Last week, our Director of Operations, McNeill, returned from a romantic Spring holiday exploring the cities and countryside of Italy. Of course, there were plenty of Artemis items in tow, and of course, we interviewed her about her experience upon return!
We hope that the sights, smells, flavors and sounds described in McNeill's Travel Journal take you on your own mini-holiday to Italy.
Describe the place in 3 words
Storied, gracious, dreamy
What did you pack?
To escape the bleakness of an early New England Spring, sweaters and dresses in happy colors and patterns were in order: marigold yellow, navy gingham, poppy red. Our new Sophia Velvet Babouches (named for la Loren herself), Kilim Slides, and our Velvet Drawstring Pouch in a yet-to-be-released pattern. My current needlepoint project (shoes, actually!), a destination-relevant book (Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King, history that reads like a novel!), and a few pairs of big sunglasses.
Describe a perfect day from start to finish...
Wake up before your travel companion to enjoy the early morning sun over the Tuscan landscape, coffee and book in hand. Set out with a vague itinerary and good GPS, keeping an eye out for roadside lookout points. A 14th century abbey makes a perfect stop (we loved Mt. Oliveto Maggiore in the Crete Senesi region), especially if it includes incredible frescoes, a preserved library and apothecary, and peaceful views. Finish exploring the abbey just in time for lunch: a carafe of wine produced onsite, crostini, and a plate of pici pasta (a thick, hand-rolled noodle that is a Sienese specialty).
Pick a few charming little towns to visit along the way--Buonconvento was a favorite of ours, and features two great, crowd-free museums: Museo d’Arte Sacra della Val d’Arbia, for sacred medieval art, and Museo Etnografico della Mezzadria, which examines the Tuscan tenant farming system. Eat the gelato, always. If you can arrange a dramatic late-afternoon storm, get yourself to the top of a big hill to watch the clouds change. Make your way back to your town (we stayed just outside of Castelnuovo Berardenga) for aperitivo, an Aperol Spritz and spread of local cheeses. Dine at the teeny local restaurant, Enoteca Bengodi, which will be one of your very favorite meals of the trip. Wander home under a starry country sky with full bellies and lots of gratitude.
Describe a favorite hotel...
I am constantly torn between city and country, and this trip was no different! Our Airbnb outside of the tiny town of Castelnuovo Berardenga was such a relaxing retreat, and the perfect jumping off point for exploring little towns in Tuscany. But I would move right into the apartment we rented in Florence: a quintessentially Italian loft stocked with design books and midcentury furnishings, perfectly situated in the residential neighborhood of Santo Spirito, amid vintage and antique shops, artisan studios, and amazing food. Our perfectly charming cheese dealer next door kept us well stocked, as well as the incredible San Forno Panificio down the street for all the baked goods we could ask for.
Describe a memorable meal...
I couldn’t pick a single favorite--dinner in our local restaurant Bengodi Enoteca in the town of Castelnuovo Berardenga was a serious highlight, as was lunch at the Abbazia Monte Oliveto, both mentioned above. But our dinner at Fermento 1889 (named for the birth year of pizza) was an unexpected delight, and reminded us again that in Italy, often the simplest things are the very best.
The menu is all about pizza, divided between red and white sauce, and offered in two different and highly technical styles: the Verace, a classic Neapolitan crust, and the Pala Fermento, a crunchy and rustic flatbread. We settled on a spicy gorgonzola & pear flatbread, as well as a Neapolitan Bufalina Mozzarella. While we waited, at least half of the fun was ooohing and aaahing over the mouthwatering choices of each table in the tiny space--made even more fun by the fact that every table did the same!
We were in heaven with each perfect bite, and as busy as Fermento’s single server was, he very clearly cared that each table was feeling the same. That quiet but deep-seated pride in his craft, a value we encountered throughout our time in Italy, made the experience so special.
What is the local shopping specialty? What should someone plan to bring home?
I’m not sure this counts as an Italian specialty, but I was running into beautiful perfume everywhere! Essenzialmente Laura on Via dei Coronari in Rome was such a surprise--I was drawn in by the collection of wicker handbags displayed in the window, but stayed for the perfume. The creator and nose, Laura Bosetti Tonatto, curates scent for many of the city’s best hotels, and her fragrances are absolutely enchanting.
In Florence, the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is a must-visit, as it’s one of the world’s oldest working apothecaries. Their namesake fragrance was developed for Catherine di Medici prior to her marriage to King Henry II in 1533, a union that made her the queen of France in 1533. I loved Alba di Seoul.
Ortigia Sicilia (multiple locations throughout Italy) has the most fun packaging--think graphic palm trees, cheetahs, and beautiful Jacobean patterns--perfect for some very Italian feeling gifts.