A Luxury Country Inn - Umbria

May 2016 View from Genius Loci Country Inn

10th Anniversary Celebration

As Genius Loci celebrates its 10th season, I have enjoyed pouring through old photographs and am so very pleased to share visual moments of and some thoughts from this amazing adventure.

Even with our clear vision for an inviting inn, anchored in but not limited to, Umbrian tradition (its rural setting,  antique building materials, architectural details, no-fuss furnishings, and colors), reaching our goal, nevertheless,  often seemed so far away… and so dauntingly overwhelming when we first began.

The history-filled 1880s farmhouse needed extensive renovation and ever-flexible creativity to overcome the many obstacles. It required such unwavering steadfastness and attention to detail in order to finally reach our desired goal of providing guests with a welcoming, comfortable, relaxed ambiance inn that provided luxury…but with an “easy” sense of  a feel-good rustic elegance.

We aimed to create a tranquil and refined oasis, exactly the type that we ourselves always sought/seek during our travels.  We knew/know well the certain feeling that we yearned/yearn for at the end of our culturally stimulating (and often exhausting) days exploring Italy’s endless treasures of history, natural beauty, art and world-famous food – that certain feeling where we found/find peace of mind and psychological well-being –  both so necessary to reload for more of the fascinating stimulation the following morning.

Towards our goal and in keeping with our particular genius loci (the spirit of place), we aimed for:

*  luxurious rooms ideally positioned to enjoy the sweeping views

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*  an inviting outdoor portico with magnificent views and comfortable seating for quiet time

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*  a large-enough panoramic solarium and pool to provide private spaces

Pool 3

*   delicious and beautifully-presented breakfast buffets which reflected/reflect the very best of local traditions and specialties

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*  an inviting Honor Bar

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*  a charmingly comfortable Library/Reading room

Genius Loci - A Luxury Country Inn - Reading Room at Genius Loci

Enjoy the slideshow for a glimpse of our attempt to implement our vision of creating the welcoming hospitality, refinement and relaxed elegance that is Genius Loci Country Inn.

Won’t you come to experience the magic for yourself and share our 10th Anniversary Celebration?

-Mary


A Medieval Festival in Bevagna

  June is a magical month at Genius Loci:  we are surrounded by endless fields of stately, majestic sunflowers, the days are long with balmy evenings…and just down the road, Bevagna is alive and abuzz with one of Italy’s most highly acclaimed and marvelous festivals.  Il Mercato delle Gaite runs for 10 days in the second half of June.

smiling sunflowers welcoming us back

This period is a wonderful time to visit Umbria.  Book your stay today at Genius Loci and let us help you with the information you need to get the most enjoyment out of this magnificent festival.

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adorable youngsters - look at those shoes!

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the blacksmith

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silk thread

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wool dyeing with all natural herbs

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a woman in the procession

             a huge thank you to guest/friend Julie Thomas for her amazing photos above

Italy is famous for its festivals.  They were originally organized in small towns, by the local people who all participated in one way or another to keep expenses to a minimum, devolving the profit either to a charity or to the needs of their own town or village.

Over the years, many of these once local festivals began to outsource the work to national cooperatives that send in a team.  As you can imagine, this utterly changes the spirit and atmosphere of the festivals.  Maurizio and I have been to some of these outsourced festivals and much to our dismay, they were entirely different, less coherent and much less enjoyable:  the towns had “sold their souls”.

Luckily Bevagna continues true to itself.  Year after year it is awarded its due recognition as one of the Top 10 Festivals in Italy.  It meets and exceeds the basic criteria for this award – that an historic committee approve the authenticity, that the medieval culinary traditions be strictly respected…and above all, that a high percentage of local residents be involved in myriad ways.  Bevagna has one of the highest percentages, in fact, of local participation of all the top-rated festivals.

Its soul is intact, as are all those of the magnificent Umbrian towns.  The towns are just as well-known for what they have not become as for what they are.  

