Hilltoppers from Umbria to Tuscany

Hilltoppers from Umbria to Tuscany

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

Wednesday, 1 January 2015
Orvieto, Italy to Tuscany

A lazy start to 2015 after our late night…we wander down to breakfast, through Palazzo Piccolomini’s simply elegant sitting room,01011501 am lazyand join a few late-rising musicians for coffee in the vaulted basement. Look through those alcoves in the wall to earlier centuries, remnants of Etruscan civilization over which the papal palace (Piccolomini was Pius II) was built.01011501 breakfastWe’ll squeeze in one more concert, Davell Crawford, whom we heard a couple of nights ago in duet with Jon Batiste. Today it’s just him on the billing, but he calls up several friends throughout the hour – one guy on a harmonica, a seasoned gospel sister on vocals – as he keeps our toes tapping with classic jazz, rhythm and blues, pop and funk. In exuberant style, he mixes the music with heartfelt tales – of last night’s New Year’s phone call from godmother Roberta Flack, before sharing his memorable take on “The First Time”. What a superb way to kick off the New Year!01011501 concert Davell and friends and Flack godmother talked last nightBefore packing up and getting on the road we stop for a quick lunch at Cantina Foresi, beside the Duomo. Alessandro carries on the fine family tradition (the cantina was started by his grandfather in the ’50s) with a warm welcome and platters of delicious Umbrian salumi to go with steaming bowls of minestrone.01011501 light lunch at cantina foresi by duomoAs we walk back to the hotel, jazz drifts through the doors of one café after another,01011501 music spills outand we stop at Bartolomei’s shop for our olive oil – yes, we can fit a bit more in our suitcases!01011501 oo from bartWe arrive at our next hilltown, Monte San Savino, with time to check in to lovely little Logge dei Mercanti, settle into our rooms, and take in the sunset from our windows.01011502 next hilltownDinner takes us through the impressive portal of another tiny hill town, Lucignano. 01011503 lucignano another hill townWe explore a bit, wandering the steep streets of this snail-shaped charmer,01011504 explore a bitand then continue our Italian feasting at Il Goccino. A WOW of a meal, from the smoked goose breast and foie gras,01011504 fab dinner foie gras smoked goose breast appleto a “Chocolate Pearl” that melts when our waiter pours on the hot raspberry soup. 01011504 raspberry soup on chocolate pearlOh we eat SO well out in the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside!
Back to “our” hilltown – 01011505 goodnight to our hilltownBuona Notte Monte San Savino, it’s nice to be back!



Welcoming the New Year in Italy

Welcoming the New Year in Italy

New Year’s Day, 2013
Orvieto, Monte San Savino and Lucignano, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

Photographer Bruce has been up before the sun morning after morning, and this first sunrise of 2013 is a magnificent reward for his early risings.

Thank you, Bruce Margolis, for sharing this beauty with us!

The rest of us sleep late after our New Year’s Eve revels, greeting the day more leisurely. We make sure to get up and about in time for one of our favorite Umbria Jazz traditions – the Funk Off gang marching through the streets.
Like the pied piper, the white tuba leads the throngs through Orvieto’s cobbled lanes,

pausing at a little piazza for a lively mini concert.

Palazzo Piccolomini, as usual  has been home for quite a few musicians once again this year, such as the band leader, a cool sax player who joined us in the ancient vaulted cellar of the hotel for our late breakfast this morning.


We complete our Umbria Jazz concerts with another special treat, the Giovanni Tommaso reunion quintet. Giovanni, the bassist, and the other four played together for the very first time on this stage in the Palazzo Popolo twenty years ago, for the first Umbria Jazz Winter. They seem to enjoy their reunion as much, if not more, as we in the audience do.

When the sax player, so very cool in his red glasses, says that it feels like they’ve been playing together forever, we all clap in agreement – a terrific ensemble!

Kirk, in his Umbria Jazz Winter shirt, leads us in our own little parade, Funk Off amplified from his iPhone as we strut to lunch.

Cantina Foresi is a tiny fun place beside the cathedral, with a few tables made of stumps,

We grab the last two, and they’re quickly loaded with warming Umbrian delights,

so many that we have to use our laps and legs in addition to the tree stumps.

Then we load up the van, and head north to Monte San Savino, where we’re greeted with a glorious sunset out of our window at the Logge dei Mercanti hotel. What beauty we’ve enjoyed from start to finish of the day!
But there’s more to enjoy, as we wind down from one hilltop town and head for the one next door, Lucignano, still surrounded by a massive stone wall.
Inside the streets spiral upward, connected with lamplit stone arches, to a sweet little church, but what we’re here for is yet one more great dinner, at il Goccino,

and we’re welcomed into a private room, where we begin to peruse the menu.

From one treat to another the meal unfolds – an unusual risotto with foie gras and artichokes is a fabulous combination of tastes and textures,
and even though we’re all already full, we can’t resist the desserts, such as this molten chocolate cake.
Oh my, it’s a good thing we’ll be doing a lot of walking tomorrow!

