Ten Things To Do in Venice Off the Beaten Path

Here are ten of my favorite things to do in Venice. My wife and I are big time glass lovers and small time collectors, so if you share that passion be sure to go to Murano and visit the shops mentioned.


Go to Murano and visit Franco Schivon and Murano Collection. These two shops don’t have demonstrations of how to make a horse out of glass. They actually have great pieces of art.

Murano Collection is a joint venture between Carlo Moretti, Vennini and Boro and Tesovier. It offers well selected pieces and is very dramatically lighted. We have shipped many pieces from there to the US with no problems. They handle the VAT refunds shipping and insurance.

Schiavon has a Japanese glass master, Tsuchida Yasuhiko, who makes one of a kind pieces. His work varies from the dramatic to the derivative. He is still young and you can see his development in his art.

These two shops are much different from the multitudes of shops on the island. Get of the vaporetto at La Colonna. Franco Schiavon is on the left along the canal at Fondamenta Vetrai 15, and Murano Collection is across the canal at the first bridge. This area has the best concentration of really nice shops with really collectable art glass, not the schlocky Asian made stuff so common. Beware of your wallet however, not because of pick pockets but because art glass ain’t cheap.

Pricing: Schiavon and Murano collection — if you have to ask you can’t afford it. Museum quality pieces (limited runs of 100 or less signed by the artist) start at over $1000 but there are pieces in the hundreds of dollar range that are still really wonderful. Looking is free.


See the Carpaccio’s at Scuole di San Georgio del Schiavoni. Incredible paintings on the themes of St. George and the dragon and St. Jerome. Stunning!

Pricing: Under $2.00.


Go to Erberia Rialto and visit the art gallery and studio of Nicola Tenderini and buy a water color or oil painting from him. It won’t set you back much and the painting hanging on your wall will recall Venice for years to come. His technique captures the glint of the sun reflecting off the water. Sometimes I am startled by the motion in his paintings as I sit doing something else. Nicola is at Campo Bella Vienna – Erberia S.Polo 216. Monday through Saturday mornings only. By the way, the bar to the left as you face his shop is superb. Great panini and cappuccino. Note that the locals never pay; the son just writes down a cryptic symbol in his notebook.

Pricing: Nicola’s pieces are under $100 right now because he is an undiscovered genius. The bar is super cheap.


Go to Torcello and see the original Cathedral of the Lagoon. There are two amazing churches there. Wonderfully desolate island loaded with cats.

Pricing: Cost of a Vaporetto ride unless you lunch at Cipriani which I have not done yet. That may set you back $100 or more a person. There is another trattoria on Torcello which is more reasonable but I don’t know how good it is. Looks nice.


Wander the back streets of Cannareggio. Once away from the touristy areas around the Rialto you come into quiet neighborhoods where you get a totally different feel of Venice. We found a sunken gondola around one corner. See the ghetto and take the synagogue tour.

Pricing: Wandering the neighborhoods is free; the tour of the Ghetto is 6 euro or so.


Visit the Ca D’Oro. This is a wonderful museum with its own Vaporetto stop. It was not very crowded and was filled with wonderful objects including affreschi that used to be on some of the grand palazzi on the Grand Canal.

Pricing: Huge bargain, free or just a few euro.


Go to Do Mori and eat and drink.

Pricing: Cheap if you drink cheap (maybe $10 – $20 a person for a light meal of cichetti) but there are wines at around $10.00 a glass that retail for $50 to $70 a bottle in the US.


Go to Da Pinto for incredibly fresh fish at very reasonable prices. Drink Doro Princic wines and eat very good cichetti. Do not in any circumstances eat the pasta or pizza but do order the baccal mantecano (salt cod roughly pureed with olive oil and parsley).

Pricing: Da Pinto will run about $45.00 for two antipasti, a platter of grilled fish for 2, a bottle of Doro Princic.


Go to the Pescaria Rialto at 6 in the morning and see the fish market being set up.

Pricing: Free.


Go to Campo S. Zaccaria and visit the gallery of Missiaja, a former architect who now is an artist. He specializes in the Commedia dell’Arte characters and a few Venice scenes. He uses some computer generated techniques along with hand applied color to hand made paper for his limited editions, and he uses more traditional printmaking as well. Achiugetta at Campo SS Giacomo e Fillipo is nearby so you can raise a glass and consume cichetti while you contemplate your purchase.

Pricing: Free if you just look, $10 for a small print or a box of note cards on handmade paper, $300-$400 for medium and small hand painted items, more for larger ones.

Opera – Arena di Verona

I have been to several outdoor opera venues, but none begins to come close to the experience of the opera at the Arena di Verona.


First off is the location itself. The Arena di Verona is not a ruin. It is an intact piece of the Roman era. True it is missing its outer wall except for a small portion. It is missing its decorative marble facade. But there it is, sitting right in the middle of Piazza Bra!  Not only is it a tourist visit destination, but it is home to a superb opera festival every summer. The tickets are easy to buy through their website (www.arena.it) or, even easier, by phone and fax.

Opera is Not Miked

The essential thing about the Arena is that it is outdoor opera that is not miked. This is the bane of outdoor opera. An opera singer singing thru a body mike has to moderate his or her voice to take full advantage of the sound system. Or their mike has to be turned down so low that the folks in the back can’t hear. But the acoustics of the Arena are so superb that no miking is used at all. There are dead spots on the stage (and these vary depending on where you sit). In fact, I would put listening to opera at the Arena on a par with the Met in NY (not quite as precise but louder in the cheap seats than the Met) and better than the old Kennedy Center Opera House acoustically.


Next up is the seating. It comes in three flavors: reserved on the floor, reserved on the side and nosebleed general admission seats on the original Roman seating. The reserved seating on the floor is in two sections and the first is much better than the second, but also a lot more expensive. If it’s a favorite opera with a super cast (e.g. Turandot with Cura and Casole) pop for the good seats. On the other hand, Nabucco seen from above was just fine. You need to get to the GA seats by about 7:30 to get good seats. It helps if you have your 75 year old mother in law and she looks a little tired. The ushers found room for us only five rows up on the second time we went, arriving at about 8:00pm. The first time, we arrived at 8:30 and sat five rows from the top.

The Candles

You have to pick up your candle from a box, unmarked, on the stairs. The tradition is to light the candles as the opera begins. It’s beautiful but we heard many a person cry “Ouch!” as the hot wax hit their fingers.


In the nosebleed section, there are vendors selling Nestle’s ice cream (not gelato), pizze and panini, and drinks:  beer, coca, fanta, tonic or wine. No water. Bring your own.


