Chez Dédé À La Plage, A Beachy Italian Romance

Italy bears many wonders, from fresh mozzarella to facials and massages – I learned this first hand as I blogged my journey through Rome and Tuscany back in November. You may remember me making pasta from scratch with the chef at Antico Casale di Scansano, having my cake and bathing in it too, and swearing off PAM for the rest of my life… Italy has changed me for the better, and for good.

Daria Reina in her atelier kitchen

Towards the end of my trip I let up on the blogging to let relaxation fully kick in, but there was one inspiring person I deprived you of meeting (no, not Professor Bene). Her name is Daria Reina, and she and her artist husband Andrea Ferolla were in the early stages of launching an impossibly chic handbag collection under their label Chez Dédé. Dédé, I later learned from Daria, is a fanciful combination of their names (Da, drea). The owner of Wonderfool spa, Prospero, sold their debut collection in his spa, where I discovered them. The designs were unlike any in existence, with quirky animal cutouts on Palm Beach-meets-Tokyo patterns. The construction, utilitarian yet feminine;  the shapes, unusual yet practical. Most notably, the branding was addictive.

Prospero invited me out to dinner with some of his friends including the very-much-in-love Chez Dédé duo, and Daria invited me to come and visit her atelier the very next day. What a treat! She and Andrea, who operate an acclaimed, exclusive branding and web design business in Italy (check out their inimitable portfolio), work out of a house-like space as artful and Italian as their very souls. Andrea keeps to himself most of the time, but Daria balances them out, being one of the friendliest people I met in Italy (and that’s saying a lot). She made us strong cocktails, showed me their lush patio for parties in the summer (she said I’d have to come back for one!), and gave me an awe-inspiring tour of her work and all her works in progress. I couldn’t stop taking photos.

A few weeks ago I was delighted to receive an invitation, as promised, to their first summer shindig. As sad as I was to not be able to hop on a plane for the occasion, the invitation came with the exciting news that it was in celebration of Chez Dédé’s newest launch: “Dédé À La Plage”, their Spring/Summer 2011 collection! One browse through, and that’s amore. And it wasn’t just me – Daria told me, “At the presentation in Rome last week we had something like 400 guests absolutely in love with the collection.”

The carne of the collection are the beach bags, but they also made bracelets, man scarfs and pochettes for beach and not. Take a look at some of the designs below and more on chezdede.com. Each bag is named after a different beach destination, from Santorini to Kenya to The Hamptons – obsessed! Although Chez Dédé is not yet available in the states (only at Wonderfool and one other store in Rome), if you would like to order one, contact me and I will give you the hookup! Because when these bags are all over The Hamptons next summer, you know you’ll want to say you had it prima.





The prices of bags range between 330€ and 475€ for the big model, and 250€ for the small. The pareo cost 168€, men scarfs 138€, and leather bracelets 117€. The beach pochette 125€. Email me at michelle at spaweekmedia dot com if you’re interested in ordering one from the US, and check it all out at chezdede.com.

And for old time’s sake… Spa-rrividerci!

Terme di Sorano: Retire to the Hot Springs

With happy green landscaped lawns, 30 quiet residences lining the property, and people who look like maybe they’ve been picking up the paper from the driveway in boxers there for 25 years, Terme di Sorano reminded me a little of a sunny retirement community in South Florida. Except for some reason “Tuscany” seems to have a bit more allure.

Here, the nearby natural springs that fill the pools with hot, healing water are different than the ones at the better-known Terme di Saturnia a few miles away. The thermal waters are nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and composed of magnesium, calcium and zinc. There’s no sulfur like in the pools at Saturnia, so no funky egg yolk smell to worry about. Therapeutic benefits range from vascular to dermatological.

I spent most of the day relaxing in the main pool, an inviting turquoise body of water which is connected to the pool house. Nobody was interested in swimming or water aerobics or doing anything in the pool other than sitting on a step or leaning on an edge and gazing directly at the sun. If you prefer a small private pool in the shade, which I almost suggested to one particular couple, you can follow a little path and bridge down into a woodsy area for a different hot spring experience.

