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Tuscan Towns


Most tourists heading for Tuscany visit Florence, Siena, or Pisa. But Tuscany has more to offer than the great cities; smaller and less well known towns show a different side of Tuscan life and have their own, individual characters.

Lucca, a tiny cathedral city in the plains of the Arno valley, is still surrounded by its high defensive walls. It is a treasurehouse of Romanesque art; the cathedral contains the Volto Santo, an ancient crucifix that drew pilgrims from all over Italy, while San Frediano has a massive carved font showing the story of Moses. Winding streets of old houses in pale orange and pink end in towering white marble church facades, and the massive brick Tower of the Guinigi family dominates the east of the city.

Barga is a short bus ride away from Lucca, but a more different town can’t be imagined; it’s high up in the foothills of the Apuan Alps, which in the middle ages were full of wolves and bandits. Steep streets and narrow alleys run upwards to the gleaming white church. Barga’s food comes from the mountains ñ chestnuts, wild boar, and forest mushrooms ñ and even when the sun shines, it’s cooler than the cities of the plain below.

Another city with rough edges is Volterra, sited dramatically on a rocky ridge, overlooking untamed, arid country; it feels a little like Tuscany’s Wild West. Here the Etruscans operated mines, and the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum contains many examples of their metalwork, as well as a large collection of funerary urns, many with uncannily vivid portraits of the deceased.

In keeping with Volterra’s rough exterior, its fine Renaissance fortress has become a state prison, but it springs one surprise on the visitor. It now contains a highly rated restaurant where the cooks and waiters are all prisoners. Bookings need to be made well in advance ñ and there are strict security checks on the way to the table.

Chiusi is another hill town with Etruscan roots, and is surrounded by Etruscan tombs, many exhibits from which are now in the town’s museum. Its most interesting exhibit, though, is a set of tunnels under the city, known as the ‘labyrinth’, but in fact dug by the Etruscans for drainage.

Some of Tuscany’s towns take you back to the Middle Ages. Monteriggioni, not far from Siena, is perhaps the most perfect example of the Tuscan walled hill town, its majestic walls and towers dominating the valley below. Inside, though, it’s nowadays little more than a village, with attractive gardens and elegant Renaissance houses.

But if it’s towers you want, visit San Gimignano. Its medieval noble families feuded perpetually, and each family built its own fortress; fourteen of the towers still survive. The town’s main church has Renaissance frescoes, and there’s a good gallery of Renaissance paintings. Wine lovers will want to track down the local vernaccia wine, crisp and dry.

Further south, in an area little known by tourists, Pitigliano and Sovana are two ancient towns linked by an Etruscan chariot route which can still be followed across the plateau. Pitigliano, a town built in creamy stone on a ridge above the valley of the Fiora, is known as Tuscany’s Jerusalem, since it provided a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in the Papal States; the synagogue is open to visitors, though few Jews now live in the town. Many houses in Pitigliano have wine cellars that were dug by the Etruscans, while Sovana has well preserved Etruscan tombs.

An unusually complete Renaissance town is Pienza, named after its founder, Pope Pius II. It is a logical planned town, centred on its main square with the cathedral, the palace of the pope’s family, town hall and bishop’s palace, each taking one side of the square. The architecture is pure and delicate in style, and the whole town seems to be a perfect miniature ñ it was hardly more than a village when Pius decided to rebuild it.

Cortona shows a different side of the Renaissance with paintings by Fra Angelico, and two elegant small Renaissance churches. The town, though, is medieval with its steep narrow streets and tall houses perched on a steep hillside, and medieval customs still survive ñ there’s an annual archery contest in June, and processions in medieval costume in May.

Florence may be a honey pot for culture vultures, but Tuscany’s smaller towns can offer just as many interesting cultural experiences, in a more relaxed and less crowded atmosphere.


Agrigento, Italy – the Ancient Greek City


Built on a cliff on the south coast of Sicily,
Agrigento is an ancient Greek city, which also
carries the names of Agrigentum, Acragas or
Akragas. Being surrounded by two rivers
called the Hypsas and Akragas made it
easier to defend the city in war time.

