February 13, 2024

It’s that time of year, most of us in the northern hemisphere, whether US or Canada, northern Europe are waking up to drizzle & cold windy days in need to a summer holiday to boost out vitamin D; I ‘m glad to see the weather in Tuscany is full sun for the next ten days, 18C. The buds are beginning to break through and the olive trees have been heavily pruned and vines are ready to be tied to their posts. A unique Italian tradition is to plant willow trees near vines. They sprout vigorously every year, so every Easter the farmer cuts 1 metre long shoots to tie up the vines. The rest of the world use wire or string but the Italians prefer their own organic method.

Wild boars are common in Tuscany but are very really seen apart from with car headlights at night. They shoot about 200 in the valley very season Nov – February with packs of hounds. Most of the shooting is for game birds. It is very carefully managed by the cacciatore (hunters). The cacciatore have a good reputation as excellent hunters and the packs of cinghiale (wild boar) dogs are looked upon with a lot of respect.

In Italy, as with most of Europe, the Italians have the ‘right to roam’ policy which allows hunting in all areas. In the winter months we often see the cacciatore (often dressed toe to toe in Armani) with their retrievers and pointers walking in the vines, olive groves. Italian farmers often leave trees for cover wild birds and animals.

Every year when we’re having lunch on the Kitchen terrace I see our friendly redstart has returned to nest on an old chestnut beam in the stala (barn). The swallows will also return soon. After their epic journey from southern Africa they return to nest in the barn; as soon as they return they start re-building – isn’t nature incredible. In the really hot months they dive bomb the pool to keep hydrated.

I am always blown away by the art, country, culture and of course the views around Tuscany. The ancient Devil’s Bridge is over the River Serchio and 5 mins north of Ponte a Moriano.

Every summer we benefit from lots of migratory birds, like bee-eaters that nest in the nearby sandstone cliffs, also golden oriels that love the fruits and the red-backed-shrikes.

A bird with us all year is the barn owl that lives in the barn. Sadly, we’ve had a few owl fatalities probably from Eagles or Eagle Owls.


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December 7, 2023

Every summerI love eating all the local summer sweet fruits; we have planted many more olive trees which have really grown despite the dry summers.

We have also planted apricots, peaches and plums which are absolutely sweet and delicious. Figs in Italy have suffered recently with a bug brought in on other plant imports. As a result these have been cut down and removed. The green figs were absolutely delicious, so much so a family of badgers found them so irresistible that when we ate dinner on the kitchen terrace, the badgers including their cubs would climb up the bank and devour all the figs that had fallen on the south terrace and surrounding area. The figs were so syrupy and sweet, the fact we were eating and chatting wasn’t a big enough deterrent for the badgers. They had no fear, the figs were too good. In June the edible cherries are very abundant.

In the autumn the blackberries, blueberries and apples are plentiful and during the Christmas holidays we have an abundance of Persimons.

Among many wild flowers you will see many autumn crocuses, the stamens of each are saffron which is such a fantastic flavout. Each crocus only has 3 stamens which is the reason they are so expensive.

 


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July 27, 2023

Because we water the plants to try to keep them alive during the long dry summers it does attract some large grass snakes. These are not dangerous but may alarm young children, although Harry aged 4 didn’t appear to be frightened when he found snake skins.


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July 24, 2023

POOL SIDE FOR YOUNGSTERS

Two year old Freddie playing cars in the shade by the pool.

Initially Freddie was very wary of the pool but after a day we couldn’t keep him out


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July 24, 2023

CROCE DI BRANCOLI

When you look north west from our pool you will see a large cross on top of the hill. It is actually over a hill /mountain and across the river Serchio. As the crow flies it is probably only 2 miles (3.5km away) but to drive it is probably 40 minutes. I don’t recommend it for nervous drivers (and passengers).

Once up there it has the most amazing panoramic views of the river, Lucca and mountain range. You can even spot our red house. Wolves call from there at night to other wolves in the mountains. It is definitely worth a trip. The wild flowers, butterflies and bird life are wonderful.

