Posted Posted in Art Shows, Day Trips, Insider Food, Insider Sights, Lucchesi, Restaurants

In italiano a: http://luccalife.com/finalmente-italiano-non-perdere-le-nostre-notizie-iscriverti-luccalife-com/

ON VIEW NOW: A Rare Luminous Glimpse into Nomellini’s Evolution

Thru November 5, 2017

Palazzo Mediceo – Seravezza (LU)

Seravezza, the site of the Nomellini exhibit, is an easy and lovely escape from the city into the mountains — just 30 minutes away on A11.  We highly recommend that  you combine this great cultural experience with a gastronomic one as well.   Check the exhibit hours before you go so that you can see the show after 5 pm and follow it with an exceptional dinner at the Communist Club in Solaio — officially, the Circolo ARCI.  Yes, we said it was Communist, but it is now socialist in name alone, and reservations are a definite must on weekends.  It’s the perfect place to hang with your friends and family because they handle crowds like pros. You will be amused by the Che Guevara fresco that greets you at the front door, but you will be astounded by the home-made tordelli con sugo (Lucchese meat-filled ravioli with meat sauce) that are probably the best that this author has ever tasted — except for my Nonna’s!

The experiences of war and dictatorship have plunged many an artist into exhortative depictions of horror and despair.  Yet others, like Plinio Nomellini, the subject of a stunning retrospective at the Medici Foundation in Seravezza (LU), Italy, found the inspiration to celebrate the beauty of life’s everyday moments despite political events.

With her show Plinio Nomellini – From Divisionism to Symbolism toward the freedom of color, Curator Nadia Marchione gives light to rarely seen pieces from private collections, as well as the Archivio Nomellini in Florence, and the Uffizi.  While the painter was widely respected in Italy throughout his career as he is today, Nomellini, like the Macchiaioli who mentored him, is hardly known outside of Italy.  This beautiful collection offers an extraordinary chance to learn about his evolution as a painter.

Over the course of his long life (1866-1943) Nomellini synthesized a Romantic sensibility with Pointillism strokes, and Expressionist intensity, to celebrate family and friends captured in bucolic settings, even as Italy rode the emotional and economic rollercoaster of its Unification, World War, Depression and Fascist euphoria thru the early 20th century.

The Romantic poet Giovanni Pascoli, the Decadent writer and political activist Gabriele D’Annunzio, Giacomo Puccini, Futurist Lorenzo Viani, Nobel prize winning author Grazia Deledda, and Macchiaiolo Giovanni Fattori were only a few of the friends with wildly divergent views who frequented Nomellini’s salons and who influenced him.

A frequent exhibitor at the Venice Biennale, “Nomellini was the artist who most courageously introduced the study of the divided brushstroke to Italy, borrowing the French pointillist theory on juxtaposing pure colors on a canvas, and translating it into an absolutely personal language,” says Ms. Marchioni.

Nomellini’s canvases are luminous, and often huge, capable of immersing the viewer in a joyous, quasi-mythic world.  As the Carlo Sisi, of the Fondazione Medicea says, the chronological progression of the exhibit permits viewers to see and learn from the evolution of a master’s vision as he seeks to express the “profound, impassioned, and mysterious” nature of the human spirit.

ABOVE:  “Kisses of the Sun” or “Baci di sole, 1908,” one of the featured paintings by Italian impressionist Plinio Nomellini, exhibited at the Palazzo Mediceo in Seravezza thru November 3rd.

ABOVE:  The exhibit is housed in a 15th century Medici palace which straddles the valley in Seravezza.


Posted Posted in Day Trips, Fun with Kids, Insider Food, Restaurants


Many years ago we discovered a happy, mysteriously isolated place.  The hills, nearly mountains, there are rich with dense forest and wild boar, thickly built stone homes as well as beautiful vineyards and fields of grain.  This is the Casentino, a region in Tuscany that’s conveniently just two hours directly east of Lucca and just north of Arezzo, yet it is mysteriously free of tourists.  It is the home of the famous eponymous woolen fabric casentino which hunters, children, and noblemen alike wear proudly and comfortably during the winter, as they have for centuries.  It is where Civettaja — one of Italy’s new award-winning organic pinot noirs — originates, and near the vineyards of Castello Pomino and other Frescobaldi wines.   This is also where the mountain, Montefalterona, gives birth the Arno river that flows through the heart of Firenze, and which inspired political exile Dante Alighieri to reminisce about its fame in his home town.

