Italians do so many things with style. Including, as we discovered on the long journey south to Tuscany, motorway services. The new Eataly per Autogrill near Modena is grandly described as ‘a gastronomic digression from our customary haste’ and offered an amazing choice of fresh and deli food. My enthusiasm, however, probably wouldn’t stretch as far as visiting Eataly World (aka Disney for Food Lovers) when it opens near Bologna next year.
We eventually arrived at our home for the week, Castellare di Cellole, a beautiful former priory restored from a ruin by Adela and Mauro. Although Cellole is ideally placed for exploring Tuscany, the heat, the stunning views and the peace of Adela’s lovely garden meant we did less sight-seeing than we had planned. After a busy day by the pool where the high point was Mr Me rescuing an enormous frog from the pool filter we headed to San Gimignano. Set high on a hill, it is famous for its beauty, its many towers, choice of wild boar products and, if the shop signs are to be believed, ice-cream wars. We chose the Gelateria with the longest queues and the ice cream was delicious even if it did melt very quickly.
Siena, about 30 minutes drive from Cellole, was even lovelier than I had imagined. The highlight was the stunning Duomo striped in greenish black and white marble. The interior is incredible with so much to see, particularly the frescoes of the exquisite Piccolomini Library.
A short walk from the Duomo leads to the Piazza del Campo, home to the Palio, and from there it is only two minutes to Nannini’s, famous for their coffee and pastries. The interior is a cake lovers delight. There was such a selection and it was hard to choose! Decision made, two cups of tea (Earl Grey and peppermint) and a dainty semifreddo each taken at a standing counter was an ideal chance to people-watch. Before we left we stocked up on some delicious Ricciarelli alla Mandorla and Ricciarelli al Cioccolato, Siena’s famous biscuits.
Two days later, armed with directions from Adela, we left very early for Florence in an attempt to avoid the worst of the heat and crowds. It was a pleasant walk in the cool of morning along the banks of Arno to the Ponte Vecchio. The queues to visit the stunning Duomo were already long but it was worth the wait. We decided to save the galleries for another quieter time and just to wander, soaking up the atmosphere and stopping for a gelato at Venchi’s. Sorry Gelateria Dondoli but that may have been the best ice-cream in the world – so far. Much to our surprise, sitting in the middle in the Piazza della Signoria was a man astride a giant bronze turtle. ‘Searching for Utopia’ is part of an exhibition by Jan Fabre and the turtle-rider is a self portrait of the artist in the Renaissance tradition.
Feeling very hot, and inspired by the turtle, we adopted the Medici family motto “Hurry slowly” back to Cellole and our shady pergola for a chat with Adela and our German neighbours over a cup of tea and our melt-in-the mouth ricciarelli.