Category Archives: Tuscany

Camucia-Cortona, to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme, ITALY

14 October 2019

After our first day in Cortona we were off to collect our car from the nearest car hire place which was about half an hour south south west in a lovely town called Chiusi. We caught the bus from outside the hotel in the piazza near Garibaldi’s statue and it dropped us at the stazione Camucia-Cortona. We caught the train to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme.

Camucia-Cortona Stazione

This is the station we stopped at from Firenze that we bought before we left there. Chiusi is a biggish station with 6 platforms and modern signage and even braille on the signs showing which platforms to go to. Oh, and lifts which when you have cases is a boon. But this time – no bags.

Once we were out of the station we crossed the road and – being a sucker for a market – we saw one – so our plan for a cuppa was postponed until we had wandered around the stalls of amazing things.

Markets in Chiusi
Ham and salami hanging at the Deli

All very practical stuff, clothing and homewares, kitchen tools and fashion items. There were fruits and veg and plant stalls too in another section. It all took up a block or so of space outside other places which were closed. There was something for everyone and a large range of stalls – about 50 stalls in all. We found a couple of things for ourselves for gifts and a wonderful delicatessan with hanging hams, cheese and breads. Just wonderful stuff. After that diversion we went to find our coffee place.

Cheeses and Olives

We sat outside at Bar Italia and had a coffee for 💶1.70 and 💶1.30 for tea which is the cheapest so far for Tea and Coffee. Generally we are paying 2-3 💶 per cup in more touristy places essentially. Chiusi is a decent sized place but not spoilt yet.

This becomes a little obvious when we are walking around and older women take a long time to take us in. They watch, intently, as we go about our day. It has happened in other places too – at a restaurant Cafè Braceria Chianina Via Laurentana SP10/B, Camucia Arezzo, near to where we did our laundry the other day, in Cortona. We went to Easy Wash & Easy Market, Cortona to do our laundry and then had lunch two doors down in the same strip of businesses.

Inside Cafè Braceria

The restaurant had sides of beef hanging at the end of the room and the guests in the restaurant were enjoying large serves of meat in many styles, along with pasta and the freshest salads. Just a lovely restaurant and from the outside it appeared as if no-one was inside until we open the door. It was ‘heaving’ – well there was certainly a lively crowd inside.

The dessert fridge
Tuna salad , with capers.

We then found our way to Avis in Chiusi (pronounced like choosie but more like the oo sound in book). And after a discussion and a look at the car we were getting, we asked if there was an automatic – well this is our first time actually driving on the opposite side of the road in a manual car???It would have been majorly weird changing gears with your left hand as well as driving on the right. We wanted to improve our odds and make sure we did all we could to stay safe and cause no-one else any injuries.

Second Mercedes I’ve ever driven and this one on the right side of the road – not the left.

The journey home(back to Cortona) was about 40 mins or so but as it was nearing lunchtime we drove about 20mins north east to the lake called Lake Trasimeno in the Province of Perugia.

We found the restaurant we had chosen on google maps was closed so drove further around the lake and found a pizzeria with an extensive menu – so we shared our first Italian pizza of this trip. It was awesome. I loved it. We chose the Matador. It was a lovely place , very summery, like it was the type of place where people go in the summer with families and grab a pizza and cross the road and eat it, skim stones and play in the Italian sunshine. The pizzeria is called Peperosa – Restaurant and Lounge Bar on Via Lungolago 4, Castiglione Del Lago.

Castiglione Del Lago
Castiglione Del Lago

Siena, Tuscany, Italy

15 October 2019

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We drove Siena and the countryside was lovely. The highways, which are fast, are to very badly maintained. They are rough and not wide enough, where no-one seems to abide by the speed limits posted on the roadsides.

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Once we arrived, we found our way to the old city and drove through an archway which may have indicated that it was a restricted zone for only motorbikes and taxis.

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We parked there and just as we were getting out of the car it started to rain. Very disappointing, because we had not seen rain in the forecast, so did not have any rain attire with us. This meant we returned to the car and drove to another place to park which didn’t look so illegal. After the change, the weather did too, and we saw no more for the remainder of the day.

