Luxury Book Publisher, Assouline, is renowned for its coveted coffee table books that celebrate the wonders of travel. From Ibiza to Capri, from Marrakech to Mykonos, the publisher is known for a whole collection of travel documents, instantly recognizable by their bold typographic covers and their expertise in its pages. Next month, June 3, he releases his latest title: Wonder of Tuscany, through Cesare Cunaccia. Taking you on an immersive journey through Italy’s most glorious region, the book delves into the beauty, rich history and diversity of Tuscany.
The ‘work of passion’ was written by a writer, lecturer, curator and journalist Cesare Cunnacia. Once the publisher is free to Vogue Italia and Uomo Vogue and the antiques consultant for Architectural Digest Italy, Cesare is a great specialist in Italian artistic heritage and is the author of a variety of books on the subject.
Here, exclusively for Forbes, he reveals more about the inspiration behind Tuscany Marvel.
The British have long had a love affair with Tuscany – why do you think it is?
I think the British are in love with Tuscany because of some similarities in character and way of life. Country life, for example, is fundamental for both nationalities. In addition, the legacy of 19th century British intellectuals, artists and poets such as Ruskin, Rossetti and Browning is very powerful (even Queen Victoria was deeply passionate about Tuscan history and landscapes).
Many notable Britons were ‘established’ in Florence between the 19th and 20th centuries – such as eccentric expatriates, painters, writers and aesthetes like: Frederick Stibbert, Violet Trefusis and Vernon Lee. They became very influential on the habits of the local society and this heritage is still alive today, especially in the Florentine character. There is in fact an Anglo-Florentine community, for example, which created the so-called anglo-beceri , that is, people who imitate typical British attitudes, sometimes even exaggerating the features. It even seeps into some of the food – if you are visiting a typical Florentine restaurant, like Cammillo, you can eat a classic Florentine steak, but you will also find anglicized dishes, like a chicken curry with mango chutney, which is always made using the secret recipe of Sir Harold Acton (a British writer who was a member of the Bright young things).
All of this is redeemed to life – I hope – inside Tuscany Marvel. I’m giving an overview of what makes the region so special – it’s not the usual tale you hear when you refer to this Italian region.
What elements of Tuscany do you like the most?
The landscapes of Tuscany are all so different in many ways – from the deep greens of the Maremma to the dried lunar abstraction of Crete Senesi; patina Versilia beaches in the wild nature of Mount Amiata. Other amazing sites include the extraordinary Chianti vines, which look like a geometric garden. But I also love the amazing forest of Camaldoli, which almost looks like an alpine corner of Tuscany.
Do you think Tuscany is the true cultural heart of Italy. If yes, why?
I do! There are many reasons why I think so. The first being its geography, which is at the very center of Italy. Another reason is due to its Renaissance heritage, which is something exceptional. The Renaissance was a cultural revolution that changed history, not only in Italy, but all over the world. Tuscany also has a unique quality of light – it is quite amazing and metamorphic.
What places would you say a visitor MUST visit in Tuscany?
No doubt: first Florence – the essence of all that is Tuscan. Then there is the gothic sophistication of His. Followed by the grace of Lucca, with its medieval, baroque and neoclassical influences.
But, for me, precious little towns such as Pienza, Montepulciano, Massa Marittima and Volterra are all unforgettable. Be sure to visit the Etruscan Museum of Guarnacci and the Pinacoteca and civic museum, both in Volterra. In the latter you can see the incredible Volterra deposit by Rosso Fiorentino.
Beauty and art are Tuscany’s password, and I have tried to capture this magical aspect in my words. It was a daunting task, trying to fit a huge amount of subject matter into one book, because Tuscany is like a “continent” – full of so many amazing things. In order to properly describe your soul, you have to approach it with a respectful and passionate attitude. Everyone has their own idea of Tuscany – yet it really belongs to the world. I hope this book will be a true mirror of all its beauty.
How is Tuscany different from other regions of Italy?
