Tuscany’s Val d’ambra
September 11, 2014
The Val d’Ambra lies in the center of Tuscany, in a triangle formed by three cities of art: Arezzo, Siena and Florence. Traveling from the Valdarno, it serves as the gateway to its more famous neighbor, Chianti. Yet the Val d’Ambra has many charms all its own: extremely verdant, the area is made up of intermittent valleys and rolling hills, mostly wooded or filled with poppies, sunflowers, vineyards and olive trees. Its history, shared with most of Tuscany, reaches back long before the Romans to the Etruscan civilization. A strategic position later made the area a natural link between the north-south and east-west axes of the Italian peninsula, spurring development but also many bloody battles among the leaders of Arezzo, Siena and Florence. Many traces of the fortified hilltop villages built during the Middle Ages are still visible in Cennina, San Leolino, Civitella and other places. The Val d’Ambra is not huge, so these villages and several important churches, including that of Montebenichi and the Badia a Ruoti Monastery (11th century), may be visited in a single day.
History has for the most part stood still here. Our lunch in late September a couple of years ago took place in a hilltop village called Duddova that was no more than a crossroads. The tiny restaurant arranged seating for the 12 of us literally out in the street, which was fine since only a couple of cars passed during the two hours we lingered. The bruschetta with tomatoes (still stunning even in autumn), 3 types of Pecorino cheese and pasta with porcini were all wonderful. Pots of red and yellow peppers in huge terra cotta urns lined the streets and the scents from the kitchen were tantalizing. But my most vivid memory is the opera music that accompanied the entire experience. It came not from the restaurant, but from the open window of a neighboring house. The scene seemed to be created just for us.