Today, the town is located 230 miles above sea
level on a hill which runs parallel to the Ionian
coast. The remains of the old city still has a
medieval structure with steep narrow winding
streets, an extraordinary place to see!

A Brief History

Agrigento was founded with the name of Akragas
by the inhabitants of Gela in the 6th century BC.
The city then became a very important centre
in Magna Grecia. The spectacular and massive
remains are still visible near the town.
In 406 BC, the town was destroyed by Carthage,
but rose again. Approximately two centuries
later, the city was under the rule of Rome.
After the fall of the Empire, Agrigento was
taken over by the Goths and then the Byzantines
in the 6th century. Under the rule of the
Byzantines, the city declined.

In 829, the Arabs took over, destroyed the city,
and rebuilt it on higher ground.

Ancient Remains

Several ancient remains of the city date back to
the 5th century BC, including the temple of
Concordia (Roman goddess of harmony), the
temple of Zeus (leader of the gods and god
of the sky and thunder in Greek mythology),
the temple of Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules in
Roman mythology). The temple of Concordia
is one of the finest structures symbolizing
Greek Classicism. The temples were strategically
built on the peak of several hills around the
city, which dominate the valley famed as
“Valle dei Templi”. In the spring, this
valley is known for a pleasant scent of
orange flowers which are called “zagare”

Interesting Facts

Agrigento is located in a province along with
two very important towns known as Licata
and Naro. Naro still contains well-preserved
catacombs (also known as caves for burial)
where the earliest Christians hid to worship.

The poor village near Agrigento called the
Contrada (defined as Chaos), is where Luigi
Pirandello was born. He was probably the
most famous Italian dramatist. He was also
a novelist, and won the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1934.

Interesting Places to See

The Doric Temples in the Valle dei Templi,
which date back to the 6th and 5th centuries
BC, are ancient monuments dedicated to Hercules,
Olympian Jupiter, Juno, Castor, Pollux and
Demeter. These monuments have been amazingly
preserved and are worth touring. The Tomb
or Terone, the Oratory of Phalaris, the church
of S. Nicola from the 13th century and also the
14th century Duomo are also spectacular sites.

Economy of Agrigento

A traditional agriculture of olives, almonds and
sheep is the basis of economy for this city, whose
population is around 55,000. Tourism is a great
contributor to the city due to its significant
archeological heritage and the coast nearby.

For someone who’s interested in learning about
Greek history and mythology, Agrigento is a
great place to visit. History is preserved for
all to see.

Written by Candice Pardue


Italy and its food are on top of the world.


What is the best restaurant on the planet? According to San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants its Osteria Francescana.

The honor is well deserved. Chef Massimo Bottura and his phenomenal team have worked together for many years with a humble attitude, a penchant for funky creativity and natural talent.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Osteria Francescana with one of Le Baccanti’s clients. I fell in love. I had just experienced tasting the best Tagaliatella al Ragù of my life. Soon I discovered other creations on the menu to admire like the Croccantino of Fois Gras with balsamic vinegar heart.

A year later I was invited to London to introduce the new Cecchi Winery Super Tuscan wine “Coevo” to the British press and some MWs. I had six wines starting with a 1989 vintage to a new release and Massimo crafted a dish to pair with each wine. People were in awe for his laid-back approach and high level performance. The same night we were both meant to attend a gala dinner. I decided to sneak out to catch up with some London friends at a dim sum house.  An hour and a few pints in a man with a black hoodie walked in the door. He goes straight to the counter to order almost every dim sum item on the menu. When he turned around I saw that it was Massimo! Over a ton of dumplings, he explained his idea of making a “cotechino” – a Modena special New Year’s Eve fresh pork sausage and lentils stuffed raviolo. His idea became a reality and what resulted was an Italian dim sum dumpling!

Last April during my visit to Osteria Francescana Massimo was in the most motivated mood. When were leaving the restaurant after a delicious meal he told me that “ We are living in a great moment, we are making history here.” He hugged me and as he dashed off he said, “I gotta go talk to the priest about the mensa for the homeless in Modena!”

