Celebrating Sardinia

The southwestern corner of Sardinia is called Sulcis. The word derives from the Carthaginian city of Solki. This is just one tiny example of the cultural palimpsest that makes up present-day Sardinia. Before the Carthaginians when the Phoenicians began visiting Sardinia in around 900 BCE, they encountered people of the Nuragic civilisation, which originated in about 1800 BCE. The ruins of their gigantic stone towers and settlements still dot the countryside; 7000 of them remain. Hard on the heels of the Carthaginians, the Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Spaniards, Pisans, Genovese and Piemontese all demanded their turns on the island. It’s no wonder that coming from Italy you feel as if you’ve arrived in a foreign country.

The island culture of Sant'Antioco

The island culture of Sant’Antioco

Impressive remains of a Nuragic complex on Sant'Antioco

Impressive remains of a Nuragic complex on Sant’Antioco

Recreation of early Christian burial in the catacombs of Sant'Antioco

Recreation of early Christian burial in the catacombs of Sant’Antioco

But it wasn’t the distant past that drew me to Sardinia. Some of the women coming on my September ‘Tastes & Textiles’ tour wanted to visit a woman who weaves with the fibres of the beard of a giant Mediterranean mollusc, and they asked me to take them. Barely credible, I thought, but her workshop had a website which placed it in the town of Sant’Antioco, on the Island of Sant’Antioco in the territory of Sulcis. Here was the ideal excuse to visit Sardinia, which I knew only from its pecorino sardo cheese and Vermentino wine…

Read about how my adventure in Sardinia led to a new exciting tour: http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/celebrating-sardinia/

Find out more about the tour at: http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com/small_group_tours/celebrating-sardinia/ (click on the tabs below the introduction to see all the details)

Posted in BREAD, cheese, FESTAS, HISTORY, Sardinia, TRADITION, weaving, WINE | Leave a comment

A Tour Sprouts

I’ve long wondered how to incorporate the rich agricultural heritage of the Lucca plain into a tour. Watching a bean stalk grow would try the patience even of a very slow traveller.

On Thursday I visited the organic farm Favilla in the suburbs of Lucca, where I was welcomed by Andrea, the owner’s son. As he spoke about his farm and its crops, the words tumbled out of his mouth and his face was alive with the enthusiasm he and his family devote to their project. The list of crops is long leaving no season without its fruits: wheat, vegetables and fruit.

Pasta Favilla

Andrea clutching his wheat and pasta

To find out more about the small group tour germinating at Sapori e Saperi Adventures, read the rest of my blog at http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/a-tour-sprouts/. Read to the bottom of the blog and you’ll find a special offer.

Save the dates: 2–9 July 2017.


My Tuscany part I

My Tuscany isn’t the manicured cypress-lined lanes of Siena and Chianti. It isn’t the great art and architecture of Florence. My Tuscany is Lucca in the northwestern part of the region.

Lucca Province is in northwestern Tuscany

There’s Lucca in red, 30 minutes inland from Pisa.

As enchanting and perfectly formed as the city of Lucca is, it isn’t my Tuscany either. My Tuscany is the Piana di Lucca, the flat plains and low hills surrounding the city. My Tuscany is Versilia, the coastal plain to the west of the city.  My Tuscany is the Media Valle del Serchio and the Garfagnana, the mountains and the Serchio River valley to the north of the city.

The four geographic and economic zones of Lucca Province

The four zones of Lucca Province. I live in the Valle del Serchio, near Bagni di Lucca.

This is the territory you come to for your adventures with Sapori e Saperi (‘flavours and knowledge’). Some friends have made four short films capturing the essence of my Tuscany. Although they call it Part 2, I’m dishing up Lucca first.

If you’ve been on the cheese course (Theory & Practice of Italian Cheese http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com/courses_with_artisan/theory-practice-of-italian-cheese/), you’ll recognise Monica Ferrucci and her goat cheese. Or, your feet might have helped Gabriele da Prato crush his grapes. Maybe you’ve attended the Disfida della Zuppa (Soup Tournament) and helped judge the zuppa alla frantoiana entries (read more about the Disfida here: http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com/better-than-the-winter-olympics/). Or did you pick and press olives with me. If not, treat yourself to my Autumn in Tuscany tour in November (http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com/small_group_tours/autumn-in-tuscany/). You’ll have a crash course in olives and their oil, you’ll also hunt for white truffles (and eat them) and, best of all, you’ll get to know a little bit of my irresistible Lucca.

Posted in beans, cardoon, cheese, fagioli, FARM, Lucca, OLIVE OIL, SOUP, TRADITION, Tuscany, WINE | 2 Comments


On 23 December as I looked over my menu for Christmas lunch, I was struck by the generosity of my Italian friends and producers. I realised I didn’t have to buy most of the ingredients I needed! They were gifts people had thrust upon me over the last two or three months, not just Christmas presents, but as part of their culture of giving. You share what you have, especially what you make yourself.

So many gifts!

So many gifts!

To find out the story behind the gifts read my new blog over at Slow Travel Tours: http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/generosity/

Posted in cheese, CHESTNUTS, COOKING, LIFE, OLIVE OIL, weaving, WINE | Leave a comment

Use Your Nose

So what did I learn at the first sommelier course lesson? Apart from the party trick of how to open a bottle of champagne by chopping the top off the bottle with a knife, I learned that I have to smell everything. I must have only been fake smelling before. One of the wines we tasted was a Vernaccia di San Gimignano. When the instructor asked what it smelled like, I ventured, ‘Grapefruit’. He didn’t even deign to look at me. Someone from the back shouted, ‘Apple’. ‘Apple’, repeated the instructor approvingly. Back home, I went on a search for the apple that smells like grapefruit, buying up every variety in the village shop.