Each June, the locals don medieval garb as they go about the Festival activities.   Each quarter - gaita – creates a tavern where dishes are prepared exclusively from documented medieval recipes.  The four gaite compete intensely in horse races, archery, processions, medieval street music, banquets, workshops and tavern menus.  

Artisan workshops are recreated, welcoming visitors with demonstrations and explanations.  While all the workshops are interesting and worth visiting, we find the paper-making, candle-making from local beeswax, cloth dyeing from local herbs,  silk weaving process (complete from raising the silk worms to spinning the thread),  blacksmith, basket weaving and thatching using local river reeds truly remarkable. 

These finished products are exhibited and sold on “market days” .

Bevagna delle Gaite

 one of the typical street markets

Candle makers

 the pure beeswax candle-making workshop

A weaver working on an antique loom

 the silk weaving on antique looms workshop

Street vendors

 the ceramic market

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 flat bread and local acorn-fed pork sausages

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evening processions and pageantry in the town square

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beautiful Bevagna – one of the rare flat Umbrian towns

Won’t you join us in June for this amazing Medieval Gaite Festival in Bevagna?

-Mary


Sagra della Cipolla Festival

S. Cipolla '15 - 4

 

Food Festivals abound in Umbria.  Traditionally they were always centered on a local food of the town where the sagra was held.  More recently, eager to jump on the bandwagon, many towns have sadly “invented” sagre that have nothing to do at all with their own tradition or have hired “teams” from other regions to come in to run the food festivals.  We have long stopped going to those, finding them much less enjoyable with little or no local citizenship participation…with little…if any…ragion di essere.

There is an interesting national listing of Sagre that takes into consideration many factors in assigning the top 10.  Local participation of the townspeople is one of the most important factors.  Umbrian festivals, for the most part, score well along these lines.

La Sagra della Cipolla in the small, flat (one of the few in Umbria) town of Cannara (about 15 minutes from Bevagna), held the first two weeks in early September,  satisfies all the criteria for an excellent festival:  it is centered around its very own traditional product – the humble onion –  AND has an almost 100% local participation in its organization. It does allow people from other regions to come to sell their fair-like goods along the streets, but the cooking and the serving are done by local residents.

The food in any and all of the taverns is excellent:  soups, parmigiana, pasta sauces, stews, starters…even desserts are based on onions.  As you can see from the photos we took this year, Cannara grows a wide array of onions – all of excellent quality.

S. Cannara '15

S. Cipolla '15 - 2

Sagra della Cipolla 2015

S. Cipolla '15 - 5

S. Cipolla '15 - 3

S. Cipolla '15

The Sagra della Cipolla in Cannara celebrated its 35th year this September.  I don’t think we have missed but three or four years.  We always enjoy going, trying to go for two dinners in the two-week time frame.  We have been fortunate to share this experience some years with guests who have enjoyed it as much as we always have!

La Sagra della Cipolla in Cannara – one of our very favorite food festivals.

-Mary


The Island of Ponza – Final Part 3 – Food and Return to Formia

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Driving around the island at different times of day, the light was very different, offering spectacular sights and varying colors of the crystal clear waters.

Ponza turquoise water

Ponza island

lunch at our hotel

Ponza magnificent

Ponza palms

Ponza villa

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Ponza

the sights, amusing or stunningly gorgeous, never ceased to amaze.  Each evening we ended our blissful days with a late dinner at Punta Incenso Restaurant, a family run, informal place that served dinner only.  Several of the family members spent their morning fishing, serving their catch of the day at dinner.  What a treat to enjoy only the best local, seasonal FRESH fish.

Our Ponza restaurant

Ponza grilled calamaro, swordfish and ricciola

Ponzese alici

Ponza - alici

Ponza -soutè di vongole

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Maurizio on boat end of vacation

end of vacation

twilight at Ponza

Five glorious days on the beautiful island of Ponza with a total change of pace, scenery, food and activities made for the perfect late August-early September mini-vacation. We couldn’t help but wonder why we had never gone before!

