A Tuscan Meal at Alla Vecchia Bettola (Florence, Italy)

Crossing the Arno river to the south side of Florence we discovered a whole new town where tourists were a rare sighting, locals roamed the streets and the real Florence came to life. I myself have been guilty of focusing most of my trips to Florence on the North side where most of the tourist destinations are located. This time, having already checked off all the major tourist  must-do’s including the Uffizzi and Duomo we were ready to see what more Florence had in store. The vast beautiful gardens of Giardino de Boboli and Bardini are a peaceful escape from the heat not to mention extremely beautiful. But as most of the nomad’s journeys, we were in search of a true tuscan meal. Walking around the gardens we eventually made our way to Alla Vechia Bettola, a cozy, home-style tuscan restaurant with a large local following.
22-P1030982We arrived quiet early in the evening. Unbeknownst to us, the restaurant was still closed and the staff were around a large table eating their dinner prior to opening. We walked in on them feasting away at the same delicious food that would later be served to us.  We apologized for the intrusion in the little Italian we had picked up through our journey and turned around and walked back outside. We sat waiting for them to open their doors. Embarrassed to be the first eager diners at the restaurant I pointed to my belly and attempted to explain that we were very hungry. Minutes later a gentle server came to welcome us in. The old tuscan man and wife team were there chatting away with every customer that walked in the door. Most diners appeared to be local regulars. 11-P1030949 The restaurant filled up within minutes making us thankful for having arrived early. We quickly ordered and were served with glasses of the house wine. I really wish I could have ordered everything off the menu as everything that came out of the kitchen looked divine. But sadly there is only so much a hungry duo can eat. 12-P1030950 15-P103095713-P1030953 14-P1030954We started off with a prosciutto and melon salad to start.   It was the real thing. Fresh pieces of lemon and local cured prosciutto. For our main entrees we ordered the cheese penne and macaroni with wild boar. Both dishes were absolutely amazing and the closest thing to real italian cooking that the two of us will ever get to. Our meal was so good that the Count considered ordering a second meal and when realizing that wasn’t a realistic option suggested we go back the next day before leaving Florence.

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I hesitate to recommend this restaurant only because it is so good and still remains out of most tourist’s reach. But if you are a big foodie like me and are trying to explore true tuscan dining, Alla Vecchia Bettola will not disappoint.




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Where to Eat a Florentine Steak in Florence (Italy)

Florence is a citywide outdoor museum which means tourists are aplenty. The large number of tourist means many mediocre restaurants exist where the waitstaff and kitchen staff are  mainly underpaid illegal immigrants and Italians are hard to come by. Food at these restaurants tend to be pre-made, frozen and generally quite bad. Unfortunately, after a long day of sightseeing it is hard to avoid these restaurants but here are a few pointers:  restaurants where the waiters stand outside waiving you in, restaurants with billboards and photos of the food, restaurants where no one speaks Italian. In the short time we spent in Florence I decided that our trip should include a trip to a Florentine steakhouse where we could experience a taste of a true  bistecca alla fiorentina. With recommendations from the wonderful concierge at the JK Place Firenze we walked around the corner to Buca Lapi.  The restaurant was literally around the corner from our hotel yet we ended up getting lost in the intertwining narrow streets, almost got run over my some motorbikes and finally ended up where we started and decided to use our very expensive GPS to lead us the 10 meter walk to the restaurant.

08-P103078003-P1030750 Buca Lapi is the oldest Florentine restaurant housed in Palazzo Antinori’s wine cellars underground with the dining room located in the actual cellar and covered wall to wall with old and new tourist advertisements. Our server was fluent in English and was very friendly and helpful with the menu. All other customers also happened to be english speaking tourists, making me doubt our choice. Yet, when I saw the steak being cut up for the table next to us, all second-guessing was laid to rest.  We ordered two pasta dishes to start including a spinach and ricotta gnocchi and a pappardelle with braised rabbit and porcini mushrooms. We were both filled by the end of our first plate and were ready to call it a night but we had already ordered the steak.  04-P1030751 Minutes later a man was cutting up a large piece of steak for us that really looked like it could have been  a large piece of a whole cow. It was huge. Did I mention that the Count does not like steak? He is just not a meat and potatoes kind of guy and likes his meal filled with different flavors and spices. Besides his dislike for meat he was not a big fan of the price tag on this piece of Florentine steak, which cost approximately 70 euros. 07-P1030759 06-P1030762We ordered the steak medium rare and were served a meat that was quite raw, bloody and juicy. Even though I am a lover of meat, it was even hard for me to swallow all that meat. When it was time for dessert, we had no room left and decided to finish off with the steak. We could only get through one quarter of the steak and the rest was wasted. What a true waste.
02-P1030745If you have a large budget and want to eat a good steak than I would recommend  Buca Lapi however, there are many cheaper and better places to eat good Italian food in Florence of which Buca Lapi is not.  The locals will not spend more than 20 euros on a good meal and that includes wine. We experienced this on another night when we found a local restaurant (see post) where the food was finger licking good, and our entire bill came to 30 euros. In fact, it was so good that the Count wanted to go back the next day for lunch before we took off to Tuscany.  If you do decide to go Buca Lapi definitely share the meals.


