by Nigel Coates
“Saturdays start around 8am at my courtyard house in Val d’Asso, Tuscany. I sit outside in the sunshine with a cup of tea before driving to a local panificio, Il Forno di Montisi, to buy fresh bread. I’ll grab a quick cappuccino at Il Barrino and visit the local butcher, Macelleria Ricci, who has his own herd of Chianina cattle. Friends from London frequently stay at weekends so I’ll join them for a second breakfast when I get home.
As an architect I find the house, which I bought in 1986, endlessly fascinating. It’s an exquisitely dignified building with Etruscan origins, and I’ve tried to retain its original character while releasing its spirit through evolving refurbishments. It’s a place to celebrate the Italian countryside, and I like buying local ingredients from markets and learning to make local specialities like pici, hand-rolled pasta. After spending the morning drawing or reading, I usually make something quick for lunch, such as risotto with zucchini flowers and a salad using herbs and tomatoes from the garden.
On Saturday afternoons we choose one of many walks, depending on the season and weather. The wildlife is a joy: there are roe deer, foxes, even wild boar, and the birdsong is magical. In the evening we’ll smarten up and meet local friends at a favourite restaurant, La Locanda del Castello, where the food is inventive but based on Tuscan cooking. We might have some elaborate pasta served with truffles and shellfish or a wonderful potato soufflé. It’s a warm, welcoming place where the owner, Massimo Ravanelli, sits and chats at each table and shares the wine. If we don’t eat there, we have dinner with friends, such as the architects Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, whose house is about an hour away, close to Siena. It’s usually a late night and I rarely get to bed before 1am.
Sunday starts around 10am with breakfast at home. If friends are staying, I like to take them to Monte Oliveto Maggiore, about 30 minutes from here. The monastery, which dates from the 14th century, is on an isolated, extreme cliff-top site. You park some distance away, then walk through the cypress trees and the building slowly reveals itself. In the cloisters, astonishing frescoes tell the story of St Benedict from his early days as a dandy to his isolation as a hermit and founder of the Benedictine order.
Driving on to Arezzo we often visit Mercato dell’Antiquariato, which takes over the city’s historic centre during the first weekend of the month. Large pieces of furniture stand at precarious angles on uneven stones in the main square, but we make for the arcaded Loggia Vasari, where stalls sell linens, bronze statuary, paintings and exquisite glass.
A string of restaurants faces the stalls along the loggia and we often pick one as a lunch spot overlooking the piazza. Arezzo also has some very stylish shops – such as Sugar, which stocks amazing fashion brands – and it still feels like a real city because it hasn’t suffered from tourist saturation like Florence or Venice.
In the afternoon we’ll head home and I’ll start preparing supper for friends who live locally, such as Roberta Meloni, who owns the furniture company Centro Studi Poltronova. I might make peposo, beef drowned in Brunello, which cooks for four hours. I’m lucky to live near some of the best red-wine-producing areas in Italy, including Montepulciano. I love being inventive with pasta and I’ve learnt to make gnocchi and a pecorino sauce with fresh truffle. But I’m an amateur: my ambition isn’t to be a great chef but to cook like an Italian nonna.
After supper we’ll watch a movie in a converted stable at the house – anything from Up Pompeii or a Fellini film to the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I usually turn in around one or 2am feeling wonderfully relaxed.”
Il Barrino, Via Umberto I Montisi 147, 53020 San Giovanni d’Asso, SIena (+3905-7784 5190). Il Forno di Montisi, Via Umberto I Montisi 156, 53020 San Giovanni d’Asso, Siena (+3905-7784 5123). La Locanda del Castello,Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II 4, 53020 San Giovanni d’Asso, Siena (+3905-7780 2939; www.lalocandadelcastello.com). Macelleria Ricci, Via Traversa dei Monti 4, 53020 Trequanda, Siena (+3905-7766 2252; www.macelleriaricci.it).Mercato dell’Antiquariato, Ufficio Fiere e Mercati, Piazza Amintore Fanfani 1, 52100 Arezzo (+3905-7537 7475; www.fieraantiquaria.org). Monte Oliveto Maggiore, 53041 Asciano, Siena (+3905-7770 7611;www.monteolivetomaggiore.it). Sugar, Corso Italia 19, 52100 Arezzo (+3905-7535 4631; www.sugar.it).