Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Village Festival In Tuscany, Necci In Piazza.

Benabbio, near Lucca, is our Village and one of the reasons we chose to buy Le Mura Villa. Unlike many Tuscan villages Benabbio is vibrant and full of young families. The community is good at organising village events and we try not not miss them or lend a hand if we can.

Chestnuts have always played a very important part in the economy of Benabbino life and therefore it is only right that there should be a village festival to celebrate the harvest.
Sweet Chestnuts in Italy have been fighting a decease brought in from the Far East in the last couple   years and therefore very few locals have bothered to gather the meagre crop to make flour.  However this year the trees seem to be winning through and therefore the festival was the perfect way to celebrate.
The main piazza of the village was bursting and a local group singing traditional songs added to the "Allegria". The warm weather made it seem more like late summer than late Autumn.

No local Village festival in Tuscany is complete without food. One of the most indigenous local dishes in our corner of Northern Tuscany is Necci, which is a type of pancake made out of chestnut flour. Every Mamma in Benabbio is an expert in making them.  Originally the batter was cooked between clay plates but now they are cooked using  "testi", which are two iron discs with long handles. "Necci" can be eaten in many different ways either savoury or sweet, however my favourite is with ricotta and sausage or "pancetta".

Another very seasonal offering was "Frittelle di Zucca", deep fried balls made with pumpkin. Though deep fried, when prepared by the local ladies they are as light as a feather. A favourite among children and adults alike is "Pasta Fritta" simply deep fried pizza dough. You can't believe how delicious this is.

The whole village laughing and talking in the square gave me a warm glow. Like every village festival the day made me realise how lucky I am to be part of this close knit community and have a beautiful sunset and view of the mountains to enjoy from my windows when I returned to Le Mura Villa at dusk.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lucca Comics 2015 -Snoopy and Friends to be premiered at Lucca Comics

Lucca Comics and Games has now become a annual hit and enables Lucca to close the tourist season on a different note. The Fair is an international extravaganza, a meeting of cartoonists and enthusiast who turn this occasion into almost a carnival of comics. The devotees come in the most incredible costumes to meet the creators and reenact their heroes. This small walled city almost bursts its bricks with personages from different cultures, planets and even other time zones. This years theme is "travelling". Thousands of tickets have already been sold online but there is still time to book your trip and step into a completely different universe on the amazing set that Lucca city offers. These days are fun for everyone and the crowds are always so polite that it it a real pleasure to wonder the streets and take pictures.  Below is a selection from past years to give you a taste.

So if you feel like slipping into your "star wars" costume then come and join the fun in Lucca for the weekend of 29th October to 1st November 2015. The official website is but sadly not in English. I have just heard that Snoopy and Friends to be premieres at Lucca Comics, who says that Lucca is a backwater!
Drop your inhibitions and join in the fun.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Shopping In Lucca at the Oldest Jewellery Store in Town

Lucca is often described as a jewel of a city and a little treasure in that crown is one of the beautiful jewellery shops, which could in itself be described as a FabergĂ© egg. The shop can be found in the middle of the main shopping street Via Fillungo. The shop goes under the name of “Carli”and is the oldest commercial establishment in Lucca and probably Tuscany.

The front of the premises unwraps in layers, each a bijou in itself. The wooden medieval doors open to reveal to large wooden sills on which are placed the ornate carved wooden cabinets displaying the gems. 

If you dare poke your head inside you will see the most beautiful frescoed vaulted ceiling. This building was acquired by the Carli family in 1655 and is still run by their descendants. The shop is now protected but was nearly destroyed under Fascism when the owners were ordered to modernise. Luckily the family stood firm and then the war came. The war destroyed so much but strangely saved this “bottega” (shop) in a time warp. The family were responsible for the setting of the jewels in crown of the magnificent  “Volto Santo” in San Martino cathedral in the city.

