Your Home Away From Home in Tuscany
For my parents’ annual European adventure, we always pick a different place to visit, in addition to Zürich. There was Prague, Berlin, Barcelona and this year, they picked Tuscany. And so, I jumped right in to my research, opening my Tuscany folder that had been collecting dust for well over a decade. Hours and hours of reading about torrone and olive oil and chocolate. Until my mom raised a very good point… don’t we need somewhere to sleep ?! Aha !
So I asked my Tuscan friend and popular food blogger, Giulia Scarpaleggia for an idea. Valdirose, she said. “I’ve fallen in love with this one, it’s a dream, I’m sure you would love it.” As if that weren’t enough to convince me, she then added a word about the amazing breakfasts there. A quick glance at the website made my eyes grow wide and before I knew it, I was on the phone with Irene Berni, making our reservation.
That’s Irene above (top left) with her husband Paolo and father Giovanni. Within minutes of meeting them, you’ll be calling them dear friends as we did. And you simply won’t want to leave their charming bed & breakfast, Valdirose (14 km from Florence), as we certainly didn’t at the end of our stay. We visited over a month ago and I still think often about our time there; how comfortable and well taken care of they made us feel, how genuine, caring and smiley they all are, and the unbelievable attention to detail and decoration – everywhere.
You may be staying in one of the rooms that Irene or her sister grew up in, or even her father. Built in the 19th century and completely renovated in 2007, it is now a perfect juxtaposition of history, old world charm and modern comfort. It was Irene’s grandmother’s dream house that they rented at first, and later became owners. In their own words, “Family memories, soft colors and little details create a quiet and cozy atmosphere.” They are a beautiful family, both inside and out. And truly welcome each and every visitor wholeheartedly.
Now, back to those breakfasts ! The room itself is stellar, let alone what was served there. One day, it was Irene’s crunchy sweet granola with Amedei dark chocolate (perfect for me !), fresh yogurt, toast and homemade jams; the next, it was her mom’s chocolate and pear tart (more chocolate !), fresh crisp pears and pastries from their favorite shop in town; and yet another, it was a fabulous polenta cake with raisins. Every day a beautiful table is laid out and you’ll just want to sit there, pouring more coffee and glasses of bright blood orange juice from Austria – tasting, talking and taking it all in.
On our final morning, Giovanni walked in with that glowing smile of his and a tray of individual apple crumbles. Yes, apple crumble for breakfast. Talk about making it difficult to leave !
Giulia was right, our stay truly was a dream, just as it said on the wall above our bed (below, top left).
Valdirose Charming Rooms
Via val di rose, 35
50055 Lastra a Signa (Firenze)
+39 335 8765094
We have Giulia to thank for this wonderful recommendation. (Grazie mille, Giulia !) And for welcoming us into her kitchen. If Valdirose is where you should stay in Tuscany, an afternoon cooking with Giulia is a must for your to-do list. Like Irene and her family, Giulia’s warmth and generosity are felt right away, and her passion for her Tuscan roots and for the local ingredients and dishes is infectious.
We had quite a feast at her home in the Siena countryside, a fantastic stone house in which both her father and her grandmother were born. After a pecorino and orange flower honey tasting, we made crostoni with sausage and stracchino. Giulia had prepared for us the very Tuscan pappa al pomodoro, a hearty tomato and bread soup that was my family’s favorite (recipe below). And we all joined in to make fresh pasta, from scratch, using a special ingredient just for me… cocoa ! Our chocolate tagliolini were dressed with a pork sausage, rosemary and olive oil sauce, topped with crushed cacao beans. Original and divine. This grand meal full of Italian cooking tips, delicious tastes and lots of laughter, ended with Giulia’s very favorite dessert, which we all helped her make, tiramisu.
As it says on her wall, “Love Live Laugh.” Words to live by.
And there we are below, smiling and hard at work, both Giulia (top left) and me too (bottom right, photo by my husband), and that delicious chocolate pasta…
Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato bread soup)
recipe from I Love Toscana, Giulia Scarpaleggia (of Juls’ Kitchen)
7 oz (250 g) stale Tuscan bread
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 celery stalk
1/2 red onion
3 cups (750 g) tomato purée
freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic
Soak the stale bread – cut into slices – in cold water. Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery and brown them lightly with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large pot. When the chopped vegetables are soft, pour in the tomato purée and let it simmer for 15 minutes on a low flame, covered. Squeeze the stale bread with your hands to remove all the water and crumble the bread into the tomato sauce.
Stir well. Let it cook for about 10 minutes over low heat. Purée the garlic and add it to the tomato bread soup along with some basil leaves.
Remove the soup from the heat and stir in a generous dash of your best extra virgin olive oil.
Season with salt and set aside covered with a lid for at least one hour. Reheat gently before serving.