Thursday, 18 December 2014

Where to go in Chianti, Italy

Many tourists planning their trip to Tuscany have heard of the Chianti area but don't know where to go in Chianti, Italy. Here I hope to provide a bit of guidance for visitors to the Chianti Classico wine zone in Italy. First a definition: the region of Chianti wines in the broadest sense covers quite a large amount of northern Tuscany (map of Chianti wine zones) but "Chianti" as an area usually refers to the Chianti Classico wine zone, a picturesque, oval-shaped territory situated between Florence and Sienna. Because of its position, Chianti is easily accessible by car and bus from Florence and Sienna, and vice versa - in fact, many tourists choose to base themselves at rural accommodations within Chianti and visit the art cities on day excursions. Here are some tips on where to go.

Where to go in Chianti, Italy
Where to go in Chianti? This looks like a good place!

Towns of interest in Chianti - these are also "municipalities" (comuni) with lots of things to see outside the main town:

Greve in Chianti
Greve in Chianti - the town and surrounding hills are rightly very popular
as a base for a stay in Chianti

Things to see and do in Chianti - here are some useful websites:


 Map of Chianti and nearby areas with links to specific websites.

Greve in Chianti website - packed with information on where to stay and what to do in Chianti.

Chianti Info website - information of a large range of topics useful for visitors to Chianti.

Bella Toscana tourist guide to the whole of Tuscany.

Chianti Travel Guide.

My Tuscany Travel Blog.

Last but not least, a good selection of owner-direct, self-catering vacation accommodations in Chianti.




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Vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Now is the time to consider reserving your vacation accommodations in Tuscany. As soon as Christmas and New Year are over, everyone will be starting to plan a vacation for the new year. If you'll be coming to central Italy, be sure to consider the option of staying for at least part of the time in Tuscan vacation accommodations in the country. There a numerous agriturismi, as these rural holiday homes are called, within easy reach of the bigger art cities by car or bus, and their prices can be extremely reasonable - as little as 65 euros per night for an apartment sleeping 2-3 people - that's with a fully equipped kitchen and often access to a pool. Add to this tranquility, panoramic views and, during summer, significantly cooler temperatures, and a stay in the country becomes a very attractive option.

vacation accommodations in Tuscany
A beautiful Tuscan agriturismo for your vacation accommodations in Tuscany

One of the most popular areas to stay in is the Chianti area between Florence and Sienna, with numerous agriturismi being located in the hills around Greve in Chianti. Florence is easily accessible by bus although a car makes it easier to visit Siena. The entire Chianti area is packed with history in the form of castles, fortified mediaeval villages, abbeys, monasteries, Romanesque churches and tower houses. And of course Chianti Classico wine is available directly from the wineries throughout the area.

To obtain the best rates, OWNER DIRECT reservations are recommended. You can ask the owner questions and at the same time avoid middleman fees any dodgy rental agencies that might be out there on the internet.

Click this link for accommodation in Chianti and elsewhere in Tuscany.

For information on almost every town and village in Tuscany and Umbria: www.bella-toscana.com

For information on the Chianti Classico area and Tuscany in general: www.chianti.info



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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Modigliani exhibition at the Palazzo Blu in Pisa October 2014 - February 2015

Among the artists whose works exert a strong attraction on me, Amedeo Modigliani ranks high among those still designated "modern" (even though he died in 1920). I came across him through a quite amazing coincidence. For my fourteenth birthday, my father gave me a Baule mask that he had brought back from the Ivory Coast. I was enchanted by it and went straight out to show it to one of my male friends who liked "curios". On the way to his place, I passed a bookshop displaying in its window a new book on the art of Modigliani, who was totally unknown to me. The resemblance between the picture on the cover and my mask was astonishing. I was instantly captivated (and my father was easily persuaded to buy me the book as well). Later I learnt that Modigliani was well-known for making sketches of the elongated faces of Baule masks, often heart-shaped and narrowing to a point at the chin beneath a small mouth placed unnaturally low on the face, and adapting this style to his paintings and sculptures.

