Wonderful. Spectacular. Beyond description - even despite the fact that the weather was terrible, and we began by sheltering in the car park for twenty minutes, as hailstones beat on the roof of the car, and muddy puddles turned into small lakes all around us. In fact, I don't think anything, short of the apocalypse, could manage to compromise Ninfa's beauty...
We've been meaning to go for years, and the refrain each year that 'next April...we must go to Ninfa' (normally over a mid-winter glass of something, in the company of the Brancolis) was getting to be like a re-run of To the Lighthouse (leaving aside Mrs Ramsay and the famous daube). I suspect neither words nor pictures can do the place justice - photographs look too posed, and give no sense of the way that wherever you turn, magnificent vistas casually present themselves. Glorious roses everywhere;wisteria cascading over ruined walls, and across streaming torrents; a river massed with thousands of arum lilies in bloom; the walled garden, with serried ranks of mandarin and grapefruit trees, heavy with fruit, beneath the stark ruins of the castle keep...By the time we met the Belforte crew in Rome at the end of the day, we could do nothing but burble incoherently, and at length, about quite how magical the place is. A perfect garden.
And then two days in Rome, avoiding cloudbursts. And eating. Interspersed with culture, in the form of the Galleria Doria (a few gems, in between an awful lot of extremely shaky attributions), the Palazzo Massimo (for the frescoes and wall paintings), and the etruscan treasures of the Villa Giulia - which is a glory in itself, another example of sheer perfection from Vignola.
And to eat? Lunch at Pierluigi in Via Monserrato was memorable - as the rain fell gently overhead, we feasted sumptuously on small fried things, followed by a perfectly grilled fish (which looked to me like an Orata, but, I was informed, was the version from around Naples, the name of which I immediately forgot, but the flavour of which lingers even now...); for dinner, at Evangelista (Via Zoccoletto) the carciofi squashed between bricks and baked were intriguing, and delicious; and a Frascati over lunch the next day at Sant'Eustachio that it would have been all too easy to devote an entire afternoon to....
If only Pisa had one place that even began to compare. Ah, well.
Grilled Duck Breast, in Garlic, Bay & Thyme; fresh Peas.
Panettone & Strawberry Bread & Butter Pudding