Category: Tuscany


I hope you’ve been enjoying our Chocolatour through Europe. Our next stop is Pisa, Italy.

I must say Pisa really surprised me. I expected only an old dilapidated  Leaning Tower. I didn’t know that the Leaning Tower is part of a large grouping of impressive historic buildings and that the Leaning Tower is far from being dilapidated. It has recently been cleaned and is almost sparkling white! Much restorative work has been done to many of Italy’s historic treasures and a trip to Pisa is sure to please.

there are a number of beautiful historic buildings nestled into the square where you'll find the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The food is amazing. What else is new?  Good food and libations is always top of my list. No wonder I love Italy!

So we were very grateful at the choice of hotel that Fabrizio Quochi, our friendly contact at the Pisa Tourist Board had made for us. The NH Cavalieri is literally across the street from the Centrale train station and is a surprisingly lovely place with a terrific restaurant. I liked the Tuscan pasta with olives so much I ordered it twice during our stay! It was excellent. The feather-light pasta was served with black olives and a delicious red sauce with plenty of fresh parmesan cheese.  Served of course, with a local hearty Chianti Classico. Magnifico!

the wonderful meal I had (twice!) at the NH Cavalieri Hotel

Later, we enjoyed the local specialty, Cecina, a chickpea pizza cooked in a wood oven. Have it with Spuma, a favourite Pisan soda (much like Mountain Dew) to really feel like you’re enjoying life like a lucky resident of Pisa. You can get both at Pizzeria Filippo, just a short walk from the NH Cavalieri.

The nice thing about Pisa is that is has a terrific location with easy accessibility  by air, train, bus or sea. Ryan Air has an increasing presence in Pisa, so you can fly directly there from a number of destinations. And just 45 minutes south of Pisa, we were able to gain access to a wonderful beach in Tirrenia, where we could stroll and swim. For just two Euros, we took a public bus from Pisa to the beach and spent the day just enjoying the sun and surf and watching the local fishermen.

enjoying a view of the beach in Tirrenia at a Tuscan restaurant

Please come back the week of March 1st for the next post on Pisa. And yes … there WILL be chocolate!

I’d heard that Tuscany has what is called “The Chocolate Valley” as there are so many chocolate makers in the area. We didn’t have time to visit them all, so Paulo took us to “Le Golosità,” a gastronomical delight, where you can purchase the best chocolate, wine and other confections of the area.

Paulo and Virginia on the chocolate trail

Roberto Catinari’s chocolate is heavenly and makes me long to go back to Pistoia. A specialty is the chocolate-dipped chestnuts. This shop is a must for any chocolate-loving visitor to Pistoia.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Giorgia Corsini, whose great grandfather started Bruno Corsini Industria Dolciaria back in 1918. The company is an all-woman operation — highly unusual in the male-dominated chocolate industry. Corsini takes great pride in its wide variety of “confetti,” a white hard candy of various interesting flavours such as coriander and fennel. But without question, my favourite Corsini treat was the Panforte Glacé al Cioccolato, a dark chocolate-covered fruit cake containing only almonds, hazelnut creme, vanilla beans, chocolate mass, cocoa butter and candied cedar fruit found exclusively in the south of Italy.  An absolutely amazing blend of pure flavours.

Margherita, a confectioner in training, welcomes us to a tray of Panforte Glacé

I can assure you that if I had the financial resources, I’d be on a plane next month to attend Cioccolosità, the three-day chocolate festival held in the neighbouring village of Monsummano Terme from March 11-13, 2011, where I have no doubt I’d meet the illusive Mr. Catinari.

Join me back here the week of February 14th, where we’ll have a sweet tour of Pisa just in time for Valentine’s Day.

I’d never even heard of Pistoia before, and suddenly I found myself spending two days there. All in the quest of tasting the finest chocolate in Italy!

the Romanesque style of architecture is prevalent in Pistoia

Pistoia is a small Tuscan village highlighted by Romanesque buildings of the 12th century. That’s about all I’m going to tell you about the history of Pistoia, as everyone who knows me knows I’m not a history buff. I’m there to meet the people and to taste the local specialties: the food, the wine, and of course … the chocolate. I was not be disappointed!

We ate some of the best meals of our journey while in Pistoia, thanks to the culinary talents of Renzo and Laura, the charming couple who run the Toscanelli Ristorante, where we enjoyed two sumptuous meals. Having grown up indulging in the best of Italian cuisine at the home of my dear friend, Maria (and the homes of her extended family members in Winnipeg) I really knew my Italian favourites, and I can assure you, Laura and Renzo did not disappoint.

Renzo welcomes you to Toscanelli's with a complimentary champagne cocktail

At Toscanelli’s, we enjoyed fabulous wine and olive oil made by the owners at their nearby home. We ate local porcini mushrooms that had been picked that day. And squealed at the flourless chocolate lava cake (called chocolate pie on the menu.) We were truly in heaven.

Laura’s attentive service and bounty of fresh produce are two more reasons to visit Toscanelli’s Ristorante

Our friendly and knowledgeable guide, Paulo Bresci, also referred us to Aoristo Ristorante on Via De Buti, where we had a fabulous view of the historic skyline, personalized service by one of the partners and top-notch Tuscan cuisine paired with some amazing local wine. In totally chic surroundings. What’s not to like?

amazing flavours were present in every offering at Aorista Ristorante

Pistoia may not be Venice, Florence or Milan, but it provided us with an authentic taste of Tuscany without the crowds, the high cost or the crime associated with larger centres. Many thanks to Rosy of Verde Paradiso B&B who hosted us during our stay. Although we couldn’t converse too deeply due to a language barrier, we knew we were truly welcome, and felt very safe and comfortable during our stay.

Verde Paradiso B&B is a clean, friendly and safe place to stay while in Pistoia

I’m heading off to Florida from January 21-31 (yes, more chocolate tasting!) and so may be slow in responding to your questions or comments. But please keep them coming!

Look for the next post on Pistoia during the week of February 1st. Ciao for now!

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