We walked further into the old town along winding roads and then had lunch.

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Freshly rained on street

It was in a tiny little café with about 6 tables and a long counter full of food and drinks.  I had tagliatelle alla ragú


and my mate had ravioli – four large ricotta and spinach filled pillows.A263314E-F78A-4AFE-B588-27981BFD9DE9_1_201_a

We then started our journey into the old city a little further.  The closer we went to the centre of things like the Piazza Duomo, the more the tourist shops thrived.  The selfie-sticks and the crowds increased.  The place we were heading for was the large arena where the Palio di Siena (horse race) is held in the piazza called Il Campo – twice a year and it was crawling with people.

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Il Campo

They were everywhere, some sitting on the ground in the centre of the red brick arena, others standing taking photos and more eating at the many restaurants circling the piazza. The noise was remarkably loud with so many restaurants and the vendors selling everything from scarves, t-shirts, caps and trinkets. We took a video and the playback showed just how much noise was bouncing around the huge open space in the middle of this town.  I had not been there for 40 years and it seemed smaller this time.  “Ain’t it the way”?

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The walkway into the arena was very incredibly steep, with polished stones which made it ‘feel’ scarier. It was about 20 metres long and going slowly down it, was the only way to arrive safely.  It was very funny walking down the road, which of course made it more dangerous.

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Once our destination had been achieved it was time to wend our way back to the car. At the Duomo Piazza, I had purchased, for 1 Euro a map of the city, so we were able to find our way back to the car.  It was uphill and on cobblestones, so it took a while, but we did it.  There was another steep decline too which was quite testing but fun. And the rain stayed away.

Narrow steep streets
Siena and the tourists.
cappuccino e cioccolata calda per favore
A woman’s work is never done

The drive back was fast until we approached the base of the town of Cortona where the roads are scarily skinny.  Some vehicles seem to think they own the road and travel at frightening speeds around curves on the wrong side of the road.  But caution prevails and so we survive.  It certainly is rather stressful driving on the “wrong” side of the road in a car you are unfamiliar with albeit a Mercedes C180 and on roads that are too narrow for two cars to pass it seems – even though that is actually an illusion, you just have to be respectful and keep on your side.

Cortona, Tuscany, Italy

12 October 2019

We caught the train to Cortona from Florence after getting on the right train at the correct platform and had a lovely relaxing 80 mins to Cortona and walked out of the station towards the taxi rank, where a German woman was standing waiting for a taxi. The taxi arrived, the driver asked us if we needed a taxi etc etc so anyway the German couple said they were happy to share the ride so we went in their taxi to the top of the hill to Cortona. 💶15.

Once there, we checked into our lovely hotel called Hotel San Luca.

The view from the hotel on all sides is breathtaking. The staff are lovely and the location is fantastic. It is just around the corner from Via Nationale where lots of shops and restaurants and , a supermarket, a wine seller and buildings whose history is enthralling.

A view from Cortona
Madonna del Calcinaio – my image – text from

A twisting road descends the southern slope of the town to the Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio, also called the Madonna del Calcinaio, a beautiful domed building on a cruciform plan by Francesco di Giorgio Martini of Siena. It was built to house a miraculous image of the Virgin, originally on the wall of a limestone quarry (calcinaio), belonging to the local Tanners’ Guild and now on the high altar. Built from 1485 to 1513, this is one of the most architecturally important Renaissance churches in Tuscany.

We found the town enchanting and quaint. A little too touristy but there are benefits that come with that. The number of restaurants and shops is great. The food was fantastic and we had a new place to go each of our 4 nights and so we did. Well we did go to one place twice because it just asked for it. It was #Taverna Il Gozzoviglio, Via Guelfi 9 52044 Cortona AR. The staff fabulous, the food fast delicious and the right proportion. We tended to eat just the entree or Primo size, in case we felt like sweets. The house wine was always wonderful. We ordered it by the quarter litre. The other great thing about Italy is the way dogs are just ‘part of the furniture’ and so dogs barking under a table near us made us feel very rustic and comfortable.