African mask adapted by Modigliani
Baule African mask
Jeanne Hébuterne by Modigliani
Jeanne Hébuterne by Modigliani

This month (November, 2014), I had the chance to see up close a wonderful range of Modigliani's paintings. For the past few years, the Palazzo Blu in Pisa has mounted some extremely good modern art exhibitions - Chagall, Mirò, Picasso, Kandinsky, Warhol - and this year (extending into 2015), they are showing works by Modigliani and some of his contemporaries, mainly from the collection of the Pompidou Centre in Paris: Modigliani in Palazzo Blu 3 October 2014 - 15 February 2015: "Amedeo Modigliani et ses amis".

Amedeo Modigliani was born into the large Jewish community of Livorno in 1884. His family had been rich and successful but were hit hard by a collapse in metal ore prices during 1883-1884, coinciding exactly with the birth of Amedeo. His youth was plagued by illness, including the onset, at age 16, of the tuberculosis that eventually killed him. Modigliani studied at Guglielmo Micheli's Art School in Livorno from 1898 to 1900, then in Florence and later in Venice. Micheli was one of the Macchiaioli and although Modigliani did not take up their style, he was influenced by their palette. In 1906, he moved to Paris. This move was crucial to his artistic development but unfortunately allowed him to give free rein to his self-destructive tendencies. He started smoking hashish in Venice and continued in Paris where he added excess alcohol, including absinthe, to his "repertoire", none of which helped with his tuberculosis.

Jeanne Hébuterne
Jeanne Hébuterne
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani near the end of his life

Modigliani had endless love affairs and liaisons but in 1917 he met the beautiful Jeanne Hébuterne who became his mistress and muse. Their relationship was amazingly fruitful in terms of art but truly tragic in human terms. He painted endless portraits of her - or rather, inspired by her, since they bore little or no resemblance to Jeanne, other than being female and beautiful. She bore him a daughter and was pregnant with their second child when, distraught, she killed herself on the day of his death from tuberculosis, 24 January, 1920.

Modigliani was a key contact between the School of Paris and the Futurist artists based in Italy, and his fame has far eclipsed both the Futurists and the Macchiaioli who are hardly known outside of Italy today. His highly recognisable style and the prodigious number of variations that he painted provided opportunities for art forgers that they were quick to seize. Even his sculptures were copied and passed off as originals. Three of them are concurrently on display (as fakes, I hasten to add!) at the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo in Pisa.

Modigliani nude


Palazzo Blu Pisa

Shore excursions from Livorno.

Tuscany Toscana
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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

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Saturday, 22 November 2014

Getting married in Tuscany: great wedding venues in Tuscany

If you're planning on getting married in Tuscany, a wonderful wedding venue will be at or near the top of the list of "musts" to make the your wedding a super-special occasion. There's an enormous range of great wedding venues in Tuscany at your disposal so I want to mention some wedding locations of which I have personal experience.

Getting married in Tuscany
Wedding dinner at Villa Felceto

For a do-it-yourself wedding in Tuscany, I can strongly recommend Villa Felceto, located on the Podere Felceto olive farm near Panzano in Chianti, halfway between Florence and Sienna. The villa, in ancient times a monastery, and the nearby dependencies provide accommodation for 20 people while the nearby agriturismi plus hotel and apartment accommodation in Panzano offer a good range of additional places to stay for your guests. The villa and its grounds provide beautiful settings for your wedding ceremony and wedding dinner. And very importantly, the owners, Roberto and Jussara, who speak excellent English, can and will provide lots of assistance with your arrangements, especially catering, so that you can organise everything without the assistance of a wedding planner.

More about Villa Felceto wedding venue in Tuscany.


Do it yourself wedding location in Tuscany
Wedding feast at La Ghiandaia in Tuscany

Another great do-it-yourself wedding venue in Tuscany is Agriturismo La Ghiandaia which is located near the tiny village of Lucolena in central Chianti, 30 km from Florence. The agriturismo is an ideal location for a wedding of up to 30 - 35 guests all of whom will be able to stay on site. For your wedding buffet you can take advantage of the beautiful veranda with its panoramic view, ideal for dancing, or a splendid converted wine cellar for inside dining in case of rain.

Silvia, the gracious owner of La Ghiandaia, is ready and able to organise everything for your wedding. She is experienced in organising complete, customised weddings at her house, including accommodation, finding a church or town hall, reserving a suitable restaurant if required, organising the buffet and party at her house with musicians and waiters, flower decorations, rental vans and wedding car and in general everything that is necessary to make your wedding day happy and memorable for you and your wedding party.

