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I really love giving books as Christmas presents, especially books about Italian art, handicrafts, touring, food and wine. And there won’t be any exception to the rule this year, since I’ll be offering to three of my friends the beautiful “Woodworking : Traditional Craft for Modern Living”.

The authors of this book, Andrea Brugi and Samina Langholz, an Italo-Danish husband-and-wife duo, very nicely show how anyone, without the tools or expertise of an artisan, and by blending Tuscan elegance with the sleek lines of Scandinavian design, can turn bits of reclaimed wood into stools, egg cups, clothes racks, and what have you.

Exclusively crafted in their Maremma workshop, Andrea and Samina’s olive wood creations can be found on their website, in selected shops around the world, and on their Instagram.

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You have always wanted to attend Siena’s famous Palio, but never did because of the dense crowds and stifling heat that come with it when it takes place, in the heart of summer?

Well, here’s your chance of a lifetime: a Palio Straordinario, a unique “extraordinary” edition of the far-famed horse race, will be held on Saturday, October 20, 2018, to commemorate the end of World War I.

Due to the early sunset, the trial races, as well as the final race itself, will have a different schedule from their summertime counterparts. Held during the three days leading up to the final Palio – and quite entertaining in their own right –, the trial races will start at 10:30 AM and 5:15 PM. If you don’t like big crowds, or won’t be able to make it to Siena on the 20th, you might want to consider turning up at one of these play-offs.

The final Palio, on October 20th, will start at 5 PM. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be there at least 2 hours early, if you want to be able to get into the Piazza del Campo.

To get a good grasp of what the Palio is all about, and to fully enjoy it, make sure to read about it beforehand. Although the final race only lasts 90 seconds, knowing about its intricate preparation, the historic animosity between the 17 competing teams, and the covert wheeling and dealing going on between the jockeys, will undoubtedly kindle your interest in this great event.

On a final note… The very first Palio Straordinario took place in 1650 in honour of Ferdinando II de’ Medici, grand duke of Tuscany from 1621 to 1670. In more recent times, the extraordinary Palios have celebrated exceptional events, like the First Man on the Moon in 1969, or the turn of the millenium in 2000.

A presto!

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Do you still remember the time when TripAdvisor and the like did not exist? When it was creatures of flesh and blood – and not applications and algorithms – who pointed and steered you, in a confidential tone, to a little-known gem of a restaurant, a picturesque back road or an unfrequented beauty spot?

I had almost forgotten those sweet days of yore when, in August, I was unexpectedly reminded of them in Pontremoli, a little town lying in Northern Tuscany between two small rivers, the Magra and the Fiume Magra. Coming from the Italian words ponte (bridge) and tremare (tremble), the name Pontremoli literally means “trembling bridge”.

I was on my way to the city of Lucca, and just drawing abreast of Pontremoli, when I decided to pull off the highway and stop somewhere for a quick coffee.

After crossing one of Pontremoli’s medieval bridges, I found myself in the town centre, right in the midst of the bustling and colourful Saturday morning market, where I bought a piece of goat cheese. As it often happens in Italy in this kind of situations, the stallholder, a very nice lady, started chatting with me and offering me some friendly “tips”:

“At this time of day, you shouldn’t have a coffee…
— I shouldn’t, really? I chuckled with a smile.
— No! the lady gestured with her head and hands. You should go and join the locals for an aperitivo at Luciano’s, the bar in the piazza…”

So, guess what: this is what I did. I had at Luciano’s an excellent Bianco Oro, a “secret” local aperitif invented by Roberto, the owner of the bar, who said to me that I could not stop in Pontremoli without eating a plate of testaroli al pesto, the local specialty of the Lunigiana region.

So I followed his directions to the Trattoria Norina, a lovely hole-and-corner restaurant overlooking the Magra River, and located at the number 16 of the Via Garibaldi.

While enjoying my meal, I called the owners of the villa in Lucca to tell them that I was being kept back in Pontremoli, and would probably arrive a bit later than expected.

“Take all the time you need, Katharina, said the landlady in a most amicable tone. And since you’re in Pontremoli, make sure you drop by the Caffè degli Svizzeri in the main square to taste their scrumptious local pastries!”

