One of my favourite paintings that I had the great fortune to see on a trip to Urbino, Italy in 1999 is The Ideal City by Piero della Francesca.
Entering the Sala degli Angeli of the Galleria Nazionale di Urbino, the painting was hanging above a beautifully sculpted fireplace and quite literally took my breath away. I stood mesmerised by it and wished I could hang the masterpiece in my front room! I could never tire of looking at the simplicity and beauty of Piero’s Ideal City and dreaming I was there.
I love the feeling of eternity it gives and the peaceful, intelligent air surrounding the buildings that is so reassuring.
My visit to Urbino was only two years after the earthquake in the region that had had such a disastrous affect on the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi destroying the famous Giotto murals. Fortunately, the Italians care so much about their history that a lot of time and money was spent on the restoration to try and save as much as they could for future generations.
If you are ever in this part of the world you must also try the local food and wine which is out-of-this-world delicious. Truffle plays an enormous part in the local ‘cucina’ along with the national dish, pasta and their red wines that are so soft and rich they’re like an elixir of the Gods, possibly direct from the Ideal City itself!
I went on a truffle hunt that same year with a local farmer and his dogs who in actual fact looked quite scraggly and not the kind of dogs I had expected for such an expensive ingredient. However, they were extremely obedient and following the farmer’s orders smelt out some truffles for us in no time, the farmer would bark an order and the dog would stop his digging instantly salivating over the spot but leaving the truffle intact. On collection, the farmer would nip a bit off with a knife and give it to the dog to thank him.
One tip the farmer gave us for fresh truffles in order to prolong their life was to keep them in uncooked rice in a clean jar with a tightly closed lid. Once the truffle has been eaten, use the rice for a truffle risotto mmmm