Picture Italy on instagram.

CORTONA & rosescortona350, cortona, italyEVERYWHERE, ITALY– You say you want more pictures of Italy? See our latest instagram shots That gallery is growing.

Instagram is too fun. Latest app for our brava iPhone, seems wicked user-friendly. I mean, if Stew can do. So can you.

Just add wi-fi, it’s a snap. Click the picture, adjust it, caption, send. Ta da!

This picture was taken just before a shower, running to the car in the parking lot at the foot of the escalator in Cortona. OH, you don’t know about the escalator parking trick there? Makes Cortona even more of a dream.

See you (on instagram) in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Kiki finds a couple things to do in Umbria

Maybe a couple times in our Life After Buying a House in Umbria, people have said “well, gee, if you buy one place then you’ll never be able to go anywhere else. And won’t you get, like, bored?” As if. Every time we go to Italy, and this is a dozen years now, we find things we can’t now imagine that we missed. Its just an embarrassment of riches waiting for us to discover.
That came to mind when we got this fun-filled note from our buddy and co-owner Kiki. We have so much unscheduled merriment there in Panicale that we often teasingly refer to it as Panic Alley. What the heck, same general pronunciation?

If I interject and annotate her note I’ll put my words in Italic and in parens.

See you in Italy!


Hey Styooo, (how Anglo Saxonish name Stewart comes out in Latin-ish Italian. Regardless, music. Well, to my ears)

Pix when we can. (Fine, fine. I’ll do mine!) Too busy having fun. Here’s what we’ve done:

Wednesday arrival, lunch at GMB. (over over the top coffee, pastry extravaganza at bargain prices just outside Cast.d.Lago. fotos here hint of same. enclosed is their idea of civilized morning nosh, above, and box lunch, below. BTW, I think the lunch delights came to under $10 USD. Box and bows included.)

Thursday Morning discovered Salvatore’s, the new take-out in Panicale. Best bread ever, plus wonderful seafood lasagna (recommended by Giovanna) and torta di Napoli.

Thursday Night we hit Cortona to visit Kathleen’s Peaks Island friends. Saw Pia! Air-kissed and said ‘hi.’ (that’s Pia of Nando and Pia fame our old friends at Bar Sport by the intersection of the piazzas in the center of town. Just beside City Hall and across from theater) Kathleen’s friends want to buy here, so we told them about seeyouinitaly! (why, thank you) They’re smart, cute and funny. Yet more nice friends to have here.
Friday, back to Salvatore’s, then Assisi and our first gelato of the season.

Saturday Ikea in Firenze — wait ’til you see my new living room! …

Sunday, back to Salvatore’s, then brunch at Elida’s with Sophia + Anna; Sunday evening dinner at the Peter/Sarah’s with gang of ten others. so good to see.

Monday Siena, so Kathleen could see St. Catherine’s head — and thumb.

Today, Cetona with the Bowers to visit their antiques guy — and have a three hour lunch.

Tomorrow, Rome. Jim is driving us because he wants to see the Coliseum, too. Nice, eh?
(they are back. loved it eternally they said. But, no. They didn’t elaborate. Assumed they were just still having too much fun. Wait, wait “I’ve got mail)

Rome. That’s a riot about the earthquake. We were rather like you, Midge and friends when you were at the Autogrille when the place had been evacuated for a faux bomb scare: innocents abroad. We knew nothing. Jim drove us to Rome to pick up Rob, who slept his whole flight and was plenty rested. We parked near the Circus Maximus, walked to the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain. Had a good lunch — and the most incredible ‘iced’ cappuccino. Lovely. Lots of walking on what seemed like terra firma!
(versus the italian word for earthquake: terremoto)
No time yet to swim in pools, patronize favorite local restaurants or take pix. Definitely will!

What … flood? At the office? (can you hear the roar of the fans? she’s in Italy, we’re here with broken water heater water lapping at our office door. sigh. Almost fixed! YAY.)

Baci, baci.

A day in Cortona. Cappuccino, Cioccolato and TANGO?

When we left our house that morning all we knew was that we were going to see some houses with Giancarlo. And that we might see one in Cortona. Turns out we went there first and that was the start of an interesting day in that hilltop town.
In the first place, we were thunderstruck at how much we liked the house. Terrace AND balcony AND lakeview AND garage. In Cortona? Are you kidding me? Usually perfectly lovely places in Cortona have none of the above. It will make someone a nice home. Right in town.

