The Other Tuscany — The Mysterious Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore

by Mario 15-Jul 2010

Ley lines, earth energy vortices and power centers are not often associated with Italy. These terms are usually linked to places such as Sedona, the Pyramids and Stonehenge. Nonetheless, a secluded medieval abbey in southern Tuscany seems to rest on exactly such a spot.

According to locals and expats living in the Tuscan region of Le Crete, the area surrounding the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore abounds with inexplicable positive energy. Inhabitants appear to live longer than the average, enjoy excellent health and everything that either grazes or grows is similarly improved. It is not uncommon to see centenarians, still in good health with all original parts, including teeth, nonchalantly tending fields. Back in the 80s studies corroborated, at least in part, this high level of good health and longevity enjoyed by the inhabitants. The olive oil does taste better and the ground yields a bit more of whatever is planted.

Abbey monks, in accordance with age-old recipes continue to transform simple herbs and berries into quite enjoyable liqueurs that seemingly restore ailing kidneys, digestive systems, urinary tracts and colons. If magic potions are not your cup of tea, you may be tempted to freely taste some of their organic wines, extra virgin olive oil, spelt, honey or Sambuca. The Olivetan monks, a separate branch of the Benedictine Order, have lived here since 1319. Not the same monks mind you. No one lives that long nowadays no matter how much elixir they imbibe.

Aside from the lure of longevity, the Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore is a fascinating day trip. As you venture across the drawbridge into this monastic enclave the past embraces you. A wide avenue beyond the gatehouse leads to the impressive Gothic façade of the church. The route is marked by botanical gardens on one side and tall whispering Tuscan cypresses on the other. The tower, library, apothecary, cloisters and church are adorned by works of many Renaissance masters including: della Robbia, Signorelli and Sodoma. You may sample some of their art work here — click on the links at the bottom of the page for more.

Visitors are welcome to tour the abbey compound. It is open daily from 9:15 am to noon and from 3:15 pm to 5 pm in winter or 6 pm during summer. The luckiest visitors are those that can get me to the church on time. Each morning at 7 am the Mass is celebrated with Gregorian chants. At at 6:15 pm the monks are singing their vespers and the rosary. Try to get here early or stay on to enjoy another magical mystical tour at the monastery of Sant'Antimo. This part of Tuscany is filled with enchantment, remains uncluttered by mass tourism and makes a great base for exploring much of central Italy. My next post will reveal some of the interesting hill towns that surround these abbeys.

In the meantime... Cent'anni (a common Italian toast wishing you 100 years of life)

Padova: The miracle of the Bassett Hounds — Part 2

by Mario 11-Jan 2010

The meal was indescribably delicious, the service was impeccable, the wines were sublimely matched. The soft elegant setting adorned with fresh flowers and classical music was one where we could have stayed forever. Stefania, the attractive and attentive owner of Ristorante Belle Parti was floored when I told her how we found her. “Do you know who the woman with the basset hounds is?” “Not a clue” I replied. Rabarama is Italy’s most famous living artist. Her sculptures and paintings sell for as much as $400,000. It was she who sent you here”. I promised Stefania that I would tell all our friends and readers how I came to experience some of the best Italian food ever in one of my favorite cities to boot. 

Later that evening when we joined the rest of our gang, I shared the day’s events with my friend Stephanie Oswald, CNN Travel reporter and the editor of Travel Girl Magazine. The next day Steph led her own small group to Saint Anthony’s and for lunch at Belle Parti. It turned out to be the highlight of everyone's Italy trip. It would be wonderfully self serving if I could tell you that Parker Villas has villas and apartments in Padova. Not yet. You will have to get there without my direct intercession for now. However, if you stop by Saint Anthony’s, something wonderful may happen to you as well.

Padova: The miracle of the Bassett Hounds — Part 1

by Mario 10-Jan 2010

Every time I set foot in Padova - Padua in English - something truly wonderful happens, and it always begins with a visit to Saint Anthony's Basilica. St. Anthony is a miracle maker and champion of lost causes. I can attest to the former and often think I’m the latter. Throughout the years I've visited the basilica with family, devout Jews, protestants, agnostics and the occasional atheist. The result is always the same. Everyone is somehow transformed. There is a palpable force there that transcends religion and touches everyone.

After guiding my companions through the rite of touching Anthony’s “warm” marble tomb, obtaining a blessing from a friar in a tiny alcove halfway up the right hand side (a friar is always there) and depositing a petitioner’s candle in the altar bin for use during services, we stepped out into the pleasant November sun and strolled a few blocks into the pedestrian heart of this ancient university town. Shops, cafes, artisan studios, lots of Italians and countless students populate narrow lanes that open into gorgeous piazzas. By 1 pm, we were famished and craving a special kind of lunch, one where service, food and ambiance ruled, and then it happened...

The day before, I had spotted two stout basset hounds while sipping thick, creamy delicious hot chocolate at Caffe Pedrocchi and now, they were shuffling by once again. I beckoned my companions to wait and ran after these somewhat obvious denizens of Padova and their master. My question was simple: “Hello. I’m sorry to disturb you. I’m an American here with friends. I noticed your hounds yesterday and figured you might be a local. I was hoping you could suggest a restaurant filled with wonderful food and ambiance?” At the other end of the leash, beneath a wide brimmed hat stood a classic Italian beauty draped in a plaid mantle and partially hidden behind sunglasses larger than espresso saucers. She regarded me for a second and in a soft, velvet tone asked: “Do you really seek excellent food and a perfect atmosphere?” “Yes” I pleaded. She gave me explicit instructions on fulfilling our quest. Her final words were: “You will know you are there by the young blond woman that greets you, I’m sure it will be to your liking.”

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Welcome to our Access Italy blog, a mosaic of eclectic, but practical, information; fascinating cultural insights; and unique commentary on a wonderful way of life only the Italians could have designed.  more....

 

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