Inside the “clubhouse” is a small spa with basic changing facilities. Nothing showy. And nothing too impressive… until my truly phenomenal massage from Stefano. Stefano used to work at Studio 57 Spa in NYC, one of our Spa Week participants that uses all Saturnia spa products. (They have a Saturnia spa deal going on with us right now.) Although it would be nice to have Stefano back in the big apple, he seems happy to have moved onto greener pastures and better cheese.

With a full menu of spa treatments, a tennis court, mountain bike rentals and horseback riding at your disposal, this seems like a pretty nice place to raise your children… or retire afterwards.

Upstairs from the spa you’ll find an eatery with the only air-tight packaged sandwiches I’ve seen on my trip, looking a little like from your frozen foods aisle. I opted for the caprese salad, which was just okay. It’s definitely not your ideal Italian food destination, but it serves as a holdover til whatever’s for dinner.

That is if you can pry yourself from the pool by then.

Thank you to my friends at Just In Toscana Tuscany travel agency for organizing this visit.

Today’s WIN ITALIA Question:

(To win LUG luggage packed with authentic souvenirs from Tuscany and Rome)

If you could retire anyplace on earth (and you can, right?), where would it be?

Saturnia Hot Springs: Play Pool in Tuscany

If you’re sitting in your backyard tomorrow and water suddenly begins to spring from the earth beneath you at a blazing 100 degrees fahrenheit, you’ll want to stop everything you’re doing and build a spa right then and there.

Not just any spa. You dig deep into your pockets and you go build the most obnoxiously enormous spa on the planet, build a hotel and golf resort around it, start a deluxe spa skincare brand based on your liquid fruit of the earth, turn spas around the world into mini versions of your own, and put out ridiculously lavish marketing materials to match.

This is the cartoon snapshot of what happened at Terme di Saturnia in the Maremma region of Tuscany. Perfect grapes, perfect olives, breathtaking landscape… and a bubbling earth of hot, healing, holy water. Some regions just have it all, huh?

Just 20 minutes away from my lovely Antico Casale di Scansano spa resort are the booming hot springs of Saturnia—they make for a perfect day trip. But as luck would have it, Gina Molinari, the spa director of The Doctors at Trump Place in New York found out that I’d been spa-ing and blogging my way through Rome and Tuscany, and she was there too. Gina’s #1 passion? Letting the whole wide world know about Rome and Tuscany’s immaculate spa and hospitality lifestyle. A few emails and phone calls later with her contact Cristiano who owns Just in Toscana travel agency and has that very same passion as Gina, I was on my way to discover the hot springs.

The first thing you’ll notice upon arrival to Saturnia is the funky egg yolk smell. It’s the sulfur in the hot spring water, which gives it its healing qualities. It doesn’t really go away, but it doesn’t really matter because the place is too gorgeous and relaxing for any olfactory issues to get in the way.

There are the public springs (above), where anyone can go and relax in the hot thermal baths for the day, which I only saw from a distance. Then there’s Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort, the most famous and expensive place to stay in all of Tuscany, and with darn good reason.

The main pool is absolutely gigantic; there are four open-air hot spring swimming pools on the property. Jacuzzis are both inside and out and each have different healing properties, waterfalls are there for you to lay under while the water massages your back, showers with rainbow chromotherapy come at you from all directions, and from what I gathered, they seem to have a full hotel wing dedicated solely to massage.

With four restaurants on the property, a big sleek hotel and spa entrance, and an endless number places to relax in your big fluffy white robe and be served like a king, it’s no wonder they’ve garnered the acclaims and astounding international reputation that they have.

In my quick 2 hour visit, I hopped around from the pool to the waterfalls to the different Jacuzzis and back. A bunch of swimmers were lined up in the middle of the pool, floating on booeys suspended on a wire. I tried it but it wasn’t comfortable at all. Maybe it was some sort of cult. The place could really use some rafts and noodles, but other than that, no complaints. What a beautiful way to spend a cool November afternoon.

Not to mention the healing qualities–my skin was glowing and I left feeling completely refreshed, inside and out.

Here are a few more photos:

Today’s WIN ITALIA Question:

To win luggage filled with Authentic Italian Souvenirs

In a jacuzzi do you prefer hot water… or REALLY hot water?

Under the Tuscan Moon

There is a sizzling passion for rural life in the Maremma of Tuscany.

