Spring Blooms in Tuscany

Friday, April 18th, 2014
La rosa (rose)

La rosa (rose) climbs a wall on the Montestigliano estate near Siena.

Time stops when you’re in Tuscany. I  have proof.

Three weeks ago, Walter and I left Pennsylvania  to host our tour program at Villa Pipistrelli on the Montestigliano estate. The temperature was chilly. Not a bud or bloom were to be seen.

I returned yesterday to an unchanged landscape.

Time does stop when you’re in Tuscany!

Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit. I do see a few brave daffodils and maple buds shivering outside my window.

But for Eastertide, I prefer to pretend I’m still in Tuscany among all the lovely spring blooms.

Italy’s Embarrassment of Riches

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
Martina Franca

Piazza Plebiscito in the Baroque centro storico of Martina Franca. The town hosts a summer opera Festival della Valle d’Itria.

A lifetime isn’t enough time to really know Italy. I feel I know a bit about Italy but in reality, I have so much more to know.

I’m fortunate to have traveled through 15 of the country’s 20 regions. The five I have yet to visit are: Aosta, Trentino Alto-Adige, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Sardinia, and Calabria.

When I’m not in Italy, I’m thinking about Italy, a constant student learning about the magnificent cities, towns, history, art, cuisine, wine, and culture. I dream and scheme about places to experience and things to do the “next time.”

So how can it be that of the “10 Places to Downshift to Italy” post on Swide, I have only been to one?

That one selection—Martina Franca, Puglia—resonates enough to make me trust Elisa della Barba’s other nine choices. When Walter and I visited Martina Franca one breezy March evening a few years ago, we felt at home. “I could live here,” we exclaimed in unison.

So peruse these 10 enticing places—from a fishing town on an island in a lake in Lombardia to a hillside of dazzling whitewashed houses in Basilicata. Someday you may know them and make them your own.


Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
In Tuscany, chestnut pancakes are a sweet taste of surviving through hard times.

In Tuscany, chestnut pancakes are a sweet taste of surviving through hard times.

In a recent Italian language conversation meeting, talk turned to castagnaccio. Daniele, our born-and-bred Tuscan from Siena, recalled snacking on this cake. He remembered it in detail. It was made from ground chestnuts and olive oil embellished with raisins, rosemary, and pine nuts.

To my American ears, such an austere combination of ingredients didn’t sound much like any cake I knew. But since I had never sampled a castagnaccio, I decided to bake one.

I ordered chestnut flour on and while waiting for it to arrive, I started researching recipes.

Pamela Sheldon Johns’ Cucina Povera seemed like a good starting point since this “cake” was clearly food of the poor. She shared a recipe but the head note gave me pause. “This dense cake is an acquired taste, and it has taken me almost twenty years to acquire it. But its musky chewiness is much loved by Tuscans.”

Patrizia Chen in Rosemary and Bitter Oranges was more encouraging. “Semisweet, tender, and distinctively nutty, castagnaccio is in itself worth a trip to Tuscany in fall or winter.” She also refers to the preparation as a pancake which seems a more accurate descriptor than cake.

more about castagnaccio

My Dolce Vita

Friday, February 14th, 2014

This article first appeared in the award-winning
subscription newsletter Dream of Italy

Jean Salvadore (left) with SimpleItaly's Sharon Sanders.

Jean Salvadore (left) with SimpleItaly’s Sharon Sanders in the lobby of Villa D’Este.

How does one train to be the international ambassador for Villa d’Este, one of the grandest hotels on earth?

The legacy is daunting. Villa d’Este was built in 1568 on Lago di Como as a Cardinal’s summer palace. In 1873, it was transformed into a luxury hotel that has pampered and protected its guests. Many, certainly not all, are celebrated: musicians from Giuseppe Verdi to Bruce Springsteen. . . statesmen Jawaharlal Nehru of India to Prince Ranier of Monaco. . . writers Mark Twain to Joseph Heller. . . film directors Alfred Hitchcock to Woody Allen. . . fashion designers Bill Blass to Donna Karan. . . and on and on.

So, does one train to be the public face of such a legendary property? No, one simply has to be Giovanna “Jean” Govoni Salvadore.

I met Jean on a tour of Villa d’Este as she greeted our Central Holidays-sponsored group of journalists and travel counselors. She seemed so down to earth, putting us at ease with warm words and cool Prosecco. Simply chic in black trousers accessorized with a lipstick red walking stick and knit top, I sensed that at age 85, she is cooler than I’ll ever be if I live to be 185.

Her latest achievement is My Dolce Vita: A Memoir which is as irresistible as it is inspiring. As for so many of her generation, WW II shaped her life in ways she could probably not have imagined as a child.

more Dolce Vita

Love Is All You Need

Friday, January 17th, 2014
Danish actress Trine Dyrholm is irresistible in this "Inner Italian" flick.

Danish actress Trine Dyrholm is irresistible in this “Inner Italian” flick.

Ever on the lookout for “Inner Italian” movies (see my Top Ten), I stumbled upon Love Is All You Need (Sony Pictures Classics) on Netflix. It’s a relatively recent film that must not have made it to my little corner of the world during its theatrical release.

Susanne Bier, the Danish Academy-award winning director for best-foreign language film (2011) In a Better World, made this film with stars Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm. She shot it on location near Sorrento.

Love Is All You Need is certainly not a masterpiece (how many are?) but Walter and I found its quirkiness, and the charismatic Dyrholm, appealing. Not a typical rom-com, several dark elements colored the narrative.

We responded to the palpable sense of locale and it seemed as if some of the minor characters were locals.

My only serious irritation was from the music. Opening with Dean Martin’s That’s Amore (a song spot-on for Moonstruck, a movie celebrating an Italian American family in Brooklyn) is tone deaf in this context.

A view of Amalfi from a limonceto.

A view of Amalfi from a limonceto.

While I’m not in the business of revealing plot points, I will declare my crush on Danish actress Dyrholm.

Forget Brosnan, I fell in love with her.

When she says, “I can’t imagine existing in a world without lemons,” I found a soulmate.

Brosnan’s lemon grove is a pivotal locale that reminded me of my enchanting stay in a cottage set in a citrus grove above Amalfi.

Love, and lemons, are all I need.

What “Inner Italian” movie do you like?