Review on Trip Advisor: "A perfect Wedding" at La Ghiandaia in Tuscany.

More about La Ghiandaia wedding location in Tuscany.

great wedding venues in Tuscany
Wedding reception at Villa Gamberaia


If you prefer to celebrate your wedding at one of the most famous villas in Tuscany, then Villa Gamberaia is the place for you. This magnificent villa is located in Settignano just a few km from central Florence, and its formal Tuscan garden is probably the most famous in Tuscany, if not all of Italy. The views from the garden are spectacular. Villa Gamberaia is not only its garden: within the villa there are magnificent salons and an interior colonnaded courtyard which may be rented for weddings. There is sufficient accommodation in the villa dependencies for your wedding party, and of course a huge range of accommodation around Settignano and Fiesole, and in Florence for your guests.

More about Villa Gamberaia.

More about accommodation at Villa Gamberaia.


Wedding in Tuscany - Villa Vitigliano
Villa Vitigliano dining al fresco

Last but not least, the height of luxury and sophistication in Tuscany is to be found at Vitigliano , a recently restored rural "borgo" located between Panzano and Greve in Chianti, 45 minutes south of Florence. I have already praised this uniquely beautiful Tuscan boutique hotel, and I want to add that Vitigliano is surely the most luxurious wedding venue in all of Tuscany, with its own Turkish bath, whirlpool and professional kitchens. The Bridal Suite in the Tower offers an unforgettable ambiance for your wedding night, and the other luxury suites are ready for the bridal couple and their families. Accommodation for the wedding guests is readily available within a ten minute drive. Vitigliano has its own ancient chapel for a traditional wedding ceremony.

More about Vitigliano wedding venue.

wedding photographer in Tuscany
Sandro Fabbrini, wedding photographer in Tuscany
Last but not least, I can recommend a great wedding photographer in Tuscany, namely Sandro Fabbrini, famous for his beautiful and unique wedding shots.

More about Sandro Fabbrini, Tuscan wedding photographer.

Tuscany Toscana
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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

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Monday, 17 November 2014

Swallows, swifts and house martins in Tuscany

In Tuscany, one of the most pleasing events of Spring is the return of the birds we call swallows, swifts and house martins. In Tuscany, we call them rondini, balestrucci and rondoni. But what is the difference between them? How can they be distinguished, especially while they are in flight?

house martin nest in Tuscany
House martin nest with two chicks

They are different species, despite the fact that when they are in flight it's not that easy to distinguish between them purely on the basis of appearance, due to the speed at which they fly. The swallow and the house martin belong to the Order Passeriformes (related to sparrows and a huge number of other perching bird species) while the swift belongs to the Order Apodiformes (related to humming birds). The similarity in appearance between these species of quite diverse Orders is remarkable example of convergent evolution. They are all adapted to extremely rapid flight and consumption of insects on the wing. Swallows and swifts are usually seen high in the sky although both swifts and house martins are the birds you see flying with great rapidity around the eaves of houses and through arches.

The swallow (rondine)


swallow rondine
Swallow in flight

Swallow (or barn swallow) Hirundo rustica (in Italian rondine pl. rondini - emphasis on the antepenultimate syllable) – very defined forked tail and red on the head. European swallows spend the winter in Africa south of the Sahara, in Arabia and in India. Prior to migration, as autumn approaches, large numbers of swallows characteristically perch close together on telephone wires and then within a day or two are all gone. Migrating swallows cover 200 miles a day, flying mainly during daylight and at low altitude, at speeds of 17-22 miles per hour. The maximum flight speed is 35 mph.

The common swift (rondone)


Swift rondone
Swift in flight

Swift Apus apus (in Italian rondone, pl. rondoni, emphasis on the penultimate syllable - both the bird and the name often confused with rondini, swallows, above) – dark brown all over although against the sky they look black, the wings being long and scythe-like. Except when nesting inside old buildings, swifts spend their lives in the air, living on the insects caught in flight. They drink, feed, and often mate and sleep on the wing. No other bird spends as much of its life in flight, and consequently they have very short legs, used mostly for clinging to vertical surfaces. Swifts have a huge northern hemisphere breeding range and migrate to Africa during the winter. They have been tracked migrating from Sweden to the Congo. When they return to Tuscany, they often come back to the same nest year after year. These are the birds you see, in dark silhouette, high in the Tuscan sky during summer, and flying at tremendous speed around buildings and into crevices, making their characteristic piercing call.