-Mary


The Island of Ponza – Part 2

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leaving Ponza port for a full day boat excursion, from 9 AM – 6 PM with six leisurely stops for swimming 

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on the private charter boat “Orca” with just 12 passengers

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We circled the entire island of Ponza and the island of Palmarola, mesmerized by its turquoise, cobalt blue, and emerald green waters

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and the few sandy beaches.

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The warm sea was irresistible,  as was the beauty of the two islands’ small coves, grottos, jagged coastline, unusual rock formations, sheer cliffs…and, as above,  the few intimate sandy beaches.


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We were enchanted by the ever-changing light, reflections, colors, numerous grottos, coves, inlets, colorful fish visible in the crystal clear waters.

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The full summer day with 98° F. air temperatures and 84° F.  water temperatures made for the perfect all-day boat trip

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and for taking full advantage of every swimming stop in gorgeous spots.

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A very happy me, fully in my “elements” of sun and water.

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our comfy table for an unforgettable lunch cooked and served onboard

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 starters of: bruschetta with tomatoes, garlic and basil; lemon-marinated fresh local anchovies with sautéed eggplant, garlic and oregano;  soutè of local mussels; served with local Ponza white wine and a  refreshing sangria

Orca boat trip

followed by an amazing spaghettata of cherry tomatoes, garlic, leeks, eggplant, zucchini…and loaded with clams, shrimp and mussels

Ponza Orca lunch

and rock shrimp with EVOO, fresh Italian parsley and garlic, sautéed ever-so briefly in the local island white wine - absolutely delicious

Ponza boat trip lunch

 before the sweet, festive watermelon…and strong espresso for all.  What a treat!

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A perfect day in Ponza, an unforgettable experience…and the forging of the happiest memories.

STAY TUNED for Part 3:  Scenery and Food of Ponza

-Mary


The Island of Ponza – Part 1

Ponza is called the Pearl of the Mediterranean islands.  I am not sure if I would call it the pearl  -  but I would certainly consider it one of the island pearls.  Strangely, since it is somewhat closer to us than Capri, Ischia and Elba, we had never been.  On a whim, we grabbed an opportunity and took off the last Sunday of August – the very day that the August crowds were leaving the island.  While many visitors rent scooters for the island that has only one narrow road, we took our car on the Formia – Ponza ferry boat.  The weather was full summer with bright, clear, cloudless 98° F. days – perfect for this type of trip.  The relative proximity made it feasible for a short 5 day mini-break from our Genius Loci season.

Fortunate enough to have visited the South Pacific, the Caribbean and Florida, I must admit that the Mediterranean islands are my favorite.  I prefer the barren Macchia Mediterranean to the tropical; the dry to the humid climate; the calm/crystal clear/warm water with the gorgeous patchwork of cobalt blue, turquoise and emerald green hues to the ocean.  I love the light of the amazing grottos and the typical cactus pears.  Add the most flavorful fish imaginable and the to-die-for buffalo milk mozzarella – made fresh twice daily in the area – and my preference for the Mediterranean islands is a no brainer.

I also enjoy the ease and minimum travel time:  a 3-hour drive to Formia and a two and a half hour ferry boat crossing.  In a half day we have a total change of scenery and atmosphere.

