Roughly twelve days ago, I was as proud of myself as Arvind Mahankali when he successfully spelled knaidel to beat Pranav Sivakumar and secure the championship title during the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee (apparently, this particular Indian-American knows a thing or two about Jewish comfort food). Why was I so pleased with myself, you ask? Well, I thought that I had finally caught up with our stories on the blog. And then a whirlwind of activity commenced in a flash as Jen’s sister arrived for a visit with her boyfriend. We had such a nice time traveling and eating with them (really, is there anything else you would want to do in Italy?) that now I have a ton more to write about. Additionally, we left them to their own devices while we embarked on a rewarding road-trip, which I cannot wait to tell you about. So, now once again – I am behind the times again faster than you can spell prosciutto.
When I was looking ahead toward the next 5-8 posts, I realized that I would be remiss not to step back and mention our visits to Pisa and then Massa in northern Tuscany. When I last wrote, I detailed our trip to Lucca (HERE). During the drive home we detoured to marvel at the Torre pendente di Pisa (Leaning Tower of Pisa) before getting back on the road. We hadn’t traveled too much further when our perfectly timed Italian stomachs told us it was time for lunch (at first I thought our three stomachs growling in unison was a tractor-trailer honking furiously at me). I was more in the mood for a leisurely lunch than a quick stop at an AutoGrill (picture a rest-stop along the NJ Turnpike with better food and espresso). I turned to my trusty “TripAdvisor” cell phone app and searched for a restaurant near us. I discovered Il Fatty (yeah… you guessed the translation; The Fatty) in the city we were approaching. With a name like, “the fatty” – how could you go wrong?! I took the exit toward Massa and headed into the center of town.
You may not have heard of Massa (we hadn’t), but if you’re a fan of interior design, than you’ve definitely heard of the province in which Massa is located, Carrara. Carrara marble is the fashionable stone of choice for kitchens counters the world over. The stone has been mined in this area for centuries (Carrara marble has been used since Ancient Rome). Upon exiting the highway, my mind was set only on lunch with no expectation of discovering any real beauty; the area is heavily industrialized. Like a naval shipyard or factory park, the landscape is blanketed with large machinery, billowing factories and tractor trailers transporting thousands of pounds worth of the white stone.
However, we were surprised when we got away from the mining equipment and approached the center of town. The city itself was clean and beautiful. It became obvious that Massa has prospered as a result of the local product. The town is well designed and perfectly maintained. Even the street curbs and park benches are made of Carrara marble! After a delicious lunch at Il Fatty we wanted to discover what the city had to offer. There seemed to be a surprise around every turn. We found orange trees and large piazze (town squares), ancient buildings and ample shopping. We were pleasantly surprised to see how much is available to tourists, although the place is happily devoid of the map-reading, fanny-pack wearing, crowd-shoving sightseers (by the way, I’m not casting stones; that is usually us in a nutshell, less the fanny-pack).
There is even a wonderful 15th century castle perched high above the town. We took the narrow and windy drive up the hill, only to discover the castle was closed for repair. Oh well, I was able to get a couple beautiful panoramic’s of the city and neighboring sea.
If I can borrow a page from the Michelin Star guide-book, I would rank Massa with a full star (out of three). One star denotes a very nice place worthy of a visit (but not a place to go far out of your way to see). If you do visit, tell Alessandro at Il Fatty that we said hello. However, be weary of his suggestion to try the local favorite, Panino Lamprodotto. It’s basically just tripe (cows stomach) on a bun – not my favorite Italian food. Of course, I would be lying if I told you I left a single bite behind.