I used my birthday as an excuse to get a group of wonderful people together in Tuscany. I suppose it’s not everyday you turn FORTY but honestly, I felt embarrassed about all the attention I got. Everyone was kind enough to not make any “getting old” jokes or “over the hill” comments. In fact, Kevin and my friends made me feel very special the entire week and I really had the best birthday. But since I AM old and my memory isn’t what it used to be, let me see if I can remember all the fun things I did for my birthday…
The celebrations started even before my actual birthday. On Sunday, my first full day in Tuscany, Janice and Sammy took me to a beautiful restaurant for dinner. Villa San Michele, an absolute stunner of a hotel perched high above the city of Florence, was the setting for our fantastic evening. Since Michelle wanted to see this 15th century monastery cum hotel as well (this is where she had planned to celebrate her birthday until the unfortunate Luftansa strike struck), she joined us to make the party even more fun.
It was a bit grey and hazy so we didn’t get a spectacular sunset, but the views were just incredible.
Before dinner we got a full tour of the property. It was obvious that they made a big effort to keep as much of the original details of the monastery as possible, including the villa’s facade which is attributed to Michelangelo. The lobby of the hotel had a brilliant chandelier and you couldn’t miss the large marble altar. We strolled out to the terrace bar that was accented with lemon trees and also climbed up to the hillside pool area to gawk at the stunning vista.
As the duomo began to glow and lights started to twinkle down below in Florence we sat down for our meal. Everything we had was simple yet delicious; rustic hand-cut pasta in delicate lobster sauce, to fresh turbot with “scales” of red potatoes, to the most beautiful burrata and tomatoes.
The caramel sauce for our dessert was in an edible white chocolate vessel that Michelle later on bit into.
The Loggia restaurant at Villa San Michele had the perfect combination of location, ambiance, good food, and service. I could understand why Kevin and Iliana recommended this lovely place and why they would choose to have their “last meal” there. We literally dined with Florence at our feet. My photos are terrible, so check out their website like I did for the photo of the Loggia restaurant below where we had dinner.
Rather than keeping myself busy with all the activities I’d planned, I relaxed and just enjoyed being in Tuscany. On my actual birthday, I opted not to go horseback riding and stayed home again. I strolled around, sat by the pool, and soaked in the Tuscan sun with Paula, Jean-Paul, and Christiane who also decided to have a leisurely day. Janice and Sammy returned to New York that morning because of their kids starting school the next day, so our party was now a cozy group of 13.
I was told later that before her departure, Janice had given strict instructions for my birthday dinner and how it was to be prepared/presented. It was so sweet of her to put such effort into a party she wasn’t going to attend! She really is the big sister I never had… I don’t know when it was all planned and agreed upon, but all I had to do was go downstairs at the specified time. Paula took charge of that detail and escorted me with a glass of chilled bubbly in hand.
I found a big cocktail party waiting for me, with Valentina’s special mojitos, lots of delicious hors d’oeuvres, flowers, music, and candles. Again, a big thanks to Mr. P. Merelis for the photos. I was too busy having fun to take any.
What followed was another fantastic dinner prepared by our Argentine-Italian chef Patricia, a warm and lovely woman from Córdoba who cooks with her heart. During our stay, she introduced me to her whole family (they live just down the road) and even invited me to stay at her home the next time I visit. Living in Spain and Italy for decades dulled the edges of her Argentine accent but she beamed brightly every time I threw in an Argentine slang into our conversation. She came out later to the dining room to join me for a glass of wine, which she said was very rare. She gave me a big hug, wished me a great birthday, and toasted to my health. I will always remember her kind eyes and her generosity.
We had lots of grilled veggies… zucchini, eggplant, green and red peppers, etc.
Maybe the best bolognese of my life… and yummy pork tenderloin.
Sparkles flew out of candles so high I covered my mouth and giggled like a little girl. It was like having a miniature round of fireworks on my birthday cake.
And there was lots and lots of wine (including the huge bottle from Castello Del Trebbio my friends gave me), and even more smiles and laughter.
As if all this weren’t enough, the “boys” called me aside later to give me their present. Awwww. While they were in Florence the day before they stopped by at Santa Maria Novella to pick up something nice for me. Another round of awwwww. SMN is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, founded by Dominican Friars in the 13th century. Given that history we had a running joke about certain products being made with “baby monk tears.” Silly guys! But this was very thoughtful, sweet, and unexpected. Thank you!
And more gifts from Janice- I think the lip balm is too pretty to use but I do put on the hand cream you gave me every day. Thanks for the amazing chocolate, too! (Food & Wine article on Amedei: The World’s Best Chocolate). And I’m sending a giant hug to Yuka for coming and for bringing me a bottle of champagne and all those macarons from Paris.
My grateful heart goes to Janice, Sammy, Paula, Lynne, Michelle, Jean-Paul, Christiane, Ruben, Marco, Matthew, Ted, Victor, Peter, and Yuka for making the trip and celebrating with me. Grazie mille to Valentina for putting it altogether. Patricia, ¡Que bárbaro! Muchas gracias por todo. And to the great equalizer KKP, THANK YOU. I am truly blessed.
The best birthday week ever continues… to Cinque Terre the next day…
Santa Maria Novella: Via della Scala 6, Florence, Italy
Amedei Chocolate: Sold in two places in Florence (Botanico: Via San Giuseppe 32, C. Risiamo Café: Via Roma 31) and other cities in Italy