Living, Travel

Creative Gathering in Tuscany at La Quercia Estate | Four inspiring slow-living days enjoying La Dolce Vita

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I wrote and erased my sensational opening sentence for this post at least some fifteen times before going out for a walk among the deserted heaths of my small town, which lead to the Venetian lagoon in an endless landscape of “barene” (marshes).
The Venetian countryside seems tired, consumed by the cyclical seasons of intensive seedtime and harvest, that turn these lands in a flat sequence of orderly fields.
While I am looking at the first ploughs working the loamy ground, so gray after the long winter, I think about the differences between this landscape and the soft hills of Tuscany, where the old olive trees stretch as far as the eye can see, till the blue line of the sea. Tuscany has always been present in my life. Every season brings me back there, punctual like harvest time. Or maybe, it’s just me who keeps going back there simply because I fall more and more in love with its people and its unique character – as indeed that of every other region of Italy.
Some time ago I was invited by the girls of Eatravel, Tania & Maria – with whom I had already collaborated during our fabulous #gradaraingold workshop – to spend some days in the company of some of the most talented European food bloggers at La Quercia, a beautiful estate in the Florentine countryside, in Impruneta, a small borgo just a few miles from Florence.

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It’s incredible how many times I have come across Impruneta on the way to my house in Maremma, without ever considering to stop there just for a look.
After almost 25 years of “Oh well, we’re in Impruneta, now turn right and go ahead to Siena”, something finally made me get off the car, open my eyes and discover – better late than never – a magnificent borgo still unknown to me.
I arrived at the villa with my inseparable friend Valentina – Hortus or Horcrux [:D] as I like to call her – among gusts of wind and rain, just before nightfall, after getting lost on the perched little dark streets of the hills around the village.
After some misdirection, a steep downhill and some manoeuvring, La Quercia Estate popped up from the darkness like a dream in the night, with a roaring fireplace waiting for us and the warmest welcome with scented rose tea, homemade treats and above all the great thrill to see after many months my dear friend Ingrid, Tania & Maria, and finally meet Carolina, Agnes and the owner of the villa Veronica and her daughter Margherita.

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I’ve seen many wonderful farmhouses and villas in Tuscany, beautiful abandoned places which most of the times were previously destined to ordinary countryside activities, tractors’ depot, old ruined barns…  and then, more recently, have been saved by miraculous restorations which brought back these architectural jewels at their best again.
Common characteristics of these houses are amazing terracotta floors, wooden beams, huge fireplaces, brick kitchens with beautiful hand-painted ceramic tiles, separate units of the same property like barns or little service cottages which have turned into small separate annexes.
La Quercia is exactly one of these estates, amongst the prettiest and most elegantly restored that I’ve ever seen.

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A familiar Energy runs through me as soon as I enter, something that makes me feel at home, as if I had already been here. Veronica has the gentle and careful manners of a mother and the strong character of a woman who must have faced many challenges in her life. She speaks English so wonderfully, with a strong Italian musicality… that is enough to make me listen to her enchantedly, while she hands me a cup of warm tea and starts telling me her story.
I understand at once why I feel at home: just like me, Veronica is the daughter of an artist, her father was a painter. This house used to be his studio and a place where artists, poets, musicians and writers – who were family friends – used to gather.  Francesco Clemente – this is her father’s name – bought this villa at the beginning of 1960’s, foreseeing its great potential.
Veronica became the owner in her 20s, when her father prematurely passed away, and devoted herself body and soul – literally – to give this Villa the aspect it has today.
Her words, when she speaks of her father and her childhood memories, are passionate and measured at the same time, while she accurately chooses the right words in English. I will soon discover that this enthusiasm never leaves her, especially in the kitchen, where we will / would spend most of our holiday cooking together lots of good stuff and photographing everything with a beautiful natural light.

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It is raining outside and the wind blows strongly, shaking the olive tress and the vineyards on the hills surrounding the villa. I know very well this winter light, so different from the one in Venice, which is softened and suffused by haze. The light is harder here, the shadows do not leave place to halftones, they swallow everything and let only the strongest lights magnificently emerge.
I can understand very well why a painter chose this place, each window of the house is the frame of a painting, of a never static and ever changing landscape, according to the seasons and light.
The evening arrives silently and the crackling fire is the perfect background. In the morning you hear the birds singing, no noise of cars, not even in the distance.
This silence is very rare to find, just like this slow lifestyle, without deadlines and hurry, simply enjoying being here, now, together: La Dolce Vita!

