The movie Under the Tuscan Sun enamored me with the thought of buying a villa and vineyard in Tuscany, on a whim and the spur of a moment. I felt the same about Peter Mayle’s books — A Good Year, Hotel Pastis, etc. At my age it’s easy to get enamored with “happy ever after” early retirement stories.
Last month I saw the town where the movie, and the book, were set. Cortona, one of the most romantic hill towns of Tuscany.
Clinging to a hillside carpeted with olive groves, Cortona was born as a small Etruscan settlement in the the 8th century, B.C. It became a fortified medieval Roman town, and at the peak of its history rivaled Siena and Florence. Today, unchanged much from the Middle Ages, it remains one of Tuscany’s most romantic hill towns.
We drove from Firenze to Montepulciano and Montalcino, then backtracked across the Tuscan hills, with 2 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino, over 200 kilometers on the tach and pangs of hunger under my belt.
Our last meal had been breakfast in Rome.
It was 10pm, past summer sunset, when we got to Cortona. The keys to the house hung from the gate, with a welcoming note from the B&B owner.
We found Cortona’s Etruscan and Roman wall and the tiny Porta Bifora, “closed for centuries until the 1990s because the Aretine Bishop Guglielmino, with two Franciscan brothers, used it to sack Cortona on Feb. 1, 1258.”
1258! Those damned Franciscans.
The medieval Via Ghibellina was quite a climb, but rewarding.
At the top of the street was the Piazza della Repubblica, the center of town. Here, in front of the Palazzo Comunale, was the stone staircase where they filmed the movie’s Christmas scene. The Palazzo Communale was built in the 1200’s, then renovated more recently — in the 1600’s 😀
We chose a dinner place at random. I still think this is the best meal I had in Italy. Serendipity.
The antipasti was classic Italian – prosciutto with melon, and panzanella. The latter is Tuscan “bread salad” or “leftover salad”: diced celery, lettuce, cucumber, garlic, basil, olive oil, tomatoes, sliced bread … basically everything left on the cucina table after the cuoco has gone home.
I loved it.
The perfect prosciutto is really all about the best pigs eating the right food. The ham is salted, air-cured, greased with salted lard and then cured again for 1-2 years. Years!
Every variety of prosciutto has its own unique flavors and aromas, invented by angels and then lent to us mere mortals, 2,000 years ago, long before ketchup was discovered.
Good vino is essential to any Italian meal. We chose a Cortona wine. My greedy eyes followed every drop as the server poured a measure into her glass sediment trap.
Then my primi piatti arrived. Fettucini smothered in black truffle slices and black truffle sauce.
This dish, like all the truffle dishes I had in Italy, was pure aromatic seduction. The firm pasta, perfectly al dente, was a ideal foil for the truffles, and the combination was a perfect climax.
It took me about 6 minutes to finish this climax. I was hungry!
Ristorante La Bucaccia is on Via Gibellina. The dining rooms are below street level, and a plexiglas plate allows you to peer into a basement filled with winery equipment. The date 1662 is carved onto a wooden beam.
The ristorante is quite charming. The two small dining rooms would have easily fit in a real Italian home — there was even a bookshelf, literally a hole in the wall, devoted to Cortona and Tuscany.
It was a great dinner, really. Writing about it is frustratingly inadequate. It was a multi-sensory experience, and there aren’t enough words.
Posted from Bangkok, Aug 8, 2008.