Our last meal in the town was Cassarecce Arrabiata and Tagliatelle alla Ragú Chianina. So yummy!(images to follow)

Inside Taverna Il Gozzoviglio – too cold outside – and the wonderful waitress who spoke mostly Italian to us and we understood enough to get by. So cool.

There is a Canadian University in Cortona. We didn’t see it because the streets in the town are mostly uphill and hard to walk on for long periods. We had to park down the road and there is a carpark below the hotel with escalators to the top. Very modern.

We ate al fresco for one of our two meals there.

During our stay in Cortona we of course had to visit Bramasole the renovated home from the movie Under the Tuscan Sun and for a mere 💶40 (approx A$65) you can tour the property – ha! so we drove by and photographed a possible scene making balcony and drove on. All very disappointing really, but Frances Mayes the author at 79 still lives in Cortona. We didn’t see her.

A possible balcony for the balcony scenes from “Under the Tuscan Sun”.

Just around the corner from the property which was not offering itself to be looked at.

Florence, Italy

Sightseeing and shopping day

We today was ‘David’s day and what an interesting day it was. We had booked tickets to see David in the morning. Our booking was 8:30am and we were asked to collect our tickets at 8:15am.

The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, or “Gallery of the Academy of Florence”, is an art museum in Florence, Italy. It is the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. It also has other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings.

There was a strike on so we were asked to come back at 9:50 to collect our tickets. So off we went for breakfast. Then after that we headed back to the Galleria dell’Accademia and collected our tickets, only to discover that all the people who had booked after us and at the same time and some from the next block of people, were all crowded into the street outsie the gallery. We had to then join the queue which was about 70metres long, down the street and around the corner. Looked bad but we actually moved in very quickly.

Next we spent some time with David and some of the other pieces in the gallery.

Boy and his dog.

Our next a reacquaintance for me with the Duomo. And a few Kms on cobblestones and mingling with the crowds some more.

We walked through Piazza Signorina, and saw a carousel. The sun was shining and we walked past some amazing shops, Like Dolce &Gabbana, Zara, Apple. We had lunch in the piazza. One Minestone, and Spaghetti with bolgnaise sauce.

After lunch we finally found our way to the Ponte Vecchio. It was crawling with tourists and it was the end of a lot of walking on rough surfaces. Google maps was not very reliable that day either and we covered a lot more ground than we had hoped to.

It was not a long walkabout (3kms) in the scheme of things but it was a warm day and it was time to go home for a rest, so along came a taxi and we were pleased to take advantage.

Leather shops everywhere
The laundromat man – a superhero with tokens
Sabrina’s bike – she gave us great haircuts
 Sabrina for Hair – Via Faenza, 59, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Men in the street
Ponte Vecchio
River Arno
Doors of character

The next stop is Cortona south east of Florence, where our next adventure will involve driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road!

Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Cooking School Day

Thursday 10th October, 2019

We arrived on Wednesday, 9th October and found our way through security between flights in London within the hour to catch our next flight to Florence. It’s been 40 years !!!!! since I was here last, and I still have fond memories of my time here, with my cousin Jill. There are things that are just the same, and a lot of modern inclusions just to make life a little easier.

There is wifi but uploading images takes a long time so may have to wait until the service is more reliable.

On our arrival, we decided to take the easy road, and catch a taxi to our hotel. It was fun and on instruction I asked the price before we left – 25 Euros – 22 plus 3 for the bags.

The hotel where we are staying is Hotel Palazzo Vecchio and it is good. Bed is great, breakfast is adequate and the view is marvellous.

We have a balcony and it is quiet on the 3rd floor. We are about 300 metres from the train station and about a block from good food and wine.

Florence is busy but feels efficient – and as our new friend says “Florence is full of tourists”.

We have been through the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station twice yesterday on our way to our meeting point for our Cooking Class in the Tuscan countryside, and on our way back to the hotel.