And this is what I did, of course.

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The 2018 architecture biennale runs through to November 25. The program is based on the theme Free Space which has been put forth by Irish architects and Biennale head curators Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell. Free Space has been creatively elaborated in 63 pavilions by teams of architects from all over the world.


The epicentre is the Central Pavilion at the Giardini and from there the Biennale spreads out to the national pavilions and all over the city. For tips on where to start and which installations not to miss out on, read Erica Firpo’s Biennale review on Condé Nast Traveler. (And for savvy contemporary art advice in Italy follow Erica on Instagram).
Finally, to explore the Biennale, bring comfortable shoes. And if you want to avoid too much of a crowd – and the searing heat – visit in autumn. Our favourite month is November – when Venice starts to quiet down, restaurants are less busy and our Ca’nova apartments on the Grand Canal already flaunt low-season pricing.

VENICE BIENNALE ARCHITETTURA 2018 – May 26 to November 25, 2018
More info on the official Biennale website. Tickets 25€. Best book in advance. For more background information about the two Irish architects and their approach to the show read on at The Guardian.

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I have always loved wandering in the aisles of markets, covered or open-air ones.

So when I found out, in Giulia Scarpaleggia’s excellent cookbook, From the Markets of Tuscany, that Livorno’s market is probably the liveliest and most impressive in the whole of Italy, I decided it was high time for a visit.

Known throughout Tuscany for their acute sense of humour, the people from Livorno friskily call their superlative market Il nostro Louvre, “our Louvre”. Erected in the 19th century by an architect inspired by French art styles, the monumental hall of the market has, indeed, the expanse and grandeur of a majestic museum.

But aside from its size, Livorno’s Mercato Centrale is also blessed with other outstanding peculiarities, one of which is the canal that runs from the nearby sea waters up to the gates of the market hall, allowing fishermen to quickly deliver their daily catch. All the ingredients that make up Livorno’s famous fish soup, the cacciucco – which I’m fond of, by the way, – are sold in the stalls of the fishmongers’ hall, along with the inevitable anchovies, found in so many of the city’s culinary staples.

One more word about Giulia’s cookbook, in which you’ll find a meticulously researched compendium of the best food markets in Tuscany, as well as a large number of local recipes making use of the fresh ingredients found at those markets.

Livorno’s market, the official name of which is Mercato delle Vettovaglie, is located downtown on Via Buontalenti, and is open every day of the week, except Sundays, from 7 am to 3 pm. It is also open from 7 pm to 11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, from spring to autumn.

And don’t forget, while you’re in Livorno, to give the delicious cacciucco a try!

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In Italy, the patronymic Corsini has long been a household name, especially in Tuscany and in Florence, where the Corsini princely family has been playing a leading role since the 14th century.

Constructed between 1650 and 1700, the monumental Palazzo Corsini sul Lungarno opens onto the legendary Arno, the river which peacefully meanders through the Renaissance city.

A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to attend a wedding at this unique baroque palace. I still have the best memories of watching the sunset from its large riverfront terrace. As a side note, the Palazzo is generally not open to the public, but private visits can at times be organized via prior reservation.

The Corsini family also owns a second palace in Florence, the Palazzo Corsini al Prato, which is home to the beautiful Corsini al Prato Gardens. Inspired by the first Corsini carnival ever held in Florence in 1680, the New Generation Festival 2018 will turn these premises, from August 29 through September 1st, into a magnificent opera, theatre and music stage for young rising stars. It will be the second edition of an event that was inaugurated last year, and it promises once again to be a spectacular fireworks display of artistic talent.

Every spring, the gardens of the Corsini al Prato also open their gates to a fiera dell’artigianato, a unique artisan market which I told you about in a previous blog post.

You will not be in Tuscany at the right time for any one of the above-mentioned events?… but would still like to rub shoulders with Florence’s high society?… Well, here is some good news: two of our most treasured Trust & Travel estates happen to be owned by the Corsini family: the Barberino and the Marsiliana!

So, one way or the other, you can enjoy a ringside seat…

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