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Luxury at its finest at the Il Salviatino (Fiesole, Italy)

No matter how many times people advise you to not make a trip to Italy in the scorching heat of August where only tourists roam the streets, somehow you will make the same mistake over and over again. Simply because you are a tourist. We arrived in Florence on one of the hottest days in August, where the sun beamed down its rays with force and might resulting in empty streets. Even the tourists were hiding somewhere. We could not find them. Florence seemed like a deadtown. I was shocked. The Florence I am used to is busy with a certain enigmatic energy flowing through its history-ridden alleys. Our stay inside the town was short and sweet. The heat only allowed so many tour line ups. Luckily, I had predicted this heat and had booked us a mini-retreat in the nearby town of Fiesole at the world class resort of Il Salviatino where we could use the suns ray to our advantage.


Location: This ravishing  luxurious 15th century villa is set atop the lush hills of Fiesole overlooking Florence and the rolling Tuscan landscape. The green landscape automatically made it a few degrees cooler than Florence. It is only a short ride away from the center of Florence making it a great option for those wishing to tour Florence while getting a feel for Tuscan living.


Decor: The hotel boasts 19th-century frescoes, antique bath tubs and valuable artwork. The outdoor dining, Italian rose garden and fountains give it a serene and romantic atmosphere. On the eve of our arrival, a band arrived playing their instruments in the Italian garden where guests and locals drank wine and soaked in the beautiful energy of the moment. The villa itself is as breathtaking on the outside as it is on the inside making me wish that I could have had my dream wedding there in another lifetime. (See video: Jazz in the Gardens)



Rooms: The villa has 45 rooms including 22 private suites with stunning views. The rates typically include breakfast served in the gardens (in the summertime). Handmade authentic Tuscan linen,  selected artwork and the finest leathers all add to make each one of these suites and rooms a truly unique experience.  All rooms include complimentary wi-fi, rain showers, nespresso coffee machines, safes and complimentary water.


Spa: Spa Il Salviatino is operated by Florentine perfumier and cosmetologist Dr Vranjes. There are five treatment rooms set amid rolling Italian gardens, specializing in aromatherapeutic relaxation and anti-ageing treatments.


Dining: The villa has two separate restaurants, Le Serre, a more formal dining experience laid amidst a cozy room set with candlelit tables, or La Terrazza, where you can sit inside our outside.

  • The food was a modern take on traditional Tuscan cuisine. Favorites included the ricotta and spinach gnudi with sage butter. What was once a historic orchard has now been devoted to an organic vegetable gardenmaking the fruit and vegetable offerings as fresh as they can get.


Service: While all staff at Il Salviatino were courteous and extremely professional it was not the friendliest of hotels we stayed at. However, after having spent a short amount of time there I see that it is the guests manner that has perhaps  led to this. Staying at the Il Salviatino is not an everyday affair, only those with deep pockets can afford to spend more than a few nights there in the summertime. Unfortunately, sometimes guests with deep pockets have a sense of entitlement and speak down to guests. Some of which we witnessed at this hotel. The staff in return have a very withdrawn demeanor which can come across as borderline unfriendly.


Pool: Open between April and October, the terraced pool area has three heated, cascading infinity pools filled with salty mineral water, overlooking a green valley and surrounded by scented roses and lavender.


Amenities: Spa, gym, library, 12 acres of landscaped parkland, free WiFi throughout, free shuttle service to Florence. In rooms: flatscreen TV, Nespresso coffee machines, minibar with complimentary mineral water; iPod docks available on request. Every bathroom has LED-lit rain showers with seats, and some have a Jacuzzi or antique bath tub. All guests are assigned a dedicated ‘ambassador’ to look after them during their stay.


Address: Il Salviatino is located at Via del Salviatino, 12, Florence, Tuscany, 50137

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A Medieval Feast in Montisi (Province of Siena, Italy)

In my previous post I mentioned how our trip through Italy was left up to the stars and in the end we ended up driving through Tuscany, staying on an olive farm in an olive farmer’s home in Castelmuzio and drowning in local wine at a medieval jousting competition in Montisi.

On the eve of our arrival in Montisi we were invited to feast with the locals on the eve of the jousting competition.  Montisi is a small walled hill town on the outskirts of Siena.  Yet, in this small town there are four distinct contradas: San Martino, Castello, Torre and Piazza. Each contrada hosts a four course dinner prepared by the towns grandmothers shared alongside endless bottles of wine and the local contrada’s chant. Walking through town I felt like I was stepping on the scene of Romeo and Juliet. It was exactly how a medeviel town should look in my mind. All along the narrrow streets were picnic tables topped with bottles of local wine. Everyone was wearing their contrada’s colors and flags. We sat next to a group of locals from another neighbouring town in the Piazza contrada section of town. One out of the four of them spoke broken english and the rest was left up to communicating the good old way, through wine, food and hand signals.



