Verona

You are just plain crazy if you don’t want to go visit Verona with these two amazingly knowledgeable and fun beauties!

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The name ‘Slice of Tuscany’ might imply that I only plan travel in Tuscany, but THAT’S SIMPLY NOT TRUE! I have a whole network of locals including guides, chefs, wine makers, boat drivers, artists and then some ALL OVER ITALY who are ready to help my guests have amazing experiences.

I met these incredible ladies in Verona several years ago and Slice guests who are lucky enough to visit this gorgeous city just west of Venice have gotten to meet them too.

Verona is so much more than the city of Romeo and Juliet. Yes, you can visit Juliet’s balcony, but you can also visit Piazzale Castel San Pietro for a panoramic view of the city, check out the stalls in Piazza delle Erbe, and the Roman-era arena that is still in use today.

Outside of the city walls you can step into some of the most important vineyards in Italy where they make one of my all-time favorite reds - Amarone della Valpolicella. Also just a few minutes by car is Lake Garda, Italians’ favorite northern lake getaway.

These two ladies also have their thumb on the pulse of the best eateries, bars and restaurants and can help create the perfect food tour for you. Try signature dishes such as Bigoli pasta with duck ragu, Ristotto all’Amarone, and Pandoro for dessert.

Ready to go? Let me know and we’ll get you on your way! sally@sliceoftuscany.com




Schiaccata all'uva // Florentine bread with grapes

Schiaccata all’uva (uva = grape) is a September twist on the traditional thick bread found in Florence. Usually made only during harvest time, grapes come straight from the vine and into the dough – a two-layered form – that rises up into a fluffy middle and crunchy crust that defines this Florentine snack. The grape version is more sweet and moist, and less “crispy crust” than the normal savory schiaccata. Next September during your travels, pop into a pastry shop and try a bite of this delicious fall treat.

Emiko Davies is an uber-talented local chef and cookbook author. Her book Florentine is one of my favorites for local treats like this one. Check her out!

Leather in Florence // Nino at NOI

There are so many places to get leather in Florence, but one of my favorites is a shop called NOI. Nino has become a good friend over the years and beyond being a great guy, he has wonderful leather goods and always seems to help my guests find the perfect pieces for them. He is not pushy or in your face, rather helps you find (or create) the right jacket, purse or even shoes. Go find Nino and TELL HIM SALLY SENT YOU for a little discount!

NOI - Via Porta Rossa 65r

sister shop for shoes Goccia - Via Pellicceria 12R (just a few meters from NOI)

Elba Island // my new favorite island
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My favorite thing about Elba Island might just be the fact that it is shaped like a fish. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with Elba and there are so many things that get me excited about this little Tuscan island, but it is actually shaped like a fish. How cool is that?!

I knew nothing about Elba Island apart from “Napoleon” and that many Tuscans call it their summer destination spot, especially for sailing. That’s it. Prior to May of 2018 that was the extent of my knowledge. Good researcher that I am, I marked my map with a big fat X, rented a car, and grabbed two girlfriends to come along with me for an Elba adventure.  

 Portoferraio, Elba

Portoferraio, Elba

 Nancy, Toni and Sally (me)

Nancy, Toni and Sally (me)

It was unseasonably cool when we went in May, so you’ll see in the photos we were still in long sleeves and pants. I would suggest visiting late May through September. (In fact, I’m thinking about organizing a 5-star sail and sip from Tuscany to Elba to Sardegna that would run in July and September for 10-12 nights and each with about 8 guests. Thoughts?)

 On the ferry to Elba

On the ferry to Elba

You can’t fly to Elba so the best way to get there is to rent a car and take the ferry from Piombino. This automatically assumes you are comfortable driving in Italy and that you can tap into your zen and conquer the ferry process. If you can check these two boxes, you can drive from Florence, hop on the ferry, and be on the beaches of Elba within about four hours.

BONUS – you drive through Bolgheri wine region (uh Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tigna-freaking-nello!) and can make a day of it stopping on your way to or from to taste some of Italy’s best wines. Of course we did this.

