A Foodies Paradise

Touching down in the beautiful Côte d’Azur, Nice in March 2005, Alan and Susan picked up a hire car and headed an hour’s drive away across the borders to Liguria – also known as Italy’s Riviera for a week-long trip of research and getting reference.

The couple had booked a space at the hugely popular La Dolce Vita event in London (a three day event hosted by Italy magazine aimed at promoting all things Italian) later in the spring, so their trip to Liguria would be a fantastic research opportunity for Alan to sketch and add to his collection of Italian paintings which he would be showcasing at the La Dolce Vita event. Despite its reputation as a jewel in Italy’s coastline, Alan and Susan arrived in Liguria on a dull, grey rainy day.

Corso Palladio, Vicenza by Alan Reed
Corso Palladio, Vicenza by Alan Reed

They had decided to book a hotel once they arrived, giving them more freedom and scope to explore the area but with the weather being so bad they decided to drive to their next destination and see whether they could check in at their hotel a few days early.

As luck would have it, heading straight to Alba turned out to be the best decision they could have made… Stopping for directions on the way, Alan and Susan were told “you will eat well” in Alba, and they certainly did! Alba is known for its slow food movement – no fast food culture grows here, but instead an appreciation for seasonal, organic local produce.

As Alan and Susan would discover, there were no menus in Alba’s Osterias. Instead, you were served what was seasonal and fresh that day – like pizza topped with deliciously soft stracchino cheese which is unavailable to buy in England due to its quick sell-by-date.

The food in Alba was unlike anything they’d ever eaten before…

The couple still vividly remember one favourite Osteria Sognatori in Alba where they were treated like old friends and served a culinary feast of antipasti, salami, cheese, pasta and ravioli to start, before moving on to a main of meat and fresh vegetables served with local wine. Finishing their meal with coffee and the customary grappa, Alan and Susan were amazed to find the whole meal at Osteria Sognatori cost just €45.

Tommaso' vineyard in Veneto
Tommaso Bussola vineyard in Veneto

Alan and Susan spent the remainder of the trip in the Piedmont region of Italy driving to nearby hilltop towns of Bra, La Morra, Neive, Mango and Nebbiolo, stopping to visit their hotel owner’s vineyard in Barolo in between and sampling some fantastic local produce to bring back home.

Picking up salami and cheeses at various other stops on their trip, Alan and Susan were taken aback by the beautiful scenery in the Piedmont region.

 

Six days of adventure passed all too quickly and it was time to head to the airport via Liguria and Monte Carlo – but not before Susan stopped a local fisherman to ask where they might find the best seafood restaurant in Noli, Liguria to enjoy one last fantastic meal here.

 

A sketch from Alan's sketchbook of the beach at Liguria
On the beach at Noli, Liguria – by Alan Reed

 

Sketchbook watercolour from the couple's trip to Alba, Piemonte
Sketchbook watercolour from the couple’s trip to Alba, Piemonte titled: “On the way from Mango to Stephano Belvo”

With a sketchbook full of reference of vineyards, street scenes, rich Italian landscapes and a head full of memories of bustling streets lined with wine bars and friendly locals who “never get English people here” – Alba was not yet on the tourist radar, but Italy enthusiasts Alan and Susan had certainly discovered a true hidden gem.

 

Fast forward from March to September 2005 and Alan and Susan were packing their bags for Italy once again. Thanks to an influx of incredibly cheap Ryanair flights during this time, there was no excuse not to, and so the couple booked to stay at La Mason, a complex of apartments near Verona.

Landing in Bergamo, they headed for the Veneto along the motorway following La Serenissima, once an ancient trade route between Venice and Milan. They spent 7 days exploring the area. Travelling off the beaten tourist track,  Alan and Susan also discovered one of the most incredible seafood restaurants they had ever eaten at.  Said to be a favourite of one of the famous Formula 1 champions, they were in good company as they dined at Il Tenere where the owner, an enormous hulk of a man sat down in front of them and asked them what they wanted. Instead of being presented with menus, they were treated to an incredible meal of fresh fish and local wine.

Alba and Veneto

Such is the life of an international artist,  Alan visited the historic towns of Marostica, Asolo, Asiago, Padua and Vicenza on this particular research trip.

Providing him with an abundance of reference for a forthcoming exhibition, the trip was also a perfect opportunity to meet up with their old pastor Paul in Marostica and Alberto Brazzale, the publisher whom they had met a year earlier in Rome.

