Sleepy Settignano’s best kept secret

Tova Piha
July 7, 2005

A stone’s throw away from Florence, yet overlooked by most tourist itineraries, is Settignano, a largely undiscovered treasure of a town that sits quietly and tranquilly to the northeast of the city.  Although its vistas are perhaps not quite on a par to those of Fiesole, its dignified and peaceful charm, having inspired artisans and artists for hundreds of years, remains uncontaminated and timeless.

 

Here Michelangelo spent much of his youth, reportedly watching and developing a passion for the sculpting craft of the native stonecutters, who worked the pietra serena stone found in the nearby caves of Maiano into the doorframes, pillars, and bricks used in the construction of palazzi throughout both Florence and Settignano. 

 

Here in Settignano you will also find the beautiful, manicured gardens of the Villa Gamberaia, through which you can stroll/spend an afternoon in for a 10 euro entrance fee (open 9-18, Via del Rossellino 72; in July and August e-mail villagam@tin.it to book a visit).  The serene, symmetrical gardens, a work of topiary art developed and completed by various owners of both Italian and foreign nobility, offer wide views and shaded paths, sunny spots, quiet corners, chirping birds, reflecting pools, and splashes of colourful flowers.

 

It is on the road to these gardens, however, that you will discover a very much living, breathing, working example of small-town Tuscan life, untouched by contemporary rush and yet not behind the times.  On the corner of Via del Rossellino and Via S. Romano is La Sosta del Rossellino (the respite of Rossellino, famous sculptor and architect), an intimate and warm winery-restaurant very much true to the family-established, family-owned, and family-run Italian tradition.  As such, it offers a truly Italian experience to a mostly Italian, often regular, clientele.  You will not find yourself in the company of many expatriates should you choose to respite here!  With room to accommodate forty people, if you’ve got a table (which, mind you, were all designed and hand-painted by a friend of the family-owners), it’s yours for the evening.  And as the Italians do, you should feel perfectly free to eat and drink, talk and laugh late into the night.

 

Your evening’s gracious host will be Damiano Miniera, owner and father, creator, inventor, chef, and storyteller.  Damiano came to Florence from Corleone, Sicily when he was eighteen to complete his military service.  And while Settignano is known for the various artists; including writers, painters, and architects; who have made it their home, in Damiano the town attracted a culinary artiste.  Indeed, he is in charge of the cooking, which he does during the day, allowing him to greet, serve, and chat to his customers in the evenings.  In the kitchen Damiano, with patience and passion, prepares local Tuscan fare but with a personal, innovative touch.  He is known for his homemade gnocchi, already quite difficult to make the traditional way, but Damiano will have none of the eggs and flour that usually facilitate the process but also make the pasta heavier, denser.  Damiano’s gnocchi, made solely of potatoes, are pure and light, delicate and divine.

 

To accompany Damiano’s creations, each dish is paired with a particular wine, chosen carefully to best complement the food’s tastes and ingredients. Coca-cola and beer are appropriately absent from the menu, and wines line the shelves on the wall of the enoteca, just as books line those of a biblioteca, a library.  And at La Sosta, even the serving of the wine has been given thought to.  Each glass is decanted with the Versovino, a glass-blown device invented and patented by none other than Damiano himself!  The little decanter attaches directly to the neck of the wine bottle, and in addition to making sure that each glass of wine contains the exact standard volume of 100 mL, it individually aerates the wine for each glass served at La Sosta.  On average, one pays 40 to 45 euros a head for a full, three-course dinner, and both the Versovino (www.versovino.com) and bottles of wine can be purchased at the enoteca.

 

The restaurant itself is rustic and welcoming, decorated with warm colours and organic designs. The bars protruding from the wall over the fireplace, intended for hanging meat but now empty, are a reminder of the enoteca’s humble beginnings as a pizzicheria, when it was more of a deli, selling meats and cheeses, bits and bobs.  In the wintertime, a blazing fire adds further warmth to the ambience, and in the summer, the tall windows with a twinkling view of Florence are kept wide-open.  When making reservations (055 697245), be sure to ask for a table with a view, and although there is no outside seating per se, for a particularly romantic, intimate evening, one can reserve the only table (only for two) on the petite terrace.

 

Thus Settignano, an inspirational home for many an artist and artisan, is also the home to practitioners of the art of restauranteering.  Damiano and his daughter Silvia have put it all together with the utmost of care and attention, and dining with them, at La Sosta del Rossellino, is a cultural as well as culinary experience that, just like Settignano itself, should not be overlooked.

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