12 November 2012

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze: An urban oasis for little and big puppets

When your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. - Jiminy Cricket
Pinocchio's author, Carlo Collodi, lived in Firenze and, perhaps, is due credit for the scrupulous staff at Four Seasons Hotel Firenze who exemplified the lessons learned by his famous wooden boy. By following Jiminy Cricket's advice that no request is too extreme, the hotel's staff intuitively rendered gracious service to my family throughout our stay.

I stopped fretting about bringing our toddler to such a lavish setting when a Pinocchio doll was presented to our daughter at check-in. With this mischievous marionette as our mascot, and confident of which string to pull when our own puppet strayed towards temptation, I fully embraced the Renaissance splendour of the Hotel.

After pounding the pavement of the bustling tourist city, we relished our returns to the Hotel's calm oasis. As public parks are scarce in Firenze, our daughter benefitted from playtime in the Hotel's sprawling 11-acre gardens. In addition to a fully equipped playground, we enjoyed swinging in the large hammocks tied to ancient Holm oak trees, and counted the steps leading up to secret hideaways. While the water's temperature was too cold for swimming, we could not resist some afternoon splashes on the pool's steps.

The housekeeping amenities placed in our room would be any mother's dream baby shower! Our daughter was set for diaper changes, potty training, bottle warming and even a step stool was provided for brushing teeth.  From tiny toddler slippers provided at the spa to arm floats inflated at poolside by the attendant, the entire staff made our little girl feel very BIG and special.

Prior to Firenze, we spent five nights in the heart of Chianti where the quaint towns and scenic countryside offered a rustic Tuscan contrast to the urban city. Many villages are within an hour's drive of Firenze and definitely worth a day trip. 

Below are some of our favourite photos from our grande viaggio. To read more on our travels through Chianti, please follow below links.

Salute!



KEY TO CHIANTI
mangiare ävisitare µ, e l'amore 

primo giorno, SIENA
terzo giorno, SAN GIMIGNANO
quarto giorno, PIENZA
cinque giorno a otto giorno, FIRENZE 

Firenze

Grom's gourmet gelato

Ponte Vecchio


Bartolucci's wooden toy store


Garden lunch with our puppet, Four  Seasons Hotel Firenze

Heaven in a hammock

Porcini Mushrooms, Greve in Chianti

Pizza in the Piazza

Chianti hills at dusk

Carosello, Firenze

Prosciutto, Greve in Chianti

Aqua portable, Siena

Piazza del Campo, Siena

Smiles with  Sister, Four Seasons Hotel Firenze



31 October 2012

Key to Chianti: quarto giorno, Pienza




quarto giorno, PIENZA

mangiare, visitare, e l'amore
ä µ ♥ 
A true delight for me on this trip was meeting up with a beloved university professor for lunch in Pienza. While the meal was less than inspiring, what was as rich as our conversation was the olive oil.

A bright green oil was poured over some crushed chilli flakes to enjoy with bread. Like many, we use olive oil regularly and, aside from some high end samples brought home by Chef , we typically find a good value olive oil for everyday cooking. 

What we dipped our bread into that afternoon was a bouquet of bitter earthy flavours in our mouth. Already the oil was a year old, but because the farm picks their olives early, they produce rich extra virgin oil that boasts its signature lime green colour and rich aromas.

off to jar the olive oil


When Chef tastes something new and exciting he wants only one thing- to learn more about the product and to get his hands on some to bring back home. He was, therefore, thrilled when the restaurant's manager invited us to  Podere Spedelone, the agriturismo, just 20-minutes down a long gravelled road outside Pienza.

Podere Spedelone has some of the oldest known olive trees on their five hectare farm dating back to the 15th century. The day we visited, a team of farmers were manually picking the olive trees. 

Ouisie lending a helping hand


the goods
I enjoyed my first olive oil tasting and found it remarkable how much flavours vary year to year much like a wine. Their trademark is to press the olives on the same day they are harvested. The agriturismo does not commercially sell its oil and uses it for their restaurant and for their guests to purchase.

