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The fabulous four on tour (part two)

Published 19 July 2009
News Review
835th article



Michael, Sir Michael Caine, Geraldine and Lady Shakira Caine on the dining terrace of the Villa San Michele

The next outing for Sir Michael Caine, his wife Shakira, me and my adorable fiancée was to Pisa and Lucca from our base at the hotel Villa San Michele near Florence.

I was arrested in Pisa some years ago to the amusement of assorted English tourists. I'd driven my open convertible under the arch into the road by the leaning tower and duomo, which I knew was strictly a pedestrian area. The police escorted me to a nearby car park.

For this trip I decided to take just the driver, Lorenzo. I'd navigate to be sure we travelled the scenic route.

"Look, Michael," I said, laying a road map of Tuscany out on the Mercedes people carrier, "they're good, these maps - the villages of beauty are highlighted in yellow."

Michael looked just a teensy bit sceptical. Lorenzo soon assured us the motorway was blocked. That suited me. We went off onto the smaller roads. I was trying to navigate. Not easy when the vehicle has tinted windows. Light doesn't exactly pour in.

The scenery was not historic. "I see we're doing a tour of the industrial estates," observed Michael. It was also taking a long time. Our plan was to see Pisa, then take the short drive to Lucca, where there's an amazing restaurant.

"I think we'd better head straight for Lucca," I advised.

Michael looked out of the window. "We know where to get a used car and a second-hand lawnmower," he commented. "A couple of council estates on the right. We'll go there and get mugged."

I said, "I assure you we're heading towards ..." "Oblivion," said Michael. "Thank God we're not on the scenic route, otherwise we'd have to pop out every two minutes for Michael Winner to take a photo," said Shakira.

"This route makes the motorway look interesting," added her husband.

We made it to Lucca, one of Italy's most stunning medieval cities. Just as Michael got to the door of the cathedral it slammed shut and a voice said, "Funeral."

We had lunch, walked around, but two hours later the cathedral was still closed.

"Perhaps someone got a deal on a block booking," I suggested. "Eight corpses for the price of one."

The Bucadisantantonio in Lucca is a superb restaurant; go there. Michael had ravioli bolognese; me, spaghetti with white truffles followed by baby goat cooked on the spit. Everything was excellent. Except for a baby at the next table throwing plastic toys onto the tiled floor. "They follow me around," I muttered, "go from country to country just to annoy me."

However touristy it is, the leaning tower, duomo, basilica and baptistery in Pisa remain spectacular. I got a good photo of Michael seemingly holding up the tower. He was looking to buy a baseball cap. He reckons, not untruly, that wearing dark clothes and dark baseball cap he can stay fairly anonymous. Soon as someone recognises him he charges off before being swamped by a crowd.

So I had Michael over there, miles ahead, Shakira looking elegant checking out things for sale, Geraldine seeing the sites. No one together. "It's the tour group from hell," I muttered, trying to keep everyone in sight. Still, we had a lovely time, later going to a market in Florence.

At an adjacent shop Geraldine bought a fur-trimmed leather coat. "Only she could spend £1,000 on a fur coat when it's 32 degrees," commented Michael.

We did find two superb restaurants in Florence. At La Giostra we were served by the owner, disgustingly handsome Hapsburg Prince Soldano. Giostra means carousel. That's where they kept it in the 17th century. There was a vaulted roof somewhat let down by tiny Christmas tree lights which went endlessly on and off. This distracted from a pleasant room with nice-looking people.

The prince had bangles going right up to his elbows. If he'd been one of those African women with rings round their necks to enlarge them he'd have been too tall for any room. Michael said he was an extreme example of the cuddle factor, "which is something you should have in every restaurant". He's spot-on, of course. Food included osso buco, goat chop (amazingly tasty) with zucchini flowers and fried artichokes and donkey ham. Sorry about the donkey, marvellous ham. To finish I had semifreddo with raspberry sauce; Michael, tiramisu. Both historic.

The other restaurant was recommended by Chris Rea's staggeringly lovely daughter Josephine, who's been studying art in Florence for eight years. Her paintings are magical. I promised her an exhibition. This was bustling Santo Bevitore. Very atmospheric. The carrot and fennel soup with golden shrimp was incredible. "It's like nothing you've ever had in a restaurant anywhere," observed Michael.

My dessert, a dome of white chocolate with lemon zest meringue and raspberry coulis, was great, too. The trip was a major success. With a very funny ending when the jet company's credit card was not accepted at the airport for the fuel. So we had to have a whip-round to pay cash in order to get out. We're arranging for a week in Balham next. Can't wait.



Michael's missives

Seeing you in the garden of Sixteen last week, I felt that all you needed was a fishing rod and you'd fit in perfectly as a gnome to keep the cherubs company.
Katrina Golden, Northamptonshire

Sabine, the manager, looked like she'd just managed to stifle the urge to shove you in the pond for the stork to feed on. What is it about you that upsets so many people?
Iain Chapman, Marciac, France

Nice photo, nice garden. Made you look younger. Summer's arrived - new shirt from Oxfam and, glory be, a new pair of shoes. What happened to the old brothel creepers?
Don Roberts, Cheshire

Below your column was a job vacancy at Wookey Hole caves for a wicked witch "experienced in cackling". Apply in your Barbara Cartland disguise and report on the contents of the cauldron.
Adrian Hallewell, Bradford

You expressed interest in carrot cake. The best is at Singapore hawkers' markets. It isn't made with carrots and it's savoury, not cake. But divine. The round trip is no more than £5,000, a bargain compared with your spend at Sandy Lane. I'm at a loose end, so could come as your guide.
Daniel Goldberg, Co Durham

If you're invited to Wagamama on the South Bank, decline. Bad food and incredibly rude staff.
Tim Bishop, London

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk