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It's Fair Time in Tuscany

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From Impruneta to Greve, October is the time for Fairs here in Tuscany. And ooooh they are one of my favourite memories from growing up here and still one of our favourite things to experience. The Fiera di San Luca in Impruneta this year is 14-22 October and is one of the oldest livestock fairs in Europe. An ancient trading post between itinerant shepherds selling their livestock and the local village selling items needed for the journey such as shoes and food, this is one of the most ancient and culturally rich Fairs to be found. 

In the meantime, the Pagliaio Fair in Greve on the fourth Saturday of the month, is a bonanza of organic goodies, straw baskets and ceramics. 

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There's nothing like a fair to immerse you in the local vibe of a place. Stalls parade their wares celebrating all that is local, while wafts of salami or roast chestnuts entice you along. For a child this colourful display of nougat (Torrone) of various shapes sizes and flavours, chocolates, and warm cialdine, lit up by warm bare bulbs deep into the autumn evenings, has an unforgettable magic about it.

As Leo Codacci wrote in 'The Most Beautiful Town in the World, "the lives of the people of Impruneta revolved around ‘La Fiera’. They would wait until The Fair to ask their Madonna for an indulgence; to take a spin on the Merry-Go-Round; to profess their love to their beloved or to buy a new umbrella." 

What more can you say?

 

 

 

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Our Torre di Sopra Guide to Chianti

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Chianti is on our doorstep, so we put together a little roaming guide to where to go or avoid if you want to explore one of the most beautiful parts of Italy. 

We left Torre di Sopra via Antella, past the hospital, and exited the roundabout in the direction of Grassina /Greve. This road is the 'Chiantigiana', the old road from Florence to Siena, which meanders its way through the soft, vine covered, rolling hills of Chianti. After Chiocchio (where the modern church with a ‘sail’ as the steeple was designed by the late architect and former owner of Torre di Sopra, Bruno Sacchi), the views are spectacular.

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Greve, the capital of Chianti (20 mins), with its charming, porticoed and triangular piazza, is filled on Saturday mornings by the market. Here,  over the years, I have bought baskets, chickens, spices, and much, much more...

Under the portico is the renowned butcher Falorni, whose salame with truffle makes my mouth water. Nearby is a tiny bread shop, so popular and so small that you need to take a numbered ticket and queue on the steps outside. There is also a pretty basket shop with cascading heaps of every sort of basket weave out there.

The next village is Panzano. (+ 20 mins) The market here is on Sunday, buzzing in a small piazza, with a queue already forming outside the renowned butcher Cecchini whose 'Bistecca alla Fiorentina' is famous. Cleverly he also sells charcoal for the barbecue.

Leaving Panzano the road goes through more wonderful country, dotted with castles and towers (of the same period as Torre di Sopra) as the area was much fought after by Siena and Florence in the middle ages.

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Castellina in Chianti (+ 20 mins)

Castellina is another fortified town on a hill top with charming shops selling interesting tourist items, salame, pasta, herbs, oil and of course wine. There are several restaurants and we ate at Sotto il Portico where we had delicious and reasonably priced lunch.
This town is strategically important as it is the crossing point for the North-South 'Chiantigiana' Florence to Siena road, and the East-West 429 links to Poggibonsi and Montevarchi on the A1.

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After fifteen minutes on this road you come to Radda in Chianti, a small fortified village with stylish shops and a specialised Bicycle clothes Shop selling memorabilia for the renowned L’ Eroica bike race. L’Eroica is the annual bicycle race run mainly on ’white’ roads, on period bicycles, while wearing the traditional woollen shirts. This year the race takes place on 1st October. 

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In easy reach of Radda is the tiny fortified village of Borgo di Volpaia (+ 20 mins) where there are several restaurants and one wine shop, and Badia di Coltibuono, which has a Badia (abbey) with walls the have been stripped of plaster to reveal regular blocks of alberese and pietra serena stone.

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 The pretty restaurant nearby, with a fantastic view,  gave us a lovely little lunch.

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We found Gaiole In Chianti disappointing, so suggest you drive south on the 408 to visit Castello di Brolio, a huge fortified castle, with a delicious Osteria and well stocked gift/book shop.