Yes, lots of people and most of them standing in the middle of the concourse gazing up at the boards to locate their platforms. We will do the same on Sunday. Now that will be an adventure – stay tuned.

Meeting our Chef

We arrived at our meeting point having crossed the road twice to find it. We didn’t know how we were going to find our people. But as soon as we crossed back a very confident woman stepped towards us and asked. “Are you here for the cooking class?” “Yes.” We said. “Which one?” she asked “I don’t know,” says I. “Well you have to know because there are many companies who run cooking classes.”

Well, I suddenly started burrowing into my bag for the paperwork, and then looked on my phone for the receipt. Found the right name and our new contact was happy. She then contacted our driver who pulled up nearby like some bad kidnap movie.. It did cross my mind.

Cooking Class in Tuscany Farmhouse

Yesterday we had the most marvellous day in the hills of Tuscany, about 40 mins outside the city, where old twisted and pruned olive trees stand at the side of the roads, and now empty, grapevines stretch towards the sun in astoundingly straight lines.

We were driven (thankfully) through hillside villages and past farm machinery businesses, past properties owned by famous families, like Medici, and Gucci, who are said to be the heart of the Tuscany region.

What a very cute stove. I want one.
Tuscany farmhouse on our way.

Our mission was a cooking class at “The factory” Fattoria Palaia in the hills of Tuscany.

Once we arrived at Fattoria Palaia we met the other staff who would be assisting with some of the prep work in the kitchen downstairs. We would be working upstairs with the Chef – Antonella. She was/is an amazing woman who was a terrific teacher and genuine person. She liked the wine we were served too and made sure our glasses were not empty for long.

Following is the process we went through – for your information. We had never made Tiramisu so have included that in detail. Cheers!

Cook the meat first.

We started with a beautiful pork loin to be cooked for about 2 hours so it needed to be in the pot soon. We cut up carrots, onions and celery to go in the pot with a fair pour of Extra Virgin Olive oil to cook. Once the veggies are caramelized in goes the pork to be seared on both sides and then…. 1.5 bottles of Chianti from the vineyard on the property, and a bay leaf, rosemary, and sage. Before the pork went into the pot it was rubbed in a goodly amount of salt stabbed several times to create holes for garlic cloves, cloves and peppercorns.


Next started with Tiramisu because we had to make some extra ones for lunch guests who’re coming later. We separated egg whites and yolks and sugar was added (about 10 dessert spoons to about 8 eggs) and it was beaten until it became a lovely pale yellow, the whites were beaten to stiff peaks and mascarpone was added once they were combined and then beaten some more. A tin was then edged with a crunchie sugar covered biscuit called Savoiardi.

Biscuits for Tiramisu

On a few we added some of the mixture to get them to stick to the sides and then dipped the next layer very quickly into coffee and out again to line the base of the tin. “No drips!”

Each layer had the cheese and egg mix spread over it and then more biscuits after dipping, then more mix. The final finishing touch was sprinkled chocolate.



Next we prepared the pasta.

One egg to 100gms flour per person. Mix, knead, rest.

Resting pasta dough – very exciting.
Our finished product – tagliatelle – tomato sauce to be added after cooking.

We used a circular cutter to practise creating Tortellini and cut a square to make Ravioli, and pasta sheets. Cant wait to get home to practise.

Once we had drunk more wine and cleaned up, we went to the dining area and sampled our wares. The cook from the main kitchen grilled some zucchini for us to accompany our pasta and it was delicious.

Later Roberto – the owner – came in to see if we preferred Prosecco or sparkling Rosé. We chose the latter – like we hadn’t had enough already, phew! It was very nice – even unchilled.

We gave some aprons to the participants in our day – the two kitchen ladies and our driver and of course our champion Antonella.

Antonella told us one of the women who was given an apron said she didn’t like wearing them but this was her favourite colour so she was very pleased to wear it proudly.

Kitchen genie.
Antonella the magnificent!

A fantastic day was had by all and a lifelong friend made. We thank you Antonella for your fun, laughter and knowledge – you were magnificent and bellissima.