Tuesday, 10 May 2022

A Twilight Stroll in Montalcino

Sincerely Loree: La Rocca di Montalcino, Montalcino, IT

We arrived in Montalcino about an hour before sunset, after a day spent visiting Asciano, the Val d'Orcia and Pienza. Montalcino is a hilltop town set within fortified walls and guarded by an imposing castle. We chose to park our car just outside the walls of this impressive fortress known as la Rocca di Montalcino. I'll talk more about the Rocca later but, of you're looking for stunning views, then make sure to visit the fortress and look out over the expanse of the Val d'Orcia and the surrounding countryside. 

From the fortress it is an easy, if steep, downhill walk to the picturesque historic centre where the most famous landmarks of this small town are located.

Montalcino's Landmarks

The Fortress of Montalcino

Sincerely Loree: La Rocca di Montalcino, Montalcino, IT

This mighty fortress with its huge walls and turrets dates back to 1361. It was built at the highest point of the town and remains relatively intact. It is shaped like a pentagon and used to be the seat of the Abbot of the nearby Abbey of Sant'Antonio. Some additions were made to the structure around 1500 by Cosimo de Medici and restoration works were carried out in the 1930s. It has a large internal garden that is open to the public (free of charge).

Palazzo dei Priori

Sincerely Loree: Palazzo dei Priori, Montalcino, IT

Palazzo dei Priori and its clock tower are located in Piazza del Popolo,  the main square of the town. Also in this square is a Gothic loggia with 6 arches and a host of pretty shops and boutiques.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Church of Sant'Agostino

This small church was founded by the Augustinians in 1227 and rebuilt in 1380 in the Romanesque style.

Sincerely Loree: Church of Sant'Agostino, Montalcino, IT

Church of La Madonna del Soccorso

Sincerely Loree: Church of La Madonna del Soccorso, Montalcino, IT

The church of La Madonna del Soccorso, which was built across the centuries, is made up of a number of different architectural styles. The bell tower is from 1625 and the facade was completed in the 19th century. The church is situated at the edge of the town and we spent a lovely half hour taking photos of the views (again), the leaves with their pretty autumnal colours and the gorgeous sunset, from a vantage point located in the grounds behind it. I have shared photos of the leaves which so captured by heart in a post I wrote late last year in the run-up to Thanksgiving and which was aptly titled Giving Thanks

The Duomo of San Salvatore

Sincerely Loree: Duomo of San Salvatore, Montalcino, IT

Although this church looks much older, it was built between 1818 and 1832 in a neo-classical style. It replaces a much older church from the 14th century. The current church of San Salvatore was constructed from materials that were taken from a medieval Romanesque church and reused.

Montalcino's Claim To Fame

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Montalcino is famous for its wine. Perhaps you have already heard of, and tasted, the Brunello di Montalcino. This wine is aged for 5 years, 2 of them in oak barrels. The Rosso di Montalcino is ready after one year of ageing. We are generally not red wine drinkers as we find them a bit too full-bodied for our taste so we did not partake in any of the wine-tasting opportunities that are available at most of the enoteche (wine bars) scattered around the town.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

What I Loved About Montalcino

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

A brief stroll around town revealed that Montalcino is a pretty place with many of its narrow streets decorated with flags of the different contrade. It has a distinctly medieval feel that is enhanced by the lack of cars in the city centre. Its history dates back to Etruscan and Roman times, which seems to be common with  many other places in Tuscany. The name of the town is derived from 'mons ilcinus' (holm-oak mountain). 

