Autumn is a love-hate time for me. On the one hand, I relish the new spectacle of fiery colours transforming the landscape from green lushness to a wealth of auburn warmth. On the other, I bemoan the passing of my favourite season of Summer, and the conclusion of my sun-drenched travels, which feel as though they have ended before they even begun. But in this latter respect, I have an antidote, right around the corner from my London home; a place where I can go and feel every inch as though I am back on holiday, surrounded by the vivacity of the Sicilian spirit, and food to match the very best Italian fare: La Baita on Clapham Common.
Located at the very centre of the Common, alongside the grand Victorian bandstand after which the cafe is named, from a distance you would assume La Baita is your bog-standard park cafe selling bacon butties and ice cream. However the Italian name signifies that this cafe is more than your British norm. Rather, run by Sicilians and southern Italians with a true passion for the food of their great nation, it is a fantastic little eatery with food so good that I have never found an Italian restaurant in London to beat it.
Breakfast at La Baita (2018© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)
Whether it be because of the fine food, the passionate staff, or the beauty of its parkland surroundings, La Baita has become our “local” in every sense of the word. Some weekends we even go twice a day! So it felt only natural that over our last few visits, I should capture the cafe’s terrace in my sketchbook, at the season’s leafy best. After all, it won’t be long before those leaves have fallen ground-wards, and the terrace of La Baita becomes paved with a transient crispy carpet of auburn gold.
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com
For a town with a mouthful of a name, Castagneto Carducci, just uphill from the sandy beaches of Donoratico, is paradoxically small. Distinctive for its coloured houses painted, unlike so many of the stone villages of Tuscany, in sunny shades of pink, yellow and other pastel tones, Castagneto contrasts perfectly with its surroundings of green hills and perfectly regulated striped vineyards. This is not the first time the village has featured on The Daily Norm, since it is the closest little Tuscan town to my in laws’ home. In fact as we proved on this occasion, a brisk 40 minute walk through the vineyards of Donoratico followed by an uphill climb will see you arrive on foot at the church topped-summit of the town in no time. From there, it is views a plenty, not only of the surrounding countryside but of the quaint streets spilling out across the hilltop.
Like so many of the Tuscan Towns I am featuring on this blog, Castagneto is a town which oozes idyllic charm. While the tourist trade has made sure to embellish the town’s best features and offer visitors boutique shops selling local produce, cuddly wild boars and hand-painted ceramics, my favourite places to visit are those which are the preserves of the locals – the small little cafes where locals prop up the bar to drink an espresso and a brioche; the hilly side streets whose pot plants and strung out washing are just as picturesque as the countryside views over which the tourists ogle; and the little passages where a simple parked vespa or a decorative street lamp look like works of Italian art.
If you can only get to tour one or two of Tuscany’s quaint little towns, Castagneto is a perfect choice. With its various cafes and small up-scale shops, several restaurants making the most of the views and a perfect winding route around town which will take in the small church and iconic town hall, Castagneto has all the ingredients to afford the visitor a satisfying stroll. And if I were to recommend Bolgheri at around 5pm for a cocktail or afternoon coffee, Castagneto is a perfect choice for a morning coffee. Our sun drenched cup accompanied by brioche and croissants stuffed with frutti di bosco and cream was the best breakfast experience of my trip, and should not be missed, especially with views as fine as this.
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.
I wish I could claim to enjoy the kind of artistic notoriety and talent of those celebrated artists exhibited in the stunning collection of La Colombe d’Or and the Fondation Maeght, the latter being the feature of my last Art on the Riviera post. In the second feature of this series, allow me to indulge myself a little by featuring not the work of an artist great, but a painting created by myself.
Except that is not perhaps strictly true… for in sharing with you another of my honeymoon artworks, completed while we stayed at the blissful Colombe d’Or hotel, I am also sharing something of the work of much more famous artist, Fernand Léger. This is because in painting a work devoted to our experience of eating breakfast in the garden of La Colombe d’Or, I could not do so without featuring the stunning 1950s ceramic mural by Léger which is famously installed in the garden.
Breakfast at La Colombe d’Or (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)
Breakfast at La Colombe d’Or captures the random cosiness of the beautiful restaurant terrace as it was set up for breakfast on those sunny Riviera mornings. Still recovering from a heaving night of fine dining, and before preparation of the terrace for lunch, the restaurant at breakfast had much more of a relaxed feel, like a star of the stage before her makeup was applied. The old rusty tables around which Picasso once sat were scattered haphazardly without a tablecloth – this was only placed on the table when a guest chose from amongst them and sat down to eat petit dejeuner in a dappled spot. Likewise the little vintage metal chairs were randomly placed, their normal cushions not yet affixed.
Amongst this friendly scene, the ceramic mural by Léger continued to glimmer in the morning sunshine filtered through the large leaves of the garden’s fig trees, and on the table, an exquisite breakfast of rich coffee, pastries and fruit was served in La Colombe’s iconic branded porcelaine. Breakfast bliss.
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com