If it rains before the opera begins, you get a refund. After the first note – tough luck. The rain hit when we were there about a third of the way thru the last act of Aida. You never saw anyone move so fast carrying so much as the harpists and bassists when the rain was hitting their instruments. Licitra’s voice had not even died out and they were already off the stage. And if it does rain, you will get wet trying to get out. Italians don’t do lines well.

The Performance

It will be lovely. This is opera with a tough crowd. They collectively know their stuff. Great singing will be applauded and the crowd will call for a bis for the superb. (A bis is where the singer repeats his aria, or in the case of Nabucco, the chorus repeated “Va Pensero”.) The second singing will be “out of character”, the singer will just stand and sing rather than act out his or her part. Licitra sang a beautiful Celeste Aida but did not get a call for a bis while Cura’s Nessun Dorma did get it. Even though Cura’s singing was not technically perfect, his acting was so superb that it merited a bis and he got it.

Getting There and Parking

Just follow the signs for Centro. It’s best if you are coming in from out of town to use the Verona Nord exit from the A22 and come in from the west. You are on limited access roads almost all the way into town. You will get on a strada marked Montova Verona and take the Verona exit. You will just veer left a couple of times before you hit signage which will direct you in through the Porta Nuova.
Exiting from the A4 and coming north is also pretty easy, but can be very trafficky. Driving south from the Valpolicella into town means having to come through the centro first, difficult but not impossible.
We parked twice in the covered parking lot “Arena” for 12 euro. Another time we parked on the street on the way to the arena lot. The difficulty with the street parking was backing out into the traffic.

Dining Before and After the Opera

We have explored a number of options and dined better than we have in other touristy places like Piazza Rotunda in Roma or in the Piazza del Mercato Centrale in Firenze. Verona is a serious food city! But be warned, there are a lot of places on Piazza Bra that had very insipid looking food at very high prices.

Hotel Rubiani: If you want very good food served on a lovely patio, go to Hotel Rubiani. Its on a side street just off the Piazza. Find Cantina dell’Arena and turn left as you are facing the Arena; it’s straight ahead on the right. We dined well with a nice bottle of Muller Thurgau from the Alto Adige producer St Michael Eppian. Dinner was around 65 euro. We each had a carpaccio antipasto; mine was octopus and Kay’s was pesca spada (swordfish). Our paste were taglioletti all’Ortolana loaded with delicious summer veggies and spaghetti ai gamberetti e zucchini.  Both were great.  Don’t know if it’s open after the opera. It starts serving at 6:00 pm.

Cantina dell’Arena: Right on Piazza Bra, although we ate outdoors on a side street.  Good food, not great, but the wine list is superb. We enjoyed Quintarelli Valpolicella and Bussola Amarone at very good pricing. We dined there twice, once the three of us and once in a group of 16. Both times were a lot of fun and even with the large group they took very good care of us allowing us to order alla carte for a large group. Their pizze are good to very good, but I would stick to the simple items. Best of all was Sfilacci di Cavallo which is a shredded jerky like product made from horse meat served on a bed of arugula. I had an insalata mista di mare which was marred by the inclusion of fake krab but otherwise delicious. A salad of potatoes and octopus was good. Costolette d’Angello was good and the potatoes incredible. The first dinner was $150.00 but that included about $70 in wine. Open before and after the opera.

Enoteca Cangrande: Before or after the opera. What a find! Find Oliva or Olivo on the Piazza Bra and follow the alley way back a short block or two and you will run directly into Cangrande. It looks pretty seedy from the outside but the empty bottles of Dal Forno Romano are a sure tip off. Run by Marco, with a shaved head and pierced eyebrow, this was both entertaining and wonderful. Fabiola is the fabulous South American waitress who gives great service but is no wine expert. Superb wine selection. Best to go to the far back room and just pull the bottle off the shelf. Or better yet, let Marco recommend something for you. Discovered Raimondi Amarone this way. We had a cheese and meat plate one night before the opera with a bottle of superb Amarone (whose producer name I forgot to write down!!!!!).

The highlight was the gorgonzola, vezanna (a mountain veronese cheese somewhere between a good gruyere and parmiggiano in texture) and tomino both fresco and stagionata. The meats featured the best lardo I have ever had. Also a wonderful cooked ham and local veronese prosciutto. We started out with a piece of 100 day old gorg then they brought us 300 day old gorgonzola. Heavenly.

After the opera that night, we returned and had bocconcini which were little rolls of bread, split and topped with an assortment of things: Gorgonzola and mostarda, lardo and mushrooms, cavallo and speck. Marco picked out wines and we were happy. We bought 4 bottles so I don’t really remember the breakdown of food to wine price wise.  They have a limited menu in addition to meats and cheeses. We will return again but in the mid evening to explore this option. Open 5 pm to 1 am.

Other Things to do in Verona

We only spent part of a day wandering the town. But one thing stood out as a superb visit: the Castelvecchio museum. The castle was given a refurbishing by architect Scarpa and it is a stunning space for art. The castle was left mostly intact but the exhibition space was created using simple concrete poured in rough forms, left undecorated. For example, there is a statue of Cangrande on a huge concrete beam suspended in space. You see it twice, once from below and then later from the same level. There are also special exhibitions there and we loved the one we saw.

Southern Tuscany Travel Guide

Montalcino is in the center of one of the most beautiful areas I have ever been to. We love to take half and full day trips from our base of Montalcino. Below are five day trips we have taken. But this only scratches the surface. You can easily travel them on a TCI map of Toscana (Tuscany). They are between half day and a full day. The individual elements are shown below and can be combined variously. The details of the towns and things to see and do are listed after the day trips.

Day Trips From Montalcino

Trip One: San Quirico, Bagno Vignoni, Castiglione d’Orcia
From Montalcino, take Traversa di Monte towards San Quirico. Follow the signs for Torrenieri. Take SS2 south a couple of kilometers to San Quirico. Park in open spaces alongside town walls on left and enter through the main gate.

Back on the SS2 and follow signs for Bagno Vignoni.
Back to the SS2 south and follow signs for Castiglione d’Orcia and Rocca d’Orcia. From there continue on thru Monte Amiata and Castelnuovo dell’Abate and circle back to Montalcino.

Trip Two: Castelnuovo dell’Abate to Sant’Angelo in Colle
From the traffic circle above Montalcino, take the road to Castelnuovo dell‘ Abate. There is a white road at the entrance to St Antimo. Follow this road to Sant’Angelo in Colle. Do not take the sharp right down to St Antimo unless this is your destination.

You can come back to Montalcino, making this a short route, or you can continue on to pick up Trip Four’s route. If you chose to go back to Montalcino, take the road out of Sant’Angelo in Colle and turn north on the paved road.

