How To Spend It

Destinations

Peninsular pleasures

Three giants of Italian industry divulge their emotional and historical connections to their homes in some of the country’s most evocative destinations

October 16 2012
Maria Shollenbarger

Diego Della Valle  Capri

The Tod’s CEO has been summering on the island for more than two decades and, since 2002, in his 14th-century converted monastery at the pinnacle of Anacapri

“The first time I set foot on Capri, I was 18 years old. I had big dreams but empty pockets. I spent a few days on the island in a typical pensione. I was struck by the Piazzetta, and the movement, to and fro, of the people – all of them so elegant and beautiful. And also by the façade of the Quisisana hotel – pure white, impeccably maintained, with all the gentlemen sitting out front. It was a bit like the surreal scenes at the Grand Hotel in Rimini that featured in so many films by Fellini. This synthesis of style and beauty was quite outside what I was used to seeing every day. I was 18, remember, so for me it was something of a discovery.

Capri absolutely encapsulates the best of Italy. Our whole Italian style of life is about rich culture, tradition, good food and beautiful things to wear; Capri has them all. Things that were Capresi first have become chic and sought after around the world: Capri pants, which all the stylish women of the world appropriated; and the sandals, made by hand, like many other things here. And then, of course, the beautiful colours – a rich and particular mix that, for example, Emilio Pucci identified and worked with. Whether they were Neapolitans or international visitors who made themselves part of life on this island, this story of innate elegance was born here.

I arrive on my boat – Altair – or I come in by helicopter. But however I arrive, the sensation is always the same: when I disembark and touch the ground, I feel immediately in vacanza. And also instantly isolated, somehow protected, from my busy office thoughts of an hour or two before. I breathe and enjoy the air; I look around at the people and it gives me a sense of deep happiness. It’s now going on 20 years that I have had this ritual, so I can say with assurance that the effect is a positive one.

My home is at the top of Anacapri. It was built in 1378 by monks of the Certosa di San Giacomo and has my favourite view on the whole island, which is the one from my terrace. In the mornings, I leave early to walk one of the many paths. Capri is full of walks – once you know the place well, you can go day after day and not repeat the same route. The one I like best is La Migliera – it’s fairly well known and winds up and around the mountain at Anacapri. And then there’s a path that goes from the Piazzetta to the Arco Naturale and then on to the Villa Jovis. For me, they’re sporting walks so I wear my tennis shoes, because I’m doing them for a bit of fitness, but they’re also beautiful – great for slow enjoyment and appreciating the vistas.

These early morning walks and, of course, the ora dell’aperitivo – which you can take at the Quisisana or in the Piazzetta – are good for observing the Capresi out and about. I have a friend called Roberto Massa; he’s known as Il Professore, as he was once a teacher here – he’s an eternal optimist and thinks only good thoughts. Sometimes he, Luca Montezemolo and I will go to one of the bars in the Piazzetta. We’ll have a drink that Roberto invented, but the formulation of which is a bit contested – for Montezemolo and me, it’s 90 per cent grapefruit juice and 10 per cent vodka. For him, it’s 10 per cent grapefruit and 90 per cent vodka. The colour is around the same, but the effect is clearly quite different.

On Capri one eats generally well – you might be surprised by an excellent meal, but you’re not likely to be disappointed by a very bad one. I’m perhaps a bit banal, but the things I love eating most are the simplest: pezzogna, a fish you only find in these waters; spaghetti al pomodoro; and mozzarella di bufala from the coast nearby. All finished off with limoncello, obviously. I’ve just described my menu fisso, more or less.

I always eat lunch at the villa. I do sometimes go out for dinner, to places where the owners are by now my friends – places where I feel at home. I’m loathe to name any of them as, inevitably, I’ll forget someone and they’ll be angry with me. Sometimes, after dinner, I’ll visit a tavern to hear music and go to bed at dawn. This is the sort of double life you can have on Capri – you can have super-healthy days, walking and eating well; or you can go down to Anema e Core [nightclub], and not return home until eight in the morning.

The best hotels on Capri have very different characteristics, but what they share is the immense cordiality of the staff who welcome you. The hoteliers here have a pronounced sense of pride. For them, it goes far beyond doing well economically; it’s about being esteemed at an international level. They really care and are naturally warm. I most often send friends to Capri Palace in Anacapri, and to JK Place, just above Marina Grande. I would also add the Quisisana and the Caesar Augustus – together these are the most beautiful and representative hotels on the island.

There are hidden jewels left here. I think few people appreciate the 14th-century monastery Certosa di San Giacomo, for instance. I just discovered it myself a few years ago and I was totally enchanted by its beauty. It’s a truly marvellous place, which was restored recently and, in my opinion, should be made use of much more than it is. And beyond the monuments – the Tiberian villas, the arch – there is the unique beauty, the sudden views from tiny lanes, the scents that overtake you – of orange flower, or lemon, or the sea. It’s not by chance that people return here year after year, or that they’ve been doing so for centuries.”