Golden delicious, Jaime and Granny Smith

With a bit of imagination Granny Smith came closest to grapefruit. Over on the internet on an Australian website, I found that apples and grapefruits contain both malic acid and citric acid, but when I tried to find out what causes the typical apple odour, none of Google’s suggestions helped and one got me wondering what other objects I need to smell: ‘The scent of an Apple product, sourcing the MacBook Pro fragrance’.

Any advice about wine and apples?

Posted in FRUIT, WINE | 2 Comments

Meaning in a Glass of Wine

I’m about to embark on a three-month wine sommelier course at Lucca. It’s not that I want to become a wine expert, but I want to move from knowing what I like to understanding why I like it.

Colle Verde tasting room

Italian wine I know I like

My education in wine began with a husband who was buying fine wines at auction when we were so poor that I was scouring the Cambridge market to save a ha’penny on potatoes. At least I got to drink some superb wines, but it also made me lazy. I didn’t have to decide which wine to buy or which to serve with which food.

Vecchio Mulino Castelnuovo

Is this the best wine to drink with salumi?

Since I started living near Lucca and organising my gastronomic tours eight years ago, I’ve learned a lot more. I accompany my clients on vineyard tours and drink a glass of wine, as Italians do, with most meals, which has made me more conscious of the effect wine and food have on each other. The wines range from humble family wines to exalted Brunellos and Barolos and from sparkling to sweet passitos. It’s been an exciting time for Italian wines. Winemakers have really started pulling up their socks and producing much higher quality wines. And I’ve observed the number of biodynamic vineyards in this area grow from one to five, with more on the way.

Terre del Sillabo vino bianco

Enjoying wine in Lucca

Still, my knowledge is patchy — a jigsaw puzzle in progress. You know how easy it is to complete the frame, but inside there are all those islands of pieces that remain stubbornly disconnected. This is my effort to fill in the gaps, and I hope I’ll be able to give you a few tips too.

Posted in WINE | 6 Comments

Confessions of a Novice Wine Taster

Since you seem to have to make a humiliating public confession to get noticed these days, I confess I’m a wine ignoramus. For someone who leads food and wine tours in Italy, I’m like a bird without its wings. It’s not that I can’t taste the difference between wines, but I can never remember which flavours and aromas go with which grapes or which wines are produced in which regions, let alone the characteristics of individual vineyards. Asked whether a particular wine smells and tastes more like black currants or ripe plums, I really can’t say. Does it have a hint of spice? I’m not sure.
Hoping it’s not to late to learn, I went yesterday to the 10th annual Anteprima Vini della Costa Toscana (Preview of Wines of the Tuscan Coast) in Lucca. This year 103 winemakers presented one wine each from the 2010 harvest. I took my friend Sam Gallacher, who had been president of the Peterhouse Wine Society at Cambridge, and together we launched bravely in at the south with Morellino di Scansano from the province of Grosseto and worked our way northward through the Bolgheris of Livorno (Sassacaia and Ornellaia conspicuous by their absence) to Lucca and Massa without a stop except to exchange views: bitter, thin, no nose, fruity, no character, full-bodied, strawberries, sour, meaty, burnt toast. Burnt toast? Must be a different kind of bread from the one I burn every morning. The sight of Pisa looming ahead was too much for us. We needed a break.
On the principle that a change is as good as a rest we headed to the enormous hall where the same vineyards were presenting their ready-to-drink vintages to the public. I made a beeline to Fattoria La Torre (Montecarlo) to taste their 2006 Esse made of 100% Syrah grapes. Next to the 2010 on the anteprima list I’d written ‘juicy blackberries’ (although I still wasn’t sure I didn’t mean black currants). What a disappointment to find the more mature vintage didn’t taste anything like the young one. To cheer myself up I tried their Saltair, a blend of Viognier and Vermentino, which I was relieved to find tasted just as good as I remembered, but I was too exhausted to think what it resembled other than ‘wine I like’.
After a quick collapse in some stylish garden furniture that a hopeful manufacturer was showing to make your private wine tastings on the patio more enjoyable, we faced up to Pisa. It was nearly closing time and the male sommeliers who were supposed pour the wines we wanted to taste had sloped off, leaving a cheerful and still energetic female sommelier from Pisa to help us. After a curious wine called Merla della Miniera (Blackbird of the Mine) made of 100% Canaiolo Nero grapes that seemed a bit like rotting meat to me and a biodynamic wine called Duemani (Two Hands) that tasted dusty, I decided my palette was hallucinating and gave up.
I’d spit out more wine in three hours than I’d drunk in a year and a half. I’d discovered  a new sweet red called Aleatico from Fattoria di Fubbiano (Colline Lucchesi), which I could imagine myself serving in place of vin santo, most of which I find too raisiny. I’d confirmed my previous tentative liking for the wines of the vineyards of Sardi-Giustiniani and Fabbrica di San Martino (both Colline Lucchesi). But could I now describe what the Sangiovese grape smells or tastes like? Not really. Oh, and I was concentrating so much on tasting that I forgot to take any photos.
All suggestions for a programme of improvement will be seriously considered (but no time for a sommelier course).
Posted in Tuscany, WINE | 2 Comments