Tuscany is so distinct and unique. It is a magical blend of tradition and abstraction. Art is exceptional, of course. Then there is the unique countryside, artisanal excellence, fabulous wines, spectacular mountains, countless rolling hills and even a beautiful coastline.
Ancient traditions, such as the Palio in Siena, are still so strong and real here, almost becoming a fad. People are so proud of it “Toscanità“. It is because of this passion that the book is titled, Wonder of Tuscany.
What is your favorite place for tourists to discover?
So much! La Foce, for example, not far from Pienza is a beautiful villa and property restored in the 1930s by Iris Origo, an Anglo-American writer married to an anti-fascist Italian aristocrat. I have always admired the perfection of the French garden, designed by Cecil Pinsent.
You must also see the wild beach of Roccamare in Castiglione della Pescaia, as well as the Giannutri Island, which is timeless. Cortonasmall convents and San Biagio Church, near Montepulciano, are also wonderful places to visit.
My favorite painting in the world is the Pala Capponi (the Deposition from the cross) of Pontormo – a masterpiece of Mannerism exhibited in the church of Santa Felicita at Ponte Vecchio. It is a wonderful metaphysical dance of beauty and death, constructed with artificial colors.
Another of my obsessions is the little one Temple of the Holy Sepulcher by Leon Battista Alberti, at San Pancrazio in Florence, as well as the purity of the High Renaissance in the Cappella Gondi of Santa Maria Novella. Then, Piccolomini Palace and the little one Cathedral museum, both in Pienza, are two real gems.
Finally, I have always been in love with two old Tuscan houses, Villa Cetinale – a residence of the late Lord Lambton, and Villa Bianchi Bandinelli in Geggiano in Sienese Chianti, a sublime and theatrical creation from the 18th century.
What do you think are the best Tuscan dishes to eat?
It’s very difficult to say! the Ribollita is delicious. It is a soup that includes leftover bread, cannelloni beans, black cabbage and vegetables. It’s so simple and so rich at the same time. Another dish would be the pappa al pomodoro, which is a thick Tuscan bread soup made with fresh tomatoes, bread, olive oil, basil and garlic. And, of course, the Florentine Beef Steak, which is a T-cut steak cut from the loin, traditionally made from a Tuscan breed of cattle called the Chianina. Cooking is definitely an art. The steak should always be cooked at room temperature and never in the refrigerator. A high temperature is required and the steak is cooked for only 3-5 minutes per side without any condiments. Just add olive oil, the king of Tuscan culinary tradition.
Is there something about Tuscany that you think would surprise many?
The variety of landscapes and geography always surprises. The variety of art, from ancient archeology to modern times, is of course endless. The energy and diversity of people, places, traditions and even the various dialects of Tuscany make this a unique getaway.
What is your favorite fiction book or film about Tuscany?
Nostalgia, a 1983 film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovskij, is so intense and different, evocative and poetic. It beautifully represents the Gothic ruins of Abbey of San Galgano in Chiusdino, not far from Siena.
My favorite books are three: Maledetti Toscani by Curzio Malaparte; the opulent historical plot of Harold Acton The last Medici, and to top it all, Upstairs at the villa, by William Somerset Maugham.
Tuscany is rich in history, food, culture, art – why do you think this small region boasts so much?
It’s unique, that’s the right word. Tuscany is timeless, modern and archaic. It has an incredible combination of ancient civilization and rich nature, art and beauty. It is truly one of a kind.
What is your favorite Tuscan city and why?
His, because of its incredible artistic heritage and its dominant position on the heights. It sparked many eccentric and sophisticated artists, such as Duccio di Buoninsegna, the gothic glamor of Simone Martini, and early Renaissance Sassetta influences – who refused to accept the innovative methods of Florentine culture.
The city also includes the hallucinatory mannerism of the work of Domenico Beccafumi, as well as the visionary ideas of the architect and set designer Agostino Fantastici, at the beginning of the 19th century.
I particularly like this city because it keeps its own identity, so strong and aristocratic.