Hilltowns and Fireworks

Hilltowns and Fireworks

Saturday, December 31, 2011
Orvieto, Lucignano & Florence, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: Visions of Venice

Piazza del Popolo looks quite different this morning. Rather than cars, jazz and revelers, it’s filled with market booths and shoppers. Plans today are for a special lunch on the way to Florence, where we’ve rented an apartment, and a delicious dinner chez nous (can I use that phrase in Italy??) So we’ve got a simple menu planned and are on the prowl for fresh and tasty Italian ingredients…. some 2011 olive oil, just pressed in November, arugula, artichokes in olive oil and some smoked goose breast and aged balsamic vinegar so we can recreate last night’s salad. A chunk of aged Parmiggiano from the cheese man, fresh pasta filled with zucca (pumpkin) from the pasta shop, a slab of butter and a few sage leaves to dress the pasta.
We get a few staples at the little grocery shop, where Kirk waits in line for at least half an hour – EVERYBODY’S shopping before places are closed for the holiday. I return to the pasta shop to pick up the tortelli which they’ve prepared for us… and on the way run into smiling Marlena de Blasi and Fernando and we chat a bit. Kirk and I so enjoyed reading “The Lady in the Palazzo” together – describing the ups and downs of their life in Orvieto.
We’ve already got some Vin Santo (sweet “holy wine”) from Siena, so we add some ricciarelli (almond cookies) and hazelnut cookies from the pastry shop and we’re set for dinner – it’ll keep cold in the car on this chilly day.
Arrivederci, Orvieto – that Italian goodbye actually means we’ll see you again, and it’s easy to depart when we WILL be back soon – for a Wine Tourism Workshop in early February. We’ve chosen the Umbria post-tour, and our last night of the trip will be in our own favorite Palazzo Piccolomini in Orvieto! It will be fun to be led around the city on a tour – we’re hoping to learn some new secrets!
Now we’re off to Lucignano, which is rather off the international tourist track, but is an Italian favorite, and has easily become one of ours too.

Tucked into the wall is little Oste Matto (Crazy Host), a highly rated restaurant that we’re eager to try. And what a treat it is! Quirky design – such as this web of light fixtures, some bulbs brighter than others, emerging from a twist on the wall,

mismatched water glasses, and fragments of ’20’s ads peeking through the distressed paint on the walls.

The cuisine carries on the playful theme, with new twists on typical Italian flavors, such as tempura battered balls of parmiggiano with pear conserve and dried fruits and nuts ( a don’t- miss appetizer for sure!) , or a sunny side up egg on melted peccorino cheese topped with shaved black truffle.

This pear/ gorgonzola/ walnut risotto was superb – hmmmm, can I make this at home?

We control ourselves today, sharing a main course of duck breast with fennel and orange, and just one dessert – a fabulous gianduja mousse garnished with caramel créme.

Loved these cool little coffee cups – they’re ceramic, but look like old-fashioned tinware.

We ask if we can take the rest of our bottle of wine with us – “Certo!” (certainly!) and the waiter whisks the bottle away, corks it, and brings it back in a little shoulder sling – cool!

We take a few minutes to walk around the hamlet, which circles like a snail, rising to the church-topped center, where people are arriving for a wedding

in the white rose adorned sanctuary.

This has got to be one of the most gorgeous 31 December’s we’ve ever experienced – can you believe this sky??

It’s an easy drive to the Florence airport, where we’ve arranged to drop off the car since it’s so very difficult to avoid any ZTL (limited traffic zone) fine in Florence city… there have been WAY too many times that we’ve gotten a multi-100 euro bill from the car rental company as much as a year after a rental, much as we try to avoid any “forbidden” street. Well this rental return turns out to be a fiasco …. the car drop off is no longer at the airport, but off site. Did anyone tell us that this just changed earlier this month? When we arranged the rental or picked up the car? No. So we drive around and around, calling Europcar to find out where to go, calling the apartment owner to let her know why we’re late. We have to get there soon to check in since she has a New Year’s Eve party of her own to attend! Finally we find the off site lot, poorly signposted and not official looking at all, gladly hand off the car, and taxi to the apartment – whew!
Rachel of Florentine Flats smilingly greets us and shows us around her darling one bedroom flat close to the Uffizzi – we love it! We’re eager to get out and see where the celebrations are tonight – just around the corner at Piazza Signoria is one.

Florence has gotten creative with the lights this year – love these fleur-de- lis on Corso

and these old- fashioned lanterns on Calzaiuoli. These shop- filled streets are more enticing than ever!

We whip up our yummy dinner at the apartment – here’s our version of the smoked goose breast/ arugula salad – and it’s as good as the restaurant’s!

And now it’s time to party!
We dance to the tunes of a jazz band on Piazza Republica,

sway to a Viennese waltz by the Ukranian Symphony on Piazza Signoria,

then stop by the apartment to pick up our bottle of Prosecco and join the crowds by the Arno to toast the New Year while fireworks shoot up from Piazzale Michelangelo.

Lots of families have brought their own – we’re surrounded by booms and sparkles!

Welcome, Duemilladodici – 2012 is so much fun to say in Italian!