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Montalcino was independent until the 12th century when it came under the rule of Siena. In the mid-1500s it fell under the jurisdiction of Florence and the ruling Medici family. Those infamous Medicis were associated with many towns and cities in Tuscany and it is not difficult to notice that they were both very powerful and influential. And very rich.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

But I don't want to feel like a tour guide, rattling off dates, dropping names and trying to make sense of all the architectural styles without really showing you why Montalcino is worth visiting, apart from its churches and history. So, instead of trying, and failing, to find adequate words, because no words can quite do justice to the heart-wrenching beauty that is Tuscany, I will let my photos do the talking.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

And if I have one enduring memory of Montalcino, it is of the sun setting behind the Tuscan hills, painting the sky in soft pastels, while the air turned slowly colder, the first lights went on in the farmhouses below and smoke curled gently out of a chimney. The silence was only broken by the twittering of birds and by a mother calling her family to supper. It was a simple, mundane moment that is frozen in time and could have easily been forgotten. But it is a moment, together with the feeling of peace that pervaded the air and which cannot be captured in a photo that, somehow, I know I will never forget.

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

Sincerely Loree: Montalcino, IT

More about Tuscany (in case you missed them):

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Kitchen Tales: Lemon Almond Cupcakes

Perhaps you've wondered where I've been since I last posted here. To be honest, nowhere, except inside my head. It's a place I escape to often these days. I would be lying if I didn't admit that the war in Ukraine has been, and still is, upsetting me. It invades my waking thoughts several times a day and I have not found much that I wanted to write about in these past weeks. After 2 years of COVID it seemed like the last straw. Now, after more than 8 weeks of silence on my part, I am tentatively picking up where I left off. 

After an unusually cold start, Spring is finally here and the flowers in our garden have started to bloom. So I will try to enjoy this beautiful season and will definitely make an effort to write more frequently if more briefly.

Sincerely Loree

I had promised to share more about our  trip to Italy last autumn and I will continue to do that in the coming weeks. We have had a very quiet winter. It was uncharacteristically cold (for which I'm thankful) so we spent a lot of time indoors soaking up the warmth and reading (of course). I will soon share with you a book that I read in February and loved immensely. I think you till too.

Our son will soon be taking some very important exams which he needs to pass before he can continue his education at junior college level (equivalent to senior high school in the US). We support and encourage him and try not to offer advice unless it's asked for - which is not as easy as it sounds. His exams will be over by the end of May and then we will all be looking forward to some downtime during the summer months.

Sincerely Loree

After 2 years we were able to celebrate Easter properly and I made some lemon almond cupcakes for dessert. They are really very easy so I am going to share the recipe with you that I found on Centerstage Wellness.

 Lemon Almond Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

1 cup (120g) all-purpose flour

2/3 cup (150g) granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

zest of 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons (40g) of unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup (4 ounces) (120 ml) milk (I used almond)

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 large egg

For the frosting:

1 cup (250g) powdered sugar

6 tablespoons (80g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/8 teaspoon salt

zest and juice of half a lemon, divided (or 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract)

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk


For the cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners, or grease and flour them if you’re out of liners.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Use a stand or hand mixer to mix in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse sand.
  3. Add the lemon zest and whisk until it is incorporated into the mixture.
  4. Whisk together milk, almond extract, and egg. Pour into the sandy mixture and stir slowly until incorporated.
  5. Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tins.
  6. Bake at 325F for 22-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.
  7. Wait until cupcakes are completely cooled to frost them
For the frosting:

  1. Sift powdered sugar into a mixing bowl. Cream together with the butter, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest.
  2. When well-combined, add extracts and drizzle in half the milk. Beat on high speed until fluffy, adding more liquid until desired consistency is reached. The frosting should lighten in color and increase in volume. (I only added half the milk as the consistency seemed just right).
Sincerely Loree

These cupcakes are really delicious and the lemon-almond combination is a favourite flavour of mine and perfect for a Spring dessert. I added some edible lavender on top to enhance the feeling of the season. They only take a few minutes to make and I am very pleased with this frosting recipe as the consistency of the mixture was perfect unlike some others I've made which were a complete flop.

And I will leave you with that for today as I think brevity is key to my posting more often. I don't seem to have the time to write long posts anymore, or at least for now, but that's fine.

