It took a good dose of coffee and a lot of self-discipline to finally come up with this illustrated food map of Arezzo, one of the wealthiest cities in Tuscany (Toscana), Italy. Arezzo is probably the best spot in Europe for retirement; it’s exceptionally calm and peaceful, and the people there are even nicer than the people I met in Milano during my last few visits.
The city and its inhabitants have this chill, slow, and calm vibe that seeps under your skin and sort of puts you in a meditative state. This is probably one of the reasons it took me such a long time to create these travel illustrations and to finally upload this post. Every time I think of Arezzo, I am transformed into this hypnotic mind chill that makes it almost impossible to write anything about it, let alone create an illustration about the experience.
Via Fiorentina: The Highlight of this Illustrated Food Map of Arezzo
You see, back in May 2017, I accompanied my husband to OroArezzo, an international jewellery exhibition that showcases the superlative goldsmithing capabilities of the city of Arezzo. While he was at work, I had the chance to explore the city by taking long strolls along the very long Via Fiorentina street where our hotel was located, as well as inside the old city centre.
We stayed at Hotel Minerva, a four star hotel, also home to Ristorante Minerva that is surprisingly an “in” local attraction and a busy spot on weekends, as well as during weekdays.
First evening was very interesting. The expo organisers took us to Piazza Grande in the old city to attend a reception at Museo dei Tesori to welcome the participants. Large tables of seafood, including raw oysters were lavishly on display alongside shrimps, sushi, and other exciting offerings.
However, not being a fan of buffets or of eating while standing up, we left to explore the Piazza. It rained like there was no tomorrow, but we ventured on, until we decided to dine at one of the restaurants flanking the Piazza.
First night: A Tuscan Fine Dining Experience
The most pleasant maitre d’ greeted us and took us to our table. This man! I can never forget how nice he was. While sometimes restaurant managers or waiters may come across as pushy or not too bothered, this man was like a gentle breeze!
The first dish was compliment of the restaurant, a delicious serving of zuppa di carciofi (artichoke soup) with burro di tartufo (truffle butter).
Next, came the Anti-Pasto on a platter, comprising three bite-sized culinary creations. The first was tomino di raviggiolo con favette (cow’s milk cheese with fava beans), while in the middle there was a dish of sinfonia di primavera (Symphony of Spring), in addition to a third portion of frittella di melanzane su crema di pomodoro, asparagi e zafferano (aubergine or eggplant fritters with tomato cream, asparagus and saffron).
The Primo (typically a pasta dish) was a delicate dish of bottoni di ravioli con crema di pecorino e crema di carciofi (buttons of ravioli with pecorino goat cream cheese and artichoke cream).
The headwaiter, once again, sent in a complimentary serving of the most delicate mousse al caffe (coffee mousse), with especially-made biscuits on the side.
Second Day: Meeting the Horrific Bronze Beast
I don’t know how I didn’t have nightmares after meeting the legendry bronze beast known as Chimera of Arezzo, as I ventured towards the gates of the old town on the eastern end of Via Fiorentina street!
For this post, I have illustrated a watered down version of this horrific creature (seen above) in addition to the main illustrated food map of Arezzo, and chose to neglect the goat head that came out of its back. I actually did not notice the thing when I first met the creature standing at the entryway of the old part of the city. It looked so ferocious and ready to defend that the only thing I noticed was his gaping mouth and aggressive, thorny fur. But for some reason, I liked this little guy and plan to learn more about him when I find the time!
I marched onwards and walked down the narrow alleyways of Arezzo’s old city, only to notice how much gold-coloured bronze fittings, door handles, and knobs, were there. It is probably because Arezzo is the capital of gold in Italy. I was also mesmerised by the metal mailboxes that all had a unifying overarching design, but with subtle dissimilarities. The arches over the doors were also very inspiring architectural details that caught my eye, as well as the beautiful and muted pink and yellow walls of the houses flanking each side of the alleyway.
Third Night: Tuscan Food with a Creative Twist
It became apparent by now that Arezzo restaurants of every kind, even the small local ones, were being swept by a wave of gourmet food plating and presentation. The only place that served us a straight up Italian pasta dish with no twists, was Ristorante Minerva the night before.
But on the third night we were back to the creative menu experience, and this time the location was non other than the delicious and utterly delightful AnticaFonte Ristorante. From the first page of the menu, we learnt that the chef was a lady, to whom we sent our complimenti towards the end of the meal owing to how good it was!
The menu was obviously a celebration of the chef’s own creativity, so we decided to break away from the usual Italian meal setup, and venture into an exquisite tasting spree.
In came the following orders: Sformatino di zucchini con salsa di zafferano (courgette or zucchini flan with saffron sauce), sformatino di favelle con pecorino (fava bean flan with pecorino goat cheese), and ravioli di ricotta e spinaci al burro con limone e salvia (ravioli with ricotta cheese and spinach in butter with lemon and sage).
The meal was mouth-watering, and if I ever visit Arezzo again, I’ll definitely go back to AnticaFonte.
Fourth Day: Meeting the Guru of Art Supplies
The owner of Mastro Artista art supplies shop, in the middle of Via Fiorentina street, was away on a personal matter, but when we called to ask when the shop would be open, he gave us an appointment and opened the shop just for us.
This man is also another person I will never forget from Arezzo. In addition to being extremely kind and accommodating, he was the ultimate expert on everything art supplies. I’m one of those people who research everything possible about my art supplies before making any purchase. I know the brand, the origins of the brand, the reviews, and the best choices to make both with an unlimited budget, as well as when on a budget.
Therefore, meeting Mastro Artista’s owner was such a treat! He not only knew the nuances of every single oil paint tube, watercolour pad, and ink bottle, but he also was very conscientious about his recommendations. When two brands offered something similar (like disposable oil palette paper) but with a large price disparity, he recommended the more affordable option. But when it came to getting the best watercolour pad, his eyes twinkled when we both uttered Arches paper made of 100% cotton fibre, at the same time!
I’ve been to dozens of art supply shops in Italy and the MENA region, and no one compares to this lovely man. He is truly the guru of art supplies!
Illustrated food map of Arezzo in Tuscany, Italy and Italian travel illustration by illustrator and artist Yaansoon