The kitchen team at Podere Spedelone continually work to perfect new recipes for using the olive oil in as many delicious ways as possible. Eloise slurped down a scoop of ice cream drizzled with olive oil and pink peppercorns and eagerly asked for more, please. Perhaps olive oil should replace chocolate syrup at our home?

the olive catcher

tuscan 'cinta sense' pigs


resident dog enjoying la dolce vita

We spent over two hours at the farm and helped feed dinner to the resident Tuscan cinta sense pigs, gathered olives with the pickers and soaked up the Tuscan sunshine in our new found oasis. 

Our host was most gracious and paid no mind to the passing time even with us arranging our visit just 30-minutes before arrival.

We drove back to Castellina with the Tuscan sun setting down behind the hills and a dozen bottles of olive oil to take back home to share with family and friends.



Salute, 

Callie



















KEY TO CHIANTI
mangiare ävisitare µ, e l'amore 

primo giorno, SIENA
terzo giorno, SAN GIMIGNANO
quarto giorno, PIENZA
cinque giorno a otto giorno, FIRENZE 
















Key to Chianti: terzo giorno, San Gimignano




terzo giorno, SAN GIMIGNANO

mangiare
ä 

San Gimignano welcomed us with buckets of rain. With only one umbrella between us, we took refuge in a toy store. Once Ouisie began to redecorate the place, we bought a new dolly to warrant our visit, smiled graciously to the store clerk and dove back into the deluge. We opted for an early lunch in hopes of riding out the storm.

After a few wrong turns and many puddles of water later, we stepped into Dal Bertelli's tiny sandwich shop with rain dripping off our coats onto the pristine white tiled floors. One table set for four and the owner, Sig, seated expressionless behind the counter welcomed us.

A heavy metal Italian song screeched on the radio as Sig explained, in Italian, the choice of two salamis for a sandwich with the option of one type of cheese and one loaf of unsalted white bread. We pointed to our preferred salami and watched him prepare the orders from our private dining room set for four. We knew straight away, Sig was a man in no great hurry.

One thickly cut slice of salami...one thickly cut slice of cheese...
...wrap salami and cheese and place back in display cabinet... 
...open sliced bread...   
...place two slices of bread on first plate...
...then onto second plate.. 
salami on bread...cheese on salami....bread on top... 
...sandwich one on plate...
...sandwich two on plate... 
...glance at customer to collect. 

The three of us ate lunch with Sig Bertilli sipping his wine on a stool behind the counter. The Bertilli family have lived in San Gimignano since 1779. A photograph of a younger Sig from the 70's hung framed on the wall.

With sandwiches polished off and the rain stopped, we left Sig sitting patiently behind the counter waiting for the next customer and another heavy metal song blaring away. I suppose after 233 years of your family being in the same village, why rush?

We meandered towards the centre of the village and with Ouisie begging for cream we headed to Gelateria di Piazza. Serio Dondoli is the Master of the gelato at this popular spot. Don't be surprised if the queue is winding down the piazza!  We all tried different flavours and enjoyed our connis in the adjoining Piazza della Cisterna. 



visitare
µµ
remaining towers, san gimignano

We did not seek out any of the tourist sites and just enjoyed meandering through its hilly roads. Originally an Etruscan village, it is best known for its tall towers that create a medieval skyscraper landscape. The towers were built during the 12th century as private residences by prominent and affluent families. The taller the tower, the more wealth you boasted. Perhaps those original residents should be credited with developing the modern day Penthouse?