After seeing that we treated ourselves to a few minutes of town life. We peeked into Teatro Signorelli to see what was on offer for that night. Tango? You know we like Tango. And there’s at least two of us. Hmm. Then we went across the piazza for coffee at with our friends Nando and Pia’s at Bar Sport. And luckily I remembered I was a man with more than one mission. Multi-tasking will be the end of us, I swear. But a top mission was to find a place in Cortona for a friend to pop “the Question.” Shhh. Top Secret. So, I took it to the top dog in Cortona. Laying it right at Nando’s feet. He thought about it, scratched his chin, raised his eyebrows at Pia a couple times and nodded and told me to follow him to Loconda nel Loggiato not far from Bar Sport. We’d eaten with Nando and Pia there al fresco on the loggiato but we’d never actually been inside and even in Sunny Italy this was still March and still a bit brisk to be eating and proposing outside. We did that recon and send the name on to our friend with best wishes. Thanks Nando!

bruschettaartistiThis was maybe one day before the weather went totally wonderfully spring on us so it was not cold but cool and walking down Via Nazionale we saw a Caffe with a sign out extolling Zuppa! A cup of that and we’d be on our way. Or so we thought. The happy folks at Caffe degli Artisti decided we needed to be stuffed like Christmas Geese. Baskets of hot breads came un bidden and some of the most beautiful (they really ARE artisti here) and tasty bruschetta I could imagine. Also unbidden. By the time our soups came the waiters had pulled another table next to ours to stack our extra dishes on. Two of us ordered Ribollita and two ordered Zuppa and those two were asked if they wanted their zuppa with bread in it. Our friends shrugged and said ok. Which, in effect, made us all have the same huge bowls of breaded vegetable soup. And when we tried to wave away dessert, they brought a plate of pastries, anyway. Always liked Cortona.

We were having so much fun at this point we decided to sign up for the Tango show at the Signorelli. Getting tickets in the daytime was fun, the man behind the desk got his seating chart out and we walked around the theater and saw up close and personal exactly what seats were available and picked a third level box for five of us. Even though it would hold more, he assured us it would be “our” box. We watched them setting up for the show, bought our tickets and went back to Panicale for a few hours of R&R on home court.

We even bought a tango ticket for a friend who had no idea what we were up to on her behalf. We’d sort of said we’d get dinner together that night but we could not find each other by phone. Surprise! I was sure she’d be fine with it and she was.

When evening fell we gathered our squadra and wound our way back up Cortona’s hill in the big, black Delta Lancia one of our friend had inadvertently rented. What a sled that is. About the size of a Dodge Magnum, he’d had it locked solid in the tiny streets of Paciano and had to have kibitzing Italian bystanders spring it loose. So, we were all a bit leery of its mass, relative to our fine motor controls, but it was fine.

And so was just roaming the streets of Cortona off season looking for dinner right at dinner time. I’m seriously not working for the Chamber of Commerce here but I will say, I’ve never had anything but great food everywhere in Cortona. So, I was not even concerned. But I’d never eaten at the Osteria del Teatro Midge pointed out. What the heck, it is Italy, we’re going to the Teatro next door right after, how bad could it be?
Not bad at all. LOVED it. our bacala with chick peas was to die for. We didn’t want to ruin our main courses by having too many appetizers so we just got one antipasti plate “per la tavola” which was more than plenty because the plate they brought was huge. The “rosa della casa per favore” was a knockout bottle of Chianti. And when we again tried to wave away dessert for the second time in that city that day, here came a hysterical waitress with a chocolate board over flowing with chunks and slabs of every color of chocolate. And with a cleaver she started whacking and laughing. We first heard her earlier in the evening across the room and we were all wide-eyed certain there was a barking puppy in the room. Up close it was hard not to want to join in with her happy barking. There must be some law in Cortona about sending customers out into the cold, cruel world without dessert. Best chocolate ever, magnificent. Were there raspberries in it? Had my total undivided attention. And like with the antipasta plate, the waiters wanted to see those plates cleaned. “You’re Not leaving that piece of prosciutto/crumb of chocolate are you!?!”
And try to put a price on this dinner: Antipasta in profusion, pastas, main courses, contornis, wine, gorgeous decanters of sparkling waters, dessert. 98 euros. For FIVE adults. We left full and happy.
And stepped across the piazza to watch the swirl of people coming in to see the show. Going to a show in a place like this is worth the price of admission itself. 12 euros per ticket with swell views of the stage from a box just off center on the third level up. And the music was remarkable and the dancing lovely too. We seem to be on a strange tango binge. We saw the Napoletango show in Rome in October. Highly recommended. Saw tango in theaters and on the streets with hats being passed in Buenos Aires in February and now here we are in Cortona! Is this related to watching too much DWTS?

