Sunday, March 23, 2008


Last fall, ten of my clients and I made ourselves at home in the hilltown of Tofori in Tuscany.
Tofori is located an hour from the Florence airport and just minutes from the charming walled town of Lucca. Our group was split in two; some of us called Villa Margherita our home, while others claimed the villa Il Mulino di Torrigiani.
Our hosts Doug Haynes and Doris Fortino, formerly of the Twin Cities, are fortunate to call IL Mulino their permanent residence. After meeting our group at the Florence airport, they immediately began to make us feel at home with a welcoming bottle of cool crisp Proseco, the sparkling wine of the area and a long awaited Tuscan dinner. Doug and Doris were not only our hosts, but also our tour guides and translators. We experienced one glorious week of touring, dining and tasting the best wines of Tuscany.

Our week began with a leisurely stroll and a guided tour of Lucca. We found ourselves having lunch at the famous Buca di Sant’Antonio, a classic since 1794.Our seven-course lunch culminated with a tour of the restaurant’s wine cellars. Then we proceeded to the village of Petrognano and our first cooking lesson with Chef Lido Martini of the Fattoria Gambaro. Fattoria Gambaro is a quaint and rustic restaurant, with a busy kitchen… as we soon found out! Guido had us slicing, dicing, rolling and stuffing. The end result a multi-course meal we enjoyed consisting of ravioli, gnocchi, involtini of pork, a molded vegetable terrine that the locals call sformata, and Pannacotta for dessert. And, of course, there were bottles of Limoncello and Vin Santo to end our evening.Our week also included a visit to the Cinque Terre, an area of five fishing villages located on the Ligurain Sea. We hiked from town to town and found ourselves eating lunch at a restaurant built over the aquamarine sea.

We were driven around the Chianti countryside, admired the endless olive groves, vineyards and Tuscan pines, and sampled the liquid gold and the wine of the area. We stopped to visit the world famous butcher of Panzanno, Dario, and sampled his meats and lardo while being entertained with a recitation of poetry, which we could not understand, but thought was romantic anyway.
While we sipped the local wine and listened to melodic Italian music, we enjoyed our day with one of the village women, Anna Maria. She showed us how to prepare tortelli, the half moon shaped filled pasta with meat sauce. We worked in Anna Maria's cucina all day rolling and stuffing pasta, roasting pork loin, preparing potatoes, vegetables and pastries that we would have for dinner. After our work, we were rewarded with a candlelit evening al fresco under the Tuscan moon on the Ponte that is the bridge to the villa. We ended our day happily sipping our grappa and espresso and talking about a return trip.
Our final day was spent in Viareggio, a seaside resort, visiting the fish market as the fisherman delivered their catch of the day. We purchased the necessary ingredients to make Cacciuccio, the hearty seafood soup of the area. We returned to the Villa Costa where our hostess, Sandy, instructed us in the fine art of preparing the area’s specialty.
We dined around the swimming pool under the starlit skies of Italy and later danced and enjoyed the music of Beppe and Sergio and company, who entertained us by playing and singing Italian favorites. At midnight, we made our Limoncello toasts to our hosts Doris and Doug and thanked them for providing our group of Minnesotans with a perfect week in Tuscany.

The group found it difficult to leave the beautiful Villa Margherita and IL Mulino and the welcoming hospitality we found from all whom we encountered on our brief stay. My consolation was that I would be returning with other groups in the future to enjoy a repeat of what I feel is a trip of a lifetime.
If you would like to join me in such an adventure in Sept. of this year, then contact me at my web site and we can begin making you travel arrangements.
I hope to see you in Tuscany very soon.
Buon appetito,
Carmela Tursi Hobbins

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