Saturday, 7 December 2013

A good place to stay in Tuscany in the cool Chianti hills

If you're planning a visit to Tuscany during the popular spring and summer seasons, you no doubt know that in some areas heat can be a problem. When it's hot, a good place to stay in Tuscany in the cool Chianti hills is Casa Mezzuola, due both to its high altitude, which guarantees cool breezes almost every day, and its beautiful swimming pool. This agriturismo was once a tiny "borgo", a hamlet clustered around a tower that was later converted into a farmhouse. Some of the architectural elements date back to the 12 C, when the tower was an outlying watch tower for the Castello di Montefioralle, across the valley from Mezzuola. This agriturismo is located on the upper slopes the Val di Greve, in the middle of the Chianti Classico wine zone between Florence and Siena.

A good place to stay in Tuscany in the cool Chianti hills
Casa Mezzuola - a good place to stay in Tuscany in the cool Chianti hills.
Casa Mezzuola offers three self-catering vacation apartments located in the various former farm buildings. They accommodate two people each, and one of them has the possibility of sleeping an additional two persons. They are imaginatively furnished in Tuscan country style, each has an private outdoor garden and sitting area and all have access to the swimming pool. There is a reasonable WiFi signal and the Chianti market town of Greve in Chianti is about 3 km away along country roads. If you won't have a car, the owner will pick you up from the bus stop in Greve. Central Florence is one hour away by comfortable bus.

Casa Mezzuola, a good place to stay in Chianti, Tuscany
The swimming pool at Casa Mezzuola, near Greve in Chianti, Tuscany
Casa Mezzuola is an owner-direct Tuscan vacation rental - you are dealing directly with the owner so there are no agency fees and he will answer any questions you might have before booking.

More about Casa Mezzuola holiday apartments in Tuscany.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2014. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Harry Brewster, the last of the Florentine cosmopolitans

A few years back, I read and greatly enjoyed The Cosmopolites, a book by Harry Brewster who was among the very last of the Florentine cosmopolitans. Discovering Harry Brewster and his family and learning about their life at their home, the former convent of San Francesco di Paola, located in Florence below the Torre di Bellosguardo, expanded my appreciation of the expatriate culture of Florence. I had hitherto approached these "romantic exiles" mainly via my (and their) enthusiasm for Tuscan villa gardens. Since then I've read two more of Harry Brewster's books, namely A Cosmopolite's Journey: episodes from a life and Out of Florence: From the World of San Francesco di Paola. Of the three books, A Cosmopolite's Journey is the wittiest and lightest read, and probably his best book.

Harry Brewster, the last of the Florentine cosmopolitans
The view from Bellosguardo out over Florence, with San Francesco di Paola hidden among the trees below the crest.
Foreigners flocked to Florence from the 18th century onwards and, by the late 19th century, 30,000 of the 200,000 residents of Florence were Anglo-Florentines who had adopted the city as their home. It's often said that Sir Harold Acton was the last survivor of pre-war Anglo-Florentine culture but Harry Brewster outlasted Acton by five years, passing away in 1999.

Harry Brewster was born in Rome in 1910. One of his grandfathers, descended from William Brewster of the Mayflower, was a friend of Henry James, who reportedly used him as the model for Gilbert Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady. His maternal grandfather was the German sculptor Adolf von Hildebrandt, whose studio occupied part of San Francesco di Paola. Harry, with his brother Ralph and sister Clotilde, grew up behind the high walls of what was essentially a rambling Tuscan farm that happened to be only a ten minute walk from the centre of Florence. The Brewsters were American through and through, but, because of their long residence in Europe, no longer qualified for US citizenship. However, when Harry married an English actress, Elizabeth Home, he took on British citizenship and served as a police officer in Kenya throughout the war.

Villa San Francesco di Paola
Statue of San Francesco di Paola at the entrance to the villa

After working for several years as part of the Allied commission administering Berlin and as an attaché at the British Embassy in Rome, he returned to Florence to devote the rest of his life to enjoying his beautiful home, San Francesco di Paola.

His main occupations during the post-war decades were writing and photography. Aside from his autobiographical volumes, he wrote Classical Anatolia and River Gods of Greece, based on numerous visits to classical sites, especially in Turkey and the Middle East, both books being illustrated with his own excellent photographs.

Harry Brewster had three sons. His second marriage was to Fiona Warnant- Peterich and his travelling companion in his later years was the immensely cultured Barbara Emo di Capodilista (née Barbara Steven) who herself passed away in 2003.

