I've got two new reasons to visit Arezzo, as if one of my favorite frescoes in Italy wasn't enough. The restaurant "Le Chiave d'Oro" is in Palazzo De'Bacci, built by the family who commissioned Piero della Francesca's frescoes "The Legend of the True Cross" in 1452 at the church in their piazza, San Francesco. Francesco, Giovanna and Teresa Stilo worked at their parents' trattoria, "Antica Trattoria da Guido" but wanted to do something different, modern. Chef Francesco's menu is strictly seasonal, without the standard Tuscan classics easily found elsewhere. Look for creative cooking with restraint, made with carefully chosen ingredients. Begin with pecorino, fava bean flan with crisp "rigatino" (pancetta) or eggs, asparagus, and burrata dressed with anchovy "colatura". Home-made eggplant-stuffed ravioli, lightly dressed with tomato and thin slices of perfectly cooked zucchini even pleased my husband who never eats fresh pasta. Main course options are divided between fish and meat--roast wild pork with Tuscan zolfini beans and cabbage, or turbot with crispy vegetables. Giovanna's desserts tempt--basil-citrus infused yogurt mousse, fresh fruit with fruit sauce, green tea and white chocolate cookies with bittersweet chocolate chips. Teresa will assist diners with the ample wine list, a true joy, amazingly priced, with lots of bargains to good to pass up. Which makes my second reason so important. New Italian law limits alcohol level for drivers--more than two glasses of wine may result in loss of license and impounded vehicle, clearly not enough in the light of "Le Chiave d'Oro"'s lovely wine selection.
The Hotel "Il Patio", a few steps away, is a perfect solution for this problem. Owners Alessandra and Alessandro Severi have restored a medieval palace, creating seven rooms and suites, each dedicated to a Bruce Chatwin book, decorated with furniture from the country--Wu-Ti--The Chinese Room, Baalbek--The Indian Suite, Fellide--The Moroccan Room and more. Massage treatments, including Reiki and Shiatsu, are available and should be booked in advance. Ask Alessandra or Alessandro to book a visit to the Piero frescoes or for tips on Arezzo's interesting museums and shops. Use the hotel as a base for exploring an untouristed area of Tuscany.
-May 2009 to article published in The Atlantic Magazine