WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE WHAT an ITALIAN can do with IMPRESSIONISM…

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.

AN INSIDER LOOK: Where to Stay & Where to Eat Made Easy

Posted Posted in Insider Food, Lucchesi, Restaurants, Where to Stay

Lucca is a great place in and of itself.  In fact, it shouldn’t be treated like a quick stopover, but rather as a place from which to savor the best of Tuscany.  This means not rushing in and out on a bus or even by train — though transportation on either is extremely convenient.  Enjoying the best of Lucca and Tuscany means staying in a hotel or apartment with the amenities you deserve on your grand tour, or just for Santa Croce… 

We want you to enjoy your vacation and not need another to recover from it!

Step 1:  

Book a stay at the city’s best hotel: the Hotel Ilaria.

Does it have 16th century frescoes on the walls?  No, sorry.  Nor is it decorated for nouveaux cardinals or princes.   It’s rather plain on the outside, BUT the Ilaria has many more valuable aspects: an exquisite breakfast (+ coffees of all types! More about that later), a gorgeous location (imagine a balcony bordering on one of the city’s most beautiful gardens), and amazingly, in and out parking that’s painless to access.  The rest can be taken for granted since it is a 4-star hotel: there are clean, modern, functional rooms, with clean modern baths.  Perhaps less usual, the hotel has gracious and comfortable common areas, where coffee and aperitifs are offered gratis at all the appropriate hours.  The Ilaria also quickly feels like home thanks to its accommodating and personable staff, in particular its owner Franco Barbieri.  At breakfast, the freshness of the offerings from smoked salmon to budini di riso (pastries filled with rice pudding) put to shame all other attempts to provide all-inclusive breakfast fare.  The coffee machine alone, is heavenly, pumping out freshly ground coffee of all types, and even hot chocolate, in a marvel of high tech proficiency.  Wander outside and you can choose between a leisurely stroll through the garden of Villa Bottini and along the fossi, canals punctuated by flowers, or head straight into town on via Santa Croce by walking through the medieval towered walls visible from the hotel.  Want to explore on a bike?  The Ilaria has free ones for you you to use.  You can even stay at the annex of the Ilaria where your beautiful suite can occupy what was once a chapel.   There is not enough we can say to praise this location as a launching point for your stay.  If you don’t want to worry about anything except how many circuits of the walls you’ll need to do to work off breakfast, stay here.

Alternatively:

Book an apartment for a week’s stay.

While airbnb is popular, it is not the best choice for Lucchesi nel Mondo and others looking for a worry-free experience.  Apartments are for those who know the city and are looking for quality accommodations, without the need to be fed or attended to daily.  Lucca Holiday Homes, directed by Debora del Sonno, has, for many years, offered reliable and beautiful alternatives to hotel living in apartments ranging from one room to three bedrooms.  Worry not if you are driving into Lucca either, for it is possible to easily find in/out affordable long term parking at Garage Pasquinelli, via Vittorio Emanuele 78, or at one of the city’s larger parking garages.

Once you are situated, you’ll want to eat something…

A refreshing combination of hibiscus flowers and citron complement freshly made fettuccine at La Buca di Sant’Antonio.

The best soul food:

Critics and celebrities agree with locals that La Buca di Sant’Antonio is Lucca’s best restaurant for the dishes which make Lucca’s cuisine so distinctive and delicious.  Locally sourced seasonal ingredients have determined its menus since long before these concepts became trendy.  La Buca is far from being the bettola that it was when it first opened in the 18th century.  Yet its elegance is never stuffy, and its chef-owner, Giuliano Pacini, frequents the dining room as if it were his home.  Don’t miss the tordelli, or the goat, or the piatto forte for dessert.  Hopefully, you’ll be dining with many friends there, so you’ll be able to sample many dishes.  You won’t be disappointed.

A veil of raspberry puree` crackles over a foamy pate` of chicken livers at La Buca di Sant’Antonio

The BEST fresh take on Italian cuisine:  Ristorante il Giglio

If you have never tried crostini con fegatini, you might want to start here with il Giglio’s incredibly light pate` topped with a crisp, microscopically thin sheet of raspberry, and served with melt-in-your mouth slices of pan brioche.  Yes, this dish is to die for and threatens to outshine everything else you might eat in Lucca — whether you ever thought you’d like chicken livers or not.  The restaurant’s atmosphere is again, elegant, but not stuffy.  There is 18th century wainscotting on the walls in the high ceilinged, air-conditioned dining area, but it is balanced by clean, heavy linens and photos of Summer Music Festival stars.   (Casually elegant places must be my favorite kind, because I sense these terms are a recurring motif to this website…)  The three young chefs at the helm keep the menu vibe fresh.  We loved the fettucine with citron and hibiscus flowers.  It wasn’t a fussy dish, just light and flavorful.

The BEST pizza:

When a light meal or snack are needed, MaraMeo serves pizza and cecina (a flat pie of chickpea flour) fresh from their wood-burning oven at all hours.  We especially like this Lucchese-owned place for their pizza Margherita con mozzarella di bufala.  If you’re in town for Santa Croce or during the winter, check out their torta di neccio too.

 

COUNTRY PLEASURES OF THE CASENTINO

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