Best restaurants in Brescia

The real highlight of Brescia, capital of the Lombard province of the same name, must be its recently re-opened Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo – one of the best provincial art museums of the world. But to read about that you will have to buy the new Blue Guide Lombardy, Milan and the Italian Lakes, available from early 2019. For now you will have to satisfy yourself with food and drink highlights from a recent research visit to this excellent and under-rated city and its environs:

Bars

Chinotto: cool bar with tables outside on the pedestrianised Corso Palestro, itself an extension of the attractive broad Corso Zanardelli with a double arcade all along its north side. Chinotto prides itself on the best pirlò in town – the local variant of spritz made not with the ubiquitous Aperol but with Campari, also a Lombard product. Ideal for an early evening sharpener. Corso Palestro, 25122 Brescia BS

Bar in the Hotel Vittoria: the stately Hotel Vittoria is Brescia’s grand hotel, on the other side of the elegant colonnaded rationalist block that forms one side of the Piazza Vittoria with its red marble pulpit built for Mussolini to address the crowds, and from the 30s to the 50s start and finish of the glamorous Mille Miglia car race to Rome and back.  The Hotel has a stylish bar, grand inside and relaxed outside under the arcade, recommended for its ambience and cocktails and the barman’s knowledge of the new wave of artisanal vermouths from this, the heart of vermouth country. Via X Giornate, 20, 25121 Brescia BS

Restaurants

Brescia

La Vineria: Good quality, somewhat more inventive than standard restaurant fare.  Classical and friendly atmosphere, don’t be put off by the small and empty ground floor visible from the arcaded street front: this does not mark a lack of support for this local institution but the fact that most guests opt for its busier, larger basement. Via X Giornate, 20, 25121 Brescia BS

Trattoria Al Fontenone: Traditional trattoria, good quality and unfussy. Via Dei Musei 47/a, 25121 Brescia BS

Il Nazareni: You might not have come to Northern Italy for Palestinian cooking, but this busy and fashionable new restaurant is a local favourite.  Clean and fresh hummus, taboulé, parsley salads etc. Via Gasparo da Salò, 22, 25122 Brescia BS

Monte Isola on Lake Iseo

Trattoria Pizzeria Bar Ai Tre Archi: a waterfront eatery in a seasonal tourist destination is risky. Ai Tre Archi–“at the three arches”–is unpretentious, on our visit the food was local and good, the white wine by the carafe excellent and the service friendly. via Peschiera Maraglio 170/n, 25050 Monte Isola BS

Salò on Lake Garda

Trattoria-Bar Cantinone: One (narrow) block back from the lake, traditional and genuine, including fish dishes from local lake fish (the fish antipasto was excellent). 19, Piazza Sant’Antonio, 25087 Salò BS

A.T.

Budapest Art Nouveau

The age of graceful living, in the closing years of the 20th century, is vividly evoked in the newly-reopened villa of the Hungarian collector György Ráth. Ráth was director of the Hungarian Museum of Applied Arts between 1881 and 1896 and during his tenure, the museum collection was augmented with fine works of sculpture and furniture as well as objets d’art. His handsome villa, on the wide, leafy boulevard leading to City Park, was also something of a show-home. He and his wife were celebrated for the magnificent silver and porcelain of their dining table and the spacious reception rooms were tastefully dotted with choice objects, as well as furnished with stately and ponderous items designed by the Historicist architect Albert Schickedanz. The atmosphere of those times has now been marvellously recreated.

Ráth died in 1905 and his wife donated the villa and its contents to the Hungarian state. After many years of closure, it reopened to the public this autumn with a new permanent exhibition tracing the evolution and development of Art Nouveau.

Surviving stained glass in the Ráth Villa.

The display begins in Britain, the cradle of the Arts and Craft movement, where in response to the rapid rise of industrialisation, William Morris in England and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland placed an emphasis on the hand-made and the artisanal. The ‘Skoal’ vase by Walter Crane (c. 1885), featuring a pair of Norse warriors quaffing from drinking horns, is a prize piece. On the same floor, trends in Austria and France are explored. There is furniture by designers of the Wiener Werkstätte (notably Koloman Moser and Joseph Hoffmann), Thonet bentwood chairs, and lamps by Tiffany and Gallé (particularly spectacular is a gilded lamp-sculpture of Loie Fuller, the shade formed by her billowing drapery).

Detail from an inlaid Viennese hardwood cabinet of 1901 by Koloman Moser.

In all the rooms, careful attention has been paid to the ancillary fixtures and fittings. All the wallpaper has been designed in keeping, picking out and repeating patterns from some of the objects on show. The carpets are carefully chosen (in some cases purpose-made) as are the ceiling lamps. Especially fine is the globular ceiling lamp imitating a ball of mistletoe, by the Hungarian metalsmith Gyula Jungfer (and you can stand beneath it with impunity; the tradition of kisses under the mistletoe is not a Hungarian one).

In the Art Nouveau Dining Room (with sound effects of clinking cutlery), the wall text prompts you to note the complete absence of straight lines. You are plunged into a world of sinuous arcs and whiplash curves. Everything bends, even the floppy-stemmed wine cups on the dining table (contemporary, by Gergely Pattantyús). There is cutlery by Christofle and faïence by the celebrated Hungarian firm of Zsolnay. Also by Zsolnay is the selection of plates designed by the painter József Rippl Rónai, each one different, for the Art Nouveau dining room of Count Tivadar Andrássy (1898). The wallpaper in this room uses a pattern from one of them.

Upstairs (note the fine, creaking wooden staircase) is a long gallery with display cases stuffed with treasures: more glassware by Tiffany and Gallé; jewellery by Lalique; metalwork by Ö. Fülöp Beck and decorative vases, bowls, platters and wine cups by Zsolnay. There are wall tiles too, covered with the lovely iridescent ‘eosin’ glaze which the Zsolnay manufactory pioneered.

Decorative eosin-glazed wall tile by the Zsolnay manufactory.

The last room explores specifically Hungarian trends in the genre, works that are not only made and designed by Hungarian artists in the Art Nouveau style but which are also Hungarian-themed. There are tapestries from the artists’ colony of Gödöllő (a town just east of Budapest) illustrating stories from Hungarian legend; a screen of c. 1909 designed by Károly Kós (best known for his folk-revival architecture) showing the death of Attila the Hun; and a plain but beautiful chair by Béla Lajta, designed for the Jewish Institute for the Blind, with a folk motif of a bird carved shallowly on its backrest.

As you leave, be sure to pay your respects to the bust of György Ráth himself, in the entrance lobby. His fine likeness in bronze (1894, by Alajos Stróbl) is placed next to a marble bust of his wife (same date and sculptor). Ráth is dressed in ceremonial Hungarian attire. The original cloak chain, clasp and buttons, meticulously depicted in the sculpture, can be seen in the adjacent glass case, along with his gilded spurs. This is a delightful show. You are likely to want to visit it more than once. The next step will be to pay some attention to the villa’s garden, where the original allegorical statues of the Four Seasons still stand.

Art Nouveau: A Hungarian Perspective
Now showing at the György Ráth Villa in Budapest (Városligeti fasor 12; open Tues–Sun 10–6).