I found it interesting how even then, the number of floors depicted an individual's wealth and social status. Today of the 72 towers, just 14 remain and only the Torre Grossa tower can be climbed. With our daughter in tow, we skipped the 17 story walk up. 
amore
♥ ♥ ♥

staring up at the village's magnificent towers ♥  Sig's slow pace 
♥ taking in the gorgeous views of the valleys below the city 

Salute, 

Callie




KEY TO CHIANTI
mangiare ävisitare µ, e l'amore 

primo giorno, SIENA
terzo giorno, SAN GIMIGNANO
quarto giorno, PIENZA
cinque giorno a otto giorno, FIRENZE 






Key to Chianti: secondo giorno, Panzano & Greve



secondo giorno, PANZANO and GREVE IN CHIANTI

mangiare
ä

perfect porcini mushrooms

No guide book, friend or local told us about Nerbone di Greve  A heavenly display of perfect porcini mushrooms whispered in Chef's ears from across Piazza Matteotti. The charm of this spot is the fact that it is not in the major guide books and serves up great Tuscan cuisine. While Michelin restaurants do frequent Greve in Chianti,  this spot ticked the right boxes by offering rustic flavours using quality produce, a casual atmosphere and  baby friendly. 
visitare
µµ

chillis, panzano's sunday market

locals at panzano market

We enjoyed the local Sunday farmers' market in the quiet town of Panzano and then strolled over to the celebrity butcher's shop,  L'Antica Macellerìa Cecchini

I soon realised Dario Cecchini's high status in the village when a local artist's window display was of a painting of a bright red bistecca with CECCHINI painted across it and an arrow pointing up the road towards the macellerìa. It was, in fact, how we found the shop. 
Cecchini at the block
Cecchini is the reason people come to Panzano.The larger than life owner, Dario Cecchini was behind the counter preparing customer's orders the day we were there. He's a perfectionist when it comes to butchering top quality meat. Even after 35 years in the business, he continues to perfect his skills at the block. He also has three well established restaurants that, unfortunately, we did not have a chance to try as two are closed on Sundays and the other requires reservations.  
antica macellerìa falorni, greve in chianti
Antica Macellerìa Falorni, is another famous butchery established by the Falorni family back in 1729. If you have any aversion to pork.... steer clear! 

As you open the door, bold smells of curing prosciutto wisps through your nose. Your eyes are drawn up to the ceilings lined wall to wall with ageing meats, antique butcher tools and garlic. 

The store was packed with tourists, locals and lots of pork. A gorgeous cheese cave on the lower ground was  a fun discovery and deserves a mention along with the prized sows. 


pork, pork, pork
amore
♥ ♥ ♥

these little pigs went to market

♥ baked porcini mushroom, truffle & mozzarella at Nerbone di Greve  
 watching butcher Dario Cecchini craft his cuts of meat for customers ♥ the cheese cellar and antique butcher tools on display at Antica Macelleria Falorni   


Salute, 

Callie



KEY TO CHIANTI
mangiare ävisitare µ, e l'amore 

primo giorno, SIENA
terzo giorno, SAN GIMIGNANO
quarto giorno, PIENZA
cinque giorno a otto giorno, FIRENZE 









Key to Chianti: primo giorno, Siena




primo giorno, SIENA

mangiare
ä


Morbidi's beautiful store front food shop caught our eye and the queue of ravenous diners waiting for a slice of pizza was testament enough that their delicacy must live up to their delicious window displays.

While Morbidi has a restaurant, we ordered pizza for take-away. With the historic Piazza Salembeni and Piazza Tolomei to either side, we opted to enjoy a picnic and join the locals sunning themselves on the ancient monuments. 

It was then time to find our first scoop of Italian gelato. Leave it to Chef's nose to lead us right to the perfect source.  Grom's  gelateria has stores throughout Italy and fortunately (for us) we crossed paths with their locations in bothSiena and Firenze. The success behind their gelato is that they source the very best raw ingredients which produces bold flavours delivered in the most delicate silk cream.





visitare
 µµ 
A close rival with its sister city (Firenze), Siena is a bustling metropolis alive with calm energy. One could easily spend a few days exploring the various neighbourhoods. We enjoyed a day here and after our pizza picnic we strolled with our gelatos to the expansive Piazza del Campo, a popular hangout spot for locals, students and tourists alike. 
The Palazzo Comunale stands at the foot of the square which today houses the Museo Civico. With Ouisie racing around the cobbled streets with her chocolate gelato buzz and more excited about catching a pigeon we (unfortunately) had to give this 'must see museo' a miss.

piazza del campo
palazzo comunale






duomo, siena 



After the chocolate buzz wore off, Ouisie passed out in the pram and allowed us to enjoy the sacred silence in the duomo and baptistery. The Tuscan signature black and white marble is on fine display throughout the cathedral and the inlaid-marble floors are stunning works by approximately 40 different artists. We were fortunate that all the marble floors were available to view as some are covered most of the year.

