Primavera alla Landriana

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Spring at Landriana.  We bring you here our photo essay of the 18th edition of Rome’s premier annual flower and garden show; our third review, in as many years. (See Primavera alla Landriana and the Gardening Event of the Year .)

What strikes us always is how the attendees and exhibitors alike are so visibly harmonious with the plants, the gardens and one another.  There is rich variety and diversity; but, cacophony, which is so ever present in Rome itself, is here absent.  Nearly everyone seems unselfconsciously well dressed, whether conservatively so or joyously eccentric.  And not an automobile in sight !  Such civility, an oasis of calm and good will towards all — people, plants and dogs.

This year, we also include a photographic tour of the Landriana gardens, roughly begun in 1956 (reclaiming land laid waste by the Allied landing at Anzio and advance on Rome during World War II) but whose design as a formal garden was laid out in 1967 by the great British landscape architect, Russell Page.  The gardens have evolved since to their present state — a destination for those who love gardens and, in any event, a worthy detour for all — if you are not already a serious garden lover, you may after a visit here well become one.

While open year around, except for the months of August and December, visits are only by guided tour and are not every day of the week, nor even weekly — so for those of you traveling with Insider’s Italy, let us know in advance of your interest so that we can work it into your itinerary. Finding Landriana may also prove difficult but our driver, Gustavo, will make make it very easy, indeed, for you.  Gardens are near and dear to us at Insider’s Italy and planning itineraries with a garden emphasis is something we love doing for our clients.

The Flower and Garden Show

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The Gardens

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It’s the Journey not the Arrival that Matters, Italo !

photo courtesy of NTV

An announcement is made, while we’re en route, that the train will be delayed by 30 minutes to an hour.  Alas, it hasn’t happened yet but hope springs eternal.  Like children listening to the radio on an early snowy morning hoping to hear that school has been cancelled, we hope that our train, en route from Rome to Florence, will be delayed so that our delightful journey on the new Italo train will be drawn out indefinitely –– and this even though we’re travelling with two young children.

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Our snug and very comfortable private compartment for four has large, clean windows to look out onto the passing Lazio, Umbria, Tuscany landscapes.  The children are so content with books and drawing paper that they have only passing interest in the movies offered on their individual monitors, like those in business class on airplanes.  And, since we mention airplanes, the food on Italo is much better than even that on most business-class flights –– not that we wish to damn by faint praise. In fact, Italo has partnered with Eataly (the same Eataly in New York City that has attracted such positive attention).

If one wants a substantial meal, served in the form of  Japanese bento boxes, one orders it in advance, and it is succulent and fresh; otherwise, in the Club Car class, one is offered an assortment of delicious and innovative fresh snacks, both sweet and savoury.

Wireless internet is free. Bathrooms are impeccable. Would we like a newspaper? Architectural Digest? Our personal steward in the salotto (salon) car appears often to ensure that all is just as we wish.

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However, perhaps the best and most important part of Italo is the staff.  They are mostly young, vibrant and demonstrate the esprit de corps and bonhomie that only good management that treats all its employees well can sustain.

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It starts when one enters the special office of Italo in whatever train station one happens to be in.  From being in a big, ugly and impersonal station, one feels as if one has been transported to a small-town or country train station.  One is greeted by a host of service personnel asking (in English for non-Italian speakers) if one needs assistance, which assistance is given immediately.  Missed one’s train?  Do not worry –– a new ticket is issued for the next train (a confession: we know, as this has happened to us twice).  Confused about which track?  There are Italo train personnel standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the proper train track and alongside the track, as well, to direct one to the proper carriage –– all seats are reserved by number of course,  unlike American trains.  Travelling with children and too much luggage?  Train personnel helped us carry our bags from the Italo office to the track where we were met by other personnel who helped us onto the train.

Clearly, the parent company of Italo, Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori (NTV), views itself not just as a transport company but as an up-scale tourism venture.  On our last trip, returning to Rome from Padua, we had a very pleasant chat with a member of the train staff –– a lovely young woman.  She holds a BA degree in tourism.  This is a company that takes seriously a commitment to customer service, employee welfare and social responsibility.  It was she who explained to us the conscious management decision not to have music piped through the audio system and to instruct all employees not to wear perfume or cologne.  The offered moistened towelettes are unscented.

