Sunday 31 July 2011

Scarzuola – Surreal Umbrian Architectural Folly

The site at Scarzuola started out as a simple wooden shack in the Umbrian countryside, a tranquil, remote residence for the wandering St Francis, south of Perugia. It was here that in 1218 he planted a bay tree and a rose bush and then a fresh, bubbling spring promptly erupted. Over time St Francis’s humble dwelling grew into a monastery and today in the church’s apse you can still see a 13th century fresco of the saint levitating.

In 1956 the famous Milanese Architect, Tommaso Buzzi acquired the eight hundred year old complex at Scarzuola, by which time it had fallen into decay and was in much need of repair. Buzzi set about creating his own perfect, if not surreal, city around the grounds of Scarzuola, incorporating the original buildings; he added many ingenious designs and touches of his own.

 The result is an eccentric and fascinating city of dreams that expresses Buzzi’s many influences, classical and renaissance references as well as surrealistic and fanciful juxtapositions. His wonderfully innovative folly is a combination of the existing ecclesiastical buildings from the convent, which became the sacred city and his own secular works that make up the Buzziana. This is complete with seven theatres, a tower of Babel, an acropolis and a maze of staircases.

Buzzi populated his landscape around Scarzuola with symbols, poetic passages and enigmatic icons, all full of personal meaning and mystery. Everywhere you look there are sculptures, fountains and pools all elaborately decorated. Visitors are taken down tunnels into Cypress filled glades, up winding staircases and onto panoramic terraces; the walker faces constant choices, poems and monsters in their entertaining exploration. The whole experience at Scarzuola is a trip into the creative genius of Buzzi and the references in which he found importance.

After his death in 1980 Buzzi’s cousin, Marco Solari took over management of the site and today he shows tourists around his uncle’s magical world. In Scarzuola, Buzzi has left us with a marvellous collection of buildings, part childhood puzzle and part intellectual game but either way a fantastic vision in the landscape. Scarzuola is not open directly to the public but visitors interested in wandering around the interesting grounds of Tommaso Buzzi’s fabulous creation can arrange an appointment. The site of the Sacred City and Buzziana can be found near the village of Montegiove, Montegabbione in the Umbrian hills south of Perugia.

Friday 22 July 2011

Casa Vissani

My dear friend the journalist Susan Chenery, discovers the consuming passions of the restaurateurs at Casa Vissani.
The great chef is almost a parody of what you might expect an Italian chef to be: large, operatic, prone to dramatic gestures. It is like listening to an aria that gets louder and louder - he claps his hands, stretches his arms wide as if he is on the stage at La Scala.

"For me, cooking is from the heart," Gianfranco Vissani booms. "There are so many feelings and emotions and colours, it is like a painting that takes hours, like Picasso, then you have to create a Rembrandt. But where a painter's work stays, mine is gone."

If it was not for the exhaustion etched into his face, the dark circles under the eyes common among chefs operating at the highest level, he would be a comic-book chef.

There have been rumours of flying plates, which Vissani, a big, powerful man in expensive shoes, denies. "I have a heart, so I don't throw plates," he says. "We are a family here."

We set out in a state of delicious expectation but we're somewhat frazzled by the time we arrive very late at the two Michelin-starred Ristorante Casa Vissani, near the Umbrian town of Orvieto, having taken a wrong turn and gotten lost on the way.

Vissani has been described by Food & Wine magazine as one of the "hottest chefs alive", part of a generation of restaurateurs as "glamorous as rock stars". Italy's L'Espresso magazine named Casa Vissani the best restaurant in the country. In a food-obsessed country where daily life revolves around the table, this is really saying something.

His theatrics, even for Italy, are well known from his television programs, newspaper columns and books - and from his celebrity and political friends. You don't keep a man like this waiting.

"I am not interested in that," he says of the "hottest chef" label. "That is not important. It is the person who counts and I am still the same person." Then he waves his arms around wildly and bellows, "Actually, people who say that can f--- off."

Casa Vissani is not where you go for traditional Umbrian food, which can be bland, unimaginative and conformist; Umbrians can be rigid about their food and suspicious of change. "A lot of Italian people love me and a lot of Italians hate me," Vissani says with some relish.

Although he uses "only pure" Umbrian produce, it is restructured and interpreted in a way that is pure invention.

He is passionate about his ingredients. "Genetically modified food will kill people," he says. "Each ingredient is important, each one has a story and you have got to be able to taste every ingredient."

Vissani's voice moves up several octaves. "It doesn't matter how much it costs, it has got to be the best with no chemicals ... We must respect every living thing and cook it in a way that is right for it, at the right temperature. We give ourselves to the people who come here. We make passionate love in the kitchen every night."