Trip Three: Buonconvento and Murlo
From Montalcino head down to the traffic circle at the gas station. Turn left to Buonconvento. Park outside the town and wander its old center.

From Buonconvento, follow the signs to Murlo and Lupompesi (they might also indicate Casciano). From Lupompesi follow the signs to Casciano to see the ruined castle/tower at Crevole.
Either double back or do this trip in reverse after a trip to San Galgano or on the way to San Galgano.

Trip Four: San Galgano and Monte Antico
This trip can be broken up into two or more trips. It is not an efficient drive anywhere, but a grand ramble that has some amazing sights. I have done it both directions, but I think that a long day winding up at La Campanga in Monte Antico or a long day winding up at Bosco della Spina in Lupompesi or even Il Poggiolo, Duccio or Da Mario in Buonconvento both have their charms.

Clockwise: From Montalcino, take the road marked Grosetto. Follow it down past Sant’Angelo in Colle. You can detour to see Castello di Banfi or Camigliano (wonderful village with a great Brunello producer). If going to Camigliano, take the turning off towards Tavernelle and follow the white road. In any case, you wind up going south past San’Angelo Scalo and cross the Orcia river. The road ends at a “T” with the road towards Paganico. Take the right turn towards Paganico. The turn off towards Monte Antico is well signed if you chose to stop there. I do not know if La Campagna is open for lunch (or if they do the Pizzone at lunch).

To go on to San Galgano, continue to the 223, go north for a short bit and follow the signs towards Roccastrada and Monticiano. This is a long, windy route that will take you thru beautiful country. You will be in for a treat in sunflower season on this road (summer). At Monticiano you go northwest; I believe the signs are for Frosini and San Galgano.

You will come to a fairly large crossing with a middle of nowhere gas station just past it. Turn left here for San Galgano and follow the signs. There is the main abbey and then a small church above. There is an okay wine bar by the church.

To get back to Montalcino, take the road back to Monticiano and then take the road that cuts back to the 223. It is indicated S. Lorenzo a Merse. It is a beautiful and very windy drive. There is a turn off to Tocchi worth following. From the 223 go north and follow the signs for Murlo and then back to Buonconvento. You could stop at Murlo for pizza, Lupompesi for Bosco della Spina or Buonconvento for I Poggioli, Duccio (Fiorentina) or Da Mario (very cheap good eats).

Counterclockwise: Head to Buonconvento, then to Murlo across to the SS223. South to the cutoff for Monticiano/San Galgano. From San Galgano, double back to Monticiano and head down thru Roccastrada, Paganico and Monte Antico. You should be able to fill your day and have dinner at La Campagna. The drive from Monte Antico back to Montalcino is about an hour or so.

Trip Five: Monte Oliveto, Sant’Anna and Trequanda
From Montalcino, take Traversa di Monte to SS2 north. Follow the signs to Monte Oliveto Maggiore. The turnoff is in Buonconvento.

After visiting Monte Oliveto, continue on to Trequanda. From Trequanda follow the signs for Montisi and then Castelmuzio (white road route) or Madonino to Castelmuzio (paved all the way). From Castelmuzio, take the road towards Pienza and Sant’Anna is to the right.

An evening stroll in Pienza is a nice addition or continue on to San Quirico and dinner at All’Antico Forno.

Sights Close to Montalcino

This abbey is the most famous sight in the immediate surrounding of Montalcino. It is just outside the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate, about a 15 minute or so drive from Montalcino. To get there, go to Montalcino. At the traffic circle at the top of Montalcino and follow the sign for St Antimo.

The abbey dates from before the year 1000 but what we see today is more modern. Still it is over 900 years old. It is amazing for its simplicity, setting and lack of ostentation. I find it a powerful place. You can go and hear the services with the Gregorian chanting, but we visited it many a time before ever hearing them. You can hike there from Montalcino and take a bus back from Castelnuovo.

Read more about Sant’Antimo.

Castelnuovo dell’Abate
The town itself is on a little hill and the streets are surprisingly steep. There is a large bar at the entrance to town and Bassomundo is a well know restaurant there of which I have heard mixed things. You are in the midst of some great wineries: Ciacci Piccolomini is the easiest to find and to arrange a visit to. If you go, say hi to Jenna. Their wines are very friendly and approachable for those who are not knowledgeable about Brunello due to the ripeness imparted by their vineyard sites.

Sant’Angelo in Colle
If you are at St Antimo, it is a short drive on a white road to Sant’Angelo in Colle andIl Pozzo, a rustic restaurant that serves superb Fiorentina from Chianina beef. It is worth a detour. Heck, its worth a trip from Siena or even farther! Have the Pinci al Ragu di Cinghiale and Fiorentina and you will be happy. Stuffed and in a stupor but definitely happy.

The village of Sant’Angelo is a delight: simple with a circular layout. It is worth wandering about. It is strikingly lit for nighttime wandering so you can walk before or after dinner. Since some of the streets are pretty steep, so you may not want to challenge gravity after dinner at Il Pozzo. The steep streets offer a treat during the day. You take a side street and all of a sudden you are staring out to a beautiful vista framed in by the walls and narrow path of a street. Great photo opportunities abound!

South of Sant’Angelo in Colle
The road from Montalcino to Sant’Angelo continues on farther south through beautiful vineyards and countryside. This is the home to some pretty large Brunello makers and this district is more of a monoculture than some parts of the area. The grounds ofArgiano and the Castello di Argiano are pretty amazing. Its worth a detour and a short walk. You can only go to the winery by appointment.

Both Banfi and Camigliano are a little ways off the main road. Banfi is down in this area and there are often events held there like the Winter Jazz Fest. Banfi has a restaurant and a museum and incredibly beautiful grounds. I am not a fan of their wines and as such cannot talk about either dining there or tasting there. Camigliano is a wonderful winery making very good wines right now. It is located in the village of the same name and the restaurant there is supposed to be very nice. I think its pretty easy to set up tours or tasting at the winery.

The last town on this bit of road is Sant’Angelo in Scalo. There is reputed to be a good butcher shop there specializing in Chianina beef. If you have an apartment, it’s a good stop for supplies for dinner. You can continue all the way to the end of the road as you cross the Orcia river, you have come to the end of the Brunello zone.

From Sant’Angelo in Scalo, go across the river is the road to Paganico and Mt Amiata. East along this main road is Monte Antico and La Campagna. Monte Antico is a tiny hamlet in the middle of vineyards only accessible by a long and winding road. It offers great views around. I think there is a castle there and you have views of Camigliano and Banfi. This is an out of the way restaurant that has superb (by reputation only, we didn’t have one) Pizzone or large pizzas. If you have two or three NFL linebackers with you (or a teenager or two) you can probably finish one. They are seriously huge and look great. They also make incredible tortelli with potatoes and a topping. I had one a version of the latter with nettles that were very yummy. The wine list is outstanding.

