pastures for sheep, whose milk is used to make the wonderful local pecorino cheese.
In the area surrounding Montalcino, a charming hilltop village dominated by a Fortress from the 1300’s, you will find extensive vineyards planted with Sangiovese Grosso grapes, used to make the world famous Brunello di Montalcino red wine. The wine is produced only in this small region, requires 100% Sangiovese grapes, and must be aged for five years before being released on the market. One of the most famous wines from Italy, the local wineries and wine shops attract visitors from around the world for visits and tastings of their award winning wines.
If you are interested in visiting this area I would love to be your guide. I can arrange for private wine tastings, take you to my favorite local restaurants and show you hidden gems throughout the region on our day together in the Crete Senese.
I spend much of my time taking my clients around the museums and monuments of the two major cities of Tuscany: Florence and Siena. So when my clients ask me to create a day in the countryside, I jump at the chance! Even though I was born here, the Tuscan countryside still manages to take my breath away. From the tiny hilltop villages and exclusive villas and castles, to olive orchards and vineyards, it is worth dedicating a day of your trip to getting out of the city to explore this unforgettable landscape.
One of my favorite places to take clients is for a visit to Villa di Geggiano, a property owned by the Bianchi Bandinelli family since 1527, just 20 minutes outside the city of Siena. This luxury villa with winery is located in the prestigious Chianti Classico region and produces straightforward organic wines that respect the local traditions and environment. The property offers an impressive renovated villa, extensive garden and grounds, and winery and has even been used as a movie set for films such as Stealing Beauty with Bernardo Bertolucci, Liv Tyler and Jeremy Irons. If you are thinking of planning your wedding in Tuscany, this beautiful complex is also available as a wedding venue or for other private events.
After the visit to Villa Geggiano, we can continue the countryside exploration with a booking for lunch in a great local restaurant nearby where you can try more local Chianti wines paired with typical Tuscan treats such as pecorino cheese, extra virgin olive oil, wild boar, fresh pasta dishes and much more. Of course a day in the countryside isn’t complete without a visit to a charming village so after lunch we can head to nearby Castellina in Chianti or Gaiole in Chianti to enjoy these hilltop Chianti villages for some shopping and a mid-afternoon gelato.
The Synagogue in Florence is one of the largest in Italy and worth a visit. Construction began at the end of the 1800’s, after the demolition of the Jewish Ghetto of Florence, and the synagogue opened its doors in 1882. It is located in the city center of Florence in the Mattonaia district. The architecture combined elements of Moorish, Byzantine, and Romanesque influence and the final result is stunning, reflecting both the Florentine history and Jewish experience.
The Synagogue features a museum within the synagogue complex. The first section shows the historical objects used by the Jewish community in Florence throughout the centuries. The second section has more objects, especially from ceremonies, as well as furnishings, the Hebrew bible on scrolls of parchment, and important drawings. The museum includes a film about the history of Florence as well as documents that illustrate Jewish life over the last 600 years in this city.
Jews were invited to move to Florence in the 1400’s to become moneylenders, a profession forbidden to Christians at the time, but necessary none-the-less for a vibrant city of art, culture, and trade. The history of the Jews in Florence is complex, with periods of intense persecution including long confinement to ghettos, the worst of which occurred during WWII when they faced horrible crimes at the hands of the Italian Facist regime and then by the occupying Germans.
If you are planning on visiting Florence and would like to visit the synagogue or attend a service or event check out the website of the Jewish community of Florence that is written in both English and Italian. Here you can find out information about attending events, read about the history of the community, and learn about how to visit the museum or synagogue. If you would like experience Jewish Florence for yourself, why not join me for a Jewish Florence Tour!
If you join me for a tour of Florence, besides showing you some amazing art and explaining the history I will surely propose a stop in a wonderful Florentine gelateria (gelato shop). Strolling the cobblestone streets of one of the most beautiful cities in the world on a sunny day with a delicious gelato is one of my favorite experiences to share with visitors from around the world. Here is a list of my top five gelato shops in Florence and my favorite flavors to enjoy from each one. Yum!
Gelateria dei Neri - Best flavors to try: Caramel fudge, Mango cheesecake or Pistachio cream.
Gelateria Vivoli - Best flavors to try: Napoleon (Millefoglie) is unbeatable as well as their Stracciatella (the equivalent of vanilla with chocolate chunks), only downside is that they don’t have cones.