If you want a romantic gift for your loved one or a special present for a friend or yourself, this is the place to buy something very special with a little bit of history woven or should I say soldered in. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The oldest Historic food shops in Lucca Tuscany

Food is full of rituals in Italy and Lucca is the perfect place to see how this culinary history has remained unchanged. There are still some foods shop in Lucca which link back to their original family owners.  Below I have described four such shops that are preserved in time but serving their 21st century customers with wonderful natural products proving that ancient food traditions are totally valid and up to date. Their beautiful ancient edifices with their fixtures and fittings, which are now protected, make food shopping a unique and wonderful experience. The locals still use these shops, as they know they can rely on the quality of the products.

The old saying goes "Bread is the staff of life". It would be unthinkable for an Italian table to be void of a breadbasket. Every Italian needs a piece of bread  to do a  "Scarpetta" , which is used to mop the juices off one's plate.  Forno Giusti in Via Santa Lucia has been supplying the Lucchesi (citizens of Lucca) for generations. It was originally set up to serve the surrounding monasteries. The original steam ovens are still in use though now they are run on gas. The vapor gives the products a unique shine. One of the specialties of Giusti’s is their foccacia beloved as a "merenda" (snack) by the school kids. This specialty is either cooked in a pan with olive oil or on the oven floor. If you feel like a picnic why not buy a fresh piece of the caramelised onion focaccia and the sweet focaccia from the window and you have a five star gourmet meal for a few euro. This is what fast food should be! Though you will need to work of the calories!

Just across the narrow street is Prospero where the Lucchesi buy dry herbs and legumes, different types of flour including the wonderful sweet chestnut flour used to make some of the traditional treats of the area. The same family has owned the shop since it opened in 1700 and the fittings are also the same. Entering the shop is like stepping into a culinary Diagon Alley.

Lucca isn't famous for its cake like other parts of Italy but we do have our own specialties. One is "Torta co' becchi"a sweet tart made out of vegetables and the other is Buccellato a sweet raisin bread flavoured with aniseed. This delicacy can still be bought from Taddeucci bakery in Piazza San Michele where it was invented. Prince Charles is said to be a fan when he visits our little city. The taste is a bit like a hot cross bun with aniseed. The Lucchesi love to toast it and serve it with ice cream. A little light number by oh soooo good!!

If you are feeling a little bloated after all those carbohydrates like many Italians you will feel the need of a digestive. A liquor to help you digest. Here in Lucca  you can buy a bottle of  Cinchona know locally as simply as China. This has been made in the city since 1855 when the chemist Dr Massagli who created the concoction to treat the malaria epidemic. The medicine was then sold as an elixir and can therefore be sold in chemists. The secret recipe of herbs and roots is passed down from owner to owner of the chemist shop but we do know the main ingredient is of course the Jesuit’s bark, the natural form of quinine. The liquor also contains nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. The shop was originally a spice shop and has moved a couple of doors down but the original shop furniture has been preserved in the new shop, which is still a working homeopathic chemist. 

Lucca has become the capital of ice cream parlours or gelateria. There are so many and my daughter and her friends all have their favourites. The oldest in the town however is Gelateria Veneta. Found just off Corso Garibaldi though there are other branches around the city and a guy peddles a refrigerated bicycle around the walls in summer. The shop itself isn’t anything special but the gelato     is rich and creamy and the fruit flavours full of fresh fruit. Licking a cone is the perfect way to cool down on a hot summer afternoon. The locals meet for an ice-cream on a summer afternoon and the semifreddo (literary translated semi cold) games make perfect gifts to take to a dinner party. Here in Italy it is traditional to take a dessert when invited for dinner.
There are many other wonderful food shops in town and some of my favourites I will describe in other posts but how many cities in the world  have food shops with direct family links going back centuries. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Parking in Lucca Tuscany

Guests at Le Mura Villa are always asking me about parking in Lucca city. I can understand the difficulty of unravelling the meaning of the different coloured lines and flashing lights of restricted zones.  I started out to write a complicated post listing all the car parks and then found that the city’s parking company have a brilliant site that will lead you to the best car park for the area you would like to visit with the prices. The site also gives information on restrcietd areas and what to do if you have a disabled permit and to boot, can also be used in English and decent English at that. So well done Metro and here is the link

However I will also give you a few useful hints on the colour codes of the lines and the meaning of the lead light screens. Blue lines mean you pay and the nearer the city the more expensive. White lines means the bays are free and yellow lines are for residents. These colours apply to Lucca and are not not national for example in Florence white lines are for residents so be careful!