Traghetto to Ponza - Mary

on the Formia – Ponza ferry boat crossing

arrival Ponza

arriving at the picturesque port of Ponza

Ponza arrival-drive to B&B

a stop on our way to our hotel

Ponza

 views driving the short distance to our hotel

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 beautiful views along the drive to our hotel

Ponza turquoise water

turquoise waters below 

Villa Gabbiano - parking space

a tiny sign indicated our Villa Gabbiano B & B parking area

Ponza island

amazing views as we walked up through the garden to our hotel

V. Gabbiano - Ponza -entrance walkway through the garden

one of the lovely walks through the vast garden of our hotel

V. Gabbiano - Ponza - entrance

arriving at the entrance

our B & B  -  Villa Gabbiano   –  boasts 360° views:

Ponza faraglioni

view from one side of the garden

side garden of Villa Gabbiano Ponza

view from the other side

front garden Villa Gabbiano - Ponza

and the “front” view of Palmarola Island

Ponza port view from Villa Gabbiano

the “back” view of the port

sunset from hotel

the “front” view of Palmarola island and the splendid sunsets

V. Gabbiano Ponza - view from our room

view from our room at sunset

STAY TUNED – TO BE CONTINUED

If you would like to know more about Ponza, read below (from Wikipedia)

Ponza is the largest of the Italian Pontine Islands archipelago

 History

The island was inhabited from neolithic through Roman times. According to local legends, Ponza was named after Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea who tried Jesus of Nazareth for heresy. Pontius Pilate’s family owned a grotto on Ponza, which is still named after him. The Pontius Pilate legend of Ponza’s name has recently come into dispute amongst historians.  Another theory is that the name is of Greek origins from Greek.

 Greek and Roman periods

 In ancient times the island was called Tyrrhenia. Legend says that Ponza is what is left of the lost island of Tyrrhenia. Ponza is said to have been connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land, which sank into the sea with most of the island below the water, with the parts remaining above sea level. The same exact phenomena happened at Capri. According to legend, there was a large city on the ancient island. There has been significant archaeological progress recently that shows this may be true.

 Ponza was first colonized by the Etruscans. The island was heavily forested with giant trees in ancient times, but the forest is gone and the hills are covered with man-made terraces. Most of these terraces are no longer being used to grow food and grapes and are eroding due to lack of maintenance.  Crops are grown on these terraces like grapes for wine and cactus pears and fig trees.

Ponza is also thought to be the island of Aeaea in Homer‘s Odyssey, as the island of Circe the sorceress, where her cave was located. Today it is known as Grotta della Maga Circe on the west side of the island.  Archaeologists are investigating Ponza in search of evidence of Homer’s Odyssey.

 During Roman times, Nero Caesar, eldest brother of Caligula, was deported to Ponza in AD 29, where he was put to death the following year. Two of his sisters, Agrippina the Younger (mother of the emperor Nero) and Julia Livilla, were exiled to Ponza in AD 39 for their complicity in a plot to overthrow Caligula. They were recalled to Rome in AD 41. Julia Livilla had a mansion named Palazzo Giulia (Julia’s Palace) built especially for her on Ponza. The ruins are still visible.

 Middle Ages

Ponza was abandoned during the Middle Ages due to constant raids by Saracens and pirates. In 1552, the Ottoman fleet under the command of Turgut Reis (known as Dragut in the West) defeated the Spanish fleet of Emperor Charles V under the command of the famous Genoese admiral Andrea Doria near Ponza.

 Recent history

During the 18th century, the Kingdom of Naples re-colonized the island. The island became part of the Kingdom of Italy in the mid-19th century and it is now part of the Republic of Italy. The island’s isolation destined it to serve as a penal colony by various regimes.   Today the island is a tourist attraction.

Geography

 Ponza and Gavi are the remains of a caldera rim of an extinct volcano, with a surface area of 7.3 square kilometres (2.8 square miles). Ponza is approximately 5.5 mi (8.9 km) long by 1.5 mi (2.4 km) at its widest. It is a crescent shaped island with one large beach called Spiaggia di Chiaia di Luna (Half Moon Beach) and a few small beaches and has a mostly rocky coast.

 Ponza has many odd natural rock formations.  It has several small villages, among them are Commune di Ponza, Santa Maria and Le Forna.