As told to Maria Shollenbarger


Luca Cordero di Montezemolo  Bologna

The chairman of Ferrari and former Fiat head maintains close links with the city, spending as much time as he can at the family’s rural hunting lodge nearby. (Having a helipad in the grounds helps.)

“This house belonged to my grandfather; I was practically born here. It’s nine miles from Bologna, overlooking the valley that, in the days before the motorway and high-speed trains, carried the main road and rail link between Bologna and Florence via the Passo della Futa. It was a casa di villeggiatura – a rural escape from the summer heat in the city. My grandfather also came here to hunt in other seasons, and we still have a hunting reserve. Back then, of course, the city seemed much further away; today, it’s a 20-minute drive. After my grandparents died and I was living in Rome, I’d bring my family here for the summer, but in 1992, when I became president of Ferrari – which is based just outside Modena, not far away – I moved here permanently. I did a bit of work on the inside, but essentially the house has changed very little since the 18th century. I’ve lived all over Italy and spent years abroad, but as soon as I can I come back here.

I like the fact that Bologna is off the main tourist routes – most visitors skip straight from Rome to Venice. It’s small, but not too small, and I like its laid-back rhythm, perhaps because I live life at a pretty hectic pace. There’s a lot going on culturally – world-class opera and classical music at the Teatro Comunale, top-flight theatre at Teatro Duse, some fine museums. But my cultural forays are mostly limited to galleries such as the new MAMbo modern-art museum, where a sculptor friend, Mario Ceroli, is having a show later in the year, or to two private galleries that I like a lot – Forni and De’ Foscherari.

Bologna is also a city that knows how to live well. That said, I think visitors are often misled by its reputation as Bologna la grassa – which translates literally as “Bologna the fat one”, but really means a place that takes food seriously. Which it does. But, whereas in Sicily or on Capri or around Naples there’s an embarrassment of great little gourmet trattorias, here there’s no single standout place, though there are lots of restaurants where you eat moderately well, and plenty of osterias I’m perfectly happy to go to. However, when it comes to food shopping, it’s heaven. Tortellini, Grana Padano cheese, culatello ham, balsamic vinegar – you’re spoilt for choice. And, if you’re prepared to drive a bit, you can go  straight to the producer – like the guy near Modena from whom I get my 50-year-old aceto balsamico. As for whether I miss any of these things when I’m away from Bologna, the answer is no – because I always  take them with me.

As I work such long hours, I like having people over for dinner. I have a very good cook – and if she’s on holiday, as she is at the moment, we can always go to a simple country osteria nearby, such as the Agriturismo Pian delle Vigne, which guests of mine always love. It’s based around a winery and farm in the hills, five minutes from here, and is run by a couple called Marcello and Paola Tossani. Paola makes the most delicious tortellini right there in front of you, and the wine is excellent, too.

If I’m asked to recommend a hotel I’ll always say the Corona d’Oro, which is part of the city’s history. But I have to admit that when my friends come to Bologna, they always stay at my place, so I’m not an authority on the city’s hotels. For a drink in a really Bolognese setting, I send people either to Zanarini – the classic aperitif hangout – or the more down-to-earth Osteria del Sole, a wine bar that has been at the same address since 1465. Alternatively, just stroll around Via Clavature and the lanes that give onto it. It’s a district that has been the commercial and market heart of Bologna for centuries. Not far from here is a café called Al Bricco d’Oro, where they do the best coffee in town.

It’s hard to say what my happiest day here was – I’ve had so many. In July, when Fernando Alonso won the German Grand Prix for Ferrari – that wasn’t a bad one. Or the day my wife and I got married in our little family chapel and Lucio Dalla sang for us. Or those crisp winter days from my childhood, when my grandfather would take me out hunting. But just being here makes me happy, especially when the weather’s good. I wake up and have breakfast while reading the papers, away from the chaos. This place grounds me.”

As told to Lee Marshall


Piero Antinori  Bolgheri

The 26th-generation winemaker enjoys weekends and summers at his ancestral home in the coastal region famous for its Super Tuscan reds, among them Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Antinori’s own Solaia and Tignanello

“My earliest memory of Bolgheri dates back to the war. I was very young – only about four years old – and we had moved out of Florence into the country to escape the bombing. There was an American army major stationed here, and he would drive me to the beach and over the dunes in his Jeep, which was an unusual thing at the time – to go on the sand in a car was very innovative. I have that same Jeep even now. It’s from 1942 and sometimes I still take it out on the beach.  

