Breakfast in Tuscany

June 3, 2012 in ITALY | Comments (1)

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Four Seasons park view

Notes written 20 to 26 May during breakfast at three hotels in Florence and in the surrounding Tuscan hills. I enjoy the sense of place arising after a morning cappuccino…especially in Italy.

Monday Four Seasons Firenze

Strains of violins, with Rococo nostalgia and flourish. In tune with the décor of the Four Seasons dining room, elaborately lavish and ornate, but in taste. Perfectly in style.  I try to drink it in. It is an experience to be here – perfect lifestyle.

I ask for vanilla tea. A polite pause. He returns. We have no vanilla tea…pause. But we have… my mind runs to Ceylon tea in a yellow bag. Wrong. “We have real vanilla beans in hot water”. I remembered my usual morning tea with Oatley cream but felt that too much so asked instead for hot milk. So I now have a delicate jug of hot milk and await the real vanilla tea. It comes in a silver pot, while music ripples and triples. But I realize it is divine vanilla water without tea.  I finally delicato ask for tea to add to my vanilla. It finally comes  but my glasses are off so I allow him to gently ruin my vanilla with Earl Grey. The mystery tea (mystery why people think it is superior).

So that was a failure despite the best intentions. My morning caffeine is still required.

Charming waiter with a melodious Italian voice asks: Was your tea right now?

Oh, I said, not wanting to tell him I don’t like Earl Grey – he has been so keen to please. So instead I say: Now is the time for my coffee.

Americano?

Latte please…café latte. Now that was fine.

My omelette was also a Four Seasons experience in ultimate service. I asked Could I have an omelet with cheese and tomato … no meat. My charming waiter said: I have better – with mozzarella and herbs and tomato.

Delicious. And now I cannot eat more. I do not even need the delights of the buffet, among which is date cake tasted yesterday as subtly sweet as you could wish, like a mere whisper of temptation.

I am waiting for A. She is not ready yet.

The breakfast room opens into the private park. And so do the best rooms look that way into the greenery. Our room doesn’t – it looks into narrow lane Borgo Pinti. Where the main entrance is.

It has rained like a drain so further visits to town seem horrendous. Luckily Four Seasons is an art study and a romance kick all in itself.

And by the way – I have found out – they do keep a small stock of almond milk. Now why didn’t I think of that for my tea or my cappuccino?

 

Wednesday Villa Mangiacane

 A quiet moment with the tinkling of piano music, soft and fluid. My perfect cappuccino. The shabby chic chairs with purposeful chips in the gray paint have charm. A little Shetland pony stands outside the window, where the view stretches out over Tuscan countryside. Under the white grey sky a soft fertile green with patches of woodland, vineyards and olive groves.

The main feel here at Villa Mangiacane after two nights is contentment and ease despite the rain. It’s the highly personal service; though laced with unexpected interludes and little eccentricities, you feel friendliness overall.

I had no idea when booking the car that the hotel was so casual and generous with shuttles – i.e. lifts to town (Florence) or “the village” – the pretty little provincial town of San Casciano (Cashana) 5km away. Not it turned out according to timetable, but on demand – if they can fit you in.

Apart from great local dining and coffee bars al fresco , we found two shops for sunglasses (Dior, Gucci, Dolce cabana etc) cheaper in this village than in Florence, and a designer “outlet” from Milan in the cute narrow shopping streets lined with roses.  And four shoe shops. So we lost desire for our car that was to be an escape from what we imagined would be a snobbish place – an old palace built by Machiavelli – “nobleman’s home”.

In fact Machiavelli never lived here. He wrote The Prince in one of the houses on the ridge facing his palace. He oversaw the designs and his plans are now in the Uffizi. He died before he could move in.

His architect was also the designer of the Duomo in Florence, we were told. So at some stage the direction of the villa was changed to give a view of the Duomo – now golf ball size on the horizon. They obtain permission every few years to cut a V shape in their own woodlands. Next cut is next year 2013, said Juan, the GM.

The hotel is richly attired in eclectic fashion, with haunts of history and fancy – all embraced by vines and Tuscan greenery – somehow gently unpredictable, warm and exuberant, Italian style. But actually no longer owned by an Italian. A South African has bought it as a home from home and costs of maintenance made sense of turning it into a hotel.

Thursday Villa Mangiacane

 Cappuccino in Italy. Where else can it taste so good? Cake today for breakfast instead of croissants. The same cake as at complimentary afternoon tea. Delivered bit by bit on a tray by a girl who crosses the park from the kitchen to the comfortable lounge in the original villa Machiavelli with its Baroque frescoes and details.