The house martin (balestruccio)


House martin balestruccio
House martin in flight

House martin Delichon urbicum (in Italian balestruccio pl. balestrucci) – a blue head and upper parts, white rump and prominent, pure white underparts, and is the smallest of the three species. House martins build their mud nests at the junction of a vertical surface and an overhang. These mud nests are easy to find in groups inside archways and under eaves in any village in Tuscany. Like the swifts, the house martin migrates across the Sahara desert to the insect rich areas of central Africa during the European winter.

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Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Visit the archaeological site under the Duomo of Florence

Since October this year (2014), it has been possible to visit the archaeological site under the Duomo of Florence and the new display there.The excavations under the Duomo allow visitors to grasp, in a very immediate way, the fascinating history of the Duomo area and, indeed, of all of Florence, from Roman times until the 14 C. Beneath the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), the levels of stratification correspond to four consecutive periods in the history of Florence, namely the Roman period (1 to 4 C), lasting until the construction of the first church on the site in early Christian era (4 to 7 C), the early mediaeval period (8 to 10 C) and the Romanesque period (11 to 14C ).

All the coins that were found in the Roman soil belong to the period from the reign of emperor Gordianus III (238 to 244) to the reign of emperor Honorius (395 – 423). The evidence suggests that the first Basilica was built at the end of the fourth century or during the first decades of the following century, after the victory of the Roman army over Radagaisus.

This Basilica of Santa Reparata was possibly the first construction of a complex including the Bishop’s palace, the Baptistry of San Giovanni (Florence Baptistry), a hospital, a parsonage, a graveyard and two other churches. (Yes, the Baptistry of Florence is of extremely ancient origin and much of the present structure long pre-dates the Duomo).

Santa Reparata, the Baptistry and associated buildings in early Florence
Santa Reparata, the Baptistry and associated buildings in early Florence
Santa Reparata was one of the major early Christian complexes in the region of Tuscia, its importance being indicated by its position directly in front of the baptistry, 8 m closer than the present Duomo. It was rebuilt in Carolingian times, in the 8 to 9 C, after being severely damaged in the wars between the Goths and Byzantium. The new basilica was built partially on top of the antique paleo-Christian church, with some of the same walls, but located further away from the Baptistry (the orange floor plan in the illustration above). Santa Reparata was well lit and similar in appearance to S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, with elegant arcades and marble columns. The basilica was also used as a meeting hall by the Parliament of the Republic of Florence before the construction of Palazzo Vecchio. On 4 June, 1055, Pope Victor II opened the first council of Florence in Santa Reparata. The council included of 120 bishops together with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III. The widening of the crypt, the addition of two apses and the construction of an arcade might have been carried out in preparation for this event.
Map showing the floor plans and relative positions of the three churches of the Duomo area in Florence
Map showing the floor plans and relative positions of the three successive churches of the Duomo area.

But, as Giovanni Villani says in his 14 C Nuova Cronica, Santa Reparata at a certain point began to seem too rough and too small for the newly ambitious of Florence of the 13 C, so much so that in 1293 it was decided to reconstruct the building. On the 8 September, 1296 the cornerstone was laid to the new cathedral. This new Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is normally called), was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio. By 1375, the old church Santa Reparata had been pulled down and the new Cathedral finished in 1436 with final completion of the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi (the yellow floor plan above), the construction of this vast project having lasted 140 years, the collective efforts of several generations, interrupted by the Black Death.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze)
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo di Firenze)
The excavations are entered down a staircase situated in the nave of the cathedral.

A single 10 Euro ticket allows you access to all parts of the Duomo, including the crypt.

Crypt of Santa Reparata Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 10am-5pm
Thursday: May and October 10am-4pm, July through September 10am-5pm, January through April and November and December 10am-4.30pm
Saturday: 10am-4.45pm

Closed: Sunday, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Epiphany, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, Feast of St. John (24 June), Feast of the Assumption (15 August), Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (8 September), All Saints’ Day (1 November).

