Viva Italia! A trip to Venice, Tuscany and Florence
Here, we opted for a lunch of insalata caprese -- tasting the most incredibly fresh tomatoes and mozzarella -- along with a platter heaping with prosciutto, cotto ham, mortadella sausage and the locally made pecorino cheese. We washed it all down with a bottle of the house Brunello, which at $20 seemed like quite a bargain, and then topped it off with the house grappa, an Italian brandy made by distilling grape residue left over from pressing during the winemaking process (my stepfather calls it lighter fluid).
After Montalcino, we made a quick stop in Siena, famous for its annual horse race, the Palio, where each July 2 and Aug. 16 jockeys race their horses around the Piazza del Campo, Siena's large central square lined with cafés, gelaterias, shops and apartments on one side, and the Palazzo Pubblico (the town hall dating to 1297) and associated Torre del Mangia (the bell tower dating to 1325) on the other.
That evening, we dined in the neighboring town of Guazzino at Il Fornacino, a restaurant recommended by the friendly front-desk clerk at Locanda dell'Amorosa. It was a great and inexpensive local dining experience, with the owners -- Luigi and Daniela -- treating us like old friends, and serving us a wonderful Tuscan specialty, grilled beef Chianino (from the Chianina breed of cattle), along with a few too many glasses of Italian sweet wine after dinner.
On our last day in Tuscany, we began with a brief visit to Cortona, the village made famous in America by Frances Mayes in her memoir (subsequently made into a film), "Under the Tuscan Sun," where we walked down via Nazionale to Piazza Garibaldi, which afforded us a wonderful vista of the Tuscan countryside, including Lake Trasimeno, where Hannibal ambushed the Roman army centuries ago.
No trip to Tuscany -- well, perhaps for some -- would be complete without a stop at the fashion outlets, where you can purchase Italian designer clothing and accessories at deeply discounted prices. The Mall, in Leccio, houses numerous brand outlets and also has a surprisingly good restaurant.
Spacci in nearby Montevarchi houses Prada and its affiliated brands. Although the selection at both locations was great, after converting prices from euros into dollars, it was evident that the exchange rate had an extremely negative effect on our purchasing power, and we did more window-shopping than buying.
Arriving that evening in Florence, we checked into our hotel in the historic city center, the Hotel Brunelleschi (www.summithotels.com), which is partly contained in a 6th century Byzantine tower. For dinner, the front desk clerk recommended Buca Mario, a restaurant first opened in 1886, and it did not disappoint. We had insalata caprese, an antipasto platter, spaghetti bolognese and Osso Buco (which fell off the bone and literally melted in my mouth like butter). The house Chianti, however, was a bit lackluster, but the service was excellent.
Afterward, we stopped for drinks first at Slowly Bar and then at Colle Bereto, which drew a crowd of what appeared to be fashion industry executives.
A trip to Florence should most definitely include taking in the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Michelangelo's David (at the Accademia), the Piazza della Signoria, the Piazza della Republicca and the Ponte Vecchio. Also worthwhile is shopping in the numerous boutiques found in Florence's historic city center (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and the open market on Via di Porta Rossa, where we purchased a leather jacket, a leather credit card holder, and two nice leather belts. Note that you are expected to bargain here, and coming at the end of the day (and in the off-season) can help you get the best prices.
After checking in to the Hotel Cavour, as the Brunelleschi was fully booked on our second night, we had the final dinner of our trip at Il Latini, a restaurant I first visited with my parents and some other close family friends from Milwaukee on a visit to Florence in September 2003.
That first meal five years ago was one of the most memorable of my life, and I have been dying to return ever since: never-ending courses and endless amounts of food -- antipasto platters, Tuscan bread soup so thick they put three different types in a bowl and none run together, pastas, a wide variety of grilled meats, dessert, and jugs and jugs of Chianti -- all for only €45 per person (only a €5 increase since 2003)!
At Il Latini, it's all family style, and if you can't fill the table yourself, you will share it with others. Our dining partners on this evening included a nice couple from Chicago on their first visit to Italy, and Giuseppe -- a local regular who really made the evening, as he was quite a character!
He first was dismissive of our selection of the house Chianti sitting on the table, and thus gave us some of his apparently better red wine. He was then keen to share his bistecca alla fiorentina (a T-bone steak grilled over a wood or charcoal fire, seasoned simply with salt, pepper and olive oil, and served relatively rare), but only if we ate it directly off his fork, which we did.
He also shared what he claimed to be his own personal dessert concoction -- vanilla ice cream with Grand Marnier (which I must say was delicious). Giuseppe certainly contributed to a memorable evening, and was a great example of what makes Italy so special.
After Il Latini, we capped off the evening with a walk to the Piazza della Repubblica, where we saw a scene from an Italian movie being filmed while we enjoyed a drink on the sidewalk café of the Hotel Bristol & Hevetia -- probably too expensive for a stay, but not for a drink to put a fitting end to a wonderful (albeit much too short) trip.
<< BackPage 2 of 2 (view all on one page)
MKE Guy | Nov. 24, 2008 at 9:44 a.m. (report)
Jocasta is right! I suggest Orvieto to anyone asking about where to go in Italy. The town is a real butte (heh heh). If you want to see what it looks like, check out the mural inside the Third Ward Caffe!
1 comment about this article.
Post a comment / write a review.
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.