If you're able to borrow or buy any of Harry Brewster's books about his life in and around Florence, I recommend them highly.  They open a window onto a world of immensely interesting individuals who style of life, although not that far in the past, has more or less disappeared completely.

My recommended Tuscan vacation accommodations:

Greve in Chianti accommodation.

Panzano in Chianti accommodation.

Villa hotels.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2016. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

One of the best agriturismi in Chianti

Agriturismo Patrizia Falciani is not only one of the best agriturismi in Chianti but also one of the longest established. Sig.ra Falciani, who still owns and manages the agriturismo, opened her vacation apartments to the public almost 20 years ago. Her vineyards are located in the Chianti hills about 1 km from the ever-popular Chianti market town of Greve in Chianti.

one of the best agriturismi in Chianti
Agriturismo Patrizia Falciani, one of the best agriturismi in Chianti
For those not familiar with the term, an agriturismo is a working agricultural property that offers vacation accommodation, and in Tuscany, especially in Chianti, these are almost always wineries and/or olive oil producers, as is the case with Agriturismo Patrizia Falciani.

Sig.ra Falciani's agriturismo consists of 7 self-catering holiday apartments, each with its own outdoor space - terrace and/or gazebo - with table and chairs) plus access to a beautiful swimming pool. The grounds are set amidst the vineyards and have panoramic views over the Val di Greve, with Montefioralle in the distance.

If you're planning a vacation in Tuscany, especially with children, you can't do much better than this classic agriturismo.

More about Agriturismo Patrizia Falciani vacation apartments in Chianti.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2014. All rights reserved.

Friday, 20 September 2013

"In a Tuscan garden" - who was the author of this book?

Attentive readers of my blog posts will long ago have realised that I'm a garden nut - not just an enthusiast for classic Tuscan gardens but also for gardening in and of itself. This week I was lucky enough to add to my Tuscan gardens library a wonderful volume with a beautiful art deco cover, published in 1902. The author was an anonymous English lady who, at the time of writing her book (1901), had spend 15 years cultivating the garden of her villa near Florence. The book, In a Tuscan Garden, is a quite charming description of her adventures in setting up and maintaining the garden that was obviously an important part of her life in Tuscany. She has much to say on the character not only of the Tuscan seasons, soil and garden plants, but also the character of Tuscan gardeners!

In a Tuscan garden by Georgina S. Grahame
The villa forming the frontispiece of In a Tuscan Garden by Georgina S. Grahame
In her unpublished recollections, Annie Grahame reveals the author to have been her mother, Mrs Georgina S. Grahame. The John Lane archive at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas also contains correspondence between John Lane, who published the book under the Bodley Head imprint, and Georgina Grahame.

Who was Georgina S. Grahame? She was born in 1838, the daughter of George Bell (1795-1864) and Ann Robertson (b. 1800) and was an aunt of Kenneth Grahame, the author of The Wind in the Willows. She married Robert Vetch Grahame in 1857 when she was 19 years old and he was 33. Robert Vetch Grahame, born in 1824, was the son of Thomas Grahame (1793 - 1881) and Agnes Vetch (1801 - 1878) who married in 1822. Robert Vetch Grahame (1824 - 1890) was a merchant who spent much of his working life abroad in Manila and later lived in London. Georgina mentions having been in the Philippines. The couple had two children, Annie Grahame, born in 1859 and died in 1937, and Thomas George Grahame, born in 1861 and died in 1922, both born in the Philippines. Annie was the same age as her cousin Kenneth Grahame and a sympathetic friend of his. Robert Vetch Grahame retired in 1879 while resident in Edinburgh.

The Grahame family was Scottish in origin but Robert Vetch Grahame and his family lived at Draycott Lodge in Fulham, West London, which he owned from 1870 until 1879. (In November 1881, the house passed to the pre-Raphaelite artist, William Holman Hunt.) Kenneth Grahame lived with them for some time between leaving school and taking up employment at the Bank of England in 1879. Annie recalled visits from Kenneth Grahame after they established themselves Italy and there was an interesting exchange of letters between them.

Georgina Grahame refers to the "breakup" of their household, presumably upon her husband's retirement, and the purchase of a smaller place, probably not in London, a few years before her husband took out the lease on Villino Landau, an old farmhouse located on Via Bolognese about 3 km from the historic centre of Florence, on the hills of Fiesole in Tuscany. This seems to have taken place in about 1885 and it is unclear how often her husband accompanied her there. In her book she refers to her son Thomas as "The Junior Partner" and her husband as "The Absentee".