Tuscany Toscana
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Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Making wine in terracotta containers - conference in Impruneta November 2014

Leonardo Parigi of Terracotta Artenova located in Impruneta, the terracotta manufacturing centre not far from Florence, is sponsoring what should prove to be a very interesting conference on making wine in terracotta containers. The use of large terracotta jars for wine making has a long history in Georgia and was taken up by Josko Gravner in Friuli many years ago. Terracotta Artenova started producing terracotta jars similar to the huge olive oil orci used in Tuscany, fitted with the appropriate lids to render them suitable for wine production.

Making wine in terracotta containers
The mark of Terracotta Artenova terracotta wine jars.
A number of wine-makers have been sufficiently intrigued to take up the challenge and it will be possible to try some of these wines in Impruneta on 22 and 23 November 2014. The name of the conference is:

Terracotta and Wine - experiences of wine-making from around the world

A meeting taking place at the historical terracotta works, Fornace Agresti, in Impruneta on 22 and 23 November 2014.

The programme begins on Satuday, 22 Nov. at 10 am and the talks from 11 am to 1 pm are as follows:

Prof. C. Caillaud (Vienne): The use of terracotta for the transport and processing of wine: from Roman amphorae to the tinajas of Spain.

Prof. G. Barisashvili (Tbilisi): The culture of kvevri (Georgian terracotta amphorae), past and present.

Prof. L. Armanino: Preliminary investigation on the evolution of Barbera d'Asti terracotta.

Prof. A. Tirelli (Milan): Characterization of "Cerasuolo di Vittoria" in terracotta.

The from 3 pm to 5 pm there will be a guided wine tasting, "Biodynamic wine and terracotta", conducted by Adriano Zago.

Next day, Sunday 23 Nov., the programme opens again at 10 am.

At 11 am there will be another guided wine tasting, "Wine and terracotta in Italy and around the world", conducted by Francesco Bartoletti.

At 4.30 pm there will be a musical event featuring the soprano Sofia Folli and the tenor Tiziano Barbafiera with the choir Coro Polifonico del Chianti Fiorentino e Senese.

Wine producers from Italy, France, The USA, Australia, New Zealand, Georgia, Armenia and Montenegro will be participating.

Wine production using terracotta containers (giare)

For more information, contact Terracotta Artenova at: terracottaevino.artenova@gmail.com

More about Artenova Terracotta and Wine.

More about wine making using terracotta jars.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Sunday, 19 October 2014

Luxury suites at a new boutique spa vacation accommodation in Tuscany, Italy

Today I want to tell you about a discovery I made recently near Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany. Restoration and conversion have recently been completed at Vitigliano, a wonderful boutique spa resort consisting of seven luxury vacation suites and a comprehensive wellness spa. I was amazed at the beauty and luxury of this project. The owner, Marion Hattemer, and her husband, Kiyan, have spared no effort nor expense in creating an oasis where every creature comfort is provided for in surroundings of enormous natural and artistic beauty.

View from Vitigliano Relais and Spa over the swimming pool to the Chianti hills of Tuscany
View from Vitigliano Relais and Spa over the swimming pool to the Chianti hills of Tuscany

The location is phenomenal, even in a part of Tuscany where panoramic views are the norm. Vitigliano was very likely a Roman settlement and is documented from as early as 1085 in the archives of the nearby Abbey of San Leolino. The oldest building still in existence today is a thousand years old. The location was chosen by its founders for the panoramic vistas in every direction, which were, at that time, of principally military value. After the definitive conquest of Chianti by the Florentines, farm buildings grew up around the watch tower and the resulting borgo became the property of the Verrazzano family, who, like us, surely admired the views for their beauty much more than for their soldierly significance!

Pool and grounds at Vitigliano Relais and Spa in Tuscany, Italy
View past the pool to Vitigliano Relais and Spa in Tuscany, Italy

After passing through the hands of a number of prominent Tuscan families, Vitigliano became the the property of the present owner who set out to create the ultimate relaxation and wellness centre in Tuscany. From the luxury suites with their dazzling interior décor, through the kitchens, the conference facilities, the hammam, whirl pool and gym to the swimming pool, gardens and chapel, Vitigliano combines the ancient with the modern, super luxury with maximum comfort.