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I had the chance to take this break when I really needed it. Everybody needs new or unexpected incitements and experiences to remain inspired, but perhaps creative people need them even more. Routine kills creativity, dozing off and distracting people, like any daily activity which becomes mechanical and repetitive. Veronica says that it is important to do everything passionately, even common everyday activities… but it is not easy to cut zucchini with the same enthusiasm she puts into it!
Meeting people like Veronica makes me feel good, because they remind me how wonderful it is to be free to be inspired from what life has to offer and especially to be able to choose to do things at the right moment, just to enjoy doing them, for love and passion, not only because you have to do them.
While we cheer to it, in front of the good  food we have prepared (underneath you will find a quick recap of the food I enjoyed most, as a reminder for me and an inspiration for you!) sharing our presence and our stories, each one in one’s own way, I try to cherish this treasure as much as I can.

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A heartfelt thank you to everyone for giving me something unforgivable, for reminding me once again the importance of sharing!
Don’t forget to look up La Quercia website and to follow them on Instagram at @laquerciaestate, as well as the talented girls who shared this adventure with me:

@eatravel by @tania_timk & @mary_riaznova (who are from Ukraine but live between Italy, Amsterdam and Cape Town)
@valentinahortus (Gradara, Italy) | Read Here & Here previous adventures with her!
@ingridhofstra (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) | Read Here previous adventures with her, too!
@cashewkitchen (Stockholm, Sweden)
@carolina_ferrer_(Barcelona, Spain)

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La Quercia Gathering Menu
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Pumpkin and Leek velouté

topped with grated Parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley, pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of La Quercia extra virgin olive oil.
Lasagna
with fried zucchini, ham, fresh basil leaves, smoked Provola cheese, Parmesan and béchamel sauce (It was divine!).
Salad (type 1)
Valeriana and spinach, fennels, orange slices, walnuts and pink pepper with Veronica’s special viniagrette (type 1) made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, salt and pepper.
Salad (type 2)
with spinach, blueberries and Toma cheese cubes with Veronica’s special vinaigrette (type 2) made with Acacia honey, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Savory plumcake
made with zucchini with flower, carrots, spring onions, chives, corn and Edamer cut in cubes.
Gnocchi
made with dried tomatoes and grated Parmesan cheese in the dough, sautéed in the pan with sliced thin artichokes and dried tomatoes.
Chocolate fondant cake with raspberries.

Accompaniments:
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Local cheeses

(Aged Pecorino, Sweet Provolone, Smoked Provola), Piedmontese Toma and Tuscan wild boar sausages.
Wines
from Poggio al Bosco (Chianti, Tuscany) and Roberto Sarotto (Piedmont)

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6 Comments

  • Reply Agnes {Cashew Kitchen} 16/03/2017 at 9:13

    Zaira!! Reading this literally gave me goosebumps. You describe the light, the feeling, the landscape and the people so accurately. I caught myself nodding as if thinking “exactly, it was just like that”. I can’t believe we were actually here?? I’m so grateful for this experience, and I hope we get to meet at many more retreats in the future <3

  • Reply Valeria | Life Love Food 16/03/2017 at 17:34

    Everything you produce has a spark of magic in it. The same spark one catches sight of in your photos – a thin stream of light that conceals and highlights, never casually, always purposefully. The same spark that inspires your writing, not once banal, always enlightened and introspective. I will never get tired of telling you this. You’re a huge inspiration for all of us. x

  • Reply Valentina @Hortus 16/03/2017 at 19:17

    Thank you for posting the whole menu, cocca! Your photos are always the best!! <3

  • Reply Nina Olsson - Nourish Atelier 21/03/2017 at 20:20

    What a beautiful location! This would be a dream to stay for a week and have dinners with friends and family, It’s so lovely to see you in action too. So inspiring!

  • Reply Elisabetta 13/06/2017 at 0:35

    che meraviglia di incontro e luogo, è vicino a casa mia! ma soprattutto che meraviglia voi, un focolaio di talenti e anime belle insieme tra le colline toscane….mi emoziono a pensarci sono una vostra ammiratrice <3

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 13/06/2017 at 18:23

      E’ stato davvero bellissimo, Elisabetta! La Toscana poi è la mia seconda casa.. Abiti vicino Impruneta? Pensa che io ci sono passata mille volte sulla strada verso Grosseto senza mai fermarmi. Sono dovuta andare al creative gathering per scoprirla, mi è piaciuta molto! xxx

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