 Bolgheri

Bolgheri

Arriving in the port town of Portoferraio, I booked a little B&B that was on the hill overlooking town to the southeast and had a view of the open sea on the north and west. It took about 10 minutes to drive up the hill and the owner of the B&B greeted us to check us into our own apartments with kitchens, gardens and cute little porches.

We started our adventure with a casual lunch and hike near the beach. There are trails for hiking and biking everywhere on Elba!

Elba offers so much and until NOW, the visitors are really mostly German and British tourist. They are ready for us, America! There is sailing, hiking, biking, wineries, amazing food, spas, resorts…really there’s something for everyone. The Elbani (natives of Elba) know how good they have it and they are ready to share their secrets with us - both rugged and wild, and refined and VIP worthy.

Elba was formed by volcanoes, which you can see remnants of from the ferry. It is about 25 miles long and at its narrowest point is only about 3.5 miles wide. The tallest peak, Monte Caponne, is 3,343 feet high, but from most peaks you will enjoy a 360˙ view. While vistas of the mountains are staggering and dramatic, it is somehow still open and rolling at the same time. These hills and the Mediterranean climate make it an ideal location for grape growing. Ding ding ding! Sound the alarm – I am officially hooked.

I have been a wine tour guide in Tuscany for several years, yet there are grapes and wines native to Elba that I had never even tried, and some that I had not heard about until stepping foot into their vineyards. Yes, there are vineyards and wineries where you can stay, play, eat and drink on Elba Island. Wine and beach at the same time, seriously? Yes, seriously. And both the beaches and the wines are of world-class quality.

Try (to find) these wines!

  • Elba white – made with trebbiano (called procanico in Elba) and vermentino grapes

  • Elba ansonica – gold in color and ranges from dry to sweet

  • Elba rose - made from ansonica and sangiovese

  • Elba rosso – made mostly from sangiovese grape

  • Elba aleatico – a delicious sweet wine made from 100% dried aleatico grapes

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 Atillo

Atillo

Hands-down my favorite activity on Elba was getting lost on the gravel road high up on the mountain on our way to find the goat farm that produces fresh cheeses and gelato make from goat milk. Did you just fall out of your chair? I did when I first found out this place existed and that they offer tastings and sell product right out of a little window in the barn. 

We made it to the top of the hill and once again, were struck by the views – the sea is everywhere here. There were two lovely bearded gentlemen who were quiet and eyeing us from their perch upon the fence. “I hear you have goat cheese,” I say in Italian, “and we are here to eat it.”

Over the next several hours we were there, the guys warmed up to us and even invited me to help milk the goats. Yep! I met Attillo, officially certified as the cutest goat ever to roam the earth (certified by me), and at a long picnic table in the grass, we snacked on a plate of assorted cheese ranging from fresh to aged and in flavor according to which nearby herbs and plants the goats had been snacking on the day before. The gelato was the same – the flavors included lavender, mint, and of course goat cheese.

My most spiritual moments often happen when consuming food and wine, and without being as cheesy as I like to be, spirit was with me, with all of us, on top of that mountain that day. Cheese, cheese and gelato please. Amen.

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Another highlight was spending the day at Tenuta delle Ripalte Winery and Resort with owner. I found this winery online and sent over an email asking if we could visit for a tasting. The three of us were excited but in all honesty were a little reluctant to drive to the south side of the island just for a quick tasting. We didn’t realize the owner was meeting us until we got there, and we certainly did not expect we would spend the entire day there and be treated to a 4-course amazing lunch prepared by the most charming gentleman in a funny white hat you have ever met.

 Tenuta delle Ripalte

Tenuta delle Ripalte

 Chef at Tenuta delle Ripalte

Chef at Tenuta delle Ripalte

I want to share this place with you, not because I feel obligated because they were so hospitable, but because I loved it so much. I truly loved everything from the villas and hotel on property to the winery, the wines, the lunch and the private beaches, as well as all the lovely people we met that day.

It was on this property that I decided my husband and I should plan a wedding every single year in new and gorgeous locations. Oh normal people don’t do that, you say? It’s called an anniversary and don’t be a psycho about it? Oh fine.

