Beauty and a feast

In the con­clud­ing part of a two-part fea­ture, the Bucks Advertiser’s Max Hall vis­its Florence and Rome dur­ing his rail tour of Italy

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GLOBE TROTTING -

“DA Vinci said the Mona Lisa was his most im­por­tant paint­ing but we can­not say she is beau­ti­ful,” ex­plained Walks of Italy guide Bernardo.

“It is only be­cause Da Vinci said this that we be­lieve the Mona Lisa is im­por­tant. She is ugly. David is beau­ti­ful, he is the stan­dard for male beauty and al­ways will be. He is iconic, David is the most fa­mous statue in the world, it is him on the bar­be­cue aprons, it is him on the post­cards, it is David on tourist boxer shorts and it is David that Calvin Klein and Le­vis use on ad­verts around the world.”

Bernardo’s pas­sion for Michelan­gelo’s most fa­mous sculp­ture, which draws more than 3.5 mil­lion visi­tors to Florence’s Ac­cademia ev­ery year, is ob­vi­ous. His tour of the cul­tural high­lights of this city fes­tooned with Re­nais­sance mas­ter­pieces re­volves around David, and his story of the statue’s event­ful cre­ation and life is vividly en­ter­tain­ing as he throws him­self into poses and ges­tic­u­lates with gusto.

Florence is a city syn­ony­mous with the Re­nais­sance and the con­flu­ence of wealthy moneylend­ing fam­i­lies vy­ing for pres­tige through artis­tic pa­tron­age with the pres­ence of ge­niuses such as Michelan­gelo, Leonardo, Raf­faelo and var­i­ous other ninja tur­tles, be­queathed the for­mer city state an un­ri­valled se­lec­tion of fa­mous works. With stun­ning stat­u­ary on ev­ery cor­ner of a me­dieval city that boasts fa­mous land­marks such as the Ponte Vec­chio over the lan­guidly flow­ing River Arno, and panoramic views from the Pi­az­zale Michelan­gelo, it is worth brav­ing the flood of Amer­i­can tourists that throng the most fa­mous streets with the ar­rival of a swel­ter­ing Ital­ian sum­mer.

For less high-brow ex­pe­ri­ences, visi­tors may be lucky enough to time their ar­rival with a Sun­day night home fix­ture for the city’s fa­mous football club club, Fiorentina Fiorentina, where they can ex­pe­ri­ence the rau­cous pas­sion, colour and din cre­ated by the tifosi of ‘Vi­ola’ who swarm back into the beau­ti­ful city on hun­dreds of ve­spe, arms raised in tri­umph, horns honk­ing and bring­ing other traf­fic to a stand­still.

Af­ter the con­tem­po­rary art de­lights of Venezia’s Bi­en­nale and the Re­nais­sance mecca of Florence it can be hard to be­lieve any city could top those ex­pe­ri­ences for cul­ture but the power of Rome to re­duce visi­tors to rev­er­ent si­lence en­dures.

It is easy to be cyn­i­cal about The Eter­nal City which, as with Paris and Lon­don, seems so much part of the mod­ern cul­tural con­science to mil­lions of peo­ple who have never set foot near its seven hills, but the first sight of the Colos­seum stays long in the mem­ory. Its tow­er­ing grandeur be­strides all in the city and makes tourists feel in­signif­i­cant stand­ing next to its ma­jes­tic, crum­bling bulk. It is im­pos­si­ble not to hear the roar of the crowd whipped into a fever at the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted within its tow­er­ing walls. With the mag­nif­i­cent Ro­man Fo­rum ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site next door, via Con­stan­tine’s arch, and the Cir­cus Max­imus a short hop away by char­iot, it is easy to see why so many mil­lions of tourists brave the en­er­vat­ing heat of an Ital­ian sum­mer to visit.

In ad­di­tion to the tra­di­tional city tours, Walks of Italy of­fers two food-based trips from Rome, an op­tion that will al­ways bring rich re­wards in Italy. The farm­house ex­pe­ri­ence whisks visi­tors away from the ris­ing mer­cury of the cap­i­tal and into the glo­ri­ously cool sur­rounds of the Um­brian hills to the agri­t­ur­ismo run by Lu­cia and Alina Pinelli. Af­ter a crash course on the im­por­tance of buy­ing Ital­ian olive oil – “you must look the pro­ducer in the eye and see if you can trust him”, ex­plains Alina – it is time to make rib­bons of pasta un­der the watch­ful eye of mum and daugh­ter Pinelli, who are ready with help­ful ad­vice, some­times amus­ingly at cross-pur­poses in the bu­colic idyll. The part ev­ery­one looks for­ward to, of course, is eat­ing the end re­sult with a bot­tle of wine from the Pinelli vine­yard.

The food tour of Rome it­self fea­tures the chance to sam­ple the finest lo­cally-pro­duced olive oil, bal­samic vine­gar, salami and cheese avail­able, not to men­tion the pesto, which would re­quire a sep­a­rate ar­ti­cle to do it jus­tice.

Fi­nally there is the chance to make – and eat – your own pizza, Neapoli­tan-style, be­fore wash­ing ev­ery­thing down with a glass of wine and an aro­matic espresso. It is the culi­nary equiv­a­lent of gaz­ing upon Michelan­gelo’s mas­ter­piece and, like ev­ery­thing else ex­pe­ri­enced in Italy, al­most im­pos­si­ble to con­vey in words.

Cook­ing, art, be­guil­ing street scenes and views com­pete to wow visi­tors in Italy’s cities

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