The Villino was an annex to a famous Renaissance villa known under various names over the centuries and which currently belongs to the University of Paris, under the name Villa Finaly. It was Allied Headquarters during the liberation of Florence. The golden age of the villa, then known as Villa Montughi, was the period as 1427-1816, especially after 1586 when it was owned by the Corsi family. From 1854 until 1858, it was the country seat of the last English Minister to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Constantine Phipps, 1st Marquess of Normanby, who sold it to James de Rothschild shortly before his death in 1863. Rothschild had little interest in the property and sold it two years later to Baron Horace de Landau who was the owner at the time of the lease of the farmhouse to Georgina Grahame's husband, Robert. On the death of the Baron in 1903, his niece, Jenny Ellenberger, inherited his fortune, including the villa, and it was this change in ownership that brought to an end the residence of the Grahames at the Villino. Annie Grahame recorded that Jenny Ellenberger and her cousin and husband, Hugo Finaly, were "too high and mighty to tolerate neighbours"!

In 1909, Georgina published, also anonymously, a second book, Under Petraia, With Some Saunterings which was reviewed as far away as in New Zealand (New Zealand Herald 1908) in large part because of the popularity of her first book among gardeners world-wide. In the second book, she describes their search for a new home in Tuscany after the change of ownership of Villino Landau forced them to give up their lease. This latter volume is scarcer than In a Tuscan Garden. I am still searching for a copy to learn more about this unjustly neglected Victorian authoress and member of the amazingly talented Anglo-American population of Tuscany in the late 19th century.

More about the gardens of the Tuscan villas.

Tuscan villas and their gardens.

Italian Renaissance villas and their gardens.

Cecil Pinsent and the villa gardens of Tuscany.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2016. All rights reserved.

Monday, 16 September 2013

WiFi hotspots in Florence - free public WiFi access in Firenze

Free WiFi access in Florence, Italy
Free WiFi access in Florence, Italy
Although many European cities offer comprehensive public WiFi connectivity, Italy has lagged in this sphere in part due to anti-terrorist regulations that required traceable registration before you could access the internet. These regulations have been relaxed recently (4 September, 2013) and there are now around 250 WiFi hotspots in Florence, albeit still with technical limitations. In other words, no login credentials are required at all. Currently, you can use the internet free for two hours per day using these WiFi hotspots. Coverage is patchy but denser in the popular tourist areas.

Map of free public WiFi hotspots in Florence, Italy
Map of free public WiFi hotspots in Florence, Italy

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Cruise ship shore excursions from Livorno cruise ship dock in Tuscany

If your cruise ship will visit Livorno for a day, I have a good recommendation for a cruise ship shore excursion from Livorno. Giovanni Sirabella was ship's purser on several famous cruise ships until he decided to leave the sea and work with smaller groups on dry land. He founded Sunflower Tours of Tuscany and specialises in shore excursions in central Tuscany, especially Chianti. He has a number of themed routes (wine tour, cinque terra tour etc) but since he guides and drives almost exclusively private tours, you can organise your itinerary with him before arrival. Giovanni is a cautious driver, is highly knowledgeable about Tuscany and is a very pleasant person with whom to spend a day. Needless to say, he also speaks excellent English.

Sunflower Tours of Tuscany at Livorno cruise ship dock
Giovanni of Sunflower Tours of Tuscany with two clients at Livorno cruise ship dock

Here are some examples of shore excursions:

CHIANTI CLASSICO TOUR :: the land of the black rooster

A scenic drive among the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, along the famous “wine road” leading to the heart of the Chianti region. Visit the old market square of Greve in Chianti, the mediaeval hamlet of Montefioralle, the old capital Radda in Chianti and some other country villages. Possibility of wine tastings at a local Chianti classico estate.

SAN GIMIGNANO-SIENA TOUR :: scenes of the middle ages and the pilgrims' route

The route used during the middle ages by the pilgrims going to Rome and Jerusalem, known as the via Francigena; visit the "mediaeval Manhattan" S. Gimignano with its seventeen towers, the capital of the crystal glass Colle Valdelsa, the fortress of Monteriggioni and at the end Siena, the pearl of the middle ages famous also for its horse race, the “Palio”.

VINCI, PISA, LUCCA TOUR :: Leonardo’s house and highlights of western Tuscany

A drive through the Tuscan countryside, including a visit to Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo, visiting the house where he was born and the small town of Vinci hosting the museum. Also included, a visit to Pisa to visit Campo dei Miracoli, where the leaning tower, the duomo and the baptistery are located; the remaining part of the day is dedicated to the hometown of Giacomo Puccini, Lucca and its masterpieces.