Years ago, my father, children and I escaped all responsibilities by booking a room at an agriturismo in the Casentino where the owners raised wild horses and led excursions into the forests to hunt mushrooms and wild boar.  Even though my kids were too young to indulge in more than a ride around the corral, my sons happily soaked in the atmosphere imagining themselves something between cowboys and knights.  The innate warmth of our hosts made the excursion idyllic, and our communal evening meals of wild mushrooms and fresh game that other guests had snagged, were extraordinary.  The experience embodied “locally sourced” and “slow food” before either term was invented.

Alas, there was no locating the Agriturismo Croce ai Mori this year.  But we did discover a new place well worth the trip: the horse farm at Equinatura in San Donato (near the towns of Pratovecchio and Stia).  Its owner and chief trainer, Giovanna di Buonamico, has lived in the area for over 30 years and is an expert with a sixth sense for assessing riders.  After an orientation in their corral, her husband guided my son and me on a two hour tour on horseback through the countryside, passing blackberry brambles, wild cherries, golden fields of grain (yes, they do exist!) and finally, circling the imposing 10th century fortress of Castello di Romena.  During the tour, we crossed the Arno on horseback twice, saw a couple of wild boar parents usher their six babies across our path, and stopped by a spring which inspired lines in Dante’s Divine Comedy. We felt so out of touch with modern life, so immersed in the early renaissance feel of the place, that we forgot about the time and finished an hour late.

We did not stay in a farmer’s stone ranch as on our first foray into the Casentino, but at an unassuming and charming hotel, Albergo Falterona, in a 15th century palace in Stia.  While our room was London-hotel room-tiny, it was beautifully designed to make maximum use of every inch.  The decorating felt historically correct, yet it was unpretentious, even casual — a truly Tuscan feat that was refreshing and welcoming.  The bedroom easily accommodated three of us plus luggage and was complemented by a very modern bath — fresh and clean. Across the street, the hotel’s restaurant offered sophisticated nouvelle Italian cuisine and great wines, while not forgetting to offer excellent bistecca alla fiorentina.









After our horseback excursion, we explored the Apennines around Stia, working our way to the mountaintop called Croce ai Mori (Moors’ Cross).  The exceptional view from the 955 meter peak compensated for the switchback, sometimes one lane drive through the forest to the top. On the way back down, we lunched at Locanda Fonte allo Spino. Our appetizer of fried dough with stracchino and prosciutto was an unusually scrumptious dish.  Better yet was the chef’s take on pappardelle con cinghiale (wide noodles with boar sauce).  It was the best I‘ve tasted in years.  The secret: juniper berries and cinnamon incorporated into the sauce.

The pappardelle con cinguiale at Locanda Fonte allo Spino benefit from the addition of juniper berries and cinnamon — yum!

 All this hospitality and gastronomic quality makes one wonder why the Casentino isn’t a more popular destination.  In the meantime, the lack of tourists gives those in the know all the more space and quiet to take in all the region has to offer.

How to get from Lucca to Stia: Click Here


Location, location, NOT

Posted Posted in Day Trips, Insider Food, Restaurants

It can be intimidating to defy SIRI and take the “road less traveled,” but the rewards can be huge.
On the way to Lucca from an errand in the Florentine suburb of Scandicci, we chose be different and take the Via Statale/State Route 66 (rather than the Autostrada 11) on the way home. While even my car’s GPS loudly insisted that I’d taken a wrong turn, we dove down a two lane highway between factories of furniture, fabric, and clothing, to discover one of the best authentic meals we’ve had in a very long time.

The Bar Giratempo in Quarrata (a suburb of Pistoia) is tiny, featuring nine tables in a clean modern setting (mostly outside). The fact that one end of the cafe` doubles as a resale shop of old clothes, may dissuade some, but in its quirky honest way Bar Giratempo brings back flavorful memories of the working class osterie that once served artists, bricklayers and other working class customers excellent meals at affordable prices in Firenze, so many years ago.