The first property I had here was that same family house, to which I am very attached. It was built by my parents, based on the designs of Cecil Pinsent, who was a friend of theirs. It was a bit of an anomaly; in that era no one built close to the sea. Some people considered it unhealthy, because there had been malarial swamps in the region years before. But my parents loved the sea. It has always been our holiday home, even though we produce a significant amount of wine there that constitutes a major part of my business – about 15 or 20 per cent.

Bolgheri is a synthesis of many of the best of Italian things, but most important, I think, is its natural beauty. On a clear day in winter, you can see Capraia and Elba and the mountains of Corsica covered in snow. But there’s also the interior: the woods, the hills, the small villages rich in history. Tuscany isn’t enormous, but it has a huge variety of landscapes; Bolgheri comprises a bit of all of its aspects, uniquely. The olive tree, for instance, is typical of the Mediterranean, but it finds a particular habitat here – all the hills rising up from the sea are covered with them. And there’s the Sabina, a sort of conifer that I’ve never succeeded in finding outside this area. And there are various species of oak, and even a type of cork. And, of course, the five kilometres of cypresses, planted in 1801 on the Viale Bolgheri. These were made famous by Carducci’s poem, which we all had to memorise at school; I doubt there’s a single Italian who doesn’t know the name Bolgheri for this reason, although abroad, it’s far less known.

My favourite time of year here is late autumn. A wind comes from the north that clears the sky and the colours start to change on the vines and in the woods. The first thing I do when I arrive, invariably, is take a look at the vineyards to see how growth is progressing, and if there are any problems. And then I find my springer spaniel, Bud, to see how he’s doing. But he’ll usually have heard the car and will be barking already – he’s a bit of a complainer.

Bolgheri is home to a huge and excellent variety of food. There is seafood of the highest quality, and one of the best places to enjoy it is at Luciano Zazzeri’s wonderful restaurant, La Pineta. Luciano comes from a family of fishermen who are very well known and respected. He started with an extremely simple place on the beach in Marina di Bibbona; we’ve gone there since the beginning. Now, many years later, it’s a more sophisticated and known venue, but he has maintained the authenticity of the place. It is subtly more refined, but still true, like Luciano himself. If he didn’t already exist, we’d have had to invent him, so much is he a part of the life of this place.

In the autumn and winter, we focus instead on game – wild boar, hare, pheasant, woodcock. Hunting has a long and illustrious tradition in Bolgheri; all the Florentine, Pisan and Maremman families had their lodges here. Puccini, who was also keen on the sport, came here in the 1900s; I have photos of him. The gastronomy reflects this in unique ways, with local specialities like salsiccia and prosciutto of wild boar. We have a charcuterie that is unique to Bolgheri – it’s a centuries-old recipe made from the head meat of a boar, which is spiced and seasoned, and then shaped and cured. Essentially, it’s soppressata of wild boar’s head. The idea of it isn’t terribly appealing, but I can assure you the final result is exceptionally delicious.

The thing one should take home from Bolgheri is, of course, one of its dozens of interesting wines. The region produces some of the greatest long-aging reds in Italy, but there is far more variety here to be enjoyed. There are lighter reds that you drink younger; and rosés and whites that are not very well known, but are very interesting.

Almost any of the small restaurants and trattorias in Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci offers a great opportunity to sample all these things – particularly good is Enoteca Tognoni in the centre of the village. The place to go for a coffee or an aperitif, inside the medieval walls of Bolgheri, is the Caffè della Posta. It’s areal crossroads, a meeting place for all the locals, but also tourists, so you get a pleasing mix. It belongs to an important Hungarian family, the Zwacks, who are considered to be honorary Bolgheresi, because they have a house here and spend a great deal of time in it.

There aren’t many hotels in and around Bolgheri; I usually recommend that friends stay at Tombolo Talasso Resort in nearby Marina di Donoratico. It’s in a tranquil pine forest next to the sea, and as a family, we participated in its creation. It’s the best large hotel in the area – especially good for anyone who is interested in health and wellbeing, as there is a spa with various seawater therapies on offer. Plus, it remains open all year round.

I often take a walk through the regional park of La Magona, which is a beautiful wood. You can go by horse or bike as well, but on foot you really experience the scents of the earth and the trees – and, at this time of year, the mushrooms, which grow in profusion. There are also gorgeous views. Another expanse of nature absolutely worth seeing – an undiscovered gem, not even known by many Italians – is a 512-acre protected oasis known as the Padule di Bolgheri. Since 1966, it’s been recognised by the World Wildlife Fund; it’s close to the sea and is an exact reproduction of what the land was like 500 years ago – no human habitation, no cultivation. It is peaceful and stunning, a reflection of how unique this place is.”

As told to Maria Shollenbarger