Continuing south in the direction of Castelnuovo Berandenga, is the Borgo San Felice, a beautiful and immaculate borgo run by Relais & Chateaux, where we ate (twice) and also saw a special showing of the film 'Art Addict' about Peggy Guggenheim. 

Also of note in the area south of Radda is the Restaurant Malborgetto at Lecchi.  Up a narrow road to Lecchi, this small family run restaurant with courtyard dining, enthusiastic and professional owner/chef and his wife, gave us a wonderful meal with a fresh take on the typical Chianti menu, including a spectacular plum liqueur. We strongly recommend this place for quality, charm and price.

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To return to Torre di Sopra there are three options: either go to Siena and take the Superstrada to Florence, then the A1 motorway from 'Impruneta' to 'Firenze Sud'. Or go east to Montevarchi and take the A1 motorway north direction Bologna and exit at 'Firenze Sud'. Alternatively, trickle home through Chianti and enjoy the ride….

 

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Local Cycling Heroes: Gino Bartali and L'Eroica, Italy's Retro Bike Race

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Local Cycling Heroes: Gino Bartali and L'Eroica, Italy's Retro Bike Race

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We're stepping into autumn at Torre di Sopra, preparing for olive picking, anticipating new wine just round the corner (in time and geography), and, with August's heat behind us, it's the perfect temperature for cycling.

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Having recently turned my attention to this increasingly popular sport, it turns out we are nestled in the middle of bike territory. The legendary Italian cyclist Gino Bartali is commemorated in the eponymous, recently opened museum in Ponte a Ema, a ten minute drive from the house. 

Meanwhile a little further down the road about forty-five minutes away,  Gaiole in Chianti is preparing to host its annual and legendary, retro bicycle race, L'Eroica, on the 1st October. 

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A period cycle race where participators can only ride vintage bikes (made prior to 1987), dress in Merino wool jerseys, leather shoes, small peak caps, taking on any amount of the 38 to 205 km track mostly made up of crushed gravel "strade bianche", this is truly a race for anyone feeing heroic. Admittedly, the route traverses one of the most beautiful parts of the world, with succulent food and wine by the buffet-full on offer at every stop, but even so. And the best bit about it? You can ride it any time of the year and still get your certificate.

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Back at the house we've been enjoying the contemporary version, hiring bikes from Florence, savouring the stunning countryside, tarmac roads and lycra on an only ever so slightly newer bike. Vintage or new, cycling is where it's at.

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Jasmine Days, Firefly Nights...

May and June at the Torre. It's thirty degrees, the pool is open and warm, and the jasmine plants we planted last year have formed walls of tiny white flowers pouring out intoxicating scent at every turn. 

The pomegranate, fejoja and olive trees are in flower, the veg patch is fresh and new with this year's growth building up to the summer produce, while the apricot and cherry trees are laden with fruit that we pick and eat straight away.

The pool is open and the famous Fiorella gelato from Antella is back in stock for the season and in our freezer. We swim overlooking the olive grove beyond down towards Florence, catching sight of two young deer in the tall grass, and swallows swooping in to drink from the water. 

After summer days in the garden, we head up our winding path to the end of the garden up to the pizzeria in Osteria; this summer they have a great bouncy castle and trampoline for the younger guests so they can work up an appetite before delving into pizza. 

We come home for gelato and as it's getting dark we count the fireflies which I remember from my childhood as a May treat heralding in the summer.

This feels like a slice of Paradise on earth.

 

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Authentic Italian food shopping for Easter

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Authentic Italian food shopping for Easter

Our favourite cheese man sells burrata, amazing goat, freshest Parmigiano and the best varieties of pecorino among many more...

Our favourite cheese man sells burrata, amazing goat, freshest Parmigiano and the best varieties of pecorino among many more...

An excursion into the local shopping highlights of Antella.

The Italians love Easter. And, as whenever there is a Festa, a holy or national Holiday, their hearts revolve around food.

