We arrived from Citta di Castello about 3pm and, having parked just outside a large gate in the city wall, walked up the street to try and work out where the historic centre was.
Arezzo is a big sprawling town but luckily we were heading in the right direction and soon our narrow street opened into a wider pedestrian avenue lined with shops. This is one of the wealthiest towns in Tuscany due to its history of jewellery workshops and goldsmiths. There are still some interesting jewellers around.
It also has lots of antique shops (which were largely closed because it was Sunday). One small shop was open and we went in because there were two enormous statues of shaggy terrier-type of dogs in the entrance. They were at least two hundred years old, 5 feet high, made of terracotta and were intended to sit either side of an entrance to a large villa or staircase. Usually these ‘guard dogs’ are large hounds or greyhounds and so they were quite unusual and very expensive. In another antique shop window we saw a 14th century plate embossed and painted with religious imagery. It was huge – over a meter across – pale grey, and in perfect condition considering its age. Can’t imagine how much that would cost!
The main square is huge and surrounded by enormous towers and a huge arched portico where there are restaurants and bars now, but which would probably once have housed different shops or craftsmens workshops. They still have the original wooden doors with intricate locking mechanisms. A large antique fair is held here on the last Sunday of every month apparently.
We walked through the streets and piazzas, went into the cathedral but did not have time to see the Church of St Francis which is notable for its Byzantine style and rows of stone columns around the different outside storeys of the church facade. Each column was slightly different in its decoration and one in particular had a kink in it and the heads of bulls at the top.
While we were there, we spotted a wedding couple having photos taken. But there was a curious absence of guests. My professional curiosity got the better of me, and I went over to chat to them. It turned out that they are photographers for wedding ceremonies, called Tuscany Photographers. They explained that they own a couple of wedding venues and are planning a Wedding Showcase al Castello di Valenzano on April 19. Read more here…
We spotted an interesting menu outside a restaurant called Mest, in the arcade in the main square. And how refreshing to find a really good restaurant located in such a prime tourist spot. Although we also noticed, while wandering around, that there were several other interesting places to eat, this looked particularly interesting. The menu was short, unlike so many places where there are pages of the same starters, pasta dishes and steak. It looked so interesting that we decided to book for an early evening meal before the long journey home.
Staff were really welcoming and friendly and the food did not disappoint. We were given a little gazpacho with dried-tomato crisps as taster. A shorter specials-of-the-day menu made me change my mind from a starter of sweetbreads with a liver parfait and cavolo nero, to a warm salad of spring vegetables with seared cuttlefish, scallop and tiny ‘cabochon’ of spinach-wrapped baccala. Jamie had the slow-poached egg with sweet creamy goats cheese and pea puree with slivers of crispy cavolo nero.
Main course for me was the suckling pig which was a quartet of piggy delights (sausage, roast fillet and belly, both hot and cold), served with caramelised leek and silky-smooth potato and whole-grain mustard mash. Jamie had the pea risotto, red mullet fillets and a tartare of red shrimp in a puddle of bisque.
Dessert, for me, had to be the ‘essence’ of citrus fruits. A sharp, slightly bitter foam set against a shortbread with citrus semifreddo and triangles of blood orange, but the best bit was the topping of a disc of jelly made with the finely chopped zest of lemon, lime and maybe orange. Jamie had the creme brûlée and caramelised pear, served just a line or two of butterscotch sauce.
A good place for a light lunch or an intimate meal under the enormous chandelier in the upstairs dining room. And there is some seating outside for the warm summer evenings. I hope to visit again, maybe when they have the antique fair, and I hope they keep up the high standards and enthusiasm. Longish drive home but the traffic was light so not too bad.