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Montagnano (Italy)

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Between the Woods and the Water
Between the Woods and the Water
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Edition: Paperback

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great classic - and much more, 22 Jun. 2008
Leigh Fermor's great classic is extraordinary. His language is immensely beautiful, but I believe that the secret to understand the book is that he is actually painting pictures with words. There are some great set pieces in this second volume such as the Easter ceremonies in Hungary, his unforgettable aristocratic hosts and the chateau life he began to lead after Munich while still camping out from time to time. His descriptions of those country houses, and their denizens, particularly once he crosses into Romania, are like small jewels.

The great glory of this book is the trip he makes in Transylvania: it shows a world which no longer exists (Romanian, Hungarians, Swabians etc all living together in one area) and makes one wish to go there immediately.

Leigh Fermor is a polymath and the book is not really travel literature at all, or if it is, it is of a totally different order to anything I have ever read.

Will Leigh Fermor write the promised third part of the great trilogy?

Vanilla Beans And Brodo: Real Life In The Hills Of Tuscany
Vanilla Beans And Brodo: Real Life In The Hills Of Tuscany
by Isabella Dusi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Gushing in Tuscany, 22 Jun. 2008
Have you ever read a gushing magazine article and come away feeling slightly guilty about the waste of time, and rather nauseated by the material itself, yet unable to put it down? That is more or less the sensation I had after reading this book.

The book is written - very badly - in breathless prose. The author tells us all we ever wanted to know about the wine-producing village of Montalcino but manages to make it appear commonplace. She only hints at the differences between the townsfolk and the wine-producers, and does not mention at all the difficult reality of living in Tuscany.

There is so much that is glossed over in this book: politics, religion etc. The author seems a perpetual tourist not wishing to give offence to anyone. It would be interesting to see how she would deal with the current scandal over the authenticity of some of the wine sold under the Brunello label.

Finally, do not think this is a relation of Frances Mayes' classic. It does not come anywhere close. Read Mayes or Ferenc Mate instead if you want to find out about living in Tuscany.

The Hills Of Tuscany: A New Home in an Old Land
The Hills Of Tuscany: A New Home in an Old Land
by Ferenc Mate
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks Heavens for Ferenc and Candace!, 22 Jun. 2008
I looked for and bought my own bit of Tuscan paradise after I read Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun. I thought that it could not be bettered. Mate has written a different sort of book - which may even equal Mayes. Only time and subsequent re-readings will tell.

I am ashamed to say that I only discovered Mate's The Hills of Tuscany just now - nearly 10 years after its original publication. Mate and his wife Candace set out on their search for their Tuscan dream house while renting a house near the gorgeous unspolt village of Palazzuolo Alto, Monte San Savino, as their base. I know the area very well and this part of the book is extremely evocative to me, including their descriptions of the trattoria Il Cacciatore (still going strong and still as good as he describes) outside Monte San Savino. Their descriptions of Monte San Savino itself, the life there, and the antique dealers Roberto and Maria, are true to life. Mate can write and re-create what he sees - I cannot so I am eternally grateful to him.

The second part of the book, dealing with the house they eventually found near Montepulciano is delightful. The Mates must be extraordinary people to break through the reserve which Italians and rural Tuscans usually have for foreigners. They must also have made a dash driving their sports car through deepest Tuscany - a good talking point to meet car-mad Italians if ever there was one.

For all the book's apparent openness, the book is reserved. We do not really get Mate's inner feelings or the story of his relationship with Candace. We find out surprisingly little about them except that they have obviously had a much travelled, and richly varied past. Nor does he tell us where one of his friends (Nebbia, the antique dealer) lives, probably wanting to keep his little village unspoiled. He is however surprisingly indiscreet - maybe he did not realise his book would become so well-known: such as when he writes that the Mayor of his adopted town is called Brioche "because he is mostly air".

The result is a genuinely charming book: not a primer on "how to restore a house in Tuscany" - but an eloquent and sometimes very funny memoir of what was obviously a very happy time for Ferenc and Candace when they first started to live in Tuscany. We are lucky to be able to share the moment vicariously.

I gather that the story continues in a new book, A Vineyard in Tuscany. I am fascinated to see what will happen.

Thank you Ferenc and Candace for this rare treat.

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