Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Undiscovered Gem: No really...

Over the weekend we took a short hike (short for our aging but still thinks she’s a puppy dog) through the Montemarcello National Park.

This gorgeous, lush area is located directly behind Lerici on a promontory where you have panoramic views of the Apuane Alps and Carrara Marble Mountains to the east, the Versilia Coast, Pisa & Livorno to the south, all of the Gulf of Poets to the west and the hills of La Spezia to the north.

There is a Roman Road that leads from Lerici over to the borgo of Montemarcello, through the medieval village of Ameglia and on to Via Aurelia which leads to Rome.

There are little to no people, the fragrance of jasmine, pine and olive trees mixed together, the glorious combination of sounds between birds chirping and white noise background of boats far below making there way to and from the Bay of La Spezia.

It’s a hiker’s paradise. Right in our backyard.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Porta Aperta"

Sometimes a door opens and it seems like there is endless possibility... 

That's how I feel today.  
More to follow...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Marble Mountains & More...

Carrara, itself, is a nice-size Tuscan town of about 65,000 people nestled between the Apuane Alps and the Verisilian Coast. But what makes it special is what surrounds the town: an 18-mile ridge of that is basically one enormous piece of marble. This stone has been used since the days of the Roman Empire (both the Pantheon and Trajan’s column were once covered in it) and may be most famous for providing Michelangelo with a single perfect block that become known as “David”. 
A visit to the area is one of my favorite excursions and can easily be done from the Italian Riviera or NW Tuscany: A Day in Carrara. Here is my suggested “way to spend the day”:

Start with a visit Colonnata. Built on small hill of marble (in between monstrous ones that surround you from all sides), this charming little village was founded by the Romans and housed the slaves forced to work in the marble quarries. Today it is still populated by “lizzatore” (quarry workers), but has also become famous because of its “lardo” (but better referred to as “the butter of Tuscany”). A sandwich of tomatoes and lardo between two slices of bread and some moonshine wine were a typical lunch for the quarryman. 

So what is lardo? (Disclaimer: the gross part here.) Well, it is the shavings from the back of the pig (called “spugnosa” or the greasiest part) which are put in a marble basin, known as a “conca”, a few hours after having been butchered. The conca is rubbed with garlic and herbs and then the lardo is placed on the bottom of it. Then a layer of salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary is added. The layering process continues with this recipe until the conca is filled and then it is covered with a marble slab. The lardo remains in the conca for 6 to 10 months. (I seem to be missing my up close and personal photos of lardo, so you HERE is an image from the web.)

There are several shops and restaurants in the village where you can try it. My favorite is a couple of slices between some fresh hot focaccia!

Next stop is the Fantiscritti with its spectacular views over the town of Carrara and the quarries themselves. Here you can visit inside a working quarry (600 meters inside to be exact!) and learn about the process of cutting and pulling out of the marble blocks. There is a small museum containing an exhibition of the various quarrying methods used over the past 2000 years. The tours are 30 minutes long in English, French & Italian and cost 7 Euros per person.

Afterward, head down into the town of Carrara to a Nicoli Studio (reservations necessary, nominal fee applies) for a 30 minute visit around this lovely marble studio and learn how statues and other art forms are created.

Last week's super fun group!

There is also the official Carrara Marble Museum (located on Via XX settembre) where you could spend another 1/2 hour learning about the techniques and history of this fabulous stone.

It’s a fun day: educational and interesting amongst an almost surreal setting. ENJOY!

HOW TO GET THERE: From the A12 autostrada exit at Carrara and then follow the signs for Carrara and "cave di marmo". You'll go through Carrara, then start to climb the toward Colonnata and the Fantiscritti. It takes about 50 minutes from Lucca or Pisa, and 40 minutes from Lerici or La Spezia.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New Additions to the Family...

No, not that kind...yet.  

Meet "Rena".  Short for Renato and named after the fabulous ceramist in Portovenere.

He's the new center wall piece in Casa Guerrera.

And you all remember that out landlord stole our table and chairs???  

Well, we decided to replace them, in a big way...

200 kilos of Carrara white marble and some good looking "iron for all seasons" chairs and base.

Good lord, this stuff is expensive here! But it is so nice to finally feel as if "the best dump in Liguria" may not be such a dump anymore. We love our new additions!  What do you think???

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Just Another Day at the Office...

Carletto, muscle farmer. Palmaria Island, Portovenere. Today. 
I love it.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

"Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchen"

One of the fun things we did while in the Chianti region last weekend was to attend the Diva's book signing in Panzano.   Judy Witts Francini has been living in Italy for the past 25 years and her market tour & cooking classes were on many travelers' "must do and see" list for years. Last year, Judy decided to "retire" from the cooking lesson world to focus on her writing and culinary tours.  This gave her the time to put together this wonderful book of Tuscan recipes. The book is not only filled with fun and easy recipes, but just the way she made it makes it special: she created her own "handwriting" font, has left the left side of each page for your own notes and it has received the Tuscan Husband Seal of Approval (her husband Andrea has been her very lucky "guinea pig"!).

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Judy as she needed assistance with one of her Chianti tours.  I was amazed, even awe struck at times, over her in-depth knowledge of the local cuisine but also the history and the charming folklore of Tuscany.  She became a sort of "hero" of mine - and I am proud to call her my friend.  

I am especially happy today to be able to let everyone know this is a fabulous little cookbook! And with Mother's Day right around the corner, I think this is the perfect gift for kitchen loving momsYou can buy "Secrets from my Tuscan Kitchen" by Judy Witts Francini on her web site: Divina Cucina.  

"Everyone Should Try Being least once a year!"
- Judy Witts Francini