Spa room at Vitigliano luxury boutique hotel in Tuscany Italy
Spa room at Vitigliano luxury boutique hotel in Tuscany Italy
The kitchens at Vitigliano are equipped for gourmet cookery and a skilled chef is available to prepare meals and banquets, and to provide cooking lessons. The grounds, pool, chapel and conference facilities make Vitigliano and ideal spot for an important events such as a Tuscan wedding or team building incentive occasion, as well as simply a luxurious Tuscany vacation accommodation.

A luxury suite at Vitigliano Relais and Spa in Tuscany, Italy
A luxury suite at Vitigliano Relais and Spa in Tuscany, Italy
Sig.ra Hattemer told me that it is possible to rent the entire borgo or individual suites and combinations of suites. Vitigliano opens officially in summer of 2015 and is taking reservations now. I can't imagine a more beautiful location nor more luxurious amenities and accommodation than at this beautiful spa, just an hour south of Florence in the middle of the Chianti Classico wine region.

More about Vitigliano luxury Tuscan accommodation and spa near Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy.


Tuscany Toscana
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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

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Graffiti by Michelangelo in Florence

A story that might interest many tourists visiting this part of Italy alludes to graffiti by Michelangelo in Florence, specifically a simple caricature known as "l’importuno di Michelangelo". The profile of a man's face is carved into a stone on the right wall of the main entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, just behind the "Ercole e Caco" of Baccio Bandinelli.

Graffiti by Michelangelo in Florence
Location of graffiti by Michelangelo in Florence
One story has it that Michelangelo, always in a hurry to get back to work on his sculpture, was usually stopped by an acquaintance when crossing the square. This individual always kept him talking about his trifling problems and other matters of little consequence. One day, Michelangelo, once again importuned by his troubled acquaintance and unable to be rid of him, seized the opportunity to portray him. Leaning against the wall and looking him in the eyes with his hands behind his back, he wielded the his hammer and chisel to engrave a profile of the "l’importuno di Michelangelo". Trying to picture this ridiculous scene occurring in reality is rather difficult, unless the importuno was not only deaf but with very poor eyesight as well - or maybe he really did have consuming problems that blinded him to everything else as he poured them out to Michelangelo? Oh, and to perform this feat, Michelangelo would have had to have been 12 feet tall.

The profile of  man carved in a wall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence by Michelangelo.
The profile of  man carved in a wall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence by Michelangelo.
Another version of this story has it that the carving portrays a man condemned to the pillory and Michelangelo, passing by from the Piazza della Signoria, recognized him as his own debtor. To immortalise this state of infamy, Michelangelo decided to chisel a bas-relief profile of the offender directly into the ashlar of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Judging by the broken nose of the profile portrayed, I prefer to imagine that it's a portrait of Michelangelo himself - whether it's a self-portrait or not, who can say?

More about Florence and its environs.

See Florence on Facebook.

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

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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A mediaeval ball game in southern Tuscany - "Palla ventuno" or "Palla-eh"

A mediaeval ball game in southern Tuscany called "Palla ventuno" or "Palla-eh" is gaining in popularity to the extent that there are now competitions between teams from six villages in the Alta Maremma. Palla 21 is the Southern Tuscan variant of the jeux de paume, which has been played throughout most of Europe since ancient times and from which tennis reputedly originated.

Palla 21 being played in Torniella (Casa Reasco in the background)
Palla 21 being played in Torniella (Casa Reasco in the background)
Palla 21 is played wherever enough space is available: in the square of the village or for that matter on the main street if the village is so small it has no piazza! The ball is hand made, containing a lead pellet wrapped in rubber and wool with a leather cover. There is no referee. The game is played by facing teams who strike (not catch) the ball with either a bare or gloved hand. Courts are marked out with painted lines on town streets, but there is no net, and players can move between sides. Adjacent buildings, objects, and sometimes spectators, are considered "in play."

Scoring is almost identical to that of tennis (15-30-40-game). In the variant called pallaventuno (or palla 21) each game counts as 7, and a set is won with three games (7 for the first, 14 for the second, and 21 for the third, hence the name of the game). In the other variant, games are simply counted in progression (game 1, game 2). Pallacorda (or palla della corda) is an extinct form of the game where a cord (precursor of the tennis net) was strung across the street. Pisa, Prato, Rome, Sienna and various Tuscan towns still have streets named via Pallacorda or via Della Corda.

the game of Palla-eh in Tuscany, Italy


Vacation apartments in Torniella, convenient to Sienna and the Maremma. Ideal for groups of up to 12 persons.

