Asolo, Italy

I’m really lucky to have parents hailing from opposite ends of the same country. The north and south of Italy are quite different, and I’ve had wonderful opportunities to see both. Mum’s side of the family are from the north, up near Venice, so I really wanted to show some of the little towns and villages in the area that most people who visit Venice never get to. While the island is obviously incredible, I wonder how many people would kick themselves if they knew what they were missing on the mainland…

Asolo is one of those little towns up in the foothills of the Dolomites that you picture when you think to yourself “how gorgeous it must be to hire a car and just drive and explore little medieval cobblestoned villages.” Dating back to pre-Roman times, Asolo has been around for a very long time, and hopefully won’t be going anywhere soon. And getting there is as easy as leaving the Venice islands for the mainland and hiring a car.

With cobbled streets, creeping greenery, delicious food in windows, remainders of medieval buildings, and seriously stunning views, it’s easy to see why so many artists and writers find their way there. Dame Freya Stark, explorer, traveller and writer, was one of those – she visited Asolo for the first time in 1923, eventually retired there, and passed away a few months after her 100th birthday there. That’s her villa in the photo below…

Asolo is one of those towns that managed to retain all of its old-world charm while Venice was being slowly commercialised and destroyed by tourism. They don’t get a heap of visitors, comparatively, and it’s so much more beautiful for that (so if you visit it, please do so respectfully!) – it’s the sort of place you want to find a little table balanced on cobblestones to sit at while you drink wine, a place you’d want to visit with a sketch book and pencil, even if you can’t draw. The fact that there isn’t a heap of big tourist attractions to see and do there is what makes it such a great place to visit as a break from the chaos that can be Venice.

Eat here: S.Forno Panificio, Florence

S.Forno Panificio
Via Santa Monaca 3r, Florence
http://t.ilsantobevitore.com

My auntie is a wonderful artist; she often travels to Italy to paint, which means she has plenty of opportunities to find some real hidden gems. When I told her we’d be visiting Florence again, she told me I had to go to S.Forno. She was right.

The beautiful little bakery looked like it’d be more at home in Fitzroy or Collingwood than a wonky cobblestoned street in Florence, but the retro decor and feel isn’t just fabricated to be reminiscent of the past. This actually is an old bakery that’s been rescued by an enterprising  group of people…

The space has been a forno (bakery) for over 100 years. For the past 40 years, baker Angelo has walked into the store every morning to prepare freshly baked bread for the local Florentines. But something happened lately. After years of 7-day weeks and 18-hour days Angelo needed time beyond the bakery business and local restaurant team behind the successful Il Santo Bevitore came to the rescue. Partnering with Angelo, they have brought the business, but kept the baker, to ensure its place in the neighbourhood is secure for the future.
                                                                            – Lost in Florence

The daily offerings are written up on a chalkboard behind the counter, and baskets filled with loaves of bread. The front counter’s display case is filled with a mixed bunch of cake trays topped with an assortment of sweet treats, and the air smells like freshly baked bread. Heaven. We were told the food was delicious and it didn’t disappoint; we ate cauliflower quiche and a prosciutto-topped slice of foccacia for lunch, and they were divine. While we ate, we watched customer after customer come through the door and leave with arms full of fresh bread.

We weren’t ready to leave after lunch; the atmosohere and people watching was too good. Sitting in there felt like total immersion in Florentine life, and we couldn’t have been happier to be sitting in the middle of it. Also, the sweets looked too good to leave without sampling.

Just to be clear, this is not a coffee shop. There’s no fancy espresso machine or 2 page coffee menu. The focus is on the dough. But they are kind enough to offer some self-service, stock-standard American coffee and boiling water for tea, so we grabbed some of that and chose two typically Tuscan desserts – a baked rice cake, and a piece of castagnaccio, made from chestnut flour, rosemary, pine nuts and raisins.

Don’t be fooled by the nondescript façade; the service and atmosphere are both so warm and welcoming, and the food is some of the best in the city. It seems that they’ve arrived at the perfect balance between old tradition and new innovation, and that should earn them a visit when you’re next in Florence.

Photo Journal: Siena, Italy

When we talk about Tuscany, everyone’s heard of Florence. But not quite as many people know Siena. And the few who do generally only know it for the horse race held there every year, the Palio – horses topped with bareback riders race around the Piazza del Campo in an ode to the times of old. If you’re still unsure about what I’m talking about, maybe this scene from Quantum of Solace will ring a few bells.

But I’m not talking about the Palio this morning, because there’s so much more to Siena than a horse race. The beautiful little city, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site way back in 1995, still looks every bit the picture-book medieval town it probably was back in 30AD when the Romans plonked a military outpost there. There are uniform terracotta roofs as far as the eye can see, those beautiful but somewhat difficult to walk on cobbled paths, and symbolic and religious iconography around every corner. There’s also the incredible Tuscan food, the sweet little corner stores, the steeply sloped alley ways that you just have to wander up and down, and the best door knockers you’ve ever seen.

 

Welcome to Siena, through my eyes…

Photo Journal: Positano, Italy

This is a city perched precariously on cliff faces, with never ending stairs to climb, and the most stunning views. It’s relatively cut off from the rest of the world, therefore prices for almost everything are a lot higher than they should be, but it doesn’t seem to stop the tourist hoards from taking over in summer.

We visited just after winter, in early 2014, and it was still beautiful. The cold left only the locals; we were two of the very few visitors to the city, which made me very thankful for the ability to speak Italian – no one much seemed to be bothered with foreigners and their languages. Every day we walked until we couldn’t take another step, and would then spot a tiny little greengrocers up another flight of stairs. We’d find our second wind and take off to buy more food. There were “picnics” on our hotel room balcony, rugged up against the biting cold, giggling away as we ate our prosciutto and Parmigiano cheese, sipping Italian wine, and playing an Italian card game I quickly taught my husband. That’s living.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photo Journal: Venice, Italy

Yes, it’s gotten a little too touristy. Yes, there are too many billboards detracting from the beauty of the city. Yes, there are busloads of tourists pouring through buying up all the tacky souvenirs. And yes, everything is ridiculously overpriced (because of the dull tourists who know no better and are happy to pay twice as much for their coffee for the privilege of sitting outside in the piazza to drink it. Twats.). BUT, Venice is still stunning.

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014