San Galgano
If you go all the way to the Grosetto road (223) and head north a little, you will come to the cutoff for San Galgano. To me, this is a must see, but it is at least an hour or more driving. San Galgano was a major abbey that was abandoned in the 1400s during the wars between Firenze and Siena. The roof was sold for its lead content to make ammunition. Today, what is left is a crumbling shell of the building. It is stark and very moving. There are still functioning portions of the monastery where there is a monastic community. There is an alter and lighting in the abbey so I am sure they have some services there and some events as well.

But I love it for its haunting beauty. It is crumbling and in need of at least stabilization. Since we have been coming there (eight years ago at time of writing) we have seen some of the rose window and some decorative elements disappear from visit to visit. I think it best around sunset. Its very much worth the drive.

After San Galgano itself, you need to hike up the hill (or drive) to the small round church above. The church itself is open to the public but the rest of the buildings are private property. Not only is the view grand, but the church itself is a masterpiece. The dome is banded in black and off white stone and there are Ambrogio Lorenzettifreschi and sinopie (the drawings used to transfer the design to the wall in the making of a fresco) in a small chapel off to the side. Be sure to feed the light box to illuminate them. There is also a wine bar which we did not love especially. The salumi was passable and the wine fairly ordinary. But the setting is nice and the folk friendly.

On the direct road from San Galgano to the 223 you will pass a turn off for Tocchi. I love following the one way road and seeing the medieval buildings in use today. There was a restaurant there, very plain and simple. We passed it by and thought that it either would be incredible or not good at all. I found out later than many considered it incredible. It has closed due to illness or a death in the family. Today it has reopened as Beppi or something like that. It looks larger and not as simple. I know nothing about it but I do want to eat there one time.

Sights Southeast of Montalcino

Taking the Traversa del Monte from Montalcino towards San Quirico leads you on another set of adventures with a totally different geography. Here you don’t have the gently rolling vast seas of grapes as you do to the southwest. The landscape is hillier with more small towns and dramatic vistas.

Torrenieri is a tiny town, reputed to have a good pizzeria. It is a kilometer or two north on the frontage road from where the Traversa meets the SS2. It has a wonderful old church that is seldom open but worth seeing. There is also a winery,Abbadia di Ardegna, with god awful wines, some of the worst I have ever tasted. But it also has a museum of sorts, giving the history of the “torre nero” that gave the town its name as well as a history of peasant farming in the 1930s. Tasting the wine and buying a bottle of the rosso (buying it, mind you, not drinking it!) is a small price to pay to see the tour.

San Quirico d’Orcia
Heading south on the SS2, follow the signs to San Quirico d’Orcia. San Quirico is a lovely town. You drive over the horseshoe shaped old bridge and follow the road and the town will be on your left. Park along the walls and enter through the main gate. There is a garden off the piazza just inside the gate and the main road of the town runs perpendicular to your entry path. Some people like to base in San Quirico rather than Montalcino. It is smaller, quieter and less wine and wine tourist oriented. It has a well regarded hotel, Palazzo dei Capitani. Another advantage is that it is relatively flat and has great access to the SS2.

San Quirico has two churches, one newer with lion porches (basically straight ahead through the gate) and one older one to the far end of the town (through the main gates and to the right). It also has a great restaurant, All’Antico Forno, a very nice bakery and a superb cheese store. The cheese store is beyond the old church and it fabulous. It specializes in family made pecorino. The shop is owned by the youngest son of a sheep raising family. He was tired of shoveling sheep sh*t and he learned to make cheese. It is really quite good, especially the spiced pecorino sott’olio.

Bagno Vignoni
Continuing south of the SS2 from San Quirico, you see a cutoff for Bagno Vignoni (you can also go through the new section of San Quirico and venture up the white road, but I would recommend the simple approach to Bagno Vignoni and take the white road back to San Quirico.

Bagno Vignoni is a gem. There are two spas. The public baths date from Roman times (I think the current version is due to a Medici restoration and a modern reconstruction of the water system). There is a great bar called Il Barino which features live jazz.

By the parking lots, there is a set of ditches that carry the hot water to the edge of the cliff over the Orcia River. These ditches lead to a wonderful historic exhibit. There are two large holding basins and a set of baths there, recently rediscovered. When you have a water source with a large elevation like you do at Bagno Vignoni, you have the chance of having water mills and wealth. The problem at Bagno Vignoni was the rate of the water flow. It was enough to make for really nice hot springs but not enough for the mills. So the holding basins. They were constructed to hold a days worth of water. When full, the exits would be opened and the water volume was enough to run four mills, located down the cliff face. These mills have been excavated and there is loads of signage. The walk down is invigorating and beautiful. The walk up is exhausting, but will enable you to walk off a dinner at Il Pozzo easily. If you do this hike, come early in the day for both the rising morning mists and the lesser heat of an early morning climb back you the cliffs. There are a couple of restaurants in Bagno Vignoni but we have not dined at any of them.

From Bagno Vignoni you can take the white road up to Vignoni and then follow around to Castello Ripa d’Orcia, a wonderful site that is home to a hotel and restaurant of mixed repute. We have just wandered the grounds outside the gates and taken lots of photos. Vignoni is a lovely confection, now used as weekend and vacation homes mostly. The scenery is breathtaking! If you do this drive, you can take the white road back to San Quirico and get a free roller coaster ride. Nothing like a 14 degree drop on a white road!!!

The alternative is to drive back to the SS2 south and follow around in the direction of Monte Amiata thru Castiglione d’Orcia, a drive that is long, winding, castle filled and breathtakingly beautiful. Before hitting Castiglione d’Orcia itself, there is a turnoff forRocca d’Orcia. This is a must do stop, if only for another strenuous exercise opportunity. You will be humbled by all the 90 year old geezers in black sweaters and hats on a hot summer day, smoking cigarette after cigarette who will whiz past you saying “buongiorno” as you are sucking swamp water on your way up. At the top, you will be rewarded with a pretty bland modern sculpture garden, a fortress and some of the best views you will ever see in Tuscany. Its incredible! There is a small entry fee. The rocca itself is well signed and you can learn a little of life in feudal times.

Further along the road is Castiglione d’Orcia, a little town with a castle undergoing what seems to be a fairly large restoration. The town always seems packed with people but we have yet to explore it. From Castiglione d’Orcia you continue towards Monte Amiata and can then turn northwest towards Castelnuovo dell’Abate, St Antimo and Montalcino.

