As with so many towns in Versilia, Camaiore has understated charm. The attractions and the really complex and committed culinary practices reveal themselves over time. A recent trip with Wish Versilia
ensured that my knowledge as well as waistline was expanded. As a previous resident of Milan and frequent visitor to other culinary capitals of Italy, like Sardinia, I was starting to feel like a bit of a know-all, but there were plenty of delicacies on this trip that were totally new to me.
in the historic centre of Camaiore is a cute pavement café with an unbelievably exuberant and friendly host.
She served up platter after platter of “scarpaccia”, a novel kind of shredded courgette cake, herbs quiche, perfect pizza slices. We started giggling around the time fourth and fifth platters, as well as giant goblets of aperitivi, arrived – her generosity was as memorable as her cuisine.
If you had the urge to self-cater the food shops are really something, too. The Norcineria di Camaiore is the flagship butcher’s shop, selling local specialities like the Versilian versions of black pudding and bread and dripping (which I didn’t try but was assured I was missing out) and amazing relishes, pastas and brimming baskets of funghi porcini.
In the tiny village of Metato up in the hills outside Camaiore, there’s an extraordinary example of a home kitchen-style trattoria, serving superb food across two pretty terraces, with twinkling views of the hills and coastline.
The brilliant guest house I stayed at, Casa Vacanze Napiaia
, organised the meal. Initially I was just grateful for there to be a restaurant open within walking distance, but once the antipasti started arriving it became clear that this was gourmet fare, not convenience food. The perfect carciofi (artichokes) impressed me – I always make a beeline for them and these were in my top five – as did the local cured meats.
I’ve had more wood-fired al fresco pizzas than, well, hot dinners, but watching our chef and co-host cook steaks bespoke to our spec right there in his traditional oven was an entirely other level. The irresistible red wine and array of local liqueurs led to a sore head and some poor coordination on next day’s nature walk, but were well worth it.
As with many places, even in a relatively small geography there’s a great contrast between the coastal and inland menu. It was the latter I was really acquainting myself with from scratch, and a tasting lunch at Ristorante Michelangelo
in Azzano steepened my learning curve. In addition to the brilliantly ubiquitous local meats, there was warm bruschetta with tomato sauce, faro salad and quarryman tagliarini, a sort of hearty pasta soup. This is as close as Versilia seems to get to “blue collar food” – something plausibly satisfying for a working man yet not out of place in a fine dining context.
In the beautiful gardens of the restaurant, there are sculptures scattered around artfully. Just down the road is the insanely idyllic setting of the Monte Altissimo school of sculpture
. When we visited a lucky band of German students were learning the principles of stonework, and proximity to the marble quarries in the beautiful mountains around Azzano makes it is a pretty unbeatable locale for a sculpture academy.
I discovered such a lovely wine bar in Lucca that I wanted to mention it, too. I have to admit that the crowds in Lucca at a time that in my mind isn’t even the high season took me aback. It’s not hard to get the draw of this sumptuous medieval walled city, but after pounding the pavement and craning at all the historic delights storeys above, liquid refreshment was necessary. The front of the place, Vinarkia della Pavona
, was buzzing but I had a garden courtyard at the back all to myself.
As with most of Tuscany, they take their wine seriously and had a great set of chilled whites by the glass. A leisurely little Vermentino under the sunshine and flowers on the arbour set me up for my trip to the Piazza dell´Anfiteatro. Vinarkia della Pavona
is a restaurant too but after all that good eating one more meal and I might have been refused boarding back on Ryanair in Pisa.