I hope you're all enjoying Spring and I hope I'll get back to posting every week.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Book talk: A Thousand Days In Tuscany

Book Review: A Thousand Days In Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi

Book summary

After three years living in Venice, Marlena and her husband Fernando, move to the small village of San Casciano dei Bagni in a remote corner of southern Tuscany that borders Umbria and Lazio. San Casciano is the antithesis of Venice: a community of just 200 people living in an area surrounded by hills, hot springs and ancient olive groves; a tranquil, out-of-the-way place in the rural heart of Italy. Marlena and Fernando befriend Barlozzo, a sort of self-appointed village elder, who teaches them how to live in harmony with the land, introduces then to the culinary traditions of the region and lets them in on a secret or two. 

My thoughts about A Thousand Days In Tuscany

While in de Blasi's first book Venice takes centre stage, in  A Thousand Days In Tuscany it is the Tuscan people she befriends and the produce of the land who are the protagonists. She writes at length, and with much warmth, about both. It made my heart ache to read how the tenacious inhabitants of this region made a life out of whatever the land provided, especially in the midst of hard times like during and right after WW2. They managed to survive through sheer force of will and by finding joy in the simplest ingredients: wild garlic, chestnuts, berries. Nothing went to waste and whatever the humans could not eat was fed to the animals. A Thousand Days In Tuscany was written around twenty years ago and things may have changed a lot since then, but de Blasi was able to capture Tuscany right at the cusp of this change. It truly made me look differently at this region of Italy and made me realise what a romanticised view we have of it. Tuscany isn't just Florence, Siena and Pisa. It is also these remote towns and villages crowning hilltops or hanging precariously to the edge of mountains - places where traditions are strong and the ties of family and friends even stronger.

Sincerely Loree: Val d'Orcia and the Crete Senesi, Tuscany, Italy

I really enjoyed this slow-paced memoir that meanders through the seasons that make up a Tuscan year. It was the first book that I read this year and it was just what I needed, a book that filled me with joy but which also made me shed a tear or two. Marlena de Blasi is a food writer and this comes across very strongly in the prose. She loves to cook and to feed people, even if it's only a few pieces of humble bruschetta and, as an added bonus for the culinary-inclined, each chapter includes a recipe from the author's  private collection.

Sincerely Loree: Val d'Orcia and the Crete Senesi, Tuscany, Italy

And, yes, sometimes her language is a bit flowery and romantic and it may not be to everyone's taste but I happened to like it and I am now looking forward to reading her third memoir: The Lady In The Palazzo.

A Thousand Days In Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi

Genre: memoir

First published: 2004

Setting of narrative: San Casciano dei Bagni, Tuscany

⚠️ death of a friend

My rating: 4

Sincerely Loree: Val d'Orcia and the Crete Senesi, Tuscany, Italy
Reading about Tuscany of course makes me wish I was there again and I couldn't resist including some photos from our trip last October. I hope you enjoy these images of the Tuscan countryside in autumn.

Sincerely Loree: Val d'Orcia and the Crete Senesi, Tuscany, Italy

Images: Val d'Orcia & Crete Senesi, Tuscany, Italy
October 2021

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Volterra in Black and white

We arrived in Volterra at the worst time of the day for taking photos, around mid-morning, when the sun is at its brightest, throwing everything not in its path into the deepest shadow. But I've learnt that in such circumstances the trick is to shoot in black and white. And so I did (but I promise to include a few photos in colour here and there). 
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

A short history of Volterra

Volterra has been settled since the Bronze-age and is believed to have been continuously inhabited since the 8th century B.C. It was an important Etruscan centre and two of its gates, Porta Diana and Porta all'Arco, date back to this time. Some defence walls from this era also survive to this day.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Volterra was allied to Rome in the 3rd century B.C and in the fifth century AD it became the seat of a bishop and its importance in this sphere lasted until the 12th centur,y when it captured the interest of the Republic of Florence, whose forces conquered the city. Florentine rule was not always popular and several rebellions broke out. When the Republic of Florence fell in 1530, Volterra came under the control of the Medici family and its fortunes followed those of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Volterra's Landmarks

The Roman Theatre of Volterra

The Roman theatre dates back to the 1st century BC and was excavated in the 1950s. The theatre was financed by a wealthy family from Volterra and is constructed of local limestons.

