A short drive south of Bagni di Lucca, tucked in between the mountains and the Serchio River lies the small community of Borgo a Mozzano, home to one of the great marvels of medieval engineering, the Ponte della Maddalena. As we approached the Borgo, our eyes focused on this most spectacular sight. The bridge curves toward the sky, supported by several arches whose reflections formed perfect circles in the waters below.
Historically, the bridge is believed to have been commissioned by Countess Matilda around the year 1100, so that pilgrims, travelling the Via Francigena from northern Europe would be able to cross the Serchio on their way to Rome, the destination for those on a medieval pilgrimage.
Folklore enthusiasts know the bridge by another name, the Ponte del Diavolo or The Devil's Bridge. Their story, handed down through the years, is that a master builder was hired by the citizens of the Borgo to build a bridge over the river to facilitate crossing. With the construction deadline approaching the builder realized he would not be able to complete the bridge on time. As the story goes, he was approached by the devil who guaranteed that the bridge would be completed on time if the devil could have the first soul to cross the bridge. In a panic the builder agreed! Realizing later what he had done, the builder sought the advice of a holy man and worked out a solution to the dilemma.. The bridge was completed on time and the devil waited for the master builder to cross the bridge, thinking he could claim his soul. However, in accordance with the plan between the builder and the holy man, the builder released a pig to cross the bridge first. The devil, realizing that he had been tricked, hurled himself into the depths of the Serchio River, never to be seen again.
While this tale is an interesting story, it seems that the historical account is a bit more believable. You decide.
We continued south past the beautiful walled city of Lucca and then on to Vicopisano
where we had a light lunch and took a quick walk through the village. Then we turned our sights on Casa Bellavista and a much anticipated reunion with our friends Simonetta and Guido. What a joyous reunion it was! After abbracci e baci all around and the official greeting of Dante, Casa Bellavista's furry four-footed concierge, we unpacked our car and settled in. We had arrived late in the day so it wasn't long before we began dinner preparations around the large marble table in Simonetta's cucina italiana.
From our experience there seems to be no such thing as a "light dinner" in the Tuscan way of life. We enjoyed an apperitivo of freshly sliced tomatoes, ricotta cheese, bresaola (thinly sliced cured beef), prosciutto and wine.
While we visited and caught up on the events that had happened since last year's visit, Simonetta prepared a pesto pasta dish which was thoroughly enjoyed with another glass of wine. This was followed by an insalata of fresh vegetables. A cup of espresso brought the dinner to a proper close.
One of our great joys is driving along the meandering roads of the Tuscan countryside through small medieval villages, working our way up and down hills, past the fields of sheep and the stately cypress trees. On this particular Sunday afternoon the Tuscan sun, surrounded by the deepest blue sky imaginable, cast its warmth over the vineyards, olive groves and sunflower fields awaiting their harvest. It was a great afternoon for what we would call back home a Sunday drive. But today's drive would not be through the Litchfield Hills or the Berkshires. It was a day for a drive through the Crete Senesi, the area of Tuscany that provides its visitors with a view of rolling hills of green in the spring, golden waves of grain just before harvest or a light beige soil awaiting planting.
The areas of the Crete Senesi that are not part of grain growing caused us to think of what it might have looked like through the windows of Apollo Thirteen as it landed on the moon.
Remember when you were a child...the anticipation and excitement you had on Christmas Eve? You helped your mom get the cookies and milk ready for Santa. You could almost hear Rudolph's hooves touch down on your roof as he guided Santa's sleigh. Such excitement and anticipation has not been known since then! That is to say, until now. While the wheels on our red rent-a-car (were we possibly in the jolly man's sleigh) guided us to Monte San Savino and our meeting with destiny at La Bottega di Cuoco, our anticipation increased. Guido and Simonetta had told us that La Bottega was not a typical Tuscan trattoria and that we were in for a special experience.
We entered Monte San Savino through the Porta Fiorentina, built by the Medici, their family crest firmly embedded in the arch. The narrow medieval streets, lined with a variety of shops, led us past a bar where guests were enjoying glasses of wine along with a sampling of tasty-looking apperitivi. Children were laughing and talking as they enjoyed their gelato.
After a short walk past the piazza, we arrived at La Bottega di Cuoco ("The Cook's Workshop")
and knew immediately that we were in for a dining adventure. Inside to the left was a long counter, a gentleman standing behind it. To the right was a cupboard with open shelves and dishes. Straight ahead was a large oval table with about a dozen chairs placed around it. Above the table hung a single light which cast a warm and inviting glow. As we entered the gentleman offered us seats. He placed a bottle of prosecco on the table along with an apperitivo which included salume, prosciutto, liver pate`, cheese, bread, cold garlic mashed potatoes, grilled pumpkin slices with marjoram and oil and an olive pate`. It was to be a night of adventurous eating. There was no menu. We would eat whatever the cook prepared. Serving ourselves from the platters of food placed before us was family style eating at its best.
The primo piatto consisted of homemade tagliatelle in a ragu of sausage and beef, accompanied with a bottle of wine for our enjoyment. At this point some new arrivals were seated and joined in the meal.
The secundo piatto , a spezzatino (stew), was served in a beautiful large copper pot, still hot from the stove, and another bottle of wine. Consisting of pieces of pork roast, sausage, apple and white fennel flowers, its flavor was incredible and that copper pot was passed around the table several times as we enjoyed our dinner.
Then came time for the dolce, a delicious crème caramel. As luck would have it one of the other guests was celebrating his birthday. His wife had brought a delicious torta di cioccolata which they shared with us. What a wonderful dining adventure...an evening of much spirited and happy conversation around a table of good food, good wine and good friends. Certainly, it was an evening when la dolce vita came alive.
Dave and Edie www.fototoscana.com