Vacation apartments in Torniella, convenient to Sienna and the Maremma

Holiday apartments for 2 to 6 persons. Both apartments may be rented together with additional rooms providing accommodation for groups of up to 12 vacationing together. Click here for more about Casa Reasco.


During 2014, this is the schedule - heats on the Saturday and finals on the Sunday:
  • Scalvaia, 26-27 July
  • Ciciano, 2-3 August
  • Torniella, 9-10 August
  • Piloni, 16-17 August
  • Vetulonia, 23-24 August
  • Tirli, 30-31 August


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

Anna Maria Baldini

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Sunday, 29 June 2014

June Bugs in Tuscany

June Bugs in Tuscany - well, June is just ending, but the fireflies are still flashing away on warm evenings in Tuscany. Many tourists, worn out by a day of sight-seeing, miss the pleasures of a stroll along a country road during late evening in Tuscany. Fireflies now, and throughout the summer owls, bats and nightingales. The most commonly seen and heard owl is the civetta, Athena noctua, but with a bit of luck you might also see a gufo, Asio otus, the southern eared owl, which is significantly larger and habitually sits on top of telegraph poles. When the grapes are ripening, you can also hear and sometimes see cinghiali, wild boar, munching away on the grapes.

June bugs in Tuscany
June bugs (fire flies) in Tuscany
If it's bugs in Tuscany about which you're seeking information - for example mosquitoes - here's what you want: mosquitoes in Tuscany.



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Thursday, 26 June 2014

"Under Petraia with some wanderings" - the second volume of Georgina Grahame's memoirs

Attentive readers will no doubt remember my post regarding the splendid and unjustly neglected volume "In a Tuscan Garden" by an anonymous author since identified as Mrs. Georgina Grahame, an aunt of Kenneth Grahame of "The Wind in the Willows" fame. I closed that post with the hope that I would be able to obtain a copy of the very scarce second volume of her memoirs, "Under Petraia", not a trace of which could be found in any of the big multidealer rare books websites - not even the famous www.bibliophile.net. Well, less than a year later, my very good friend Paul Chipchase, scholar and gentleman, located a copy in Australia and nobly presented it to me.

This second volume was published in 1909, eight years before Mrs. Grahame's death in Florence in 1917 at the age of 79. It begins with a description of her successful efforts to find a new home when the lease on her house, Il Villino Landau, was terminated upon the death of the owner, Baron Landau, in 1903. The new house was located in an area to this day not especially popular with tourists, whether Italian or foreign, namely Castello, in the hills of Quarto, north west of Florence and on the boundary of Sesto Fiorentino (not surprisingly, since Quarto and Sesto refer to the 4th and 6th Roman milestones from Florence. Quinto lies between them and is home to Santo Croce a Quinto, the second most hideous church in Florence, the winner being Michelucci's brutalist Motorway Church). Quarto's main claim to fame is as the location of the Villa Medicea di Castello and, not far away, the Villa La Petraia, another Medicean villa and once the favorite residence of King Victor Emmanuel II.
The giardino all'italiana of Villa di Castello, Florence
The giardino all'italiana of Villa di Castello, Florence
The toponym for the location does not derive from a castle (castello) but rather from the cistern (castellum) of a Roman aquaduct starting here and running to Florence, constructed by the Roman Senator Marco Opellio Macrino (164-218). Mrs. Grahame refers more than once to the abundant springs in the hills hereabouts. Villa di Castello has a wonderful italianate garden and is a must see for anyone interested in the villa gardens of Tuscany.

Villa La Petraia near Florence
The Medicean Villa La Petraia near Florence
Villa La Petraia is situated at the location of an old castle first documented in 1362 and which changed owners several times (Brunelleschi, Strozzi, Alessandra dei Bardi, Salutati). The castle was acquired by the Medici when they returned to Florence in 1530 and transferred from Cosimo I to his son, Cardinal Ferdinando in 1568. It was enlarged and transformed into a Villa on the initiative of the latter who became Grand Duke after the death of his brother, Francis I, in 1587. The basic layout of the gardens dates back to the late 16 C, with 18 C and 19 C additions such as the "Piano della figurina" decorated with the Fountain of Fiorenza and the English style park on the northern side, created according to the typically romantic taste that characterised the first half of the 19 C.

