Standing in the middle of Medieval Manhattan, The Palladian Traveler has the scoop on why everyone screams for ice-a-cream as he files his 14th Country Roads dispatch from the cobble of San Gimignano.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah, standing next to an ancient landmark in the middle of San Gimignano’s Piazza della Cisterna with my band of merry media.
All 23 of us are guests of Insight Vacations on its Country Roads of Italy journey through Umbria and Tuscany, and we’re gathered around Belinda, our tour director-slash-storyteller, as she’s about to address the peanut gallery.
Time for an Insight SIGNATURE moment!
Care to meet the World Champion of gelato makers? His ice cream parlor’s right over there. And, I’ve got vouchers for each of you for a complimentary tasting.
What do you say to that?
All together now: GELATO! GELATO! GELATO!
And off we go, like a bunch of school kids running out of class as the final bell sounds, straight across the square and directly outside the arched door with the number four above it: Gelateria di Piazza, home of Maestro (master) Sergio Dondoli, the World Champion gelataio (ice cream maker).
One of San Gimignano’s treasures, along with the Manhattan-like skyline and impressive medieval art and architecture, Sergio is quite the character.
When not inside the shop, sequestered way in the back behind closed doors creating new and exciting zero-fat flavors, you’ll find him and his effervescent personality outside on the cobblestone explaining to the masses, in a stand-up comedy routine kinda way, his award-winning artisan treats.
And, he loves to ham it up in front of the camera, too.
CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!
A member of Team Italia that took home the World Gelato Championship trophy in 2006 and 2008, Sergio is the Vice President of L’Associazione Italiana Gelatieri (Association of Italian Gelato Makers).
His rank in the gelato hierarchy alone guarantees your visit inside the ice cream parlor will be special, but the real challenge is eyeing, with tongue hanging out, then selecting from all of Maestro Dondoli’s great tasting, unique flavors.
Just about every guidebook on the planet, including Lonely Planet, highlights Sergio’s gelateria as “must see” while in San Gim.
Of the 36,970 gelaterie that scoop out this frozen goodness around Italy, it’s Sergio’s little shop of heaven that rises above all the rest, and for good reason: those tantalizing, one-of-a-kind, frozen recipes.
There’s Crema di Santa Fina® (cream with saffron and pine nuts), Champelmo® (pink grapefruit and sparkling wine), Dolceamaro® (cream with aromatic herbs) and Vernaccia Sorbet® (the wine make’s it happen).
But, the sinful goodness doesn’t stop there. How about his fantastic herbal sorbets Raspberry and Rosemary and Blackberry and Lavender, along with temptations like Gorgonzola Cheese and Walnuts (Say what?), Curva Fiesole (ricotta and bilberries) and Sangue di Bue (spicy chocolate and sour cherries).
And, at the top of the list is Sergio’s capolavoro (masterpiece): Amedei, winner of the coveted Gelato Oscar as the best-tasting scoop of chocolate for five years running.
I can’t wait any longer. Time to go inside this landmark locale.
I hand over my voucher and let the Maestro work his magic.
What a treat, five different flavors, each one more incredible than the next — I’m leaning toward Sangue di Bue and Champelmo®, but it’s a coin toss — laid into a nice sized takeaway cup topped by a brightly colored plastic spoon and handed to me with outstretched hands and a trademark expression that only a World Champion can make.
While enjoying my quintet of Sergio’s finest, I take a look around at all of the framed accolades and grip-‘n-grin photos hanging on the walls, each autographed by some well-known face captured forever alongside the equally talented Mr. Dondoli. There are shots of stars from theatre, opera, the big screen and TV; athletes; iconic chefs; bestseller novelists — including the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — and, a bevy of politicos who stopped by for a taste, but went away with much, much more.
Our day in the medieval town that scrapes the sky now over, we make our way down the winding cobble and climb aboard the awaiting motorcoach knowing full well that we had the time of our lives meeting Sergio Dondoli, San Gimignano’s quintessential Good Humor Man.
What’s next bella Belinda, someone asks from inside our Mercedes-built chariot.
Oh, not much, she replies then pauses for a beat…just another fantastic wine tasting followed by some real, down-home Tuscan cooking inside a spaceship! Can I get a LIFT OFF?
The peanut gallery, in unison, starts the countdown: TEN, NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN, SIX, FIVE…
To learn more about traveling in style on one of Insight Vacations’ 12 Italian premium and luxury escorted itineraries — where you’ll meet great local personalities like The Etruscan Chef along the way — or one of its 100 other journeys around Europe, visit insightvacations.com, or call toll-free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you in a couple of hours when we’ll swirl, smell and sip three superb Chianti wines inside a renovated horse stable overlooking the Val d’Elsa.
Ciao for now.