Sights Northwest of Montalcino – Murlo and environs

From Montalcino, take the road down to Buonconvento and then follow the SS2. Some people think of Buonconvento as the cutoff for Montalcino or a railway stop. Whizzing past it, it is easy to ignore. It is set on a plane in a semi-industrial zone. But it has a lovely centro and is worth exploring.

You can park at either end of the Centro but I find the North side easier. Walk to the main gate at that end and you are in the pedestrian Centro which is all of three or four blocks long. There is a Museo dell’Arte Sacre which is definitely worth going to see. In addition, there is a church with some modern touches. But I just love to wander up and back more than anything else.

For dining choices, Da Mario is loads of fun. It is dirt cheap and good. Not great mind you, but good. Most of the diners will be in their usual seats eating their usual orders that no one need to hear them recite. It’s that kind of place. But for a new comer, they will hand you a long menu and then point out the four or five choices from each section that they are offering that day.

Duccio is a Slow Food recommended place, a lot more fussy and formal. Good food, very good Bistecca Fiorentina, nice wine list. I Poggioli in the new section of town is also good and lower priced than Duccio. Very traditional and a bit on the heavy side. They have fish on the menu and as specials which makes for a nice change in Montalcino. The new town of Buonconvento is fairly non descript and lacking in good wine bars etc.

From Buonconvento, there are several routes, all well signed, leading you to Murlo and all routes have their delights. Murlo is a tiny village, very precious with a gorgeous church and spectacular Etruscan museum. Murlo’s claim to fame is that a functional copper casting furnace was found there. Great insight into Etruscan metalwork was gained. The Museo also shows off discoveries like houses and their decorations. The Museo is spread out in two buildings on two floors. It is a fabulous museum and always worth visiting. The signage and information varies from complete with in depth background to almost non existent.

There is a pizzeria/restaurant in the village but I have never eaten there. It comes highly recommended. Murlo is a great stop at dusk as the village is on the hill and surrounded by excellent scenery.

Heading out of Murlo you come first to Vescovado di Murlo, a suburban feeling housing enclave and then the little turnoff that is Lupompesi. Lupompesi is home to Bosco della Spina which is my favorite restaurant in the area. Its food is quite seasonal and offers very modern renditions (in terms of plating and lightness) of classic Southern Tuscan cuisine. It is also truly beautiful as well. Great wine list.

If you follow the road past Lupompesi you will come to the ruined castle of Crevole. It is stunning. Go at night so you see it light up and, well frankly, a little spooky. I would love to see someone make a film there, or maybe stage a production of Luccia di Lammamoor. Its that creepy but beautiful. You cannot get to the castle itself as it is on private property, but there are parking areas and some trails that allow you to get closer.

Sights Northeast of Montalcino

Monte Oliveto Maggiore
From Montalcino, go north on the SS2 until you find the turnoff for Monte Oliveto. It is a few kilometers up the road and well worth a stop. Monte Oliveto is a major abbey still in use today. It is Franciscan today, with a business in old book restoration as well as a restaurant and grounds. They also have rooms for a retreat.

You can spend half a day here easily. Walking the grounds, take in a service with Gregorian chants and then the highlight: the Fresco Cycle by Signorelli and Il Sodoma. The Fresco cycle is on the walls of the cloister. You may run into a tour group or you may be blissfully alone with this masterpiece. I personally am a big fan of Il Sodoma and think him one of the masters of the early Renaissance. His name, translates to the Sodomite and his interest in the male form is quite evident. All the women are basically the same, with nondistinctive figures. The men, however, are all unique and with precise figures (often displayed with hands on hips and bottoms thrust out). Not to be sacrilegious, but his flagellation of Christ presents a quite hunky Christ in a very erotic pose tied to the cross and showing the signs of his scourging. Every muscle and bead of sweat and drop of blood is shown in detail.

Il Sodoma didn’t really understand perspective and its fun to see every mistaken panel with Escher-ian impossibilities of space. Animals show up as often as pretty young boys. Perhaps the best part of the whole is the use of grotesques and the tromp l’oiel panels that frame each scene. Also there is a lot of satire such as the fact that there is a scene where the abbot of the monastery is represented as a devil being thrown in a well. He is shown with donkey’s ears. He made the mistake of disputing a payment to Il Sodoma and was thus immortalized.

Monte Oliveto Travel Guide: More information about the abbey and descriptions of the frescoes.

Sant’Anna in Camprena
From Monte Oliveto, your choices are myriad. I would suggest continuing to Sant’Anna in Camprena. You need to go via Castelmuzio and Montisi. Castelmuzio is a nice stop in and of itself. The old town is elliptical in shape with great views. There is a new town which we did not explore. The church is very nice and, if you can find the caretaker, there is also a little Museo. The bar in town was pretty dreary. There are all sorts of places to sit so that might be the best idea of all. Here you will find another fresco cycle by a much younger Il Sodoma.

We love Trequanda for its simple beauty, its location and its restaurant Conte Matto. Davide is a superb host, the food quite fine and devoted to local and traditional ingredients. The salumi is strongly flavored and made from Cinta Sinese, the local, rare and wonderful pork. The wine list is immense and superb. We dined there on a snowy day and spent three hours watching out the window as the hillside became increasingly white. There is also a fantastic bakery in town.

The church is wonderful for its facade and two freschi inside, one of which is attributed to Il Sodoma (and seems like it could be) and another attributed to him that looks nothing like any of his work. If you dine at Conte Matto, be sure to visit the bakery before or after and pick up some pastries for your next morning’s breakfast. If you are looking for the makings of a picnic, when you turn to drive up to the town itself, there is a huge butcher shop that specializes in the areas finest treats: Cinta Sinese pork products and Chianina Beef. The shop was closed when we went by but I bet you could put together a wonderful picnic at the bakery in town and the prepared and cured meats section of the butcher shop.

Beyond Trequanda is some fine outlet shopping including Liba shirt makers. It’s a great bargain as they make shirts you find at Barneys in NYC for over $100 and even $200 a shirt and you get them at Liba for 45 Euro each. The quality is incredible. Next door is a leather outlet but we did not find anything we could both afford and liked.

There are also signs for roman ruins and churches that you could spend hours following. They will drive you crazy but you will also get some glimpses of pretty amazing stuff. We found a Roman era something or other – bath, sewer, nympheum, who knows! I don’t! But it was amazing, free and deserted!

Also in this neck of the woods is Pienza. We loved strolling it for its renaissance perfection of layout. The Duomo was wrapped iron scaffolding when we visited and a lot of renovation is needed to keep the major attractions from falling off the hill. The main street has about 20 cheese shops most of which are selling the same Coop-made cheeses. I felt like it was a cheese-y Disneyland yet others love it.

