I was once asked by an Italian why the Brits love Italy so much and found myself reeling off the obvious attractions: climate, food & wine, scenery and the relaxed way of life. At the disappointment on my friend’s face and his response “Yes, but it must go deeper than that”, I as a Brit living in Italy felt frustrated and a little ignorant as to why I couldn’t provide a more substantial historical or socio-economic explanation.
The truth is, as a wedding planner in Italy, I welcome numerous British clients out here each year to celebrate their nuptials and without fail the reasons cited for choosing this country are; sunshine, cuisine, views and the laid back vibe. These elements constitute a snapshot of human well-being so often represented in the media by an image of an outdoor Italian dining table. For a nation of umbrella wielding, self-conscious bad cooks – the appeal is all too obvious. Add the short distance travel time and it’s a no brainer!
This weekend I was lucky enough to experience what I can only describe as ‘the dream’ for many fellow Brits. For midsummer weekend it has become a tradition amongst an ever-growing group of friends and food enthusiasts to head south of Florence towards the Siena countryside and to take over a cherished agriturismo near the beautiful hilltop village of Radicondoli for a celebration of gastronomy and nature.
Families and couples roll up at their leisure and check in to modest but comfortable apartments, pitch their tents between the fruit and oak trees or park their camper vans in front of the olive groves for one or two nights. Irrespective of arrival or departure times everyone is present for the main event at dusk on the Saturday. The furniture on the outdoor terrace in front of the family kitchen is arranged to best accommodate around forty plates and dinner is served as the sun is setting across the fields. Fresh lavender and sage bushes perfume the air.
The owners Giovanni and Giovanna have been preparing all day, filling fresh tortelli, seasoning the pork, baking the fresh ricotta (it doesn’t get much fresher seeing at they have a cheese farm).
Jugs of red wine are placed on the tables and sharing platters of Pecorino cheeses and prosciutto arrive next to baskets of bread and dishes of roast vegetables. There is no waiting until all are seated, it’s first come first served and the dishes are swiftly replenished or cleared by the daughters who work alongside their parents.
The spinach and ricotta tortelli in tomato salsa are remarkable and everyone has a second helping or bis, children and adults alike. The succulent meat disappears in a flash.
The cheese and lemon fritters for dessert prepare the stomach for the more serious chocolate and walnut cake, served warm and followed by a coffee or two. All dishes are made with fresh, organic ingredients, lovingly grown and selected by the family.
We wake the next morning to see a pig outside our window, much to the delight of our two-year old boy, shrieking with excitement. He can’t wait to get outside.
What is left of the chocolate cake is happily finished at a leisurely breakfast in the dappled sunlight alongside homemade jams and fresh ricotta cheese, yoghurt and milk from the farm. People pick up discussions from where they were left the night before over glasses of digestivi, the theme this time being the state of the Italian tax system. I, the Brit, am asked: “Why would you choose Italy over the UK? I’d move there any day”. Ironically it does seem the grass is always greener.
For the whole weekend there is no mention of time. Guests happily leave watches and telephones in their rooms and follow the biological rhythm of man’s natural pleasures of eating, sleeping and socializing, congregating around Giovanni and Giovanna’s table when desire draws them to the beating heart of the property – the kitchen.
For the little time spent away from the table admiring the view across the valley to Radicondoli, everyone is satisfied by a swim in the pool, a stroll around the farm to see the animals or a snooze under an oak tree in the shade of the June sun.
This is why Brits love Italy so much. I just can’t fit it in to a one-line reply.
Fortunately for my clients the gorgeous Podere Paugnano is close to several wedding locations, including the spectacular Abbey of San Galgano and the boutique hotel Castello di Casole. It’s a pretty ideal spot for an informal rehearsal dinner, a post wedding brunch, a relaxed family meal or purely for some time out. I’d be thrilled to take you there!
The midsummer dinner is organized by our passionate pals at De Gustibus