A must see is the Libreria Piccolomini located in the duomo which houses the books of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (better known as Pope Pius II). The frescos (early 16th century) depict the life of Piccolomini. It is definitely worth the queue. 

chasing pigeons, piazza del campo
amore
♥ ♥ ♥

 Morbidi's pizza for its beautiful crust, rich flavourful tomato sauce and great fixings ♥ watching Ouisie fall in love with Italian gelato for the first time ♥ the frescos in Libreria Piccolomini 


Salute,

Callie



KEY TO CHIANTI
mangiare ävisitare µ, e l'amore 

primo giorno, SIENA
terzo giorno, SAN GIMIGNANO
quarto giorno, PIENZA
cinque giorno a otto giorno, FIRENZE 










29 October 2012

Key to Chianti


For our family holiday this year we opted to stay in Europe and travel around the Chianti region of Italy. As primarily French wine consumers, we looked forward to learning more about the neighbouring grapes and regional cuisine. By going in mid-October, our goal was to avoid both the high tourist season and sizzling temperatures. 
sac magic

Ouisie was along for the journey, and though I am not convinced she understood that Italy was a place and not a person,  she knew pizza, pasta, olives, ice cream, and grapes lived in It-leeWith toys and stickers filled to the brim, I packed the sac magic in my suitcase for rewarding good behaviour (and defusing temper tantrums). My family bid farewell to rainy England and two hours later the warm Tuscan sunshine bid us welcome.

We opted for a self-service apartment at Borgo di Pietrafitta for the first five nights as it was perfectly positioned for exploring the quaint Chianti villages between Florence and Siena. Once a medieval Tuscan village, Borgo di Pietrafitta is comprised of both a bed and breakfast (high season only) and self catering apartments full of architectural character and history. Positioned atop a hillside, its panoramic views are stunning. Both a baby cot and high chair were provided for Ouisie and, though we did not use, shopping and private catering services are available to their guests. 


surrounding views of chianti's hills  from borgo di pietrafitta
D  You cannot pre-select your preferred apartment. While we were upgraded to a larger apartment, it was dark due to smaller windows and the furnishings were not as cozy as some featured on the website.

D  Very remote and no food or beverage service on site. After a day of touring, it would have been nice to have a little enoteca on site for nibbles and a refreshing aperitivo like many agriturismos offer.

Overall, it was a good spot for day trips and the local grocery store in Castellina in Chianti had a variety of produce and every type of pasta imaginable for preparing meals at home. There are wine shops around most corners, so we were able to sample both locally produced wines and larger commercial ones, too.

With our 21-month year old along for the gran viaggio we enjoyed day trips within an hour's drive of our base. We then headed to Firenze for lavish Renaissance pampering at Four Seasons Hotel Firenze.

daily visit to Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, borgo di pietrafitta

Every town we visited along the Chiantigiana Road looked like a film set waiting for the director's call --"ACTION!". Around each bend in the road we were greeted by inspiring landscapes dotted with grapevines, olive trees and rolling hills perfectly posed for a paintbrush or a camera to capture their scenic beauty. 

The greatest impressionist though, were the Italians... che bello!  Their reputed love of children was evident as Ouisie's magnetic personality drew admirers, both young and old, wherever we went. 


new friend , castellina in chianti

new friend ,  farmers' market, panzano
During our time in Chianti we mangiare ävisitare µ, e l'amore . 
If thirtsy for more Chianti, please follow the links below on our various day trips and adventures.

KEY TO CHIANTI

primo giorno, SIENA
terzo giorno, SAN GIMIGNANO
quarto giorno, PIENZA
cinque giorno a otto giorno, FIRENZE 





Salute,

Callie x





















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