We drive up to a daunting locked gate and we're buzzed in. Beyond lies a low-slung building beside Lake Corbara with walls covered in jasmine. This was once a summer seafood shack owned by the maestro's father. It already looks expensive, as a small battalion of black Armani-clad staff ushers us in.

The kitchen can be seen from the dining room through windows dressed with picture frames, wherein white-hatted chefs glide in clusters, like a living painting. The decor is beige and formal.

"Vissani is a volcano of ideas," our waiter says. "He writes the recipes without ever tasting them because he understands the basic ingredients. When he explains a dish, he is discovering it in that moment. He never repeats the same dish. It is continual change."

And so, to the food. We order a tasting menu, which changes every month. The bread is made of acorn flour; the raw sea bass is infused with broom flowers and sits in walnut sauce; there's lettuce jelly; lobster with liquorice and pecorino paglierino foam. Vissani hovers at the table over the baby pork - "It has been on the grill, in the oven for hours and then a hair dryer" - with a coffee sauce.

Each dish is a series of small orgasms of flavour. In the middle of this procession, though, is a lasagne of rice flour, with puffed rice with caviar and broccoli with chocolate drops, to which I take an irrational dislike.

An impressive array of local cheeses, the piece de resistance, arrives in a large wooden box at the table. Each cheese has been turned into a cupcake: pecorino with plain chocolate; with liquorice; with rose petals.

Late in the evening, as we sample the sixth dish, Vissani settles in an armchair and shows us an antiquarian book of recipes in Latin, written by chefs in pagan pre-Roman times. These were the days when diners gorged themselves so much they had facilities set up in the next room, so they could purge and keep eating. Vissani regularly translates from it. Another book from the 16th century contains the recipes of a chef to the popes and Catherine de Medici.

Clearly, he is drawing on ancient recipes. "My secret is the preservation of ancient flavours," Vissani says.

By now it is very late and we are starting to feel like part of the Vissani family. The chef's son, Luca, runs the restaurant. Vissani has his feet up, smoking, expounding.

And then the bill comes and the tidal wave of warmth and bonhomie turns into a financial tsunami. It is almost €500 ($660), which, admittedly, includes a bottle of 2000 Lungarotti San Giorgio. Was it worth it? Well, it took 30 chefs to make those cheese cupcakes.

During the global financial crisis, Vissani realised this type of dining was beyond most people, in a country where the average wage is €1500 a month. As well as the "big offer" tasting menu at €155 a person, there is a "small offer" tasting menu at €100 and five-course tasting menus three days a week called "L'hour" (1-2pm, €30 a person for lunch and at 8.30-9.30pm, €50 a person for dinner. I probably should have gone for that.

From Rome, take the train to Todi or Orvieto (about 40min). Then take a taxi (15min) to Ristorante Vissani, about €20. Bookings are essential, phone +39 074 495 0206, see
You can find this at

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Interview with Abode

The article below has been published in the July 2011 issue of Capital.
Capital is a business and finance monthly based magazine, featuring articles by certified business experts about global house investments etc.

" Nell'Italia centrale una delle agenzie immobiliari più attive a livello internazionale è Abode che gode di un rapporto professionale con Knight Frank, una tra le agenzie leader nel settore immobiliare del Regno Unito. Che cosa emerge da questo osservatorio? L’acquisto di una seconda casa, sia esso per la realizzazione di un sogno o per puro investimento, comporta un’analisi attenta da parte dell’acquirente. Il tipo di soluzione più ricercata per chi desidera comprare una seconda casa, è solitamente il tipico casale rustico umbro o toscano, situato in campagna che offre privacy e tranquillità. In base alla nostra esperienza, comprare una seconda casa in un luogo tranquillo e ritirato, rappresenta il desiderio della maggior parte dei nostri clienti. Altra caratteristica fondamentale è che il casale sia privato e lontano dai rumori della città, ma al tempo stesso vicino ai servizi e a siti di interesse turistico. In generale vengono preferiti paesi caratteristici dove poter degustare i prodotti tipici del luogo, alle grandi città. Quasi tutte le nostre proprietà sono costituite da una casa padronale, una guest house e un giardino ben curato con piscina. Per quanto riguarda lo stile vengono preferite raffinate dimore dove un’eventuale ristrutturazione ha preservato le antiche caratteristiche delle case coloniche, mantenendo viva la tensione dualistica tra ciò che è nuovo e ciò che è originario. Tutti questi elementi costituiscono indubbiamente un eccezionale “buen retiro” in Italia per potenziali acquirenti di fascia medio-alta.