The island has many archeological ruins visible everywhere, including Egyptian, Canaanite, Greek, and Phoenician necropoli ruins in the center of the island. There are Etruscan ruins on parts of the island jumbled with Roman ruins.

  A large statue called Il Mamozio (“The Mummy”) or Il Mitreo, meaning miter or priest’s hat, is a 3,000 year old marble statue and was found in the harbor.  Depicting a local Etruscan consul, it is now displayed in a museum in Napoli behind protective plastic, where it was reunited with its head. It is the oldest known Etruscan statue of its kind and extremely rare.

 Economy

The town of Ponza is a fishing and boating port with several large docks that can accommodate large ships. Its biggest industry is tourism followed by boatbuilding, boat repair and fishing.

The four mines at the northern end — the most beautiful area of the island — were closed in 1975 by the Italian Environmental Protection Agency because the mining operation was destroying the wildlife and flora, which are endangered species. The mines produced kaolin and Bentonite. Kaolin is used in making Kaolin-Pectin medicine and the manufacture of porcellain.

 Ponza has a two lane road that goes from north to south, but can accommodate small cars only. An airstrip planned for the north of the island was canceled due to environmental concerns. Because there is no airstrip, seaplanes visit the island instead.

Celebrities often vacation on Ponza.  Jacques Cousteau and his son, Philippe Cousteau, have filmed several documentaries in the area.

 Federico Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) was filmed on Ponza.

 Rabbits, chickens and other animals are raised for meat to make a popular Ponza dish: cacciatore. Other farmed animals include goats, lamb and pigeons. Fresh fish is the mainstay.

 The local economy is in a downturn partly due to the severe restrictions on commercial fishing.

 Transportation

Ferries reach Ponza from Naples, Terracina, Formia and Anzio; there are also hydrofoils (aliscafo) from Anzio and Formia that have travel time of about 75 minutes. The ferries and hydrofoils may not depart to and from Ponza during severe weather conditions. Much of Ponza is accessible by car and a bus runs the length of the island.

Ponza vegetation

Villa Gabbiano - Ponza

-Mary


Crimson and Gold at Genius Loci 2015

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                                                                                                                                                                                           photo courtesy of Julie Thomas

                                                                                                                                             

Imagine waking up each morning to this view from your room and at breakfast or driving on the country roads around Genius Loci with the crimson vineyards stretching deep and wide around each bend, seeing the olive harvest first-hand, tasting the newly cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil at the Open Olive Mills’ Festival and relaxing before dinner by the working fireplace as we roast local chestnuts and sip Sagrantino along with a few other like-minded guests.

November 5 – 12, 2015

an all-inclusive week of magnificent beauty

WON’T YOU JOIN US?  We’d love to share this with you!

Please contact us for full information.  Space is limited…so don’t delay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                          

-Mary


The Delights of Modena – Part 2 – Mercato Albinelli

“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” – Paul Prudhomme

Nowhere does that ring any truer than in Italy or is any more apparent than at Italy’s magnificent food markets.  Visiting the markets wherever we happen to be visiting is always at the top of our To Do list!  Those in Bolzano, Verona, Venice, Bologna, and Florence stand out in my memory…and I must now add the Albinelli Market in Modena as another stand out.   It is hard to imagine anyone living in the center of town NOT shopping there.  In fact, 88% of all those who live within “the walls” shop at least weekly, with 25% who shop there everyday!   The atmosphere was so festive that we thought there was a celebration of some kind.  ”No”, one of the stand owners replied, “it is just a normal Friday”.

There are records dating from 1100 that mention the daily food market in the Piazza Grande.  It wasn’t until 1931 that a Liberty Style permanent structure was built, just steps from the Piazza.  The wrought iron work is massive and remarkable.  The locals refer to the Market as the heart and soul and Modena.