Giovanni and seven happy vacationers touring Tuscany
Giovanni and seven happy vacationers touring Tuscany
Although Giovanni specialises in picking people up at the cruise ship dock in Livorno, more than half of his customers are staying in Florence where he collects them from their hotels. If you're looking for a relaxed and informative tour of Tuscany with a knowledgeable guide who speaks excellent English, Giovanni Sirabella is your man!

More about Sunflower Tours with Giovanni Sirabella.

More about Livorno Shore Excursions.

All content copyright © ammonet Infotech 2013 - 2016. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Tuscany vacation accommodations with handicapped access

Tuscany is high on the list of travel destinations that are friendly to the elderly and those with mobility limitations, especially since laws were introduced several years ago regarding provision of suitable facilities for the physically handicapped. I'm often asked for information about Tuscany vacation accommodations with handicapped access. One important piece of information everyone should take account of is that Tuscan farmhouses ("villas") and sometimes genuine villas are characterised by numerous steps and steep staircases. For this reason, if your mobility is impaired, read the descriptions of rural vacation accommodations in Tuscany with care and feel free to ask the owners detailed questions. This is one of the several reasons to rent owner-direct, by the way. Agencies rarely have the kind of information you need.

Tuscan vacation accommodation handicapped accessibility
A fairly frequent sight in Tuscany - this you don't want if moving around isn't all that easy for you.
Step-free or almost step-free agriturismi and other rural holiday homes are definitely available. Today I want to describe one of them which has recently been renovated and which enjoys one of the most beautiful locations in Tuscany. This is Agriturismo Felciano, a cottage with two large double rooms and a large living-dining room, situated on a winery near Panzano, in the famous Conca d'Oro.

Accommodation in Tuscany for mobility impaired visitors
Agriturismo Felciani - an ideal Tuscan vacation location for anyone with mobility problems.
Agriturismo Felciano has a large terrace in front of the entry and flat ground round about, including the location of the gazebo. There is one very slight step at the large entrance and none at all inside the cottage. Of the two modern bathrooms, one is fully-equipped for handicapped accessibility. You can bring your car right up to the terrace.

In addition to being able to buy your Chianti Classico wine directly from the cask and extravergine olive oil by the bottle, you can buy Tuscan saffron grown on the Felciano farm.

Click here to visit the Agriturismo Felciano website.

More about Panzano in Chianti.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

What you need to know before renting a car in Italy

Today, a few tips on what you need to know before renting a car in Italy.

Firstly, many car rental agencies in Italy leave much to be desired in terms of service, accessibility and opening hours, and some of them are to be avoided at all costs. Waits of up to two hours are not exceptional when picking up and dropping off a car at a popular point such as an airport. Closure for lunch, holidays and at night are standard practice. Be aware that some rental car companies that have a good reputation in the US, for example, are totally separate from companies of the same name in Italy.

Secondly, don't try to save money by using price comparision websites and opting for the cheapest deal. You will surely lose money and a lot of time if you do. Use Avis, Hertz or Europcar or a reputable broker such as Auto Europe even if it appears to cost a bit more. Europcar is probably the largest rental company in Italy and has a good reputation.
renting a car in Italy
Motoring in Tuscany
Auto Europe is an agency that arranges cheap rentals with the major and reputable car rental companies. The UK site is sometimes cheaper than the US one, so check out both and AutoEurope has a good reputation.

DO NOT confuse Auto Europe with Auto Europa - Sicily by Car which has a very bad reputation. Auto Europe good, Auto Europa bad.

Rental car agencies in Italy to be AVOIDED at all costs.

● Auto Europa - Sicily by Car has an appalling reputation for sullen service, hours long waits, major overcharging, total lack of response to communications etc. NEVER have anything to do with Auto Europa. All business for Dollar and Thrifty car rental companies in Italy is handled by Auto Europa - therefore AVOID.

Once again: Auto Europe good, Auto Europa bad.

● Goldcar Rental Agency, especially at Pisa Airport, is notorious for hard-selling additional and unnecessary insurance, including not mentioning that the charge is per day not per hire and stating falsely that your own insurance, if any, is invalid. They overcharge for the initial tank of petrol and refuse a refund on remaining petrol when the car is returned. There are also endless reports of other excess charges. Waits can be up to four hours. Their staff are uniformly reported to be rude, aggressive and intimidating. Note that many brokers send customers to this rental car agency without fully explaining their fuel and insurance policy. If a broker offers you a car from Goldcar, refuse it.