Standing in a queue at the butcher in our local village of Antella is a lesson in life. The shop is heaving, at least ten people deep. The counter glistens full of delights. I watch the ladies in front of me and marvel at their shopping lists. For example:

2 bistecche….the Fiorentine steaks with bone, filet and entrecôte. Vast..probably a couple of kilos each. :
2 ‘fettine di tacchino’, slices of turkey breast to breadcrumb and fry as Milanese
’Un pollo’, a whole chicken
500gms of chicken livers…for the crostini
2 veal escalopes, for the ‘bambini’
8 ‘braciole di manzo’, beef slices, just in case’
1 Kilo of ‘arista’, loin of pork..for ‘Pasquetta’, Easter Monday
And the side of an ‘agnello’, a baby lamb so small you do need half one. Delicious with loads of fresh rosemary and of course lashings of garlic.
But we are not finished. Then 6 slices of ‘Galantina di Pollo’, a cold pressed chicken galantine,
A slice of the HUGE mozzarella,
A whole pecorino cheese, the fresh one only just in season.
The lady in question is then satisfied, relatively so, (for that was just one person’s purchases) and leaves staggering under the weight of her shopping, usually met by some male relative at the door to help her.

When I then order a modest amount I am almost looked on in pity. MY Easter is not going to live up to much in their eyes.

The Antella butchers have been here for years

The Antella butchers have been here for years

However while I have been watching the butcher dextrously prepare the order, I have been listening to the exchange of conversation around me. Starting with family news. Is ‘Lucia’ having a baby? What about Giovanni (perhaps a son)?, and How is Nonna/Granny?
The conversation moves on to local politics, and then involves everyone, just like being on the bus when total strangers end up bosom friends by the end of the journey. By the time they leave the shop it is practically ‘baci’ and hugs all round!

I trot round the corner to where the vegetable stall is on the corner of the road.
Simone’s display is a work of art. Piles of fresh vegetables pour over each other... new potatoes, baby broad beans to eat raw with Pecorino cheese, baby artichokes to eat raw dipped in our oil, mixed salad of baby leaves ('insalata del campo', field salad) and the tiny sprouts off the cavolo nero black cabbage. Tender young carrots tied up with their leaves on, radishes in bunches, baby zucchine and peas, fresh real peas that need shucking from their pods. Perfect for ‘Tagliatelle con panna, prosciutto e piselli’, tagliatelle with cream, ham and peas, our favourite springtime recipe.

And if we are lucky the first asparagus from Maremma. The sandy soil there suits it and the quality is amazing. My friend Tim was an asparagus fanatic and he would have rated this very highly (and probably obliged me to have an Asparagus Party of which more some other time).
The Italians make a tasty omelette with the fine thin asparagus which they call ‘erbina', or grass. And EGGS, I nearly forgot, the baskets of fresh eggs from someone local who has real hens. ‘Fresh enough to drink’, as their favourite saying goes. 

The Antella veg stall on Thursday markets

The Antella veg stall on Thursday markets

And then of course I need to think of the Dolce. There is no problem as to where to go to find it, the only problem is CHOOSING! Bar Fiorella, on the piazza make all their own Pasticceria bakery produce. While having a restorative cappuccino I spot the hot faced chap in a white apron pop out from the kitchen with plates of dolce to store in the refrigerated display cupboard:
A traditional 'Torta della Nonna' with cream and almonds, various 'Meringate', fluffy meringues with layers of cream interspersed with tiny chocolate chips, the chocolate ice cream ‘bomb’ (our favourite), or, very popular with children and grown ups alike, the tarte with assorted fresh fruit on top in a bed of patisserie cream, so shiny they look fake.

And then of course there is the question of ice-cream, a whole counter of it to tempt me. Ice-cream in Italy is a national activity and everyone has their favourite ice cream shop, but Bar Fiorella wins. We are of course biased, but even our gelato-pro Florentine friends agree. The pistacchio is highly rated as is the chocolate, not to mention the chantilly, strawberry and the unforgettable limone.

Now it is time for me to stagger home, laden with large containers of the ice-cream to put in our freezer and bring out when our friends arrive. But I will have to go to the village again. I have forgotten the wine…

Book now and quote EASTER2017 to get your Last Minute 10% discount on April and May.