This ends my introduction to the surroundings of Montalcino. It is neither balanced or complete. I have nothing about Montepulciano, Montefollonico, San Giovanni d’Asso etc. Some of these are still on my to do list and others just didn’t fit in. It just goes to show that in over 5 week-long visits, staying in Montalcino, we have only begun to explore the surroundings!

Montalcino Travel Guide

montalcinoGetting to Montalcino

Montalcino is atop a hill south of Siena, off of the SS2, about a 45 minute drive. Approaching from the north, take a turnoff from the SS2 just south of Buonconvento. Take the road up to the Traversa di Monti.

From the south or east, you arrive via San Quirico d’Orcia or Grosetto. From Grosetto cut off at Paganico and then follow the signs. You will pass by Sant’Angelo in Scalo on your way. This approach takes you through some pretty huge vineyards. From San Quirico, head towards Torrenieri and then take the Traversa di Monte up the hill to Montalcino.

Parking in Montalcino

In any case, go to the traffic circle at the top of the hill and then look for parking. If you are arriving for the first time, I suggest parking outside the walls in either the new lot or the old lot. Once you have the lay of the land, try the free spaces or metered across from or behind the Fortezza.

From Buonconvento or San Quirico, you will arrive at a new traffic circle with lavender light posts and a new gas station. The caffe at the gas station has surprisingly good caffe and decent, really cheap food.

If you are coming from either Buonconvento or San Quirico, you will pass the Porta Cerbaia. (I don’t recommend going in the Porta Cerbaia the first few times you come to town. It is very convenient, but tight.) Pass the town (with the walls on your right) until you come to a traffic circle with a large mosaic. The mosaic was done by a famous artist who is the owner of Castello di Romitorio winery. The mosaic is considered either a great piece of public art (the city government’s view), a billboard for Castello di Romitorio or a public eyesore. I have threatened to knock it down many a time but Kay says I shouldn’t. Most of my winery owner friends would like it if I did so. This is the most important crossroad in the area as it leads to St Antimo, San Angelo or Buonconvento/San Quirico.

The new lot is to the right and the older lot is down the hill. If you go into the town, there is a pay lot across from the Fortezza. The drive to this lot continues and more pay parking is available by the soccer field behind the Fortezza. But locals and those in the know always try for the spaces on the unpaved area beyond the second lot. They are free and surprisingly available. In any case, park and enter the town by the Fortezza. There is a large bronze map which will help you get oriented. From there, walk down make for the Piazza di Popolo first. The Piazza is the hub of Montalcino and most of my descriptions are written as walks starting from the Piazza di Popolo.

The Town of Montalcino

Montalcino is a walled city that rose to fame in the wars between Siena and Florence (Firenze). The Sienese republic abandoned their town and retreated to Montalcino. Firenze attacked and the city was under siege. The Firenzens won the seige and instead of destrying the town physically, they suppressed it economically. Montalcino was an unimportant backwater until after the Risorgimento and the founding of the modern tradition of Brunello wine by the Biondi Santi Family in the 1880s. The result is that the many practices that other regions have had to over come (such as blending of inferior grapes as in Chianti) were never a part of the tradition of Brunello. On the other hand, the tradition of Brunello is very new and as such, even today 100 years later there are many schools of thought on making the wine.

The heart of Montalcino is the Piazza del Popolo. It is at the base of the clock tower. You cannot miss it. There are two logge which are used for public events or just sitting and enjoying life.

Heading downhill from Piazza del Popolo is Via Mazzini, a pedestrianized street with many little shops. At the bottom of the street is Piazza Cavour with a little parking and then a main parking lot behind the municipal building.

Heading up from Piazza del Popolo, you have two choices, up a steep incline to the Piazza Garibaldi or along a level street, Via Matteotti, home to a number of my favorite shops and favorite places to hang out and drink and eat in Montalcino. From Garibaldi, you can go up a steep hill to another piazza complete with 1600s fortress and parking, Piazzalle Fortezza.

Piazza del Popolo

A few highlights here include Bar alle Logge and Fiaschetteria Italiana, two of the best bars in Montalcino. Bar alle Logge is on V Matteotti and draws a little hipper and younger crowd. We only go to Fiaschetteria when Logge is closed. Both have superb espresso and cappuccino.

Bar alle Logge has a wider wine selection in terms of having a nice selection of non Montalcino wines. It is a great wine bar. In the early evening, it will be crowded with people stopping in after work. Many of them will be drinking cocktails instead of wine. They put out a great spread of food at the cocktail hour. You can also sit down outdoors, paying a lot more for your drinks, and get served. They will make up a plate of snacks for you. They also have a short menu of food, good for a mid afternoon snack or a rainy day sit. We are in Bar alle Logge three or four times a day when we stay in Montalcino.

Osticcio is just up the street from Bar alle Logge. It is a superb, serious wine shop and enoteca with food. You can have a nice tasting of Brunello along with incredible meats and cheeses. The view from the tables in the back is stupendous. They close early so its really a lunch or mid afternoon kind of place.

The nameless meat shop is on the opposite side of the street from Bar alle Logge and Osticcio. It is a super meat shop where everything is cut to order. Specialties include lamb and pork. Stefano, the late owner, was a regular at Bar alle Logge after his shop closed. We heard he died in a motorcycle accident but the shop lives on with his spirit hovering over the pandemonium!

The vegetable shop, up a little farther, is a great place. The original couple who ran it have retired, but it is still the best place to buy veggies in town. The other main choice is the Coop (supermarket)!

Lambardi is a great bakery. I think Via Matteoti changes names by the time you reach Lambardi.

Also along this same block are Giglio and Il Re di Macchia. I now prefer the food at Giglio but both are pretty fantastic. They both offer traditional foods raised up a bit, with attention paid to the raw ingredients. Both have great wine choices available. Il Re di Macchia is a little more straightforward in its cooking, Giglio is a little more refined. We have had great pinci al ragu di cinghiale, a nice rabbit salad and superb pork at Il Re de Macchia (plus very good wines by the glass). Giglio has really good desserts (my chef ate four by himself at one dinner) and the food is more refined. I recall really liking a stuffed pasta there. If we are in town a week, we would probably eat at both one time each.

In the other direction from the Piazza del Popolo, heading downhill on Via Mazzini, isPierangelini, our favorite in-town wine shop. They are really friendly and have a good selection.

Further down the street is a favorite restaurant, Taverna del Grappolo Blu. It is a superb place to eat. The food is good and plentiful and flavorful. The owner is active in the historical pageants of Montalcino. The wine list is okay with some smaller wineries represented. I always have a good time there.