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The president of the company and an investor is Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the chairman of Ferrari. One of the other investors is the head of a fashion shoe company, Tod’s. Thus, it should not be surprising that the trains are well engineered and beautifully designed. Interestingly, for a private railroad company, another investor is the French state rail agency S.N.C.F.

 In anticipation of your first voyage with Italo, do take a virtual tour of this extraordinary train, courtesy of Italo.

Train travel in Italy is now a joy.

… More on Winter in Italy, Journey to Puglia

Last month, to further celebrate winter in Italy, we left our home in Rome to travel south to Puglia — an easy three-hour drive to our first destination, Ruvo.

Some essays are best said with images, and not with words. So we will say very little.

Except perhaps that Puglia is one of our single favorite regions in all of Italy, and when we are not there, we always wish that we were.

No other region of Italy holds so much interest for the historian and particularly for the architect : its Norman castles, cathedrals, trulli, masserie, dry walls.

No other region offers cuisine that is more succulent. This is principally an inland cuisine, solidly peasant-based, vegetarian-oriented, and where the profuseness of vegetables and high quality hard wheat yield Italy’s best bread and the most varied and interesting utilization of seasonal produce.

And the olives.

We dream of the olives. There are roughly 60 million olive trees in Puglia — approximately one tree for each Italian. This is the world’s oldest arboreal landscape.  About six million of the trees are considered monumentali or monumental trees and just under half a million trees are known as ulivi secolari or trees older than one century.  No one knows how many trees are between one and two thousand years old but there are many of them — certainly thousands and thousands — whose age has been established through carbon dating.

 

First destination, Ruvo.

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Romanesque arch, Ruvo Cathedral

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Cathedral tabernacle, Ruvo

Pugliese pasta and taralli

En route to our second destination,  Castel del Monte.

Castel del Monte

Overlooking the sea and the surrounding countryside, Castel del Monte was one of the most important castles built  by Frederick II and was constructed in the 1240s. Frederick II’s hunting lodge — or possibly citadel  — was a unique and innovative masterpiece of architecture and engineering.

Windswept

Doorway, interior castle courtyard

Passages

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Cross vaulting

Shadows and light

 

Our second destination, a favorite country inn near Ostuni.

Gateway

A warm welcome.

Doorway from courtyard to garden

The garden

Winter in Puglia

Olive varieties, local production. Unlike Tuscan olives, Puglian olives are picked when red (and very ripe)

Drying the lavender and tomatoes

Old olive press, detail

Ancient olive press, less ancient mechanism for turning the wheels

Entrance to main house

Contentment on a cool winter’s night

Bottom of the stairs

Timeless comfort from another era

Left, wedding dress of owner’s mother. Right, festival dress from Ostuni

1949 Fiat, getting ready for a tour of the olive grove

To the ancient olives

Welcome

May I have this dance?

How old are you?
1,000 to 2,000 years.  What’s 1,000 years to a tree ?

And how old are you?

Centuries old dry wall

Playing in an olive tree that is over 1000 years old.

Playing in an olive tree that is over 1000 years old.

On the road to Trani…

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Long abandoned trulli compound

Cabbage patch and ancient olive grove

 

Our final destination, the coastal city of Trani…

Trani Cathedral

Castle

Bell tower

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Trani Cathedral at dusk

Lighthouse

Winter in Italy – Carnevale !

Rome has not the elaborate and extraordinary costumes and masks of Venice (we’ll post photographs from a prior trip in another blog) but this year Rome was about the only place in Italy where foul weather didn’t obstruct the main celebratory events of Carnevale.  So the Insiders were able to enjoy the wonders of Carnevale at home in Rome in the Piazza del Popolo. Let us know if you would like next year to celebrate Carnevale here too.  Wondrous events will occur on Rome’s major squares and the historic Via del Corso, this between February 22 and March 4.  We will have the entire schedule of events for you, and know the perfect hotel — as well as the best place for Carnevale costumes (for children and adults) and dancing, the best source for original Carnevale confetti — and certainly for Carnevale pastries !