I can’t hide how proud I feel for an Italian chef the caliber of Massimo to receive this well-deserved recognition. A toast to Massimo and his team. And to the long line of guests waiting to get a table I say, don’t give up. It is worth the wait!

Should you not be able to make it while you are visiting, don’t worry because on the 50 Best list there are another three great Italian restaurants: in 17th place is Enrico Crippa of Piazza Duomo on Alba, in 39th place is Le Calandre, and in 46th place is Combal Zero in Rivoli. Aside from these, there is an infinite list of Michelin star restaurants and old school Trattoria where you can feed your tummy, soul, and mind with delicious bites!

Here is the list of winning restaurants:

Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain

Eleven Madison Park, New York City

Central, Lima, Peru

Noma, Copenhagen

Mirazur, Menton, France

Mugaritz, Errenteria, Spain

Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan

Steirereck, Vienna, Austria

Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain

D.O.M., São Paulo, Brazil

Quintonil, Mexico City

Maido, Lima, Peru

The Ledbury, London, UK

Alinea, Chicago

Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Spain

Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy

White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia

L’Arpege, Paris, France

Amber, Hong Kong

Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain

Test Kitchen, Cape Town, South Africa

Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand

Le Bernardin, New York City

Pujol, Mexico City

The Clove Club, London, UK

Saison, San Francisco

Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Tickets, Barcelona, Spain

Astrid y Gaston, Lima, Peru

RyuGin, Tokyo, Japan

Restaurant Andre, Singapore

Attica, Melbourne, Australia

Restaurant Tim Raue, Berlin, Germany

Vendome, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

Borago, Santiago, Chile

Nahm, Bangkok, Thailand

De Librije, Zwolle, the Netherlands

Le Calandre, Italy

Relae, Copenhagen, Denmark

Fäviken, Sweden

Ultraviolet, Shanghai, China

Biko, Mexico City

Estela, New York

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK

Combal Zero, Rivoli, Italy

Schloss Schauenstein, Austria

Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocatino Hills, New York

QuiQue Dacosta, Denia, Spain

Septime, Paris, France


Spiritual Guards by Jan Fabre


The works of Jan Fabre will be on display in Florence until October 2, 2016. The exhibition is promoted by the Comune di Firenze and is taking place in three impressive locations throughout the city.

Jan Fabre is described as one of the most innovative and important figures on the international contemporary art scene, who uses his art to depict and embody the power of imagination.

This is the first time that a living artist will have his art exhibited in three venues of outstanding and historical importance at the same time.

Around 100 of his works will be on display including bronze and wax sculptures, works made of the iridescent cases of the scarab beetle and performance films ripe with humanity and universalism.

Two new works specifically created for the occasion will join the open-air museum of Piazza della Signoria that will temporarily host the monumental work ‘Searching for Utopia’ and the smaller ‘The man who measures the clouds’ that proudly stands between copies of Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s Judith outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

The second location is the Palazzo Vecchio featuring a series of sculptures that will interact with the frescoes and artifacts tat are housed in the Quartiere di Eleonora, Sala dell’Udienza and Sala dei Gigli, rooms that are open to the public.

The third location is the Forte Belvedere which is the thematic heart of the Spiritual Guards exhibition, showcasing roughly 60 works of art.

The Fortress was built to defend Florence from external attack, but also to protect the Medici family in troubling times and was, therefore, a stronghold for both external and internal defense, highlighting the need for protection and vulnerability. Seven bronze scarabs are placed on the fort’s outlook posts, which represent angels of metamorphosis and guardians who symbolize the transition between earthly dimension and the afterlife with their ceaseless movement.

Continuing on the first floor of the villa, open to the public for the first time in many years are a series of was sculpture and films of the artist’s performances.  These works of art all being in the magnificent setting that is Florence.

“The exhibition’s motto and device, Spiritual Guards, should be interpreted as an encouragement to live a heroic life, be it in war or unarmed in defense of the imagination and of beauty.”