Also down this street are some of Montalcino’s best art shops. Just a few of my favorites include MontalcinoArte, owned by Simone Pinori. He is a great artist in his own right, using a load of different techniques in oil to great effect. We have an olive oil grove that pays homage to Van Gogh in style, as well as some pointillist paintings. He also represents a fabulous quilt maker, Lydia Barilla from Cortona. She makes museum quality art. We have two of her works in our restaurant and they command incredible attention.

Another great art store is Angolo di Terracotta. They have two outlets but we prefer this one.

Also on this stretch of Via Mazzini is a butcher shop that specializes in Chianina beef for Fiorentina and in Cinta Sinese. However, the butcher is not as popular with my Montalcinese friends so I always feel a little like a traitor going in there. But I do.Montalcino 412 is a new store with great picnic supplies. You can also find superb cottons and linens and nice olive wood stuff in this area as well.

Piazza Cavour

At the bottom of V Mazzini is a little garden with benches and a fountain: Piazza Cavour. There are always people just hanging out there. I love to sit for a while and just drink in the scene. Off to the side is a municipal building with some displays of art in its courtyard and incredible views. Note that there is a parking lot behind this building that often has spaces when the other lots are full (like on market day). Al Giardino restaurant is on the square. While we have heard good things about it, our meal there was pretty bad. Maybe an off night.

Piazza Garibaldi

When you are sitting in Piazza Garibaldi, there are two roads that head uphill besides Via Mazzini. Both are worth walking. The one to the right skirts the edge of town and has some grassy bits off to the right. It leads to Madonna del Soccoroso and from there back to the Fortezza.

Back at Piazza del Popolo, you can go up a little pedestrian alleyway to Piazza Garibaldi. The Popolo will be to your left. Piazza Garibaldi has several wine shops but I rarely buy from them. There is a new restaurant (Le Potazzine?) which we have yet to try. Our favorite stop off Garibaldi is Perche No?, the gelato shop. WONDERFUL!

Off of the Piazza are some steep stairs that head towards the art gallery of the church. It is located in a restored building. The collection is very nice, with a lot of impressive pieces (especially the small crucifix by Giambologna, a few pieces by one or both of the Lorenzetti’s. But more noteworthy than any individual piece is the museum itself. It was restored so well. As you go thru it, you get peeks into later rooms that tease your eye. The scale of it is human and the art well spaced out and placed.

Piazzale Fortezza

Piazzale Fortezza is home to our favorite enoteca, Enoteca Fortezza in the Fortezza itself. There are multiple reasons to visit. First off is the wine tasting available. They always have a bunch of wines available. There is a Cruvinet machine with six or so super premium wines (at high prices) as well as a dozen or more wines on the counter.

Angelina is one of the managers and she is wonderful. She is also the font of all knowledge when it comes to restaurants. I never go out to dinner without consulting her. Allesandro is also a manager and he is always busy with packing wines to ship or with organizing tastings. In addition to the great wines, they also make plates of cheese and meats to go along with your tasting. There are tables inside or out for your use.

Several times a year, the Fortezza is home to various festivals. The most famous of which is the Festa del Tondo in October. But I have also been there in April when there was a fundraiser for the local soccer team which was a great excuse for eating outdoors. You can also explore the Fortezza which is a treat in itself. For a small fee you can climb up to the ramparts for perhaps the best view of the Val d’Orcia around! The second floor often had art on exhibit as well.

Outside the Fortezza are several wine shops, the best of which is Enoteca Franciwith the same owners as the Fortezza. There are a couple of restaurants of note,Porta al Cassero and Sciame. Porta al Cassero is an old fashioned place with large portions of heavy and good food. Sometimes the food is a little lax and sometimes its pretty good. In any case, it is very traditional and cheap. I love the tongue with salsa verde. I have not tried Sciame, but other folk I trust love it.

Santuario della Madonno del Soccoroso

From the Fortezza you can walk down in the direction of a larger park and a shopping area. The Coop (supermarket) and the lavanderia (laundry) are in this area. So is the Poste (Post Office). Following along the walls you get to Santuario della Madonno del Soccoroso and more incredible views. From here you can continue back down to Piazza Cavour.

The Duomo is also in the area. There are some steps you can take to get to it (at least there were but the last time I looked there was construction connected with the building of a new parking lot). The Duomo has incredible artifacts from long ago, including an alter that is probably 1000 years old. But overall the Duomo is not especially wonderful.

Last but not least is the wine shop Bruno Dalmazio below the Porta Cerbaia on the road to San Quirico, the Traversa del Monte. They have a great selection of the wines from Montalcino and the rest of Toscana, Umbria and then parts south. They also have two computer terminals which you can use free of charge. The folks there are very nice, the selection very large and well thought out, the pricing fair. They have those self service wine dispensing machines but they have never been working when I have been to the shop. Maybe someday! They also have a great selection of big bottles.

Off the Beaten Path – Ten Things To Do in Florence

I am purposely not giving phone numbers and exact addresses. Our approach is to wander and discover. This is a list of some of our favorite discoveries in Florence (Firenze).

Perugino frescoes

Baptism of the Neophites ~ Brancacci ChapelSee the Perugino frescoes (freschi) at Santa Maria Dei Pazzi. This is only open from 17:00 – 19:00. You enter the church and look for the main chapel on the right. There is a little desk where we paid 4000 lire (now probably 3 Euro or so) to an elderly couple who spoke no English, only Italian and French. They were of the “if we shout loudly at you, you will understand a language you don’t really speak school.” Follow the signs down and through the crypt to a tiny chapel. The Freschi have never been restored or retouched. They are simple and beautiful. Filled with the soft, rich pinks, blues and lavenders characteristic of Perugino. It was a very intense experience.

Capella Brancacci in Santa Maria della Carmine

Il Carmine & Brancacci Chapel

Massaccio, Masolino and Lippi are the creators of one of the great fresco cycles in this small chapel. You will have to wait in line as they only let groups of 20 visitors in for a limited time to view these superb frescoes. You sign up for a timed tour and you can go grab a caffe if necessary. They might have a reservation system in place by now.

The Amazing Expulsion from the Garden by Massaccio

Adam and Eve being expelled from the garden is a highlight. The frescoes were recently restored by a Japanese company removing the many alterations that had been added over the years to cover up some of the nakedness in the original frescoes. Michelangelo used to study these works as part of his inspiration. The church had a fire and these frescoes survived unharmed. Not exactly unknown, but not a lot of people make the walk “Oltr’Arno” or across the Arno to see this wonderful chapel. The rest of the church is a baroque confection.

