Pat Hanna, my friend from Santa Brigida in the mountains above Florence, was free to come to Spello for a visit, and we immediately decided to head for a field trip to Anghiari. That weekend, a special “tasting event” was being held to feature artisan food products from Italy’s Appennine mountain range—an attraction calling to both of us. She drove to Spello in her car, and was more than willing to drive us to the event—a special treat for me still shuffling around in the boot cast, and always without a car in Spello. Anghiari is northeast of Arezzo, in Tuscany, and was quite a long back-track for Pat, coming from Florence. Still, she was interested in going anyway, and we decided to go together and spend the day.
We left and hit the highway, and then had our share of wrong turns and missed off-ramps, until we finally could see the church spires of Anghiari approaching high above us. This small hill village was the site of the Battle of Anghiari between troops from Milan and Florence, in 1440, which was the inspiration for a Leonardo da Vinci painting that is now lost, but is known to have existed through the many copies of the original made by other artists of his time. Anghiari is particularly know for its many antiques dealers, and there is a school there for learning the art of furniture restoration and decoration.
When we arrived, and miraculously watched someone drive away and free up a very convenient parking place that meant I didn’t have far to walk, we were immediately greeted by booths and grottos filled with vendors giving away tastes and samples and selling their products. It seemed every garage and grotto and covered space in Anghiari had a booth inside, and we set out to find every last one of them—breads, pastries, prepared meats, pastas and sauces, cheeses, and so many more specialties.
Everywhere we went, the vendors were friendly to us, offering us small slices of their cheeses, prosciutto, and salami or a cookie. It was a carnival atmosphere there, with the tiny streets and walkways filled with people enjoying the event, following the signs to the next venue, and pausing with their strollers or in groups of their friends.
Until the sun had set, we wandered and followed the many signs, up and down stairways, through arches and doorways, and tasting our way through the hill town, finding new specialties we hadn’t seen or tasted before then, and finally carrying our bags of irresistible cheeses, condiments and sausages back to the car, for the trip home.
Our last stop was the chestnut roasting operation, which was meant to satisfy a crowd. With huge piles of firewood stacked nearby to keep the fire going, men took turns rotating the huge perforated drum by hand over the embers from the wood fire, and knew just how long to turn the chestnuts before pouring them out for the crew who put the hot chestnuts into newspaper cones to carry away. These cost a few Euros, but were a very popular snack on a chilly autumn evening, and the line was long waiting for the next batch to be passed out.
With one last wrong turn on the highway, we ended up going the wrong way until we could take the next exit—where we found an open LPG station (called “GPL” here) and Pat could fill her car for the ride back to Spello, and later the ride home to Santa Brigida. Her car is a hybrid, using “GPL” as the primary fuel, and with a back-up gasoline tank, if needed. With the vast difference in price, she was very glad to have found the GPL station instead of having to use much more expensive gasoline. For once, it was a fortuitous error to have gotten on the superstrada (a main highway) going the wrong way! After a quick fill-up, we reversed direction and were back in Spello for dinner in no time.