Here’s a video clip of the show shot with our brava new Sony.

Strolling down the cobblestones to the car afterwards we were all saying what a fine thing it was to be open to the moment and living the life spontaneous in Cortona. Even if it was just for the moment.

And, the Locanda nel Loggiato? It delivered later that week. When our friend asked the big question there over dinner, he got the answer he was hoping for. She said Yes!

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland


Spring ahead. Thinking Italy, Cortona & Umbria

Looking at the deep snow parked outside our windows here in Maine. Hoping it keeps melting. It has about three feet left to go. I know, “piano, piano” this too will pass. Our neighbors in Panicale, Umbria don’t see snow on a regular basis so it has a certain novelty to them. And after a snow fall, you can depend on someone to be grumping about it and you can also depend on someone else to say brightly “ricordi, sotto le neve c’e pane.” The corollary and only sometimes used as the rhyming finale is the less romantic, darker “sotto l’aqua c’e fame.” Snow does melt and feeds the crops which feeds everyone and of course it is better than too much water. So. Snow, good thing. In moderation.

Snow has melted enough here in Maine, that even though it is still deep – so deep you can’t slog thru it with boots – you still can’t snow shoe on it. Funny time. Time for it to go. And speaking of going. . . we are. To Italy next Saturday. March 19th. We’ll be in Panicale, Cortona, Siena for a couple weeks. Yay! Non vedo l’ora!
Every where I look we see things that point us to Italy. At lunch at my sister Gin’s next door today, we saw her Araucana chicken eggs in ceramic egg cartons we brought her from Cortona one time. Love the soft cream color that seems to be The Color of Cortona in the ceramic dept. And aren’t the eggs great? Not dyed. Just how they are. Almost too pretty to poach. Yes, we are ready for Italy and even Easter it appears from these eggs.

OK, See you in Italy! And soon!

Stew Vreeland


When last we met we were in Siena at the Tenuta di Spannocchia. We met our friend chef Stephanie of Sea Grass Bistro in Yarmouth, Maine there and headed to our home in Umbria. But first, we were going right by Cortona. Let’s swing in there. Note: no I am not in Italy right now. I sketch out stories in Italy and put them up when I’m back. That way I get more adventures per minute while I’m there.

SIENA, CORTONA, PANICALE– Cortona has always been so civilized. But sometimes you almost can’t get there from here. Now they have a new parking garage subtly tucked into the hillside, lower down the hill from the usual top spots. It would be a bit of a straight up hike but you can cheat and take an escalator up there to “Centro.” But on this day we didn’t even need that and just cruised into a good spot like we owned the place. See, Stephanie, this is how we do Cortona. Now, lets go see our friends Nando and Pia at Bar Sport. “Hey, Luca!”, we yell at their son who is almost the first person we see on the street. He’s on a mission so we only talk for a minute, and he says his parents are up at their bar and he’ll catch up with us there. We keep moving that direction against the current of the always-busy main shopping street.

But oh, no. Luca didn’t mention the bar was closed today. Their day off we’ve learned is Friday and today is Wed. We peek under the sad, prison-gray, half-pulled-down metal doors and said “C’e nessuno?”
Street seen in Cortona, Italy. Day in Tuscany
Yes, you Italophile film buffs, did catch that cinematic reference. The opening line of Di Sica’s “Garden of the Finzi-Contini” is “C’e nessuuuuno?” As you remember there, all the tennis playing teenagers are swirling about the gates of the villa waiting to get in. But here at the gate to Bar Sport in Cortona what, to our wondering eyes, should appear but our own version of Babbo Natale, Babbo Nando. He’s a happy, non-judgmental Santa. Cortonese through and through so I’ve always suspected he doesn’t really care if we’ve been naughty or nice.

We all hug and I offer him, Mr Barista, a coffee. This could be good. He always buys us coffee because he has the bar full of beans right at his finger tips. He and Pia seem to think that since we brought their folkloric team of flag-spinning, crossbow-shooting Men in Tights to Maine a decade ago that they owe us. The reverse is true in our mind. But, look, he says “buon idea” to our coffee shop thought and HE’S going to coffee with US and points us back down the street we just walked in on. We’re marching arm in arm nodding and joking with all the citizens in our wake. Because Nando owns the central bar in town and seems to be Capo of every event, when you are with Nando in Cortona it is like being with a celebrity. The seas part and we are soon drinking espressos and eating to-die-for chocolate macaroons. Poor Nando. He’s swapped his one day off for this day because of a festival that starts on his regular day off. And here comes the tourists. Us. No warning, we just show up.