 

 

 

 

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Easter at Torre di Sopra

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Easter at Torre di Sopra

Easter is one of the loveliest times to visit Florence. The sweetest scent of Spring flowers in bloom, delicious things in season to enjoy with the still peppery olive oil from the winter, and the rich traditions of Lent coming to an end in a joyful celebration of all that is delicious.

The Colomba, Italy’s traditional Easter cake shaped into a dove of peace, is Easter’s answer to the Panettone we all know and love. After weeks of fasting from meat, the expectation of this, preceded by roast lamb (never otherwise common on the Italian menu) and followed by a plethora of delicious and flamboyantly decorated Easter eggs attracting you wherever you turn, make the season special. 

Not least of course, is the Holy Week run up to the big day. Local tradition has it that between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday you visit as many of the city’s churches as possible to say a prayer and admire the wonderful floral displays that each church creates to decorate Christ’s tomb. The churches are open late and if Easter is early I remember going round Florence in the dark..popping into churches ablaze with candles.

Book now and quote EASTER2017 to get your Last Minute 10% discount on April and May.

 

 

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Easter Events: Grassina

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Easter Events: Grassina

Grassina is a little hamlet just 15 minutes outside Florence and and 10 minutes drive from the Torre. It was known picturesquely as 'the country of the washerwomen' because of the two streams that made it an ideal location for the families of launderers to cleanse the clothes of the wealthy Florentines.

Spring is a gorgeous time to visit Tuscany, the weather is cool enough to enjoy lots of sightseeing and the countryside is blossoming with spring flowers. It's also Easter, which makes it a wonderful time to visit Grassina, because of the 'passion play' held on Good Friday.

Grassina is most notable for the passion play on Good Friday, which has been performed in the village since 1634. More than 400 people in costume parade through the center of the village in a solemn procession,  then up to 80 characters perform scenes from the life of Christ, culminating with the Crucifixion. 

The location, on the green Florentine hills, creates an evocative natural scenario with olive trees, genisteae and narrow streets. The scenes are accompanied by readings from the gospel and music from composers such as Verdi and Beethoven. Local shops and business get involved with decorations and stalls.

The celebrations start at 8.30 pm on Good Friday in the center of Grassina, you can book tickets online here, it's €6,50 for parade tickets and €20,00 for stalls.

How to get there

Grassina is just a 15 minute drive from Florence, and 10 minutes from the Torre Di Sopra. It's also just a 20 minute bus ride on the 24 bus.

Get 10% off you Spring 2017 Holiday

There's so much to do in Tuscany at this time of year. As well as amazing Easter events (and food) the weather is fantastic and the flowers are in bloom. If you'd like to book a Tuscan getaway in April or May you can currently get 10% off. Just use the code EASTERTORRE and email torredisopra@gmail.com or click here to book now, but hurry this offer is only valid until March the 20th!

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Scoppio del carro - The Explosion of the Cart

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Scoppio del carro - The Explosion of the Cart

One of Florence's most unique Easter traditions, Scoppio del carro or 'the explosion of the cart' is an event that has it's origin in the crusades. 

The story goes that a Florentine man was the first to scale the walls of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, as a reward for his bravery he was given three flints from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most holy sites in Christendom.

He took these flints home with him to Florence where they were used to strike holy fire, which was carried through the city by men bearing torches at Easter, to symbolise the new life offered by Christs resurrection. This tradition later evolved into using the flints to light a candle in a large cart, and later, to filling a cart with fireworks and blowing it up.

The current cart has been in use for over 500 years! It is hauled by a team of white oxen festooned with garlands of the first flowers and herbs of spring, and escorted by 150 soldiers, musicians, and people in 15th century dress. The holy fire is lit at the Church of SS. Apostoli and  then the procession moves on the Duomo. The cardinal of Florence then lights the cart from inside the cathedral, he lights a dove shaped rocket that flies down a wire to light the cart, there's then a fireworks display lasting around 20 minutes.

Location

The 'holy fire' starts it's journey at the  Church of SS. Apostoli,, where the flints are housed and is taken to the Duomo. So if you want to see the procession you should start at the  Church of SS. Apostoli, but the fireworks take place outside the Duomo.

