Here is the rather unassuming entrance to Mariano’s Ristorante in our adopted hometown of Arezzo, Italy. Walk toward Piazza Grande, turn right past the ancient – and still trickling – fountain, up the narrow cobbled street and it’s about half-way along the path on your right. Voila! Er, I mean Ecco!
The couple who owns this small eatery, Gianfranco and Chef – and namesake – Mariano – go out of their way to make you feel more like you walked into a good friend’s home, rather than a formal dining room.
Just last week when I popped in with a couple of girlfriends for a quick holiday cocktail, Gianfranco set down an assortment of cute little appetizers with our bubbly prosecco flutes that were delicious, unexpected and – Merry Christmas! – FREE!
Dinner here is always an original twist on traditional Tuscan. And, like the upside- down decorated Christmas trees hanging now from the rafters, these pleasant surprises are what always make me want to come back!
Bravi, gentlemen, and see you again soon!
And for the rest of you out there – where’s your favorite holiday hang-out?
The cathedral, or duomo, in our adopted hometown of Arezzo.
It was built in the 13th century after Pope Gregory X had the misfortune to die here in Arezzo on his way to lead a Crusade! The money he had with him became part of the funds used to build the church – and good old Greg is interred inside. Making Arezzo one of those rare places, other than Rome, that has a Pope!
Here you are this morning with me at “Bar il Duomo” – the coffee shop right next door to our house and just steps away from the cathedral, or duomo, here in our adopted hometown of Arezzo – hence the bar’s name. I have just ordered a macchiato and Lucia is getting ready to make it. She always looks like this. Beautiful and smiling!
She and her husband run the place – alongside their son Andrea and his adorable girlfriend Francesca. It’s a real family affair.
And speaking of family – look closely at that gourd- looking blue thing in the foreground on the right. It’s not a gourd at all – it’s a demigiana – a container used to make wine. And inside it resides the Holy Family!
That’s right! A miniature Madonna, Giuseppe and Bambino Gesu – aka Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus – plus assorted sheep, pine cones and an angel – are all delicately arranged inside this wine-diorama.
Naturally, with the Holy See and the Pope residing in Rome- it’s no surprise that Italy would be renowned for its creative nativity scenes, or presepi, as they’re referred to in Italian. When we were in Paris last Christmas, for example, the elaborate nativity scene, or creche, as they’re referred to in French – we saw inside Notre Dame was made by an Italian, not a Frenchman.
But to see one in miniature carefully arranged inside an old wine bottle – now that is truly awesome!!