Le location che negli ultimi anni sono emerse maggiormente, sono quelle nelle colline dell'Alta Valle del Tevere in Umbria al di sopra del lago Trasimeno: un'area caratterizzata da un magnifico paesaggio collinare incontaminato e rilassante dove il panorama è costituito da verde a 360°. Il paesaggio in questa parte dell’Umbria è prevalentemente collinare e le vigne e gli ulivi sono la principale coltivazione. In tutte le stagioni lo spettacolo è di quelli rari: il verde degli ulivi è interrotto qua e là dal rosso delle vigne, creando un panorama di ineguagliabile bellezza. E’ qui che sono inseriti quasi tutti i nostri casali. A conclusione di questa seconda domanda, si può solo aggiungere che la zona dell'Alta Valle del Tevere è molto di moda per la nostra clientela. Anche la campagna circostante Cortona risulta essere un luogo particolarmente amato dai nostri clienti, d’altro canto Cortona è una delle città toscane di maggior pregio sia artistico che ambientale. Una località che ci sembra meno richiesta e popolare è quella sul confine tra l’Umbria e le Marche.

E’ da oltre 20 anni che clienti stranieri comprano ville e casali nell’Alta Valle del Tevere. L’acquisto di una proprietà in questa zona della regione Umbria, può sicuramente rappresentare una buona mossa. Case e immobili sono ancora economicamente convenienti, con prezzi molto più vantaggiosi rispetto a quelli della Toscana più conosciuta e ormai piuttosto inflazionata. Inoltre c'è l'imbarazzo della scelta per quanto riguarda le proprietà in vendita nelle zone di Città di Castello, Santa Maria Tiberina, Montone, ad esempio: casali, ville, case di villaggio e ruderi da ristrutturare. Quindi l’Alta Valle del Tevere è sicuramente fra le aree più interessanti come rapporto qualità/prezzo.

Abbiamo riscontrato una riduzione dei prezzi degli immobili del 20% negli ultimi due anni. Per quanto riguarda le correzioni di prezzi, si può dire che i proprietari di immobili che si impegnano veramente a vendere, devono adattare i prezzi alle nuove esigenze del mercato. Il mercato immobiliare nell’Alta Valle del Tevere offre a disposizione di compratori provenienti da altre regioni d’Italia o dall'estero abitazioni che, come già accennato sopra, si pongono in competizione con la Toscana, mantenendo un valore più contenuto. Quindi in Umbria in generale, ma in particolar modo nell’Alta Valle del Tevere, il mercato sembra essere rimasto più forte. Le persone che si rivolgono al nostro sito sono per lo più acquirenti internazionali, abbiamo una pagina numero uno nella classifica per i beni di lusso in Italia e il nostro sito web viene continuamente aggiornato.

Il nostro blog permette a chiunque di rispondere a qualsiasi domanda sull'Italia e sulle proprietà in Italia. Consente inoltre di saperne di più su usi e costumi degli italiani soprattutto in Umbria e Toscana, sui loro tic e luoghi comuni. Il nostro sito rappresenta sicuramente un punto di riferimento importante per i nostri clienti ed è proprio grazie a questo che stiamo attirando sempre più compratori provenienti da tutto il mondo. Di recente è online anche il nuovo sito in italiano ( per chiarire che anche i clienti italiani, sempre di fascia medio-alta, si rivolgono alla nostra agenzia immobiliare".

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Pierle castle

When you begin the ascent beyond Mercatale, you see an amazingly huge ruined castle that overlooks the valley -- rumor has it that brigands used to inhabit it and that it was destroyed to drive them out. Now the houses at its feet are all restored and supposedly owned by people who spend a little time there every year.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Montone Film Festival

Montone is a typical Umbrian hill top town, remarkably well-located for day trips to great towns and other wonders. It is tucked away 5 min from the E45 - the major N/S motorway in Umbria. One fine thing is, you can't see Montone from the motorway - so there are no passers-by saying "ooo - what's that? - let's go there!" The E45 becomes the convenient fast route to many places, but there are wondrous white roads throgh the countryside to lovely locations, as well. Some sample driving times in minutes from Montone to nearby towns: Gubbio - 30, Assisi - 35, Perugia (to the top) - 30, Cortona - 35, Città di Castello - 15, Sansepolcro - 20, Anghiari - 30. These are all fabulous places within about a half hour's drive or less that you'll want to visit again and again. 
But let's talk about Montone! In the piazza, lively little Montone has a post office, two caffes, a bank, a newspaper/magazine/local crafts, etc. shop and a linen shop. There is Guido's butcher shop. He also has pasta, wine, the local bread and much more. There is a pharmacy as well and a new vegetable shop has just opened. From the piazza a maze of narrow streets head off in all directions, in each and a relaxed atmosphere pervades. Commanding views over the surrounding landscape give the town the characteristic warm and welcoming Umbrian feel.