To drive there, you need a fairly high up car or one without a low spoiler. I think I have probably driven up in a small Fiat over the years. Start off by crossing over the old bridge at Ponte a Moriano, turn hard left for a mile/2km. Before a left bend take a small right turning at Brancoli and after about 50-100m take another left turn and keep on going higher and higher. The church is approx a third of the climb; the last 10 minutes is on a hard clay base so don’t go when wet. Lots of groups of cyclists pedal all the way to the top.

The history of the cross dates back to the Romans in 200BC and the Germans in WW11. It was part of the 320km Gotic wall. https://casafresca.nl/historie/

Spot A Corte in the middle?

Never trust your family!!


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May 17, 2023

Every time I visit Tuscany, I return home enriched by the beauty, culture and history of the area, especially around our area an area of natural beauty.

Lucca often comes second to Melbourne as the best place to live in the world, As our chef friend, Aurelio says “It has everything, mountains to ski, beaches to bathe in, great transport links, cities to visit not to mention the beauty, culture & history”.

The other day we went to the village for dinner; it’s more of a hamlet than a village as there are no more than 20-30 homes. We sat outside listening to the nightingales as the sun set and watched the fireflies in their thousands light up the  valley. A simple but magical experience.

As the late Jamaican poet, James Berry OBE, a friend and neighbour said in his poem called Gugliano in 1998.

Like a mate, a place draws you to it.

We touched these undulating valleys:

they embraced and entranced us. Unlike

Shelley – who drowned in the waters of

Cinque Terre – we sank into the arms of these

I don’t think I need to add any more…


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May 17, 2023

In Italy we are spoilt for choice what to eat every day? Do we have a wonderful take-out to have at home with a salad, such as lasagne or tordelli, frito misto on Friday with a locale vongole of Viareggio’s finest tiny clams, arselle, or my wife’s favourite roast beef from Ale’s Gastronomea at the back of the square in Ponte a Moriano. We are spoilt for choice!!

We have so many good restaurants, from the simplest but excellent local white-van-man haunt serving excellent anti-pasti, pizzas, Il Chiocciolo to the finest Michelin starred restaurants and our favourite, Antica Locanda di Sesto.

Alternatively, we also have the Private chef, Fabrizio, who cooks wonderfully seasonal food for €50/ head (alcohol not included but you can buy this at Vini Lucca on the bridge to Ponte a Moriano). Anyone with dietary requirements just let me know and I will pass on to him.

The process is when booked, Fabrizio will prepare the food in his kitchen on the afternoon of the dinner, he arrives at A Corte at about 17.30 and puts it all together for dinner at 19.30(?). All the guest needs to do is select where to eat, dining room, south or east terrace and lay up, chill the drinks etc and pour the wine and keep out of the kitchen!! They will do the rest and put everything in the dishwasher. Buon appetito.

I suggest the east, pool side terrace as it’s near the kitchen, outdoor fridge room & bbq.

Menu e prezzi 2022 CasaCorte

The feed back has been wonderful. Firstly Bob, originally from Lucca who now lives in California wanted a meal at A Corte, whist over for a wedding, to celebrate with his relatives who still live in Lucca. Italians are highly critical of food not in their own kitchen so Bob’s words are very poignant.

FABRIZIO and his assistant Luigi , did a fabulous job at preparing a Wonderfull Tuscan dinner for my family.
Thank you so much for the recommendation .  I highly recommend (Bob Luca, October 2022).

I attach some recent reviews, all of which have been extremely positive.

Guests, Nichols family, British family in South Carolina: Fabrizio was wonderful!! Great food and great company also … thank you for organising that! – 27th June.

 

A lovely family arrived from Maine, Texas & California for a month who booked Fabrizio and here are their comments:

The dinner was absolutely amazing! We really enjoyed Fabrizio ???? Besides delicious food, he was very easy to work with and to understand. And he’s a treasure trove of Tuscan history!!
We plan to have him back on 27 May/Saturday and hopefully a time in between now and then.
All and all – a very enjoyable experience and good value for the €45/person ????
I am so smitten with Casa a Corte ???? All I want to do is sit and listen to the birds and gaze at the beauty!