In the town I stayed called Scansano, there’s this one lady and all she does is bake cakes. She is very old, but her brick oven technique is the best, so the cake monopoly in town is all hers. There’s an old poet who lives on a farm, and every time he sees you, he makes up a poem for you on the spot. I didn’t get to meet him, but Marta told me he always always does. There’s also a man name Firenze who I met, and all he does is make sheep’s cheese. Does he ship his pecorino to restaurants around Europe? No. Tuscany? Not even. He only sells within 10 kilometers.

In the center of this storybook of characters beams the medieval village of Scansano, a faraway fairytale kind of place to spend an evening. That is, if your fairytale includes good wine, good food, and enchanting company.

The moment I got off the train in Tuscany and looked Marta Pellegrino in her big blue, sultry, smoky-lined eyes, I knew we were going to be friends. Marta, who owns Antico Casale di Scansano spa resort with her quite adorable parents, was born and raised in Scansano. Marta is the one who told me about and/or introduced me to all these characters. She went to Paris for University, she’s lived for years in other parts of Italy, and she has traveled all over the world, but no matter what, her soul is sewn to the Maremma. With an somewhat-New York disposition (but she would never, EVER live there), a great sense of humor and a passion for traveling solo, Marta has played a leading role in my experience in Tuscany.

One evening, Marta took me out in the main part of Scansano. It went a little something like this:

CAPPUCCINO

First we visited Caffe Dell’Arco for cappuccinos, because for some reason I was falling asleep. Apparently two is never enough. In Italy, you don’t take your coffee to go in a big paper cup. You stand right at the bar and finish off your caffeine. It’s too small to even bother sitting down.

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Then we visited the frantoio, just to see—this isn’t a usual stop for people out in the evening. It’s a big olive press where olive harvesters come to unload bags of fresh olives and turn them into the most reliable Extra Virgin Olive Oil in town. As we walked from one place to the next along the narrow cobblestone streets, Marta seemed to know just about everyone.

MERENDA

Around 5 pm when kids get hungry start to whine about it, there’s a name for what adults feed them: Merenda. It’s a light snack of ham and cheese, salami, bread and nutella, or something of the sort. Merenda has trickled up to adults to keep them from whining too, so for our next stop, that’s exactly what we did.

We visited Marta’s friend Simone, who owns a mini market with everything from laundry detergent and potato chips to gourmet cheeses and fresh cured meats. He prepared some slices of meat and cheese for us, and I prepared to dig in. What I did not prepare for were the anchovies. People in Italy love anchovies. On three separate occasions, this one included, an eating partner has gone into great detail as to what they love about anchovies in a specific dish. It’s one of maybe 5 foods I’m opposed to, but when Marta looked me at me with her big, glossy eyes and said they’re her favorite and I must try it on bread, just this once, I was in no place to argue.

It wasn’t my favorite, but once I started to pretend it was just really salty lox, it was totally fine.

CINQUINO

Afterwards we went back to Caffe Dell’Arco for Cinquino, which is a little shot of wine that folks often get before dinner. It’s cheap and fast, so it’s also a good way to get drunk before you know it, Marta said. This seemed to be the most hopping place in town. Five men sat outside smoking and drinking, and inside there were couples sitting for dinner, people hanging around the bar, even ordering cappuccinos at this hour still.

The woman behind the counter was pregnant, so I’m not sure what she’s still doing in Italy. No wine, no cappuccino, no wine, no cigarettes, limited quantities of olive oil… what did she have left?

After Cinquino we took a stroll around the charming, sepia-lit streets of Scansano. Buildings were chipping away in the most delightful way. Down alleyways you’d look and see stairs going up and stairs going down, leading to someone’s home, or from the looks of it, maybe to nowhere. Marta pointed out her apartment, in the quietest, quanitest little corner you’ve ever seen, overlooking her Maremma.

Although on that Wednesday night in Scansano you could hear a pin drop, Marta told me I’ll have to come back the last week in September; every year there’s a big festival on the streets. Everyone opens up their doors and serves beer and wine and food, and people celebrate drunk on the streets.

Sounds like the Lower East Side, NYC every night if you ask me. Just 3 blocks away. Yet for some reason, I would come all the way back to Tuscany for it in a heartbeat.

Today’s WIN ITALIA Question:

(To win luggage filled with authentic souvenirs from Rome and Tuscany)

What’s your favorite little town in the world?