Carnevale welcome

Carabinieri officers in full dress

Confetti

The Pines of Rome

 

The evening fireworks closing the Carnevale festival were preceded by a horse show of riding to music, known as  freestyle-to-music dressage or kür.

Spanish Cavalier

taking bows

 

Cavalry of the Carabinieri

Charge of the Light Cavalry

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En route home, walking through the nearly deserted Piazza Navona…

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An Evening with Carlo Noro

Last week’s dinner organized by Slow Food here in Rome was among the best meals we have ever eaten anywhere. Both Carlo Noro’s remarks about biodynamic agriculture and his fresh produce, which was the basis of the evening’s menu, were expected by us to be wonderful. Again and again, Carlo said it was the earth that made the flavors — a basic premise in biodynamic agriculture (you are what you eat and what you eat is what it has “eaten”). However, we had no expectation that the conception of the evening’s dishes, all prepared to the highest standard, would be so superb. The flavors were intense; each bite first coming together in the mouth so subtly, then expanding and then diminishing like chords played on a piano. There was not a wrong note in any of the dishes. They were imaginative but did not show off, combine ill-matched ingredients just to be different or claim to “re-invent” a traditional dish. The presentation was simple, appropriate to each dish but always beautiful to the eye. Adding to the pleasure and joy of the evening were our congenial and enthusiastic fellow diners, including Carlo and his lovely wife.

The meal began with a single small caramelized onion followed in short succession by one crispy leaf of chard and then a cold tomato soup made from Carlo’s very ripe fresh tomatoes. Next served were ravioli, filled with a puree of spring peas, in a light and delicate sauce with fresh, whole spring peas that were slightly al dente.  This in turn was followed by a zucchini parmigiana that allowed the flavorful julienned zucchini to be primary even as all the ingredients were well balanced and integrated.  The meal concluded with a strawberry sorbet made from Carlo’s sweet, intensely perfumed strawberries. The lacy meringue cookie with which it was served melted in our mouths.

There is an inverse correlation between how much I like a particular dish and how quickly I eat it; and, Marjorie said that she has never seen me eat as slowly as I ate each of these courses. This truly was “among the best meals we have ever eaten anywhere.” While the courses were many, none were large and we finished the evening feeling well satisfied, not over fed. Carlo, the chefs and the entire staff of the excellent Osteria di Monteverde are to be highly praised.

Indeed, only a true partnership between the farmer and the chef could produce such an exceptional meal. This caused Marjorie and me to muse about why food critics in the press seem mainly to write about local restaurants and occasionally gourmet markets but rarely, if at all, about the farmer. Why not evaluate the quality of the produce grown by specific local farmers? Perhaps if the press and other popular media were to elevate the farmer to the same exalted status as the chef (imagine a celebrated farmer), more of us would realize that the most healthful food is the most delicious and is not a sacrifice or a punishment. Good food is central to our existence and is to be appreciated and celebrated in the same way that we appreciate and enjoy good air and pure water.

The amount of time spent in the kitchen and at the table is diminishing significantly (and this in Italy, too). Concurrently, it seems that some of the best-selling cookbooks being published today, with their beautiful full-page photographs and travel-writing-style text, are meant for the coffee table rather than the kitchen counter. Indeed, too often the recipes in those cookbooks seem more incidental than central; their layout aesthetically pleasing but impractical to read while cooking and badly edited, containing inconsistencies or lapses in the directions, all of which is discouraging if you really want to cook.  This passivity when it comes to food (and other aspects of our lives) is not, we think, a good thing.  Perhaps, having a celebrated farmer will induce more of us to notice the raw ingredients of what we eat and even search out the best local farmers and buy directly from them. And if one has a kitchen full of fresh vegetables, one has no other choice but to cook with them—thereby rediscovering the joy of cooking.

Most appropriately, the evening ended with all of us departing the restaurant with a wooden crate or two of Carlo’s  vegetables — peas and zucchini, tomatoes, beet greens, salad, fresh onions — which had been in the field just that morning.

Carlo Noro in his vineyard.