Can’t blame them for not wanting to be closed Friday as that will be a great day for their bar. It is not only Italian Independence Day for the whole country, it is also the festival of Santa Margherita, the patron saint of Cortona. We’ll be back and will cover that in another episode.
doing a walk about in Cortona, Tuscany, Italy

We sip that frothy coffee, my favorite indoor (and outdoor) sport, talk of things of great import and stroll back to dark Bar Sport to find the ever-chic Pia. She is often decked out as the queen to Nando’s king in local events. We have dropped in out of the clear blue Tuscan sky ON THEIR DAY OFF and without a blink of an eye, or a minute hesitation spelling “oh, crap” they are all about maximizing this moment and are planning what we can do together. Oh, please Zen Master, give me the ability to ever be this full of life and style and grace. Whatever they had planned and deserved for their day off is off the table. Gone forever. So. Here’s the new plan. We’ll walk, we’ll talk, we’ll see sights, we’ll come back to our now “private bar” for prosecco and looking at photo albums of past festivals. Then, when it is sufficiently mid-afternoon, we’ll do a lunch, then more walk and more talk. How’s that sound to you?

Some part of me hates them dropping everything on our behalf. And, in our defense, we have had this miracle happen before if we unintentionally drop in on their day off. So, we were quite totally fine coming on a Wednesday for a coffee, a hug and back out on the street. Fridays we do on tiptoes because they have given us their Fridays until we figured out that is what was happening. Not premeditated at all.
the hunter restaurant, Cortona, Italy. il cacciatore served us an ocean of seafood

Yes, yes. Lame old joke. Regardless of intent, this was a spontaneous in-the-moment joy to spend the afternoon with Nando and Pia and their two grown sons and bar partners. Very cool and relaxed. Except for the bill-paying part. I wish I could win this battle more often. At the coffee place we went AT MY INVITATION by the way, that owner was all “no, no, you are with Nando, your money’s no good.” Later, at the restaurant, the charming owner again said “ I can’t take your money” Pushing past me Nando said “they only take Cortonesi money here” and that was, unfortunately, that. They did, we note, let us be the boss of the money when they came to our town. Complicated system when you don’t always get some of the cultural rules in play. But even with that, Stephanie and Midge and I had a grand time of it eating an ocean of seafood. The restaurant was named “the hunter/cacciatore” but in my mind it could have easily been “pescatore.” I can remember at least clams and shrimp. And eel! With more wine and more grappa. This is lunch! What were we doing drinking Prosecco before lunch? Give me strength. But you can see why we did have to treat ourselves to a lazy siesta as soon as we all got back to Panicale.


How we could think of eating out again, ever after that fine mid-day eatathon, I do not know, but after that nap/fall-down-and-be-quiet thing, we did a walking tour of Panicale and then had a most excellent but light dinner at Masolino’s. Sans wine. But, then, to make up for that momentary lapse into the dark world of abstemiousness I found my lips forming the words “Nightcap, anyone?” All hands were raised and we wandered post-dolce to Aldo’s next door and had the Wiley Traveler’s Special. It tastes like a nice, late night coffee would but it is caffeine-free Orzo brewed like espresso and topped off with Bailey’s. How easy was that to say? Orzo with Bailey’s. You might think so. But you’d be wrong. At least in Bar Gallo with Daniela in charge on a busy night. Daniela, who suffers fools hardly at all, decided I needed to be taught how not to drive them crazy. After a couple false starts over a week’s time, we got me to parrot these words back to her.

“Orzo corretto con baaay-lees in una tazza grande”. Say that, like that, and you’ll get your foamed and frothed up orzo in a cappuccino-sized cup with good shot of Bailey’s. Went round the horn a bit to get it as i thought corretto meant grappa would be added. Turns out coffee can be “corrected” with any liquor of choice. I dare say if you don’t specify you will get grappa’d.

Regardless, it is as fine a sleep potion as I’ve ever come across. And a marvelous way to end another marvelous day in paradise. One euro in your local bar. Sogni d’Oro/Orzo to all and to all a good night.

N.B. if you want to jump in to the Cortona lifestyle as a native, we did just put a brand new listing up on our “This Just In” section.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland