Friday, May 25, 2012

Piccolomini Garden and Palazzo.... a Renaissance concept linking city and country

It is here in in Pienza in the Palazzo Piccolomini, standing on the piano nobile loggia that Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini , aka Pope Pius II ( 1458), went for contemplation and to look out over the valley of his youth and his giardino segreto, or secret garden.

Framing the landscape

Standing here, on this loggia, one feels lost in a moment in time, when a Renaissance mind thought beyond creating a beautiful formal garden. The big idea here was to link the palazzo to the garden and extend the vision out to the landscape beyond, in this case the breathtaking Tuscan country side of the Val d' Orcia.
The sandstone columns of the loggia frame the landscape that reaches as far as the eye can see to Mount Amiata.

The Piccolomini Palazzo and garden are in Pienza,
an incredible Tuscan hill town ( more on this soon). During our stays in Italy, James and I call the small Medieval Umbrian town of Panicale home. Panicale is only a short distance to the Tuscan border, so visits to places like Siena, Montepulciano and Pienza are easy and frequent. We are always drawn to Pienza probably because it is so rich in Renaissance architecture, it is famous for crafting the best pecorino cheese, it has good places for lunch, and if that is not enough it is simply beautiful. Oh, and I forgot to mention, inside the town walls there are very few cars to dodge.
On this visit our plan was to revisit the Piccolomini Palazzo so we could see the garden once again. This of course, meant taking the tour, which was
much more interesting in the past when presented by a guide rather than the new method with the dreadful audio device.... entering library, press option number 4. Tedious and robotic without a chance to ask questions.
Oh well, enough about that, we are here to look at the garden.

The inner courtyard of the palazzo is similar to the design of the outer loggias. The entrance to the garden opens from here. Reveal and conceal.... the garden really starts here inside the palazzo courtyard where one gets the first glimpse through the arcade and door. Step out the door onto an arcade of columns, where the secret garden unfolds. The central axis leads to an arch at the back wall, but before looking at what is beyond, we first walked through the garden. It is actually quite compact yet in scale with the palazzo..... it is a phenomenal concept and use of space.

Standing close to the center of the garden of evergreens and boxwood hedges is a look back at the palazzo from the garden.
There are three open loggias on the front of the palazzo that look over this formal garden also referred to as giardino pensile....a hanging garden.

Time for a look through the arch on the back wall of the hanging garden. A view out over this Tuscan landscape, as planned by Aeneas S. Piccolomini...Pius II. The greens of the garden are cool and serene....very ordered. The landscape beyond speaks to agriculture and to the wild.

Pienza is built on a hill so the view of the Val d'Orcia is commanding from here, with cultivated fields, grassy slopes with grazing sheep, outcroppings of crete, olive orchards on hillsides, farms and lines of cypress trees along dirt roads.
So here we have Renaissance vision of palazzo ( city), garden, and countryside all joined into one uninterrupted vision .

Saturday, May 5, 2012

da Masolino

James is contemplating the menu that hangs outside the door at
Masolino's Ristorante. I think that he is trying to convince himself to order something other than Bruna's famous Fararona, the guinea hen that Masolino's is known for. He also loves the sassolino, which is a small gnocchi.
I can't help myself, I always order pasta here. At times I also have a secondo, a second course, yet sometimes after the pasta I just have salad or a contorno, a side dish. My problem, is I always want to order everything on the menu.

The Belfico family are the family behind this restaurant for 59 years. There are always smiles and delicious food and wine to be found here in this traditional cucinacasareccia (home cooking) Umbrian restaurant. This is a warm, friendly and inviting place. Whenever we first arrive in Panicale, we cannot wait to drop in on them to say, "Ciao Andrea, Ciao Stefania, Ciao Bruna...Sonia...Luisa, Ciao tutti.", and of course, to see how everyone is.

If the weather is warm we like to sit on the balcony, but the interior has warm and lovely glow. So what is on the stove tonight?

It's fava bean season, so the special tonight is Tagliatelle with fava beans, pecorino and pancetta, of course,we both order this. Heavenly!
This combination of flavors and textures is simply wonderful. The fresh and tender earthy beans with local pecorino paired with the slightly smoky flavor of Umbrian pancetta all tossed together with perfectly cooked handmade pasta, is a dining must this time of year.
Tonight we each order a second course, James a grilled filet of beef with lardo and truffles.
For me, beef as well, tagliatta with arugula and parmesan.
The wine Andrea selected for us was a Montefalco Rosso.
We will dream of this in the months to come.

Stefania makes an incredible tiramisu. The dessert I ordered was brought over, kindly, with two spoons. As soon as James saw the tiramisu and recalled just how good it is, he ordered his own. Whew! I thought for a moment I was going to have to share this with him.
After we finished our desserts, Andrea sent over 2 glasses of Vin Santo.
Drinking Vin Santo after a perfect meal while sitting on the balcony of Masolino's with a soft warm breeze and the sun setting..........
Does it get any better than this?

On the balcony at Masolino's we enjoy the sun setting over Umbria.
Buona notte tutti.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Stop in the Morning...Bar Gallo.....Due cappuccini, per favore

The day starts Bar Gallo with cappuccino, and sometimes a cornetto con marmellata. Aldo and Daniela own Bar Gallo and serve an incredibly good cup of coffee, and an enormous amount of hospitality. Daniela always gives my cappuccino a sprinkle of cacao!

Bar Gallo is the center of activity here in Panicale that goes well beyond a cup of coffee or a cone of gelato. People are here are neighbors, catching up on important news as well as much chiacchiere (chit chat). Visitors , like us, are made to feel welcomed. There is something about this town that embraces you, that draws you in.....and Aldo's is part of the spirit and soul of Panicale.

Aldo is the source for information here. He has told us about festivals, written out maps with directions and given us tips on extraordinary place to paint and draw in the area, places that we never would have found on our own. In the bar, we ( especially James) have an opportunity to practice speaking and listening to Italian..........and getting our bad pronunciations politely corrected. Believe me, we will take all the help we can get!

Often in the morning we find our new friends Katia and Massimo here with their family. They too have been very kind and have introduced us to many people on this visit. Grazie!

Bar Gallo is a lively place.

Bar Gallo may be our first stop of the day, but then sometimes before dinner, whether dining in or out, we stop in for an apertivo.
For me that might be an Americano, made from that wonderful red colored Campari, and for James una birra grande alla spina (beer on tap). Aldo provides a light snack, sometimes chips, and other times a bruschetta. Yesterday, a bruschetta pomodoro, and another with tonna and carciofi( tuna,that was like a pesto with fresh artichoke on toasted bread.). Simple goodness.
Yesterday, we joined a group of sitting outside at the bar
under the awning in the Piazza Umberto enjoy the late Umbrian afternoon.....early evening with the sun still in the sky.
Really, what could be better?

Now it is time to go prepare dinner.
Tomorrow morning we will return to Aldo's for coffee
and greeted with " Ciao James, Ciao Elizabeth"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Festa di Lavora

Today is Festa di Lavora in Italy.........May Day.
A day to celebrate the worker.

Umbria is often called the "green heart of Italy". Here we are surrounded by agriculture. The fields are covered in crops of grains and lentils, the hillsides are terraced with olive trees and grape vines. It is all so beautiful, and all so much work for the farmers.
So, today is a day we can celebrate all their labor and achievement.

The first time we were in Panicale it was quite a surprise to see all the tractors driving through the Porta Perugina and into the piazza. Rain was predicted for today but the sun came out to shine on everyone.

Our best wishes to all the workers of the world.

Buon Festa di Lavora.
Happy May Day.