Last night we crossed through the vineyards (500 metres)  to restaurant Albergaccio Di Nicolò Machiavelli in the little hamlet on the ridge, Sant’andrea. We were told it is better than the restaurants we experienced earlier in San Casciano:  Cantinetta del Nunno and Cinque di Vino. However  I preferred the San Casciano eateries. The pasta at Machiavelli was cold in areas and warm in others, as if reconstituted from  pre-prepared ingredients of different vintage. Cheese sauce does need heat to taste good. We sent it back and finally it did taste right. But not before I had remembered our experiences in Provence. Roadside restaurants with tourists dining rather than locals, ALBEIT picturesque and Provencal, did not perform well in culinary terms. In Machieavelli we saw just tourists from our own hotel.  The simple Nunno with its modest prices was full of locals (and some tourists also booked there by our hotel).

Carmen is playing, as the mist clears and sunshine floods the grapevines, with a shimmering haze over distant trees. Life is good. Second cappuccino even better: round, foamy, rich.

We are entitled to omelette with our buffet breakfast  – which otherwise costs 20 euros. Nice omelette. The buffet is not huge, but it has quality, strawberries and kiwis, luckily some plain yoghurt among all the fruity ones in plastic tubs, some hams and cheese for those who like to eat that on their bread…adequate. It is the view and the ambience, not to forget the cappuccino that makes it delightful.

Friday the Savoy Florence

View of Piazza della Repubblica through glass doors. Quiet now – last night brimming over with life. Icecream festival, merry go round, yellow benches under canvas. But the icecreams dripped in the heat after a 28 deg C day and we dumped them in the trash. Then made for the inviting street tables of the Savoy with the privacy of a ring of Rosemary bushes. Coffee 6 euro. Definitely worth it for the sensation of living out Florence lifestyle in the balmy evening (at last), with the pulse of a live band floating over from another pavement cafe in the Piazza.

This lively square is a haven of peace in comparison with the Piazza adjoining and surrounding Duomo–number one item to tick off the ‘must see’ list.  Other must sees close by are the somewhat tarnished glamour of Ponte Vecchio, and the huge weight of Renaissance and medieval heritage that is the Uffizi. Then  past the Duomo and the long queues you reach Galleria dell’accademia and the uplifted wonder of the original David,  surrounded by worshippers and duty visitors with itching hands (not allowed to take snapshots) – though they make up for it next to the gigantic burlesquely coloured David copy in the Accademia courtyard. Miles of facebook smiles.

But back to the Savoy. You get the must sees close by and the must be’s (moments of being, like sitting at the Savoy tables staring out). Here and now.

Ten out of ten for location said the Australian woman at the next table…also staring out…

Her name is Goldie.

Been cruising and staying at Leading Hotels (she is a member). She was disappointed they hadn’t upgraded her at the Savoy from her Classic room, when she had been upgraded everywhere else. Her room was too low down she felt. Our executive room on the 5th floor (same level as the gym) was small but uplifted by sky and the view of the whole square. My confidante Goldie was rather upset over having to pay extra for her eggs when she had buffet breakfast included. But the small buffet was excellent quality – most Scandinavians would not need more than the espresso or cafe latte (included), Parma ham, salami, smoked salmon and big choice of cheeses – not sliced neatly with your obligatory cheese slicer, but put out in hunks of the best. Fresh breads of course. And fruit salad of tropical fruit chopped small.

Now I love Italy, A. said, adding: I remember annoying men in Rome but here they are normal. Indeed, they look appreciatively, but do not goggle or coo, and certainly bottom pinching days are over even for gorgeous girls. Or is it just the North? The North was always held up as an example of Italian refinement.

But back to the Savoy. Yes 10 out of 10 for location and a soothing Roccoforte hotel with Michelin star restaurant, al fresco dining, pleasant service. Food prices not over the top for your Michelin starred dinner. Plus the concierge is on the ball to help with dining Tuscan fare out on the town.

PS

I used to think that plastic Davids in all the shop windows cheapened the David – just imagine how many Davids and other treasures are featured in Facebook merely because someone is smiling in front of them. Or am I a hopeless snob…who has never forgiven facebook for changing the face of chats to be so surface oriented, compared with the deep world of the imagination called up by the first chat sites when you used communications programmes rather than www platforms.