● Maggiore Car Rental is another company to be absolutely AVOIDED, especially in Sicily. All the same issues as for Goldcar and more. Maggiore Car Rental has by far the worst reputation of any large car rental company in Italy. They routinely come up with excess charges in the hundreds and will call in the police if you don't pay. Never threaten to dispute a card payment nor give them cash. Work through your card company after the event. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT RENT FROM MAGGIORE.

● Sixt Holiday Car Rentals is yet another rental car company that should NEVER be used. If a broker sends you to this company, cancel immediately. A Sixt speciality is to send you to a franchise that does not have an available car. Complaints to Sixt elicit the response that their small print says that reservations are NOT confirmed (despite their email titled "Confirmation of your reservation".)!

● Locauto should NEVER be used. If you are sent there through a broker, cancel immediately. They routinely demand a large deposit and then charge for existing damage, they do not check returned vehicles in the presence of the customer and they add damages to the blank check sheet, their insurance makes no provision for the passengers if the car breaks down and so on and on.

 ● Firefly is yet another disastrous hire car company that should NEVER be used. Easycar and Holiday Autos sometimes refer customers to Firefly. Cancel immediately if that happens. Dirty vehicles often with over 100,000 km on the dial, headlights that don't work etc etc. plus charges for an additional driver despite that being included, the usual massive (e.g. 1500 euros) deductions from credit cards without explanation, and so on.

To check carefully: unethical car rental companies pressure their customers to buy additional insurance. This not only costs money unnecessarily but can render your original insurance invalid.

Always insist that you get a finalisation of your rental - that is a receipt that the car has been checked and that signed off as OK and that there is no balance due for car items (damage and petrol). This can take a lot of time but it's worth it. They will not sign off on possible future parking or other road infringements.

IMPORTANT - limited traffic zones (ZTL's).
These are the areas in the historical centres of most Italian cities and towns that are closed during certain hours to traffic other than permit holders. Rental cars do not have these permits. The ZTL's are monitored by traffic cameras and entry by non-permit holders results in a charge to your credit card by the car rental company and a fine from the traffic authorities. Many rental car companies have offices very near these zones so that it's easy to wander into one when driving to or from the car pickup. For this reason, it is highly recommended, in Florence, for example, to use the offices and rental car pickup at the airport rather than those in the centre of town.

Full details about traffic violation in Italy, including ZTL infractions, click here.

Car rentals in Italy
Driving in Florence
ALSO IMPORTANT - an International Driving Permit, which is in essence an official translation of your driving licence, is required, in addition to a driver's licence, by everyone who does not hold a driving licence issued by an EU country and who intends to drive in Italy. Note that International Drivers Licences sold over the Internet are all scams, offering worthless pieces of paper at best. You need an International Driving Permit from your national motoring organisation. They're very cheap. Most rental car agencies now ask to see your International Driving Permit in addition to your licence.

If you plan to spend most of your time in a city such as Florence, with just one or two excursions into the countryside, you might find that the additional cost of a car and driver-guide rather than a rental car will be far outweighed by convenience and the efficiency of having a planned sightseeing itinerary.

More about motoring in Tuscany.

More about getting around in Tuscany.

Chianti without a car, including a list of recommended drivers.

Rental cars, minibuses and coaches offered by a small, local company in central Chianti

Rental vehicle companies are hard to come by in the smaller towns of Chianti, but there is one in Gaiole in Chianti that hires out high end machines from their own garage. If you're planning a stay in the Chianti area of Tuscany and will need transport, especially for groups, you might want to contact Tuscany Limousine.
These are the cars, minibuses and buses they have available
with and without a driver.
Mercedes Classe E280 4 (+1) persons
Mercedes Vito 8 (+1) persons
Renault Trafic 8 (+1) persons
Mercedes Sprinter 18 (+1) persons
King Long 35 (+1) persons
Domino HDI 52 (+1) persons
Domino HDH 55 (+1) persons

They also offer luxury sports car rentals for test drives, weddings etc.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2017. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Why is the Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti called the Conca d'Oro?

The rich history of Tuscany not only manifests itself in ancient towns, abbeys and castles, but also in the place names of villages, hills and rivers and many other topographical features. One of the most beautiful names for a beautiful area is the Conca d'Oro below Panzano. Conca d'oro means "golden basin", so looking at the picture of the vineyards of the Conca d'Oro below, we have to ask ourselves why is the Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti called the Conca d'Oro? Why isn't it called the Conca Verde - the green basin - for example?

