Two Week Italian Feast

Some more recap goodness before things get back to normal with recipes and advice and whatnot... (all photos by the Phil-tographer) So, in between Greece and Italy, there was a week or so of absolute insanity - Phil and I moved apartments (across the hall, but still), he baked a wedding cake in our small kitchen, we went to said wedding, had a caterer tasting dinner, and then less than 24 hours after that were on our flight to Pisa. While our 15 days in Italy were certainly relaxing (mostly), I think we were both a little anxious in the back of our minds about getting back to normal life, setting up our new place, getting some work done, having things installed, etc. Which is why I'm actually not that sad about coming home after our holiday. I mean, of course, yes Italy is gorgeous and wonderful and we had an amazing time - but it was unfortunately in the middle of a month where we probably could have used the time at home to settle things before taking off on another adventure.

But I don't want to downplay the superb trip we took. It had been planned for months, and involved three distinct (and completely different) parts.

Part One:

We flew to Pisa airport, rented a car (try driving an automatic diesel engine car in Italy and see what happens - it ain't pretty), and drove to Florence. Spent 3 nights exploring that beautiful city. Our quirky little hotel (rosso 23) was in a great location, right on the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella with great spots to sit and watch the world go by on a warm evening.

Only one of the days was ruined by a raging thunderstorm (somewhat of a theme on this trip, more later) - but we happily spent a few hours in our hotel, waiting for the rain and thunder to pass, and went out for a fabulous meal as recommended to us by the hotel's concierge. I'll put links to all of the great restaurants we experienced in Italy at the end of this post.

Part Two:

A two and a half hour drive from Florence brought us up towards the Alps, on a very windy mountain road just outside the bustling town of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. There we found our huge villa where we would be living for the next week with 10 of our closest friends. The villa's manager, Giovanni, was so gracious - made us lunch when we arrived as he and his team finished cleaning from the previous tenants' stay and told us some general top tips about the area. When our friends arrived later that day, we all took full advantage of the solar-heated swimming pool and had the first of many homemade dinners out on the terrace.

This was by far my favorite part of our whole trip - just being in a big house with friends, soaking up all the Italian goodness, the food and wine, the sights and smells, the local villages and towns, our property's wildlife (hope you like lizards and scorpions!), and relaxing in the sunshine for as much time as possible. We did a couple of day trips during our stay: once to Lucca, a beautiful old town about an hour away, and another to Barga, right after the second massive thunderstorm Phil and I experienced during our trip. The clouds were amazing, hovering just below the peaks of the mountains for most of the day, creating a very surreal atmosphere - very unsettled but beautiful. Our last evening saw us in Castelnuovo for a big meal followed by the town's opening night of a weeklong festival - we saw flag waving, Italian dance parties, marching bands, and it seemed as though everyone in the town was out in the streets celebrating, saying hello to their neighbors. A great way to end the week.

Part Three:

Back on the road, Phil and I said goodbye to the villa and our friends and headed south, past Livorno and on towards Grosseto. Our third location was somewhere in between the two cities, the nearest village called Scarlino.

It was a very sleepy area of Tuscany, and would have been beautiful had it not been for the horrific weather we endured on the drive down. After getting lost in the general area of our hotel for a little while, we eventually arrived only to find they were on their 3 hour lunch break (god bless the Italians) - so we hopped back in the car reluctantly and found a great little spot for lunch in a nearby town where I had some amazing seafood salad - we were definitely by the coast now. Our five nights at tenuta col di sasso were not as we had hoped, but still we made the best of our beautiful surroundings. We spent the day at a waterpark, went to a natural thermal spa another day, enjoyed the hotel's beach the next, and wandered around the swanky of port town of Punta Ala another. But the highlight had to be the vineyard and restaurant across the street from our hotel - we brought back a bottle of red after the gratis wine tasting and enjoyed a truly special meal at sunset in the restaurant next door. Our final day in Italy was spent exploring Pisa, as our flight didn't leave until the evening. Yes, we saw the leaning tower and took the obligatory photos...

So to wrap it all up, I can say that I: gained a ridiculous amount of weight from all the bread and pizza rosso... got a decent tan... feel confident enough to drive like a maniac on the autostrade... had a blast with Phil and my friends... and can't believe that the next time I leave the country (other than a visit to the States for new years) will be for our honeymoon in April!

Delicious spots in Tuscany:

  • ristorante benedicta (Via Benedetta 12r, Firenze) - Beautiful restaurant near Santa Maria Novella in Florence, great homemade pasta
  • locanda di bacco (Via San Giorgio 36, Lucca) - The most amazing set menus for lunch, including a vegetarian one and a VEGAN one! absolutely delicious. My favorite meal of the trip.
  • osteria angelio (Piazza Angelio 13, Barga) - Superb antipasti plates of meats and cheeses; the pecorino, honey & walnut plate was the prettiest
  • da carlino (Via Garibaldi 15, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana) - Family-style restaurant, HUGE, you have to ask them for the pizza and other special menus - our friend Tom won the best order of the night with his steak and truffles, smelled amazing!
  • la pierotta vineyard (Scarlino) - A wonderful place for a wine tasting, followed by a great meal at the restaurant next door