The gardens of Villa La Quiete near Florence
The gardens of Villa La Quiete near Florence

Another beautiful Medicean villa in the area, described in some detail by Mrs. Grahame, is the Villa La Quiete. known in the past as the Palagio di Quarto. It is recorded as being a possession of the Orlandini family when it was given to the condottiero Niccolò da Tolentino in 1438. The Medici bought it in 1453. For centuries a convent, then briefly in the 1990's a property of the University of Florence, La Quiete has belonged to the Region of Tuscany since 2008. Its fine italianate garden was created during the 18 C. The curator at that time was Sebastiano Rapi, head gardener at the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

The parco all'inglese of Villa di Quarto near Florence
The parco all'inglese of Villa di Quarto

Villa di Quarto, sometimes known as Villa di Castelquarto, Villa Paxton or Villa della Granduchessa, like some of the other villas in the area, possesses, in addition to its giardino all'italiana, a wonderful parco all'inglese. The property has a huge range of tree species and is a botanists' paradise. Villa di Quarto was rented for a time by Mark Twain and it was here that his wife passed away. At least one letter survives from Mark Twain to Mrs Graham (sic), dated 12 April, 1904 and appreciating her charming letter that added grace to the vivid, sunny morning in Florence, but adds, "Our house is a hospital, these 5 months, & the sunshine is all outside of it, there is none within." His stay there was not improved by the owner of the house, his compatriot Frances Paxton, Countess Massiglia, described by Mark Twain's secretary, who had known her previously in Philadelphia, in these words. "Count Massiglia is far away serving his country as Consul in Persia or Siam, and he is likely to stay there too; and it seems to me that for the sake of peace or freedom, he has left this Villa in the hands of the Countess … Here she remains, a menace to the peace of the Clemens household, with her painted hair, her great coarse voice, her slitlike vicious eyes, her dirty clothes, and her terrible manners." Twain himself described her as "excitable, malicious, malignant, vengeful, unforgiving, selfish, stingy, avaricious, coarse, vulgar, profane, obscene, a furious blusterer on the outside and at heart a coward." It must have been an interesting time at Villa di Quarto for all those not actually living there. Alas, we have no word on this topic from Mrs. Grahame.

Other villas in the area include Villa Corsini and Villa Medicea della Topaia. Topaia means "rats' nest" and hence "a dump" but the name of this villa, once a hunting lodge and definitely never a dump, has a much more appropriate origin, deriving from "opus topiarum", the art of topiary.

Mrs. Grahame's new address was given in her letters as "Bel Gioiello, Quarto, Castello, Florence", referring to a two storey farm house dating from well before 1481, belonging to the estate of Villa La Petraia, located on Via Pietro Dazzi (currently number 29) on the northern boundary of the estate of La Petraia - hence the name of her book, "Under Petraia". It is neighbour to another farmhouse at numbers 25-27, known as Villa del Gioiello. Mrs Grahame does not use the name Bel Gioiello in this book. I have been unable to obtain a picture of the house since it remains private property, but the layout of the grounds can be made out from the aerial photo below. The back of the contadino's house to the right forms one side of the quadrangle and the round well opposite seems to have been filled in since Mrs. Grahame's time.

Bel Gioiello Castello Firenze
Aerial view of Bel Gioiello Castello Firenze

Mrs. Grahame describes the creation of her new garden, slowed by the unfortunate employment of two crooked administrators in succession. The author's age and unavoidable absences prevented her from supervising the work as closely as she had done at Il Villino Landau but within a couple of years a jungle of weeds and areas as dry as "brick dust" had become a beautiful garden, many of the plants having been transferred from Il Villino.

The pergola from Under Petraia
A photo of the pergola from the book.
The later chapters of "Under Petraia" are devoted to the "wanderings" of the title and refer to the author's exploration of more northerly parts of Italy, with many lines devoted to her acute analysis of Italian government, character and customs. I was sad to reach the last page and bid farewell to Mrs. Grahame and her gardens.

More about the formal Tuscan gardens of the villas of Tuscany, Italy.

More about the villas of Tuscany .

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