Conca d'Oro of Panzano in Chianti
View over the Conca d'Oro towards Panzano in Chianti
The answer to this riddle is quite simple (once you've been told). For centuries, Florence and Sienna fought for control of the historical Chianti area (now the Chianti Classico wine zone) that forms the territory between them. They did this in large part because of the critical value of its agricultural production. Wine? Olive oil? Only in small part. Until the middle of the 19 C, agriculture in Chianti was given over principally to grain production, meaning wheat. Most of the population of both Chianti and Florence subsisted on bread as their staple diet - and, indeed, bread is still an important part of every Tuscan meal. As a consequence, every piece of land that supported wheat was used to grow it. Even into the pre-war 20 C, wheat was grown in the spaces between the rows of grape vines. One of the most productive areas for wheat was in fact the Conca d'Oro of Panzano, and as harvest time approached it was exactly what its name says, a golden basin of ripening wheat. It was only in the post-war years that wheat was replaced by the increasingly lucrative crops yielding olive oil and wine. This change coincided with the reclamation of the Maremma and the modernisation of agriculture in the Val d'Orcia (described by Iris Origo in her wonderful book, War in the Val d'Orcia) and the consequent increase in the wheat harvest in those areas.

More about what to see in and near Panzano in Chianti.

My recommended vacation rentals in Tuscany.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Baptistry in Florence is open during the evening three nights each week during summer 2013

As an addition to my post about museum cocktail evenings in Florence, it has just been announced that the Baptistry in Florence is open during the evening three nights each week during summer 2013. The Baptistry of San Giovanni, located next to the Duomo and Giotto's campanile, will stay open until 11pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until 28 September. Entry is still by ticket, but you will have the opportunity to gaze up at some of the most beautiful mosaics in Italy outside of Ravenna in much less crowded and cooler conditions than by day.

Baptistry in Florence is open during the evening three nights each week
The Baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence
A stroll around central Florence during a warm summer evening is always a pleasure - the Italian expression passeggiata encapsulates this quality perfectly. The baptistry is artfully illuminated at night to emphasize its Romanesque architecture - it is, in fact, not only one of the best-loved structures in Florence but also one of the oldest, having been built in its current form between 1059 and 1128. An earlier octagonal baptistry was erected here in the late fourth or early fifth century, very likely over the remains of a Roman watch tower, and, according to some sources, at the behest of Theodolinda, queen of the Lombards (570-628), to commemorate the conversion of her husband, King Authari.

Mosaics in the Baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence
Mosaics in the Baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence

From outside, you can admire the exquisite bronze doors by Ghiberti and Pisano but, to me, the interior, with its magnificent cycles of mosaics, is without equal. The various panels tell stories from the Bible, most famously a representation of the Last Judgement and the grisly punishments that await those sinners consigned to Hell. And don't forget to give some attention to the mosaic marble pavement which was begun in 1209. There was also an octagonal font in the Baptistry, its footprint is still clearly visible in the middle of the floor. This font, which originated in the church of Santa Reparata, was placed here in 1128 and was taken away again in 1571.

In summary, the Baptistry is now joins the many other enjoyable activities available during the evening this summer in Florence.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Evening drinks at Florence Museums - "Aperitivo ad Arte"

Last year a number of the top museums in Florence stayed open late on certain summer evenings and offered a glass of wine and a snack buffet along with a close-up view of some of their famous works of art. I reviewed the Palazzo Davanzati cocktail evenings with enthusiasm. Evening drinks at Florence Museums "Aperitivo ad Arte" has been announced again for summer 2013, starting with three museums, the Uffizi, the Bargello and, new this year, the Accademia, including the tribuna where the statue of David is displayed. If you'll be in Florence this year, try not to miss these wonderful occasions! They're a chance to see some great art in a very enjoyable ambiance. What better way to pass a summer evening in Florence?

Evening drinks at Florence museums
The Palazzo Vecchio seen from the Uffizi aperitivo
on the terrace above the Loggia dei Lanzi.
The Galleria dell’Accademia Aperitivo ad Arte takes place every Wednesday from 7-10 pm, from 5 June until 25 September. The exhibition areas that will be open are the Gallery of Prisons with the Tribuna of David. The aperitivo will be offered in the flowered courtyard of the Galleria.

The Uffizi Gallery Aperitivo ad Arte takes place every Thursday from 7-10 pm, from 6 June until 26 September. The Sale del Cinquecento, including works by Raphael, Bronzino, Allori, Vasari, Andrea del Sarto, Rosso Fiorentino and Pontormo will be open. The aperitivo will be offered on the terrace above the Loggia dei Lanzi.