Times

From 10am Easter Sunday

Get 10% off you Spring 2017 Holiday

There's so much to do in Tuscany at this time of year. As well as amazing Easter events (and food) the weather is fantastic and the flowers are in bloom. If you'd like to book a Tuscan getaway in April or May you can currently get 10% off. Just use the code EASTERTORRE and email torredisopra@gmail.com or click here to book now, but hurry this offer is only valid until March the 20th!

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Spring. Tuscany at its best....

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Spring. Tuscany at its best....

Springtime's round the corner and an idyllic time to visit Tuscany. 

Sweet scents waft in the air as nature warms up again, together with the sound of birds and wildlife waking us up from winter, artichokes and bacelli beans nearly in season to be enjoyed with the new olive oil, fresh new Pecorino cheese and crusty bread from the market... Florence is fresh and clear after the winter chill and, with only a few tourists, the perfect time for sightseeing and enjoying some early sun. 

And - most importantly for me - its soon going to be anemone season, my absolute favourite; all my happy childhood memories encapsulated into one field.... What's not to love? Bring on the Spring.

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CHRISTMAS EVE AT TORRE DI SOPRA

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CHRISTMAS EVE AT TORRE DI SOPRA

Christmas is the time we all remember childhood and celebrate all that is good in the world. For me, Christmas at the Torre was one of the highlights of growing up there and the delicious dessert 'Pandoro' with 'Cremino' featured heavily.

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Area Guide - Assisi

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Area Guide - Assisi

Place


Assisi is a town in Umbria that’s forever associated with it’s most famous son, St Francis of Assisi who founded the Franciscan religious order in the town in 1208. The town is known for. it’s religious history and many churches (of course) but also for its spectacular medieval castle and older roman architecture. 


What to see?


You can’t come to Assisi and not visit a couple of churches the Basilica di San Francesco is probably the most eye-catching, in addition it’s rich in both history and artistic treasures. It’s actually two churches, an upper and a lower church. The Basilica was begun in 1228, immediately after the canonization of St Francis, in honor of the local saint. The upper church or Basilica Superiore has a series of frecoes depicting the life of St Francis by Giotto. In the lower church there are also some very fine frescoes as well as the crypt containing the saint himself.

If you’re feeling up for another church you could head over to San Pietro which hosts an underground museum, complete with Roman remains, you can also trace out the remains of the Roman amphitheater in the town near the main piazza.

The other must see when you visit Assisi is the fortress of Rocca Maggiore. It’s even more ancient than the Basilica di San Francesco, the first mention of it was way back in 1173. The main attraction in visiting here is the spectacular view. 


Where to eat?


Assisi is something of a tourist hub so eating out can be a bit hit and miss, however that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great places to eat.
Trattoria Pallotta - located in the heart of Assisi this is a great family restaurant serving home made Umbrian classics.

If you’re looking for a snack and a drink try Vinò on the Piazza del Commune. Also just off the main square is Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba, which puts a modern spin on Italian classics

What’s on?


The most important festival in Assisi is, of course, the Feast of San Francesco of Assisi on the 4th of October. Which is celebrated with both civic and religious ceremonies. Another not to be missed event is Calendimaggio in May. It’s a sort of medieval festival to celebrate the arrival of spring. The festival works around a rivalry between the upper and lower parts of the town and many of the traditions strike a competitive note. There are also lots of parades, you can buy tickets for a seat in the main square from the ticket office next to Piazza del Comune but it’s a good idea to do this early because they tend to sell out a few days before the event.

 

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NOW BOOKING FOR 2017 - Early Bird Discount Available

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NOW BOOKING FOR 2017 - Early Bird Discount Available

NOW BOOKING FOR 2017

NOW BOOKING FOR 2017

We're now taking bookings for 2017!

It's cold and dark outside so why not beat the winter blues by planning  a Tuscan summer escape! 

We're now taking bookings for 2017, so if you'd like to find some early summer sunshine book now and receive a 10% early bird discount.  To take advantage of this great offer please email torredisopra@gmail.com or visit https://www.homeaway.co.uk/p1105126 to book now for Spring/Summer 2017 before the end of the year.

Torre Di Sopra, is a holiday villa with a unique style and history,  located just 20km from Florence with a gorgeous pool and grounds overflowing with fresh produce.

