Coming out of Hibernation



Foto credit – Fiorino Fiorini

Spring in Tuscany started with a 60% solar eclipse, which historically was viewed as an omen that brings about death and destruction! I can only say it feels like the exact opposite as we come out of our winter hibernation! The little hedgehog that had hibernated in my garden had also moved on, before I managed to get his photo.

Hedgehog nest

Hedgehog nest


Perhaps the doom associated with the eclipse was to be our total power failure since Italy depends on some solar energy, but plants were shut down early on Friday morning to avoid any disruption. 

I spent the day on a hike in the hills of Chianti Classico – around Castellina in Chianti, and while the countryside still needs to green up, it was certainly showing signs of Spring.Chianti hillsBlossom





A newly licenced Environmental guide was my mentor as I was hers in correcting her English. She is full of passion and enthusiasm for the area and I was impressed to hear that we were walking in very healthy woods, as could be seen by the various types of lichen covering the tree limbs. An indication that the air is free of pesticides.

I also learnt that the ivy seen climbing many of the trees is not likely to kill the tree as is often misunderstood but they live a symbiotic relationship; the tree grows higher in search of the sunlight as the ivy climbs. The woods around us Hiking in Chiantirevealed a mix of flora which would mean a mix of fauna – wolves, foxes, wild boar, hedgehogs, porcupines, toads and a stray snake or two which we were lucky enough not to see or have disturbed!                                              There were even trout in the river!


Tuscany has a different kind of beauty to the Cinque Terre which has been flashing its Spring flowers along the trails and amongst the vineyards for the past few weeks.Cinque terre trail

Cinque terre vineyards




Sea view to Corniglia

Sea view to Corniglia




And the sea is a glorious colour, a silver shimmer as the wind skips across it.

Cinque Terre view

View from San Bernardino to Monterosso

Only two of the coastal trails between the villages will open this year – Vernazza and Monterosso is already open, and the trail between Corniglia and Vernazza is currently being repaired. Still the high trails are beautiful and well worth hiking.Trail damage








This weekend (28th-29th March) will be the Sciacchetrail  “a union of the words Sciacchetra’ and Trail: the sweet passito wine produced here, and running trail. Sciacchetrail is a path to recover the soul of this territory….”  And I suggest you will be recovering your own soul and definitely deserving a good Sciacchetra’ if you manage the 47kms, with a 3000m elevation gain to be completed within a time limit! I may be on the sidelines to take photos as competitors cruise past Corniglia. It should be a fun weekend though as there will lots of wine, food, music and even a pesto party before, during and after the run.

Saturday the ferries start running again and it’s also the weekend when we change onto Daylight Saving time so our hibernation has finished for another year!Cinque Terre



Men at Work – Vernazza

After suffering gale force winds in Florence and some rainy days I headed for the Cinque Terre to check on the work in progress in Vernazza. They have been working on the Main square all winter and are finally putting down the new paving.

In two weeks the paving on one side has almost finished and they are moving along quickly on the rest. As usual the work is behind schedule ( completion date was 4 March) and we are hopeful it will be finished by Easter.

It has been a difficult winter for locals as they were deprived of the only large open space they have to socialize and for the kids to play in, and there has been some grumbling and rumbling about the need or not for the upheaval.

But it is not just about appearances, as the Richard Rogers project is about improving the drainage system and introducing energy efficient lighting. New ideas take a while before they are taken on board by locals, and the scars of the 2011 flood are still vivid in the minds, so to see their piazza dug up again brought those memories racing back.

The early Spring weather has everyone out doing repair jobs and many of the face lifts to buildings have finished in readiness for the season. In the tiny back alleys fresh paint lingers in the air as old doors and terrace railings get a spruce upVernazza canal 2. Vernazz canal





New stone walls can be seen along the canal leading downtown and the old mill house is finally looking decent, at least on the outside.