The Bargello Aperitivo ad Arte takes place every Tuesday from 7-10 pm, from 6 August to 24 September. The Sala di Michelangelo, Rinascimento, and the Sala di Donatello will be open. The aperitivo will be offered in the courtyard of Museum. There will also be performances by the Compagnia delle Seggiole about the secrets of the Bargello and its role during the course of seven centuries of Florentine history.

Aperitivo ad Arte Firenze
Aperitivo ad Arte Firenze

Tickets cost €15 and should be reserved (no reservation fee), by calling 055 29 48 83.

If you are an ATAF card holder, you are entitled to a 30% discount!

STOP PRESS! The Florence Baptistry will also be open during the evening for three nights a week during summer 2013.

"NON-COCKTAIL" LATE OPENINGS: The Uffizi and the Accademia are open until 10 pm (last entry probably 9.35 pm) on Tuesdays.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Enchanting Tuscany - it's in the details. Tuscan vernacular art in cast iron, carved wood and sculpted stone

Every visitor to Tuscany experiences the power of fine architecture and paintings on the grand scale, but let's not forget the endless enchanting details of Tuscan vernacular art that reflect the love of fine workmanship that has characterised Tuscany since at least the end of the Dark Age. Among the most prolific and accessible anonymous works of art in Tuscany are those in cast iron, carved wood and sculpted stone. And the age of the digital camera makes these miniature masterpieces all the more accessible since many of them are in locations often too high to be seen other than by means of a zoom lens. Not all of course - door knockers and door wood carvings are right there to be observed close up by those with a sharp eye for detail.
Tuscany door knocker
Tuscan art deco door-knocker
Tuscany door wood carving
Exquisite door wood-carving

Vernacular stone carving is often less visible since so much of it is the quirky and humorous production of the mediaeval artisans who turned out decorated capitals and pilastres by the thousands. When visiting any of the numerous romanesque churches that dot the Tuscany countryside, look high up both inside and outside and the chances are you will see some fascinating and completely unique stone carving, possibly from the hand of a workman a thousand years gone.

Stone carving at Villa Viganamaggio
Stone carving at Villa Viganamaggio
Carved capital at the Abbey of Santa Mustiola
Capital at the Abbey of Santa Mustiola
As you will no doubt notice, Tuscany is a very "stony" region and stone or stone-faced buildings outnumber those made entirely of brick, with wooden buildings being almost non-existent. It turns out that workable stone is quite common so, not surprisingly, stone carving embellishes buildings magnificent and humble throughout the area. Workable wood is for the most part imported from elsewhere but skilled wood carving has been a part of Tuscan art since the Renaissance and earlier when the Gothic art of fine woodcarving was introduced from Flanders.
Carved capital at the Abbey of Sant' Antimo
Capital at the Abbey of Sant' Antimo
Mediaeval stonework at Borgo di Vagli hamlet
Stonework at Borgo di Vagli hamlet
Cast iron decorative elements became extremely popular in the late Victorian and art deco periods and continue to be right up to the present day. Wrought iron work is also extremely common in Tuscany and is most commonly visible in the form of iron grills over windows. Wrought iron bedsteads, candelabra and chandeliers are typical of "Tuscan country style". The streets of Sienna are particularly well-endowed with wrought and cast iron decorations, including lamp supports and flag holders.
Cast iron door sign Sienna
Cast iron shop sign in Sienna
All of these details contribute to the charm of Tuscan cities, towns and villages. They repay attention!

More about what to see in Tuscany.

More about Borgo di Vagli.

My recommended vacation rentals in Tuscany.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2014. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Famous Tuscan butchers Falorni in Greve in Chianti and Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti

In ancient times, meaning before WWII, most of the contadini in Tuscany ate meat only once a week, mostly in the form of a selection of salumi. For the remainder of the week they ate ribollita in winter and panzanella in summer - both dishes being based on Tuscan bread and Tuscan olive oil with the addition of whatever fresh vegetables were available. In fact, that's how it's been for the past thousand years, at the very least. Nowadays, the meat-based dishes of Tuscan cuisine are much more prominent and famous, and as a consequence so are some wonderful Tuscan butchers shops (macellerie). In this post, I will say something about just two among many, the famous Tuscan butchers Falorni in Greve in Chianti and Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti.

Antica Macelleria Falorni Greve in Chianti
Antica Macelleria Falorni in Greve in Chianti
Antica Macelleria Falorni, located on Piazza Matteotti of Greve in Chianti, claims to be the oldest butchers shop (macelleria) in Italy. The shop was founded by Gio Batta in 1729. Today Antica Macelleria Falorni is run by the eighth generation, brothers Lorenzo and Stefano Bencistà, related by marriage to the founding family. Along with fresh meat, Falorni sells a fine range of salami, prosciutto and other prepared meats and in fact the company has a large production that is sold throughout Italy and abroad. When you visit Greve in Chianti, be sure to drop in to look at the amazing display of Tuscan meat specialities on show at Macelleria Falorni, taste some samples if they're on offer and, of course, buy some great food!