Perchè No - Best flavors to try: Coffee crunch and Bacio (chocolate and hazelnut like the Perugina Bacio candy)… their shaved ice is very good too.
Gelateria della Passera - Best flavor to try: Hands down they have the best Pistachio in Florence
Gelateria Badiani (near the stadium, so not in the historic center) - Best flavor to try: Everything is good here, but my current favorite is their brand new American Consulate flavor created to celebrate 200 years since the establishment of the American consulate in Florence in 1819.
If you are arriving to Florence on the train into the main train station, then the initials SMN, which stand for Santa Maria Novella, should ring a bell. The central train station is indeed named after the Santa Maria Novella Church, which is located directly across from it. The church is of the Dominican order and is most likely the place where the very young Michelangelo at 13 years old, worked as an apprentice to Domenico Ghirlandaio. It was built in the 13th Century, but the special façade was only finally completed in 1920. The church rose to fame as incredibly important artists such as Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Giotto, Botticelli and Vasari, among many others, made beautiful works of art specially created for the complex. The Basilica underwent an extensive restoration for the year 2000 grand Jubilee. It is now possible to visit the entire Santa Maria Novella complex including the Museum areas run by the city of Florence such as the Cloister of the Dead, Green Cloister, Spanish Chapel, Ubriachi Chapel and Refectory as well as the church controlled areas such as the Basilica itself and the Cemetery of the Avelli. The church strives to welcome all visitors, but is sometimes closed for worship and prayer, during which times only pilgrims or worshippers are allowed inside. As with all churches in Italy, a dress code is in effect at all times, requiring covered shoulders and knees as well. Silence and respect for the location as a place of worship are also required. The opening hours are normally between 9am and 5:30 or 7pm depending on the time of year, expect for Fridays which usually has a later opening of 11am and Sundays which have reduced hours only in the afternoon. Ticket price is Euro 7.50 for adults, Euro 5 for children ages 11 to 18 and free of charge for children under 11. Valid ID showing age may be requested.
The Società Canottieri or Rowing Club in Florence has its earliest beginnings in the year 1886. The first race along the Arno River was recorded in 1887 with various participating teams celebrating the new façade of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence. The club as we know it today was officially founded in 1911 and took the Florentine city colors of white and red. From the very beginning, the rowers came from all walks of life, from nobility to students and laborers. The current headquarters on the Arno River down below the Uffizi was established in 1933. As you walk across the Ponte Vecchio, or observe from either side of the banks of the Arno River, you can see the sleek canoes with athletes training and hear their shouted commands as they row in unison. The team participates in local, national and international competitions with a tremendous amount of success. The rowers today can go from Ponte alle Grazie to Ponte alla Carraia, a distance of about 1200 meters, because the Arno is no longer fully navigable as it was in the middle ages.
During both World War I and then again during World War II rowers were not to be found along the river as young men went to the front lines of these two devastating wars. According to the official Società Canottieri website, after the liberation of Florence in 1944 the first signs of the city’s rebirth was the return of the rowers to their daily practice on the Arno River. However, they rowed against an apocalyptic backdrop of the bombed city streets and destroyed bridges of which only the Ponte Vecchio was spared. Another tragic event for Florence and for the Rowing Society was the historic flood of November 4th, 1966 during which the Society’s headquarters were completely submersed underwater, and the city of Florence was flooded by the raging Arno River. Luckily, the Society members all pitched in to help rebuild and by January 1st they had boats back in the water for the traditional rowing on New Years Day.
The beautiful church of Santa Croce in Florence is wonderful to visit, especially if you love history. It has sculptures, architecture and frescoes to be explored but it is also the burial place of many important Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. Every year in June, the square directly in front of the church hosts the tournament of Calcio Storico, translating to historic soccer or football. The tradition of this colorful and lively soccer game dates back 500 years. It is said that aristocrats and even popes played soccer back in the day and that the sport was a predecessor to modern day soccer, American football, and rugby. Today the Calcio Storico matches happen during the 3rd week of June and feature the Azzurri or Blues, the Rossi or Reds, the Bianchi or Whites and the Verdi or Greens. Each of the teams represents a different Florentine neighborhood. The game is chaotic and often violent and has 27 people playing on each team. No substitutions are allowed for injuries! The final game is played on June 24th, which is the Saints day of San Giovanni, the Patron Saint of Florence. Come join me on a private tour of Florence to discover the secrets of Santa Croce and more fun details about the history of soccer in Florence.