Mill house 2011

Mill house under mud 2011

Mill house Vernazza

Mill House March 2015








There is still a sleepiness to the town as the few tourists mingle with locals and many of the commercial enterprises are not yet open. Fishing boats are still parked in the Main Street or in a side alley.Pirate boatFishing boat






Meetings upon meetings have been held about forming new land cooperatives, setting objectives for land restoration projects and funding requests. New local guides are being recruited for the voluntourism project of Save Vernazza as the project with Busabout and Treadright will run again this year

There is still so much to be done at a private and public level but as I sit at the end of the bay and look back on the town, it still has a ‘Wow’ factor for me and I feel so lucky to be here at Vernazza in the Cinque Terre.Vernazza port

Sunset Vernazza (credit F.Scalzo)

Winter Sunset Vernazza Foto credit F.Scalzo




A vegetarian turned carnivorous?


Butcher Dario Cecchini Who would have thought that a vegetarian like me would write a blog on meat!    Noooo, I haven’t turned carnivorous, but am always fascinated by personalities and live in a region full of traditions that I like to share with you.Butcher Dario Cecchini






Dario Cecchini is definitely one of those personalities, and on a recent hike in the Chianti area I came across him, chatting outside his shop on a Sunday morning. I had just parked the car in Panzano in Chianti and was walking toward the café to meet the other hikers along the street of his famous butcher’s shop. Cecchini is the 8th generation of butchers in his family and certainly under his guidance and inspiration the Antica butcher’s shop has expanded and gained notoriety.Restaurant 'Only Meat"


I first learnt about Cecchini in 2001 during the ‘crazy cow’ period when the Florentine T bone steak went off the menu. He held a mock funeral in the village, complete with a coffin containing a long spine of beef , a distressed widow and a line of mourners. He auctioned off the last T bone steaks to locals and celebrities like Elton John and Prince Charles and gave the money to charity. He’s that sort of guy, wildly extrovert and generous.

Back in business after the ban lifted he appeared for a while on a TV spot giving ‘how to cook meat” recipes in his funny colloquial Tuscan dialect and flamboyant style. Filmed in his shop, an elderly lady phoned the TV station to say the two statues depicting damned souls in purgatory that appeared on either side of his counter had been stolen from her little church in Piedmont! Again Cecchini was in the news, declaring innocently that he had bought them from an antique dealer and lucky for him he still had the receipt. The suspect antique dealer finished in court!

Restaurant Panzano


He is well-known to Jamie Oliver and a regular supplier to Sting who has a country house in the Chianti area.



So when I saw him I admit to being a bit overwhelmed and timidly asked to take his photo for my blog and he reacted enthusiastically “Come in, come in, behind the counter is best!”Dario Cecchini and me


He now has 3 restaurants in Panzano and the street is bizarrely decorated with fake steaks and colourful cow statues. One is called “Solo Ciccia” Tuscan slang for “Only Meat” and the other “MacDario” where he serves mostly burgers with roast potatoes and no roll.

Vineyards in Chianti

Chianti vineyards


Hiking Panzano

Hiking Panzano







Chianti hikeNot long after the day in Panzano I was dining downtown in a Jewish vegetarian restaurant and he was there with a group of American students having a great time. He was outrageously dressed in colours of the Italian flag, green pants, white shirt, red bandana, tricolour buttons, green crocs, even his socks which he proudly flashed when he came over to greet me! Such a sociable character, his generous grin radiates warmth; it’s hard not to like him even for a vegetarian.

Olive groves Chianti

Olive groves on Chianti hills

And to his credit that he has created such an empire, yet remained faithful to his Tuscan traditions and his local village. His enthusiasm and energy is infectious, and he has certainly done much to promote the area and local food specialities.

As he says in his video “Food is something very serious. It’s what nourishes our lives. And meat is something even more serious because it involves killing an animal to feed ourselves” For a man who gave up his studies as a vet to look after his siblings on the premature death of his father, he has a better understanding than most.