The dinner was prepared in the local square by a handful of grandmothers with the assistance of many. Large pots of pasta was served to us in plates and the grandmas walked around offering second servings sometimes forcefully reminding me of my own grandmother insisting we eat seconds.



Boundless bottles of red wine later and representatives of our contrada all dressed up in green and orange started walking toward our table asking us to pledge our allegiance to their contrada alongside a christening with the local red wine. About half a bottle of wine was poured down my throat and I can now claim that I am an honorary member of the Piazza contrada for life.


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By the end of the dinner, the Count and I were on first name basis with our Italian comarades and somehow the communication skills flowed with ease. It seemed their English and our Italian had improved tremendously making me believe that the secret to speaking another language is a few bottles of wine.

The following day the four contradas paraded through town and to a field for the jousting competition where the Castello contrada won and celebrated again that evening in town with more red wine and good food.

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A Day in Pienza (Tuscany, Italy)

Continuing our journey in the Tuscan countryside we drove from our base on an olive farm in Montalcino to Pienza in the province of Siena. The town was declared a UNESCO world heritage sight in 1996 and the Val d’Orcia on the list of UNESCO’s World Cultural Landscapes. Pienza is located between the wine producing towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano.  Pienza is famous for its Pecorino cheese and it’s model Renaissance architecture.  And so for those of us who love history, architecture and food, Pienza is an Italian dreamer’s heaven. The town is located on a hill overlooking the rolling Tuscan valley, a breathtaking sight on its own.  A road on the south-side of the town walls allows you to take in the breathtaking views and perhaps enjoy a picnic with some local pecorino cheese and wine. We spent the day walking around the small town and its narrow labyrinth of roads filled with cheese shops. All that hunger inducing smell of cheese led us to a tiny restaurant in a side street where we enjoyed one of the best and most authentic meals during our stays in Italy (see post).


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A True Tuscan Meal at La Buca di Enea in Pienza (Tuscany, Italy)

Our journey through Italy was not as thoroughly planned as other portions of our trip. I specifically made it that way so as to have the option to make a decision last minute on a whim. After spending three hot days in Florence and Fiesole we were ready to make a move and had 5 days to discover anywhere in Italy we wanted before returning to our planned itinerary in Rome. Predictably, we rented a car and made our way south through the scenic region of Tuscany.


With no destination in mind we took the suggestions of a fellow international foodie based out of Tuscany and ended up in Montalcino in Southern Tuscany. Luckily enough we made it in time for the region’s jousting competition dating back to medieval days. Ms. Foodie International was a wealth of knowledge and introduced us to her neighbors, local olive farmers who generously welcomed us into their home on an olive farm. The experience was truly out of this world and really confirmed my premonition that last minute trip planning can lead to amazing adventures.


This post is dedicated to what I can only describe as being one of the best meals in Italy. In the UNESCO World Heritage town of Pienza the smell of pecorino cheese was overpowering, great for cheesemongers like me, not so much for those who aren’t a fan. Many recommendations were made for where to eat and buy some locally made products. However, with the tiny streets and unfamiliar roads (and no knowledge of Italian) we could not find the recommended restaurant and had no reservations for the other, however, we found a place that would go down in our foodie history books.


La Buca di Enea di Enea was a tiny hole in the wall treasure ran by a husband and wife team with the best most hospitable service and down right delicious food. And it is is found only a few steps off of the main street of Pienza, Corso Il Rossellini, on the quaint side street of Via della Buca. 


The menu was extensive and offered many traditional tuscan dishes including a variety of meals made with the local pecorino cheese. We ordered a cured meat tray of bresaolo served with shaved pecornio and arugula. So fresh and extremely good. 
04-DSC_0459_2 05-DSC_0460_2 Next, I ordered my all time favorite Italian dish discovered in our very own Philadelphia: Cinghiale con Pappardelle. The meat was cooked in an aromatic range of spices making each mouthful a bite of heaven. The pappardelle cooked to perfection. I will forever dream of this meal. 06-DSC_0464_2 07-DSC_0465_2 Next was the regional specialty, baked pecorino topped with pine nuts, walnuts and honey. What a simple yet beautiful dish and one that stayed in our memory throughout our European journey. If only I could recreate this meal. Sadly I know that in order to do so I will need to take a trip back to Pienza for only those local ingredients and the love and passion of the local people can lead to such amazing and memorable flavors. 08-DSC_0469_2 09-DSC_0471_2

We left the restaurant completely fulfilled and felt like we had a true tuscan meal. Staying on a tuscan oliver farmer’s farm, eating in the kitchens of locals and driving through the vast beautiful land that makes up Tuscany we knew that we had made the right choice to make Tuscany our destination.  12-DSC_0475_2 13-DSC_0476_2



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