My principal reason for adoring Montone is it is home to the most erotically beautiful war memorial I have ever seen. The buttocks on the bronze figure are utterly perfect, so tactile, bubblebutty and cute. To me it exemplifies homo-eroticism at its finest. Who comissioned the sculpture and how they got it approved is always a marvel to me, however they did and it stands proud in a garden at the top end of the town for all to admire.

Over the past decades this beauty has attracted many celebrities to Montone, some of whom have made the town their preferred home, for holidays or permanent base. For example, British actor Colin Firth is a resident. Every summer Montone holds a summer film festival. The piazza is organised with a large screen and films shown under the stars. Come to the event you will also be surrounded by stars. Click here to go to Montone Film Festival website.

Monday 4 July 2011

Curiosities of Italian Life

Formalities -- Italy used to be very formal in many ways. It still has the reputation of being rather formal. There would be tons of things I could say here and tell you, but for one, there are always table cloths on tables. And that is just one of the formalities in Italy (though a nice one, especially considering the delicious food and wine you can eat... more delicious formalities, not bad at all!)

Travel agencies-- They are suffering in Italy! With all the Internet connections for travel, you don't need one to go places. You just click on Italy and hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, farm houses, Italian property and you can find everything you want by yourself. Is tourism suffering in Umbria? Not really, for example, last week the mountain town Norcia was filled with tourists.

Boots or sandals?-- It's summertime, but that doesn't mean that girls and women don't wear boots! They do! Mostly the young girls, with shorts or skirts. But in this heat, who wants to wear boots when you can wear sandals? It's fashion and fashion means that even boots are in, so girls, take your pick, feel hot or cold. It's your choice!

Are Italians loud?-- Well as soon as you get to the airport, from any other country, you can always tell the Italians from the rest. They are usually loud, sort of make a scene in some way (in the way they dress, quite flamboyant at airports usually, with new tennis shoes, or a hat, or loud accessories). Hate to generalise (plus the fact that I'm Italian), but after my trip to London, I could easily spot the Italians in white framed eyeglasses, chunky jewelry, more make-up than the women in England. And yes, they do talk louder than the rest sorry, but true.

A clean purse -- Basically, inside my purse, there is a lot of confusion always. Papers, receipts, lipstick and carrying case (sometimes in it sometimes not), wallet, little objects, a little notebook...yes, my purse is not very neat. BUT I don't throw things onto the ground, ever! No papers, no plastic, no bottles or cans, chewing gum, nothing. And THIS is something, sorry to say, that my compatriots do quite a lot. Women's purses are neater, because the bits of papers, etc, are just sort of "tossed" out onto the streets if there are no bins around. Sad, but true.

Ice cream -- It is so so good in Italy! I just discovered a place yesterday in Perugia where the flavours and the pieces of fruit in the icecream are so so good!!
TV -- There are still those families that like to eat lunch (from 1pm or 1.30 or 2 -- for about half an hour or more) and watch tv at the same time. I personally don't like to do that at all! Actually I don't like tv, and don't watch it much.

Problems-- Even though there are zillions of problems in this country (political, economical, personal between different groups, races, religions, philosophies of life) I feel that Italy is a pretty wonderful country. This, because of the historical buildings and marvelous views, great food, and loads of culture everywhere you look, drive or walk. So, if you're dreaming of living la dolce vita, you want to move to Italy or just buy a home and make it your own, you can visit our website

Shutters -- What is so interesting about this topic? LIGHT! We sleep in the dark and in the morning, the shutters get opened. When I'm in England I usually sleeps in rooms with much more light and in the morning I would often awaken with the light. Not here in Italy, dark dark dark until you decide you want the sun to come pouring in.

Mobile phones - - So so so many people have them here! And they like to get the latest models. All ages have them and I am pretty sure that we exceed the number of mobile phones, because sometimes in Italy, making an image statement is very important! (Not that I personally like it, but that is how it is here.

Friday 1 July 2011

Fractional Ownership property

Italy, along with much of Europe, is embracing Fractional Ownership property. Developers see this as a new alternative to the traditional model of build and sell and also find that there is much more interest from buyers because of the additional services provided which are so important for Fractional Ownership to be successful.