 

Working on location, often battling against quickly fading light conditions gave Alan’s work a painterly sense of immediacy and energy. Painting directly with his paintbrush using watercolours rather than pencil or charcoal gives Alan’s work a truly distinctive style enjoyed the world over – from their gallery in Ponteland to London’s La Dolce Vita and even at the airport in Italy!

 

Alan Reed artist sketching in Veneto
Alan sketching on location in Veneto

Alberto and Tommaso
“We try to make two working trips to Italy each year, every trip is different and deepens our love affair with the country.”

From the very first Italian Collection of paintings assembled on his very first trip to Venice in the early 90s, to an ever-expanding collection over ten years later, Alan Reed Art had certainly seen The Light when it came to focusing on Italy as a collection of paintings, not least because it meant jetting off to Italy for research purposes, painting on location and getting to uncover some memorable hidden treasures, but more on that later…

 

 

 

 

 

An Exciting Agenda

February 2004

Sitting in a quiet corner of Pani’s Cafe in the heart of Newcastle city centre Susan and Loretta are babbling away in broken Italian. Half English, half Italian phrases carry through the air to the kitchen, where a superb Italian feast is being prepped for the busy pre-theatre rush later that evening…

Having lived in Venice for several years in her early twenties, Susan was introduced to Loretta after a meal at Pani’s and the pair would often catch up over a coffee or bowl of pasta so Susan could practise her Italian. It was during one of these meetings that Loretta mentioned she knew a publisher in Italy who she would love to introduce Alan and Susan to, with a view to publishing a book of his work.

Sketching in Vicenza 2004
Sketching in Vicenza 2004

With their gallery on Main Street in Ponteland now well on its way to being well established, the couple were looking forward to the future of Alan Reed Art and decided to meet with the publisher, Alberto Brazzale in Rome in September 2004.

Meeting Alberto for the day at the hotel where they were staying in the Trastevere area, he talked confidently about his previous work and explained how he sought sponsorship from local companies and banks in Italy to publish his books. Giving Alan and Susan some exciting ideas to go home and discuss, Alberto also suggested some new locations Alan might like to visit and paint to add to his collection of Italian paintings.

One of Alberto’s suggestions was to visit Vicenza, a historic city in the Veneto region highly regarded for its Palladian architecture. Knowing very little about the area, Alan and Susan later met with old friend and pastor Paul and his wife who now lived there in the November of 2004.  It was a joyous trip for both parties as Susan was delighted to be reunited with old friends from the church congregation she was part of whilst living in Venice, and Alan sketched some new scenes for his Italian Collection of paintings. As the couple mulled the idea of creating a book about Alan’s Italian-inspired artwork, and possibly even hosting an exhibition in nearby Marostica, unbeknown to them, another idea was brewing. They just didn’t quite know it yet…

After their meeting with Alberto the pair were off to Umbria again! This time, they would be meeting their good friends Bob and Heather at Rome airport and heading two hours into the sunset to Umbria to stay with Chrissie and David at Casa San Gabriel.

Painting of Casa San Gabriel by Alan Reed
Painting of Casa San Gabriel by Alan Reed

Cultural heritage is not Umbria’s only selling point – this produce-laden province is beloved by Susan in particular for the wild boar and truffles of its woods that grow in abundance here. Umbria is rustic, rural, romantic Italy at its undiscovered finest, where sheep roam free in the unspoilt valleys and medieval villages and landmarks that dot the landscape.

Alan and Susan wasted no time in introducing Bob and Heather to the area – driving along its winding roads to the foot of the Sibillini Mountains and onto the wild and wonderful Piano Grande basin where lentils grow in abundance and a patchwork quilt of red, purple and blue wildflowers carpets the view below during the summer months. Unquestionably one of the most spectacular sights in the area, the scenery and the silence up here are exhilarating no matter what time of year you visit.

The foursome stood still, drinking in the view. For Alan, it was a wonderful opportunity to sketch and catalogue some of the world’s most far flung locations that would delight customers at the gallery. Despite their wonderfully rural location, Susan spotted a small caravan parked up in the distance serving sandwiches and light lunches. They decided to stop for lunch here and headed over to the mysterious caravan…. Greeted with wild boar sandwiches and a glass of wine, Alan, Susan, Bob and Heather enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the top of the Piano Grande basin – one they still vividly remember today.