Dario Cecchini in his butchers shop in Panzano in Chianti
Dario Cecchini in his butchers shop in Panzano in Chianti

Macellaria Cecchini, located ten minutes drive away in Panzano in Chianti, is entirely different in style from Macellaria Falorini. Macellaria Cecchini is, simply, Dario Cecchini, the mad butcher of Panzano. Cecchini specialises in prepared meats, one could almost say, anything other than salumi. And in contrast to the export-oriented business of Falorni, Cecchini has entered the restaurant trade in a very original way, particularly in his Panzano restaurant Solociccia. Dario Cecchini very often serves in his shop and welcomes visitors, even those just coming to look. While the display of meat products is amazing, you're basically coming to see Dario perform - and of course to buy some excellent eats.

Dario Cecchini is famous as a promoter of bistecca alla fiorentina and both of these butchers shops sell excellent cuts of beef suitable for grilling.

More about Piazza Matteotti in Greve in Chianti.

More about Macellaria Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti.

More about bistecca alla fiorentina.

More about Tuscan culinary specialities.

More about places to stay in Chianti.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Radda in Chianti, a classic Chianti wine village

Today I would like to introduce you to one of the small towns located near where I live, namely Radda in Chianti, a classic Chianti wine village. Radda, along with Castellina and Gaiole, was one of the three counties that formed the original Lega del Chianti from the 15 C onwards until the league was dissolved in the late 18 C. Today, clustered around its church, it is a tranquil village that serves the numerous wineries and agriturismi (farmhouse vacation rentals) in the surrounding countryside. The area is famous for the numerous castles, both ruined and inhabited, that dot the hills.

Radda in Chianti
View of Radda in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
Radda is a place to buy your supplies or dine out while spending your vacation in one of the many places to stay in and near Radda in Chianti. The Palazzo del Podestà is the principal building in Radda, aside from the romanesque Church of San Niccolò, which houses a venerated wooden Crucifix dating from the 15 C. Nearby is the convent Santa Maria al Prato which dates from the mediaeval period. It now houses an art museum. Another interesting sight is the "Ice House" of the Grand Duke, built at the end of the 19 C to store snow and turn it into ice for cooling purposes.

More about Radda in Chianti and its environs.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2014. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The new Googleplus layout is terrible.

Google had their big conference yesterday and announced changes to Google+ among several other more important things. I didn't pay attention to the details since I thought they had already done as badly as they could earlier in the year by introducing a grotesquely huge banner image requirement. I logged in today and discovered to my horror that the new Google plus layout is terrible.

The new googleplus is terrble

Firstly, the navigation is now incomprehensible even for someone like me who knows what the options are. They have taken a clear and simple navigation and made it impossible to follow - impossible to locate, in some cases. New users will probably never discover which features are available since it's impossible to find them.

Secondly, they have taken the full screen, linear post layout and turned it into the multi-column, narrow, fixed-width display that makes viewing posts a headache, to put it mildly. On my monitor, with the two column default display, I could hardly follow my own posts, which I know quite well, obviously, let alone follow other people's pages. Posts vary in height, so trying to read what's there in two column format is gruesomely nightmarish. On wider screens, it's three columns - absolutely nuts.

PS: If you go to your Home page and click on the tab "More", you have the option "Stream Layout" where you can select the single column display. However, you have no control over the public display of your page - your viewers have to know about the single column option. Furthermore, it remains in narrow format with vast amounts of wasted white space (well, grey, actually) on either side (is this format especially for mobile devices?). In addition, the "You muted this post" notice is now the same height as the muted post, meaning that you're forced to scroll past it to see the next post. Why this waste of space everywhere?

Thirdly, they have added this incredibly intrusive "complete your profile" thing that pops up everytime you go to your page, despite it having been closed in the previous page view. It's in a revolting purple colour and mine insistently asks "Are you in a relationship?", whatever that is. Well mind you own damn business!

Fourthly, the easy to use dropdown menu listing your communities has gone. It's hard enough to find the communities link and when you do, instead of a simple pick list, you're forced to confront a display of communities that you've previously made clear don't interest you.

Quadruple fail, Google!

These changes will not only discourage current users from visiting Google Plus to read or add posts, it will turn off new users and greatly slow adoption.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.