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Aberfan's Gift to Florence

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Aberfan's Gift to Florence

Commemorating Fifty Years since the Great Florence Flood

Fifty years ago today, on the morning of the 4th November 1966, precisely two weeks after the Aberfan disaster, a twenty foot torrent flooded the streets of Florence as the Arno river burst its banks. After weeks of heavy rain, the dam upstream gave way and the river crashed downstream. As it reached the Ponte Vecchio, the low bridge acted as a dam, sending the river sideways and across the city on either side of its banks with even greater force.

Mud Angels

The Florentines rushed to help each other and rescue people to safety, but as word spread further afield, people from all over the world started flooding in to help clear the homes, offices, museums, schools and churches that had been buried in mud, naphthalene heating oil, rubbish, household goods, cars and trees that had been swept down the valley.

These ‘Mud Angels’ as they became known, were mostly young volunteers who laboriously and persistently waded through mud and water, always cold and damp with little or no food, to rescue historic monuments, precious works of art, retrieving rare books and manuscripts, with experts from around the world volunteering their knowledge and skill.

My mother was one of these volunteers. Having attempted to come straight away from London and been dissuaded by her Florentine hosts due to lack of food and water, she arrived as soon as possible and was put in charge of distributing grants to those families that had been hardest hit. My father meanwhile, was immediately entrusted to rescue the son of friends by taking him uphill to safety, before returning to the centre to resume help bringing people out of their basements and ground floors to safety.

Aberfan’s Heart for Florence

Reading about the accounts now, the whole response feels like one of the greatest demonstrations of global solidarity and love as people instinctively responded to help. 

Across the world, a number of international committees were formed to fund the restoration programme, and generosity came from far and wide. The city of Edinburgh, twinned with Florence, sent practical help for the citizens in the form of double-decker buses to temporarily replace those which had been lost in the floods. In a 1996 interview, Primicerio, the major of Florence, offered three principal reasons as to why the Mud Angels felt compelled to help: a concern for future generations, a feeling of international unity and a pervasive sense of solidarity.

"What we were doing", he said, "was dictated by the desire to give back the traces of the history of the past to future generations, so that it could be used for the spiritual growth of people who perhaps had yet to be born...it was the international community that worked to try to save Florence, this unique patrimony which belonged to the whole world." ( Mario Primicerio, Speciale Alluvione)

One of these outpourings of love and surely the most poigniant of all, came from Aberfan itself. A few weeks after the flood, the British Consulate in Florence received boxes from the Welsh town still reeling from their tragic mudslide, packed full to the brim with children’s clothes and toys sent from those who had so recently lost their own children. 

Fifty years later, writing as one who had indeed yet to be born, who lived and grew up in Florence and to whom art history has provided much personal enrichment, (and incidentally - who now lives in a UK facing the loss of history art as a school-taught subject), I am so very grateful for such an outpouring of unity, forethought and sacrificial help for the good of so many people.

 

 

 

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Greve in Chianti - Area Guide

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Greve in Chianti - Area Guide

We wanted to give you a little information about some of the places in the surrounding area you might like to visit, so we're prepping some basic area guides to talk you through towns in Tuscany.

Greve is a small town located between Sienna and Florence and at the heart of the Chinati Wine district. It’s an ancient town but it’s remained surprisingly tranquil.

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Arrivederci Olive Oil 2016...

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Arrivederci Olive Oil 2016...

The Return of the Olive Fly

This would normally be the season where we start the olive harvest, but not this year. The dreaded olive fly has returned, causing the olive to harbour a worm and fall off the tree early. This has affected the whole of our region, which means that once again, like two years ago, there will be no olive oil this year.

We have a plan for next year

We had discovered a great way to keep them away last year; hanging a plastic bottle painted yellow to resemble the flower of the olive tree, with holes in it to attract the fly, filled with earth and an attractant, thereby catching the fly. This year, with all the work to the pool, we weren't able to repeat the procedure, and now there is no oil.

We will miss its peppery tangy flavour on our bruschetta and soups this winter and will resume our bottle trick in the spring. Let’s hope the liquid gold returns in 2017 when it will be doubly appreciated.

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