Breathtaking is a good word to use here. There is a southern plot of vineyard that sweeps down and falls into the sea, where if you look hard enough you will find little private villas hidden along the shoreline that are rentable during the summer months. The place offers villas, rooms, cabins and yurts for its guests, as well as activities like horse back riding, golf, yoga, trekking, mountain biking, and my personal favorite, wine drinking. Down a 3-mile stretch of road, still on the property, you can reach a gorgeous beach with a restaurant and bar on site that look out towards Porto Azzurro.

 Vines!

Vines!

I will admit that I was not expecting anything special with the restaurant and wine, but also admit that I was completely wrong. We sat on the patio of the gorgeous villa that doubles as the major restaurant on site. The sprawling back lawn is shaded by umbrella pines that line the path down to a pergola (where I’m getting married again next year), which is set just perfectly in front of the sea. The food was a lovely highlight of local favorites paired with their best wines.

Back near Portoferraio and our B&B, we made even more best friends on boats and in restaurants. Cecina isa chickpea flour crepe enjoyed from Elba up to Nice, France and is really only found on the coast (and in a few inland towns such as Lucca). It’s a simple snack made with only chickpea flour, EVOO, water and a pinch of salt. It is notoriously tricky to make - you need the exact right proportions of ingredients and a hot, shallow pan in a wood-fired oven. These guys have been doing it right for decades and gave us demonstrations and plenty of samples. It might be true love.

 Hot out of the oven, the maestro is sprinkling salt + pepper over hot slices of cecina. Grab a beer and enjoy!

Hot out of the oven, the maestro is sprinkling salt + pepper over hot slices of cecina. Grab a beer and enjoy!

In conclusion, I love Elba Island. I cannot wait to return. I hope you all come with me, or at least check it out for yourselves. Get off the beaten path and go explore! Let me know if you need my assistance in planning your Italy travel adventure!

Libri Bianchi // Art in Santo Spirito, Florence

Walking around my neighborhood is always an adventure. Santo Spirito is the artistic soul of Florence lying south of the Arno River across the Ponte Vecchio. It is considered one of the few neighborhoods in Florence's city center where the true "Florentines" live. It also has a high concentration of working  studios where you can find blacksmiths and carpenters as well as glass specialists and modern artists.

I recently discovered a small studio around the corner from my house. I was walking by when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man working amidst a sea of stark white books. He appeared to be creating a tower with the books and was using a vice to clamp them together. I immediately invited myself inside. I wanted to know everything about him and these gorgeous white books.

Lorenzo introduced himself and his lovely wife Simona who was assisting in the studio, and told me the story of his Libri Bianchi.  He has been working in this Santo Spirito studio for 12 years taking books and expressing his interpretation of the story giving by life to the pages.

Lorenzo's books flip and fold, pages turn, and lay open in a precise manner which he creates using simple materials like plaster and glue. Sometimes in stacks or using small props to communicate his message, the books are visually stunning and convey something entirely new and different under Lorenzo's influence.

The books he uses are often about oppression or convey a profound truth, which he then takes and creates a visual representation of the truth, as he sees it, with his hands. His hands, he explained, are the most important part of his work - allowing him to exact his representation in the most meaningful way.

I strongly urge you to check out Lorenzo Perrone's works - http://www.libribianchi.info/ - either online or with a PERSONAL ARTIST STUDIO TOUR of Santo Spirito by CONTACTING ME.

SALLY@SLICEOFTUSCANY.COM

Vinaino Lo Sprone - Florence hole in the wall restaruant

Located on the south side of the Arno River in Florence is my favorite neighborhood in town, the Oltrarno a.k.a. Santo Spirito. This is home to my favorite shops and restaurants, including one little hole in the wall called Vinaino Lo Sprone on Via dello Sprone near Piazza della Passera.

When Piero and Riccardo opened the restaurant in 2013, I was living across the street from them upon the 4th floor. The guys would often yell up to me, “Sally, how do you say melanzane in English?!” And I would yell the answer down to them out the window. They have good classic dishes written by hand on paper menus and wine by the liter at decent prices.

The only trick here is that you have to get cozy as they only have about 7 tables total. I love the place to much, I stopped here during my engagement photo shoot.

 Me and Mr. Slice having a laugh

Me and Mr. Slice having a laugh

 Riccardo, Piero, My, Sally (me)

Riccardo, Piero, My, Sally (me)