Tripe sandwiches from a tripe seller

New York has its hot dog carts, Washington DC is home to the half smoked from red and white sidewalk booths, and some of the best Mexican treats in Los Angeles are sold in carts street-side. But none compare to the wonders offered in Firenze. Located in many piazze across Firenze are the tripe carts. You have several choices: hot or cold, stuffed or regular, and salsa verde or nocon sale (salty beyond my comprehension) or non con sale (saltier than most things you will ever put in your mouth but properly so). My choices are frio (cold), ripeino (stuffed or with the center of the bread removed so there is room for more tripe) and con salsa e poco sale (with green salsa and with just a little salt). Heaven for about $3.00!!!

Museo del Opera delle Santa Maria di Fiori

The museum of the Duomo. Again, not unknown but much less visited than many other spots. Located behind the Duomo, this is the repository of many works from the Duomo. There are sculpture aplenty including Michelangelo’s other Pieta and many Donatello. You can also see the original bas reliefs from the Campanile. The Museo underwent a spectacular renovation recently and now hosts special exhibits as well as its permanent collection. The curation of the permanent exhibits is superb with detailed explanations in English and Italian. Some of my favorites were the tools used to actually construct the dome.


One of our favorite occupations in Firenze is to shop. And one of our favorite places to shop is at Capecchi. If you are on Piazza Santa Croce with your back to the church, there are three streets leading directly away from the Piazza. The left most street is Borgo de Greci. At 13r is the shop. Jessica is the daughter and Piero is the father. They hand carve and color leather. The stuff is striking and memorable. We have assorted wallets, photo albums, purses, book marks and even wall hangings all made out of leather. I must admit that the wallets don’t hold up as well as regular leather as the carving weakened the leather. But I view that as an excuse to return to Firenze regularly to get a new wallet.

Museo del’Opificio di Pietra Dure

An amazing museum. If you are unlucky there might be 10 to 15 people in there with you. Pietre Dure is the art of making pictures from semi precious stones that was the favorite of the deMedici. This museum has so much incredible art to see that it is a little overwhelming, but for 2 Euro or so, it is one of the great bargains of all time!

Lunch at Mario, Casalingha or Nerbonne

dado of marioMario is just behind the Mercato Centrale up the small street from the more famous Za-Za. Casalingha is on the Sottoporteggio to the left of Santo Spirito (as you come out the door) and Nerbonne is in the Mercato Centrale itself.

Some restaurants that have a large tourist base are transformed by the tourists and lose their edge. Others are untouched and will teach tourists about the wonders of simple, working folk’s food. This trio is of the latter class. You will be having lunch with folk from painters (the kind who paint walls not artists who paint freschi and portraiture etc), professors, students, lawyers and the occasional countess dressed in furs and the family jewels. The food is old fashioned, heavy and absolutely delicious.

  • Mario is the place of Bistecca Fiorentina as well as the daily menu. You need to have two meals there to fully enjoy it offerings.
  • Casalingha is controlled pandemonium with a huge daily changing menu.
  • Nerbonne is a cafeteria set up with the ordering done at the prepared food section. But make sure to order a sandwich (lampredotto bagnato is my choice- it’s a special kind of tripe but the boiled beef is also really great) and take the ticket they give you to the sandwich making end of things.

All are dirt cheap unless you go for Bistecca at the first two. None have great wines but you can get a good glass of Brunello or Chianti at Mario.

Wander from the Palazzo Pitti to Santo Spirito and enjoy the artists shops

Florence is still home to artisan shops of all kinds. In the neighborhood from the Pitti to Santo Spirito are hundreds of shops where you can see the traditional crafts being still performed today. You can see Pietre Dure being made (“paintings” made from semi precious stones). There are so many different kinds of art being made. Much of it is expensive but it costs nothing to stop and watch. But even the expensive stuff seems much more reasonably priced when you see the labor that goes into it.

Caffe e Paste at Bar Agostino

On Via S Agostino, nearby Santo Spirito, go to Bar Agostino. They will be gruff and if you are not from the immediate two blocks surrounding the place, you are totally unimportant. Until your second visit, when you will be recognized as somewhat akin to a human. If you go back a third time, you will be family. The caffe is hot, bitter and spectacular. Cappucci are superb. The pastries insanely good. At 4pm or so, they make fresh donuts.

Buy a leather coat from a street stall around San Lorenzo

This isn’t off the beaten path, but it is a tradition worth pursuing! I love my coat from San Lorenzo. Its long and warm and is burnishing into a well worn treasure. It cost me less than $200 and would sell for two to three times as much in the US. I bargained it down from $400 and I’m sure that I might have gotten a better deal if I could curse in Farsi as the sellers were Iranian Jews who have lived in Firenze for almost 22 years having fled from the revolution. Not only do I have a coat, but I have the memories of those I bought it from.

Buy a picnic or a light dinner at Baroni in the Mercato Centrale

Just hand them your credit card and kiss your good credit rating goodbye. You wantprosciutto? How about Prosciutto di San Daniele, Parma or Cinta Sinese (get the latter). Or Jamon Iberico Belota? Or any of a dozen sausages and cured meats made from Cinta Sinese (the heritage pig of Siena) or the Iberico pigs of Spain. All a bargain at 80 Euro a kilo for the prosciutti and 40 Euro for the sausages. Or some homemadesopressatta (head cheese). Or maybe 20 or 30 amazing cheeses including “Frog’s Skin” from Montalcino. Get them to recommend a bottle of something good and unusual like Le Cupole from Trinorio or a bottle of Radikon Ribolla Gialla. If you do go, please say hello to a lot of my money well spent there. I think I am personally responsible for sending one of the kids to Harvard!

Vino Sfuzo

Find a good bottle shop and drink a Montalcino Rosso Sfuzo for 3.50 Euro a bottle. We found one great one around the corner from Residenza Il Carmine on Via Serragli on the left as you go south, away from the bridge. Its around the corner from Bar S. Agostino.

Lunch or Dinner at I Giovanni on Via del Moro

Owned by one of the sons of the family if I Lantini, this is a modern restaurant serving updates of very traditional Tuscan classics made from impeccable ingredients. The tagliata from Chianina beef served with a classic salsa verde was a lesson in simplicity. They also have some incredible seafood. It’s the kind of place where young and starving hipsters take their parents when their parents are buying. Figure on around 100 Euro if you drink a nice bottle, more of you drink high on the hog. See if they have Coal Ila single malt scotch for your after dinner drink. Taste like iodine and dirty ashtray …. YUM!

Okay, so maybe it’s more than 10 things! Have a great time in Florence!