Friday, August 19, 2011

The devil wears Prada...and so do I

The best kept secret in Florence is housed in a nondescript grey factory building in a quiet village south of the city. Space is the factory outlet for Prada and Miu Miu and is fashion mecca for any style conscious designer or wearer.

With promises of massive discounts on end of season, end of line and even ranges that never made it onto the shop floor, it's too tempting to pass up. Even though the day we arrived it was shut, we rushed back the next morning to grab a ticket which allows you to browse...or sweep crazily...through the outlet grabbing whatever takes your fancy. We arrived 35 mins before opening time and still our tickets said 90-92 and the queue in 35 degrees of heat snaked into the car park before the doors opened to the stampede.

It was like the first day of Harrods sale and it's fair to say the Japanese tourists were the most excited tiny girl got a mouthful of abuse from the burly Italian man she was shoving in order to get through the door. There's method in her madness, in Tokyo, prices are virtually double what we pay in Europe.

So was it worth it? Even Issy, who dragged herself out of bed at an ungodly hour to come, thought so.I bought a Miu Miu wallet and a pair of Miu Miu leather thong sandals while Handyman bought a jacket, jeans and a hoodie, outspending me! But our purchases were outshone by the Japanese who rampaged around grabbing bags and purses like their lives depended on it. The girl in front of me spent two grand on two bags and two wallets while Iain saw two guys straight out of Pulp Fiction who bought ten pairs of shoes each!

The great thing is, you can touch everything and not feel intimidated or have three assistants by your side giving you evils if you dont buy. The Mall at Leccio, in the Tuscan hills just outside Florence, is also worth a visit...Gucci new season at 50% off, Hogan, YSL, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and many more. By this point the temperature had risen to 43 degrees and my Amex card was feeling the heat.

We spent a lovely day in Lucca yesterday exploring the walled city before enjoying a long lunch at Paulette and Nick's beautiful stone house in Pescaglia. Today is our last day in Florence, so we are off to the Dali/Rodin exhibition by the river then onto lunch at the Golden View restaurant, with a fabulous position overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. There are some great restaurants here, and others which cater solely, and rather soullessly, for the tourist market, which is in stark contrast to Puglia.

One of the best so far is La Cantinetta in Via Borgo... we have eaten there twice. It looks like a deli at the front but don't be fooled, they have a great wine list by the glass as well as the bottle, home cooked food - the bruschetta with pomodorini and vegetable lasagne were fabulous and Handyman rated the pork with rocket and parmesan. They only opened four months ago but they are consistently busy and service is among the best we have found in Italy.

Monday, August 15, 2011

When in Rome...

If you are looking for a holiday in an unspoilt region of Italy where the people welcome you with open arms, the food is simple, local and delicious and the scenery breathtaking, then Puglia is your spot.

We spent a gorgeous day at the Masseria Torre Coccaro beach club, which took St Tropez’s Club 55 as its inspiration and managed to outshine it. A beautiful stretch of Adriatic coastline, with an azur blue sea, lovely sunbeds and waiters who will bring a chilled glass of prosecco to the beach makes this the perfect spot. Vittorio, the owner, also runs Torre Maizza nearby and told me the secret of his success is not promoting his hotels but letting the service and setting do all the talking. It works. His land also yields olives, olive oil, artichokes and other produce which has a mere few steps to travel from picking to serving.

We also tried Al Fornello da Ricci, reputedly the best restaurant in the region, run by Antonella Ricci and her husband Vinod. Lily Allen was at the table next to us, not that this mattered as all eyes were on the food which was cooked and served by Antonella in her beautiful garden. The antipasto, with stuffed courgette flowers, fava bean paste, simple fine griddled zucchini with mint and melanzane, was unforgettable.

We left with heavy hearts promising to go back as there is still so much to explore. At Cassino we visited the war graves where Jean’s father is buried having lost his life in the battle of Cassino in WWII along with thousands of other allied servicemen. The graves where unknown soldiers were buried made the trip even more poignant, with gravestones bearing the inscription: ‘A soldier of the 1939 – 1945 war known unto God.’

Onwards to Rome and we spent a fantastic day yesterday at the Colosseum and Palatina, which is the original birthplace of ancient Rome 2,750 years ago. Fascinating. By the way, the strange looking specimen at the bottom of the picture is not Iain with a wig on... Dinner at the cool Antica Enoteca wine cave was followed by an amazing performance of live opera at the foot of the Spanish steps last night, where renditions of La Vie en Rose, Nessun Dorma and songs from other famous operas had the crowd in a frenzy. Except for Issy who, spotting the TV cameras recording the performance, said, ‘Come on, you can watch this back at the hotel on YouTube.’