Albinelli Market - Modena

Many of the stands have been continuously owned and  managed since 1931 by members/generations of the same family.   Even though some of the produce stands are very similar / almost identical in their offerings and prices, customers are loyal to “their” stands.  There are strolling musicians, barbershop quartets and choral groups who perform regularly:  the atmosphere is that of a “happening” with warm greetings, waving across the aisles and various chit-chats floating through the festive air.  Questions were gladly answered, exhaustive explanations were willingly offered, samples were provided, and collaboration between stands was apparent!

The highlight for us was a visit to stand 36-37, specializing in cheeses and the amazing balsamic vinegar of Modena.  The kind couple has worked there daily (except Sundays) for 21 years.  In spite of a rather long line of their regular customers, they spent a good amount of time with us, explaining the different types of parmigiano and the fundamental difference between IGP and DOP versions of the Modena Balsamic vinegars.  I plan on dedicating a blog entry on this heavenly gourmet product and on the types of parmigiano...so please check back to learn more.

modena market - mushrooms

pasta all'uovo-Modena

sugo allo scoglio

Speaking of collaboration among the stands, the day we left Modena for home, we returned to the Market for some purchases.  The woman selling this amazing fish sauce rushed to the fish monger (from which she had bought earlier that morning the fish to cook) for a large scoop of ice and a freezer bag to ensure our sauce would travel safely for the 4 hour trip home.  The third generation fish monger then came over to her stand to make sure, as she was packing the bag, that she had enough ice.  He inspected, approved…and said we were “good to go”.

cheesecake with berries - Modena Market

dandelion greens in our sandwich

Maurizio was excited to find dandelion greens to put in the sandwiches we made ourselves by visiting several stalls for the freshest bread, the best Modena prosciutto,  slices of a fresh local cheese AND a drizzle of heavenly DOP aceto balsamico.   For dessert, we had a couple slices of a beyond-delicious mixed wild berries cheesecake (see the photo above).  We topped off this simple but fun / delicious lunch with an 85% dark chocolate layered espresso at Cafè Concerto on the Piazza Grande.   What fun it was to watch the dynamics among the people and even see a dog “smelling” the flowers. I was lucky to happen upon this photo below on the Internet since I wasn’t quick enough to get my camera out to capture the similar scene!

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Another delight in Modena:  the Albinelli Market!

-Mary


Finally… An Authentic Italian Cookbook

Letizia's cookbook

 Letizia Mattiacci, author of A Kitchen With A View at Genius Loci

Letizia's cookbook cover

 Letizia’s cheerful book cover

“Can you recommend a good cookbook, Mary?” guests ask during our Cooking Classes or our Gourmet Tastings at Genius Loci.  Just as invariable as the question –  was my disappointing answer: “No, I really can’t”.  Never had I found a general cookbook that fully understood the why,what, and how we eat in Umbria.  For those of us who have lived here with Italian husbands and lives, the cookbooks in English just don’t “get it”.

A Kitchen With A View is SUCH a welcome exception!  Written in English by an articulately intelligent, highly educated, expert cook from Perugia with years of experience teaching foreigners the secrets of Italian cooking at her Cooking School above Assisi, Letizia instinctively knows how to address what is puzzling and what will benefit from some extra explanation.  Her useful tips, insights and writing style are straightforward, pragmatic and ever so clear.  The photography of the food and of Umbria by Letizia’s husband, Ruurd, is spectacular and adds yet another layer of pleasure to this exquisitely beautiful book.

As a modern and extremely busy woman, wife and mother herself, Letizia offers ideas and recipes (with seasonal variations) which won’t keep you in the kitchen for hours.  This is not Grandma’s cookbook, but a modern approach of someone who knows the importance of eating well…but without undue fuss.

What a relief!  Finally… I can unabashedly answer that most commonly recurring request, “Can you recommend a good cookbook, Mary?” …with a resounding and convinced “Yes”!

Mayleen Montana clematis

For ordering information, please email:   FTeditore@gmail.com 

For our treasured guests, the book is also on view and available for purchase at Genius Loci.

-Mary