Also Lucca like many Italian cities have ZTL area this stand for Zona traffico limitato  in other words you need permission to go into this area. For those staying in B&Bs or hotels you can ask them to register your number so that you can drop your luggage off, however this doesn’t apply to flat rentals. To mark these ZTL area there are screen which when turned on read "varco attivo". Don’t go pass these screens as there are cameras and you get a fine every time you pass a camera. I hope this makes things easier but it is not as complicated as it sounds and is quite clear when you are on the spot.  Enjoy your day in Lucca, you might also like to look at our one day itinerary    and other posts on this beautiful city see Lucca tab above / link 

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Special Corner of San Michele in Lucca

Sometimes as I am walking through Lucca I have to remind myself that I am not on a film set. Here the streets are all well kept, the inhabitant elegant and everything looks too perfect to be true but even here, where there is so much general beauty that one can become blasĂ©,  there are corners that give me extra delight.

One angle that never fails to lift my spirits and make me forget about my tax bill is when you emerge from Via di Poggio into  Piazza San Michele. All the tourist look up at the magnificent imposing Archangel who is protecting us all. My eye at dusk isn't drawn upwards but through the side door,  left open for the citizens and visitors, past the candles lit by the faithful during their prayers to the rich colours of the robes of the Filippino Lippi's Pala Magrini (tempera on wood) hanging at the end of the south isle. The masterpiece depicts the Saints Roch, Sebastian, Jerome and Helena but it isn't the subject that attracts my attention but the luxuriant coloured cloth of the saints' robes that catch the light.

The contrast  between the austere grey stone and the rushes of the canvas is just so theatrical that it never fails to lift me out of my everyday existence.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Carthusian Monastery in Calci near Pisa

In an unassuming little town called Calci just outside Pisa is one of the most important Carthusian monasteries in Italy. The monastery or Charterhouse was originally built in 1366 but was transformed into what is more of a Baroque palace from the 17th Century then the home of an austere closed order of hermit monks.

The monastery was abandoned in 1972 and is now a National museum giving us a unique insight into the monastic life of a Carthusian. The monks have been replaced by a colony of Cats not Chartreux cats but nevertheless I am certain the order would approve. 

Visits are guided around this incredible edifice and we were at first disappointed because despite ringing up we were not told until the tour started that part of the monastery had suffered storm damage and therefore was closed for a few weeks. However our initials disappointment was dismissed due to our lovely guide

The tour started in the pharmacy that despite being a closed order was also able to serve the local community though only men could enter an anti chamber and talk to the monks through grills. The wonderful apothecary jars are still on the shelves and some tomes are also on display including one on homeopathy from early 1800 .  


We then progressed in to the main part of the Charterhouse and were able to see the refectory, only used on special occasions with a fresco of the last supper by Bernardino Poccetti(1597). All the frescoes in the room are in perfect condition despite never having been restored. 

In one of the brother’s chapels there were a row of rather nifty little drawers below the pews it seems these where spitting drawers perhaps giving us a hint of the damp in the cold winters. 

The monastery despite its physical magnificence adhered to the strict rules of the order including no heating in any form. Unfortunately the famous cloister and gardens where the priests and monks cell where closed due to the storm damage. However our lovely guide told us there where luxury cells for the well off monks each with their own bathroom whereas 60 ordinary friars had to share one bathroom. 

Sadly for me the library was also closed but we could look out into the grounds, where there were olive trees and even a fish farm. This order was self-sufficient even growing wheat.

The wonderful marble pavements and also the visitors suite really gave us a tantalising look not only into this beautiful building but also the a way of life.

We shall certainly be returning many times not only to complete our visit after the repairs have been done but with friends.

The Monastery also houses the National History museum of Pisa, which has life size models of dinosaurs making Calci a perfect day out for all the family even on a rainy day.

Opening times :
Tuesday to Saturday :
8.30 9.30 10.30 11.30 12.30 13.30 14.30 15.30 16.30 17.30 18.30 
Sunday and Bank holidays
8.30 9.30 10.30 11.30 and 12.30

closed on Mondays 1st January 1st May and 25th December