Tuesday, August 2, 2011

En Vacanes: Florence, Italy

Most of last week was occupied with our move from Charlottesville to Norfolk, but I'm temporarily escaping from home renovations to finish posting about our travels in Europe last month.  From the Tuscan farm where we stayed for four nights, we drove into the town of Siena know for its medieval cityscape and the running of the Palio horse race.  We spent the morning visiting local food shops on a guided tour by the Tuscan Wine School, sampling salty parma ham, sharp pecorina cheese, and their traditional sweet cake with nuts and honey called panforte.

Parma ham hangs above pecorina rounds in the mercato

From Siena we railed 90 minutes north back to Florence where, for the next four days, we would explore the city's rich history and celebrated art.  One of the highlights was walking up to the Piazzale Michelangelo where we enjoyed a bottle of Cab Franc and a glowing orange hued sunset over the River Arno.

Duomo of Florence in early morning

Rialto Bridge on the River Arno

Piazzale Michelangelo (a recplica of the original "David" statue)

arugula and pesto salad at Trattoria dei Quatrro Leoni 

Grilled mixed vegetables at 4 Leoni

We made our Florentine home away from home at the boutique guest house Casa Howard which is a completely renovated four floor masion house on the bustling Via della Scalla.  It's 15 foot iron gated door is next to the famous 16th century Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy.  Each of the twelve rooms are uniquely and often eccentrically decorated, showcasing the original tile floors and the orginal refurbished bathroom fixtures. 

The Library Guest Room at Casa Howard

Bathroom of Library Guest Room at Casa Howard

Our room (the Black & White Guest Room) at Casa Howard

Original bathtub and tiling in Black & White Guest Room

By our fourth and final day, we were both ready for something other than audio tours and battling hoards of tourists to catch a glimpse of art masterpieces.  We opted for a schedule-free morning wandering the side streets, dipping into antique, art gallery and clothing shops on the other side of the Arno.  My favorite stop was at the design studio and showroom of jeweler Angela Caputi, who has been creating one-of-a-kind costume jewelery in Florence since 1975.  Before finding a few beautiful pieces to take home with us, Angela's sister and business partner gave us a tour of the design rooms where we observed the talented Angela and her design assistants assiduously at work.

I love the bold red high gloss table against the black and white displays

Angela's sister displayed some of the necklaces for me to try on

summer 2011 collection

I loved all these colorful resin braceletes and bangels

Angela and her design assistants at work

The last night in Florence we abandoned our casual clothes for cocktail attire and caught a complimentary car service up to the spectacular Villa San Michele.  Nestled just northwest of downtown Florence in Fiesole, Villa San Michele is the crowned jewel that looks over the sprawling terra cotta roofed city and it's winding Arno River.   The building was originally a 15th century monastery with a decorative Renaissance facade attributed to Michaelangelo.  Our al fresco four-course dinner overlooking Florence was preceded with negroni cocktails in their meticulously manicured gardens. Oh la dolce vita!

Orient Express' Villa San Michele

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