 

From Elizabeth Tucker, North Carolina – June 2023:

Fabrizio’s meal was a highlight—and he brought us a “takeaway dinner” the second night he was supposed to come after we cancelled because Bill was ill with flu. But he doesn’t charge enough, in my opinion—we gave him more but I find creative people don’t always charge what they’re worth, if you want to pass that on. No need to apologise for it, either, it’s a service well worth paying for. Thanks for the recommendation!

Ps. Robin said after that second meal delivery, “I’ve decided Fabrizio is an angel.”

 

From Sasse family 18 June 23:

We had such a beautiful night, the dinner with Fabrizio was absolutely fabulous!!!  It did not disappoint. Best night! We look forward to having him back tonight. Thank you

From Sasse family 2nd night – 19th June 23

Thank you Hugh. Fabrizio was such a treat! Great food and a wonderful person. Thank you.


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March 1, 2023

Gianfranco is our local farmer and a wonderful kind man who lives with his brother Alessio and wife Mariarosa in the family farm in Gugliano. He used to be the patriarch of the village, head of the church and village but aged 83 he plays a lesser role despite being on the tractor every day. Although he’s recently had a couple of farming accidents he still incredibly strong & fit which he puts down to his daily intake of 1.5litres of his local red. He still hand milks his cows.

Mariarosa still wears a house coat and prepares most of the food in her outdoor kitchen; I would be surprised if they have hot water as many Italians don’t. They have a lovely family chapel which is covered in frescoes and now used by Gianfranco for his string & cardboard box collection – nothing is wasted. The Barsotti family graves and war memorial are on the bend in the road just above the village.

Gianfranco is usually seen wearing his black beret but wears a different job for each job. For vine work he converts two brown paper bags.

During Easter, he cuts and uses the willow shoots for tying up the vines. This is only practised in Italy but supposedly better than wire or string as they are stronger and more flexible.

Marcelo lives in the Corte up in Gugliano, opposite the Barsotti’s with his wife Yvana and is a wonderful sweet man; he has white haired with a fine moustache. He and his son look after the woods, repair the track, looks after our olive trees and has a wonderful veg patch. His vegetables, especially tomatoes are fantastic, unlike the awful ones we have in the UK.

Marcelo watching his son prune the huge oak tree by our barn.

Pierluigi is our gardener and pool man. He’s worked with us for 23 years. He is a lovely soul; his only sin is that he smokes and leaves his cigarette butts but that is a small sacrifice!! His catch phrase after cutting the lawns or strimming the olive groves  is ‘Troppo caldo!’ (very hot). In fairness, physical work during the summer is very hot. He lives with his mother and father, brother and wife in the white house across the valley, with better views of the beautiful mountains than the €2.5m house just below him, owned by a Belgium pharmaceutical tycoon.


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February 28, 2023

Hazel and I have been working on a book about Italian life in the country and their traditions. We started because we wanted to record so many wonderful traditions before they disappear. One of these is how Italians tie up their vines.

You will often find willow tree stumps near vineyards in Italy. This is because the flexible shoots are used instead of wire and string to tie the young vine shoots to the supporting wire.

Our farmer Gianfranco and his brothers (all in their 80’s) collect the shoots, strip them down and then ties the new vine shoots up. The Italians are the only wine producing nation to use this tradition

 


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October 3, 2022

Italians love children, whether in the street or restaurant, even the cultural aspects such as food – pasta, pizza & gelato – are so child friendly.

Two old men eating pasta in the evening sunshine

Our children have loved Casa a Corte since we bought the house in 2000. They have played in the streams, looked for praying mantis, planted trees on the estate, not to mention loving the Italian people and food.

Fresh boiled eggs from the farm.

Harry showing off his football skills in the square at Ponte a Moriano before a trip to the gelateria

Freddie watering the avenue of cypress trees he planted in 2014. Watering plants is essential during the summer months & fortunately Freddie has my love for it.

 

 

 


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