Spending a week together touring the sights of Tuscany and the Umbrian Valley, a little over an hour’s drive from Casa San Gabriel took the group everywhere. From the pretty hilltop town of Cortona to chocolate and salami shops in Norcia and onwards to the peaceful mediaeval town of Gubbio on the slopes of Monte Ingino. Their base at Casa San Gabriel, nestled deep in the Umbrian Valley proved a perfect spot to stay – Chrissie and David were the perfect hosts and opened up their own home for dinner one evening on the terrace of their home with breathtaking views of the valley where Bob and Heather celebrated their 25 th wedding anniversary and Bob presented her with a beautiful ring to mark the occasion.

Shortly before their trip came to an end, the foursome discovered the crumbling ruins of an old church tucked away just a ten minutes walk from where they were staying. While Alan sat and sketched the ruins, Susan and Heather sat in the sun and chatted about how wonderful it would be to have the money and time to renovate the church and make it into something….

Chiesa del Carmine 2004
The ruins of Chiesa del Carmine 2004

The Chiesa del Carmine was renovated, not by Alan and Susan – or Bob and Heather, but by the landowner and is managed by none other than Chrisse and David who own Casa San Gabriel. Standing in the very same spot ten years later, in 2014, Alan and Susan thought back to that conversation with Bob and Heather and the concept of Reedart Painting Holidays in Italy was born

The Grand Tour…

Flanked by sprawling vineyards, olive trees and succulent lemon groves; Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and an area of such outstanding natural beauty that it makes almost everyone’s to-do list when planning their sightseeing adventures across Italy.

Limone, Lake Garda by Alan Reed
Limone, Lake Garda by Alan Reed

Alan and Susan first visited Lake Garda on a week-long trip with two friends, Bob and Heather in September 1999. Though not a research trip, unlike their previous trip to Rome to discuss the possibility of showcasing Alan’s ever-expanding Italian Collection of paintings, Lake Garda proved to be a bountiful source of inspiration for Alan – none more so than the popular beauty spot Limone, situated on the North West shore of Lake Garda in Northern Italy.

Hiring a car for the day, Alan and Susan drove to Vicenza in Northern Italy – a city off the beaten tourist track but one bathed in history and splendour nonetheless. It was on this trip that Alan and Susan had the opportunity to meet up with old friend and Pastor Paul Finch, his wife Elaine and his family whom she was close with whilst living in Venice several years previously. The trip was a chance for Alan and Susan to explore more of Italy’s history and heritage together, providing Alan with a unique source of inspiration for his collection of Italian paintings which remained hugely popular both in originals and Alan’s new limited edition series of prints.

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo by Alan Reed
Florence from Piazza Michelangelo by Alan Reed

Fast forward to the long-awaited millennium and Alan and Susan were preparing for another trip to Florence to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Their plan was to hire a car whilst there and visit Siena, a city in the centre of Tuscany dominated by magnificent medieval architecture and true Italian spirit. Alan and Susan had booked to stay at the beautiful Hotel Paris in Florence  on this trip, just a stone’s throw away from Florence Cathedral and the city sights – a perfect way to celebrate their  7th wedding anniversary.

Alan and Susan’s love for Italy has only deepened over the years, especially after these early years of exploration – in sickness and in health the couple have made wonderful, lasting memories. Susan remembers spending much of their trip curled up fast asleep in the back of the car, as she was beginning to suffer from kidney failure.

A husband and wife team through and through, Alan remembers one day in particular during their trip to Siena in which he pulled over and sketched by the side of the road in San Gimignano as Susan slept soundly, resting in the back of the car. Having caught sight of local workmen burning olive branches, a painting he would later complete known as Burning of the Vines.

Burning the Vines, Tuscany by Alan Reed
Burning the Vines, Tuscany by Alan Reed

The couple’s adventures across Italy provided Alan with some fantastic references for his popular collection of Italian paintings – along with wonderful memories sitting people watching in busy piazzas, relaxing by the shore of Lake Garda and impromptu sketching of some truly unique, real scenes of daily life in Italy.

It was a buoyant time for the young family, and for the Alan Reed Art Gallery back in Old Eldon Square too. Despite Susan’s ill health, the couple made the best of a bad situation and squeezed every last drop out of life – unsure of what the future would hold…