Ciao! And happy Friday from an England that has suddenly gone all bright… not sure what is going on as it’s not something I can even remember. It’s, like, warm and everything has gone all light, the sky has blue patches and everything. I do believe we might be experiencing the phenomenon known as ‘spring’! Amazing.
Anyway, it’s a good thing, really, since my previously restored vitamin D levels took a battering in the last week since returning from my trip of a lifetime to Tuscany. And the week has rushed by at a rate of knots, leaving this first day blog languishing in the Drafts section for far too long. But after several days of doing All Sorts, I am now finally sitting down and finishing it. The biggest challenge was narrowing down the photos. Be warned… this is a picture-heavy post. And with that, let’s begin!
After a fairly painless, albeit extremely early flight, followed by a punctual and scenic coach trip from Pisa through the Italian countryside to Florence; two weary travellers (Miss Naomi Thompson and I) were greeted by the smiling face of Andrea, head of the 500 Touring Club, gorgeous lady, brilliant mum, keen dressmaker, vintage addict… and our hostess, tour guide and entertainer for our three-day stay. We didn’t look like the vintage queens we were meant to be at that point, being all travel-stained and crumpled, so it was into a nearby ladies to spruce up slightly. There was nothing I could do with my hair by this point, so a top-knot it was. I think we pulled it off though, shh.
Today, we were being treated to a ‘taster’ session (excuse the pun! No don’t actually, you know I love a pun) from the Touring Club’s Sister company, Florence Food and Wine. These tours of Florence’s culinery high points are run by Guiseppe, husband to Andrea and all-round food and wine guru. Guiseppe lectures on the subject at the nearby university and he really, really knows his stuff. And, perhaps more importantly, he has a brilliant relationship with many of the stallholders in Florence’s main food market.
We stopped for a quick coffee before the fun began. Now I have recently become a bit more interested in coffee. I’ve always liked it, but it wasn’t until a month or so ago when I had my first truly exceptional cup that I’ve dug out the Bialetti moka pot I was given years ago and never really used much and got stuck in. Italy is the home of the espresso, the cappucino, the latte, right? It should be good! It wasn’t. More on this later, but for now… San Lorenzo Market!
The riot of colours and textures is amazing to behold. The fresh produce positively glows, and gourmet offerings greet you at every corner. After a short look round, I began to dribble slightly, and when we stopped at our first food sampling of the day, I was certainly not disappointed by what awaited me.
I am a huge fan of cheese. And meats. And wine. Oh, and bread. So, as you can imagine, I was in a kind of rapture by this point. Laid out before us was a selection of all of those things. Parmesan, pecorino and raschera with a mustardy dipping sauce; salami of cinta, culatello and capocollo, with little breadsticks and a generous sampling of a €44 bottle of red from Poggio Argentiera winery. Every single thing was delicious. But we had lots more left to do! Outside, we sampled something at the other end of the scale. Florence’s most traditional and most popular street food, Lampredotto.
Lampredotto is made from the last of the cow’s four stomachs, cooked with tomatoes, onion, parsley and celery… then doused heavily in chilli oil. I always claim to detest ‘innards’ – memories of disgusting school steak & kidney and liver dishes are still painfully clear in my mind. But when in Rome… or Florence. It’s the texture which often puts me off, and the lampredotto does feel a bit funny to eat – a mixture of soft and chewy. Am I selling it to you yet? It doesn’t taste bad, though… it doesn’t taste of a huge amount bar the chilli, but it’s definitely not unpleasant at all. Though I am glad I tried it, I will probably leave it to the peasants of yore though.
The next stop quite possibly blew the rest of the tasty comestibles out of the water, as we headed to the historic Procacci café/deli for prosecco and panini tartufati… truffle sandwiches.
This amazing little place has been selling truffle-based foodstuffs since 1885. The tiny fingers spread with a cream cheese and truffle paste were absolutely unbelievable, I had two and would happily have eaten twelve. The accompanying prosecco was also divine. I actually prefer many proseccos to champagnes… especially given how much more reasonable it can be.
After all that hard work eating, Guiseppe took us to a place for us to exercise another of our senses – smell. The Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one the world’s oldest pharmacies, officially opened in 1612, but selling toiletries based on recipes created by
Dominican friars as early as the 13th century.
Everything looked and smelled sensational. It was an olfactory extravaganza! I couldn’t snap too many pictures of the shop itself, as it was undergoing some much-needed restoration. But it will be magnificent when finished!
Hello Guiseppe! And the tongue of Naomi!
This coffee was much better than the first (though the milk makes it taste a little funny), and the cinnamon biscuit and tiny chocolate shortbreads were the sugary cherry on the food tasting cake. The photos on the walls of past-it celebs are also a treat.
And with that final coffee, we were whisked away to our Villa. And oh, what a villa it was. And still is, given that it was only last week!
The Villa le Piazzole is a seventeenth century residence, transformed into a luxurious bed and breakfast, high in the Florentine Hills. It’s as countryside as you can get and still be within walking distance of the city (a stunning walk Naomi and I did on our second night). There are apartments and rooms (including the fabulous Royale Suite which I somehow managed to bag), a swimming pool, beautiful statuary of the commedia dell’arte figures… even a miniature amphitheatre. They make their own wine… which is something I will be covering in my next blog post.
There are uncovered and restored frescos on the walls (look out for Naomi’s post for a snap), original flooring, vintage bits everywhere… the most amazing atmosphere. The prices are VERY reasonable for what you get… and the breakfasts are to die for. I somehow failed to capture an image of the outside… though I did phone-snap the view from my room in my last post (along with the breakfast!). Highly, highly recommended.
My room also had a juliette balcony that was was simply calling out for a posing session though…
Despite the summer sun making a brief appearance today, the shorts are firmly packed away for now, so it was nice to get my pins out momentarily!
For the rest of the afternoon, we did a little bit of lounging by the pool, digesting the day’s food before heading back out to eat the MOST FILLING MEAL I have ever eaten in my life, at Il Latini. I’ll spare you yet more food descriptions, but if you ever find yourself in Florence and wish to sample the most traditional foods of the area – Florentine steak (three fingers thick of T-Bone, completely raw in the middle), ribollita, pappa al pomodoro (bread soup), and more… oh so much more, then GO. The picture of me devouring my steak can also be found on my last post.
Here’s a picture of me before I put on the 1,657 pounds that *somehow* crept on over three days…
Back next time with tales of vintage cars, churches, chardonnay and er…. olive oil. But if you’re at a loose end this weekend, please do check out Florence Food and Wine and the villa… and book yourself a holiday. 😉