Spa-rrividerci!

How To Taste Extra Virgin Olive Oil: The Anti-PAM Movement

I was made to solemnly swear off PAM.

It’s embarrassing that the President of an Extra Virgin Olive Oil Association in Tuscany even knows that I use PAM, but I’m a changed woman now. I’ve gained my Virginity. I now know, without a doubt, that fresh pressed, balanced Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the key to brilliant Italian food.

Beauty buffs, as you may know, besides being the healthiest oil to consume, it’s also in many beauty products and spa remedies; Antico Casale di Scansano uses a handful of EVOO-based products at their spa. Marta Pellegrini the owner knows an old legendary woman in Scansano who has put EVOO on her face every day of her life, and now she has no wrinkles.

Olives aren’t just part of the culture in the Maremma of Tuscany. They ARE the culture—that and the Grape. Marta took me to visit the frantoio in Scansano, an olive press shared by the best and biggest olive farmers in town. If you want to make it as an olive farmer in Tuscany, you have to be up picking by 6am, and in the frantoio to press by 6pm. If you don’t press immediately, it’s too late.

Olive farmers are everywhere in the region, and it looks something like this on the side of the road:

To be granted the supreme title of “Extra Virgin,” oil needs to pass a strict acidity test with an Extra Virgin Olive Oil Association. The acidity level must be 0-80 or lower, and the lower the better—in Tuscany they’re around 0-20. It could take weeks to get results back, and something as small as a fly could ruin an entire batch. Look for this Tuscany sticker if you want to get an Olive Oil that passed the test in Tuscany. And beware of imported oils; acidity will change over time if it’s not stored properly, and your oil might not be Extra Virgin by the time it gets to you.

But after acidity, there’s a much more complex way to judge Olive Oil that you can even do yourself with a little practice. The attributes depend upon a lot of factors: ripeness at time of harvest, condition of soil, climate, care, location, etc. I visited the Scansano home of Georgio, president of an EVOO Association, who taught me everything I know about olive oil and schooled my taste buds in discerning light from strong, good from bad.

PREPARE:

To taste Olive Oil properly, you must warm it up to about 68 deg Farenheit, the temperature at which the flavors are at optimal potency. This can be achieved simply by covering your sample and rubbing the cup with your hands for about a minute.

TASTE:

Then, you take a sip of the oil onto your tongue and spread it throughout your mouth, making a backwards “S” sound with your entire mouth to pull it back, then either swallow or spit it out.

JUDGE, 0n a scale of 1-10:

Negative Attributes

Riscaldo – Sourness
Muffa – Mold
Avvinato-inacetito-acido-agro – Feeling like Vinegar
Morchia – Solid at the bottom
Metallico – Metallic
Rnacido – Greasy
Altri – Other

Positive Attributes

Fruttato – Fruity
Amaro – Bitter
Piccante – Chile

With 7 negative categories and only 3 positive ones, it’s basically setting your your olive oil up for failure. A good Extra Virgin Olive Oil will have NONE of the negative attributes, and the 3 positive attributes should line up around the same level on the 1-10 scale.

There are three general strengths of good Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
Light (around 1-3): Good on salads
Medium (around 4-6): Good on fish
Strong (around 7-10): Good on steak
For bread, you’ll want something between medium and strong.

So, an ideal medium olive oil will be about a 5 on fruitiness, a 5 on bitterness, and a 5 on chile-ness.

Catching on?

You might need some practice, but it’s a very fascinating world. If it’s something you’re interested in, try these resources. Extra Virgin Olive Oil could make a great gift for the holidays.

An Extra Virgin Olive Oil tasting kit – “Take an olive oil tour of Italy at home” – www.olioeolivestore.com
The Olive Oil Times – www.oliveoiltimes.com

Also, check your local supermarket to see if they offer any olive oil tastings

You, too, will swear to never use Bertolli or PAM again.

Here I am with Marta, about to fully enjoy a slice of bread with real, fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a sprinkle of salt, along with a glass of red wine. Italian doesn’t get simpler than that.

Today’s WIN ITALIA Question:

To win luggage packed with authentic Italian souvenirs – including Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

What do you use most in your kitchen… Extra Virgin Olive Oil? Bertoli? PAM? Butter? I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter?

Spa-rrividerci!