The kitchen prepared deliciously homemade Spaghetti alla Carbonara (customized, upon request, to a lower fat version with baked ham) and Gnocchi with Gorgonzola and Radicchio (photo below). The atmosphere was punctuated by jokes among truckers, and the occasional passing car on the nearby road. But considering we were seated on a terrace just 15 feet from the highway, all was peaceful. In fact we were impressed by the guests’ high expectations for lunch and felt a little slighted that the host hadn’t told us about the homemade tordelli (meat-filled ravioli) and super fresh ricotta that he happily offered to his regular guests… In addition to the great pastas, we had half a liter of house red, water, and a Crostata della Nonna for dessert, all for just 17 euros for two — definitely worth a visit if you are passing by.

Bar Giratempo, via Statale n. 172, Olmi Quarrata (PT) 0583 717369



Overcome Jet lag on the way to Lucca: Indulge in a drive on E80

Posted Posted in Day Trips, Fun with Kids, Insider Food, Insider Sights

Driving from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport to Lucca?
You’ve had a grueling time on the plane. Enough is enough. Indulge in some R&R on the way to Lucca. DON’T take the Autostrada del Sole – A11.
Drive north instead on the wind swept, tollway known as E80/SS1. The sea views will take your breathe away.

This highway, originally completed by Roman ruler Marcus Aurelius, has some of the best views on the Italian peninsula without sacrificing speed, since it is still a four-lane autostrada, which will occasionally require a toll. But because for bureaucratic reasons it isn’t completely refurbished and as fast as A11, it will whisk past summer beach resorts and yes, a few power plants and cities, exposing you to Italian history on fast-forward.

First up, the city of Tarquinia beckons with its claim to beautiful women and some of the country’s best preserved Etruscan necropoli — think Fellini’s Roma, before the frescoes faded… http://www.tarquinia-cerveteri.it/en/museum-and-necropolis-of-tarquinia/necropolis It’s worth a stop, if you have the time, or worth noting for a return once you are looking for a day trip.
This is Lazio where rows of umbrella pines punctuate the landscape in elegant rows, demanding attention. There was a time when my sons would spend hours smashing the seed pods of these trees with rocks, in order to extract their prize: a pine nut! If you stop for a break, you now know what to do…

In some stretches along the highway, the speed limit falls to 90 km/hr as the road drops to two lanes. The slow down should help you to admire the scenery, the sunflowers and wheat, cattle and sheep, mixed with gorgeous sea views. Stay the course and you will pass Orbetello and industrial Grosseto. If times allows, this is where you need to take a quick detour, to catch sight of Castiglione della Pescaia, and its resort sister: Punt’Ala.

Best of all this is a great place to grab a delicious lunch.

Exit at Grosseto and take route SP152 to Ponti a Badia where the restaurant of the same name serves exceptional tordelli (ravioli stuffed with fresh ricotta) covered with pomarola, a fresh tomato sauce. Also recommended: the vongole: mussels steamed in a lemony wine concoction.

After an espresso, continue on SP152 to Castiglione della Pescaglia, a picturesque sailing and boating town populated by Italians getting away from it all. After exploring the area, hop onto SP158, taking a left turn onto Strada Provinciale Tirli, and cruise by lovely homes and seascapes on the way to Punta Ala. At this point on the peninsula, literally named Wing Point, there is a nature park along the reef with stunning views that sometimes include dolphins and whales! You can park near the tip of the peninsula and explore it on foot. The private residences in Punta Ala’s resort community have access to beaches, sailing, horse-back riding, tennis and golf; but others choose to camp there in a setting that feels untouched, even if, in reality, it is just very well-maintained.

From Punta Ala, the road passes Follonica, and reaches Castagneto Carducci, a hilltop town named for one of Italy’s greatest poets, Giosue` Carducci, who had a home there in the 19th century.

Perhaps even more scenic is nearby Bolgheri, whose allee` of cypresses inspired Carducci to write a poetic ode that has been memorized by generations of Italian middle-schoolers. Nowadays, most know the area for its SuperTuscan wines, like Salsicaia by Tenuta San Guido, and the Antinori wine, Guado al Tasso.

Have an aperitif, but hold out for dinner in Quercianella. There, on the terrace of the unpretentious, kid-friendlyHotel Belsoggiorno (photo above), you can reward yourself by experiencing one of the best fish stews, known as cacciucco, anywhere around Livorno, where the dish was invented. The space is clean and simply summery. The service as warm as the sun. The windsurfers abound, and you can follow their progress on the surf well below you, as you gaze out on the islands of Gorgona and Capraia, Elba and more…

At this point, you have overcome your jet-lag and are ready for Lucca. Your destination is just 43 minutes away…