Sincerely Loree: Roman theatre, Volterra. Italy

Palazzo dei Priori

Volterra's town hall was built between 1208 and 1257 and is located in the main square, close to the cathedral. The facade is decorated with terracotta plaques representing the coats of arms of prominent Florentine families. It is the oldest town hall in Tuscany.
Sincerely Loree: Palazzo dei Priori, Volterra. Italy

Cattderale di Santa Maria Assunta

The duomo of Volterra is dedicated to the assumption of Mary. It is a Romanesque building that was built around 1120 on the site of a previous cathedral that was destroyed by an earthquake. It was expanded in the mid-13th century.
Sincerely Loree: Duomo of Volterra, Volterra. Italy

Baptistery of San Giovanni

The baptistery is an octagonal 13th century building located in front of the cathedral. Its main facade is covered in white and green marble.
Sincerely Loree: Baptistery of San Giovanni, Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Baptistery of San Giovanni, Volterra. Italy

Porta all'Arco and Porta Diana

The Porta all'Arco dates back to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. It was originally built by the Etruscans but was incorporated into the city walls in the Middle Ages. It lies directly opposite the other Etruscan gate of Volterra, Porta Diana. Adorning Porta all'Arco are three sculpted heads. It is not known who these heads represent but it is thought that they are likely Etruscan deities.
Sincerely Loree: Porta all'Arco, Volterra. Italy

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit Porta Diana.

What I Loved About Volterra

I could say that my favourite thing about Volterra was the panino I ate from La Panineria Al Vicolino. It was truly one of the tastiest sandwiches I have ever eaten and I would love to go back to Volterra just to scoff another one. But there were plenty of other things that I loved about this Tuscan hilltop town. 
One of them was just seeing people going about their day-to-day chores. Cars are generally prohibited from the historic centre of many Tuscan towns and it was really special seeing inhabitants going around from store to store: the butcher, the baker, the pharmacy; and stopping on the way to chat with neighbours or acquaintances. The atmosphere felt so friendly and there was never a single moment when I felt unsafe or even unwelcome.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Although I didn't have much time to read about it at the time of our visit, Volterra's history, as you're probably aware by now, is pretty impressive. It has been continuously inhabited since the 8th century BC and it is these layers of history that make it so fascinating. All I had to do was touch the walls of buildings and I felt like the past was right there, just within my grasp.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

The historic centre of Volterra is characterised by narrow, winding streets dominated by medieval and early Renaissance architecture. Many buildings have very interesting architectural details on their facades and were clearly built with defence purposes in mind. Some of the doors we came across seemed constructed to withstand a siege. 

Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

But what I find most endearing about Tuscany, and Italy in general, is the attention to detail. The architecture is just amazing and everything, from lanterns to door knockers, just seems to have been created to inspire awe. While that may seem like an exaggeration, it probably isn't. While we are familiar with a unified Italy, it wasn't always so. For many years, different republics, regions and towns were at war with each other or tried to outdo each other by commissioning beautiful buildings and works of art. So a lot of what we see today is a result of this 'competition' between them and becauase of the frequent fighting and rivalries that broke out.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

When we visited Volterra last October, it was pretty quiet and the streets were not thronged with people, making it easier to get around without constantly bumping into crowds. The plan of the town seems to follow the contours of the hill it is built on, so it's not flat and walking around can be strenuous but invigorating.
Sincerely Loree: Volterra. Italy

Perhaps I'm stating the obvious when I say that I wish we had more time to get to know Volterra better. But maybe one day we will return. I know I am far from done with Tuscany yet.


Location: Volterra, Italy
October 2021

About Loree
I am Lorna, or Loree (as my best friends call me) and I am the author of Sincerely, Loree. You may get to know me better here:

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