At the junction of Umbria and Tuscany lies the Val di Chiana, a wide fertile valley boasting lovely medieval villages, beautiful rural landscapes and the eponymous Chianina cattle breed, from which the best bistecca Fiorentina is prepared.
When I drop by a village bar in Italy, I often see, hanging on the wall, a black and white photo showing the town’s central piazza filled with lively locals – a scene which unfailingly makes me daydream about the good old days. Then I look through the window, from my table, and get a glimpse of the same town square as the one in the picture, only to realise that things have changed quite a bit: the present-day piazza is either desolate or overcrowded with tourists…
A few months ago, I could have given you a thousand good reasons to visit Sicily – if you needed any. But this number, in my book, has recently gone up to one thousand and one, like in the celebrated Middle Eastern saga.
The latest addition is the Palazzo Butera, an immense and freshly restored Baroque palace located in the heart of Palermo, and which will be home to the exquisite art collection of Francesca and Massimo Valsecchi.
San Gimignano… A lovely Tuscan town famous for its 13 medieval “tower houses” – and which I invited you, in a previous article, to visit in the much quieter wintertime. But the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages”, as it is nicknamed, is also one of the best places in Italy to see… contemporary art!
I did it, at long last! Wandering about the streets of Rome on Italy’s iconic motor scooter, the Vespa!
I had been dreaming of this since I had first seen, as a child, the 1953 romantic comedy film “Roman Holiday”, in which the beautiful woman I was lucky enough to call my godmother, Audrey Hepburn, drives through the Eternal City astride a silvery, fidgety Vespa.
Do you still remember the time when TripAdvisor and the like did not exist? When it was creatures of flesh and blood – and not applications and algorithms – who pointed and steered you, in a confidential tone, to a little-known gem of a restaurant, a picturesque back road or an unfrequented beauty spot?
They are everywhere… Over the last twenty years, the monotonous Monobloc – a lightweight stackable polypropene chair, often white in colour – has proliferated like mushrooms all over the world, and most noticeably at beach bars and seaside resorts.
The numbers make your head spin: a billion Monoblocs have been sold in Europe alone, and I’m told that one Italian manufacturer turns out 10 million units a year!
I have always loved wandering in the aisles of markets, covered or open-air ones.
So when I found out, in Giulia Scarpaleggia’s excellent cookbook, From the Markets of Tuscany, that Livorno’s market is probably the liveliest and most impressive in the whole of Italy, I decided it was high time for a visit.