By Francesca Donatelli


Walking through Stia, along the arcades that go up to the gardens of the village, we reach the “Bottega delle Esperienze”. Locals and the most nostalgic will remember the restaurant that was there before, with such a peculiar and almost exotic name: the ‘Caranbar’. From past years only a name remains written in the ceramics where the house number is located. Looking out the door of what from the outside still looks like the same place, you can smell a different scent, of the sea, of mixed traditions, of family and home. In fact, since January 2022, here you are greeted by the smile of Chef Francesco Fumarola – who tells us his story.


Francesco, with his wife Amanda and daughters Amelie and Sophie, arrived in Casentino two years ago, to open his own restaurant where he can apply what he says is his philosophy: a place to eat, yes, but also where you can buy quality products and continue the experience in the kitchen of your own home or sipping a good wine recommended by him.

Francesco’s accent betrays him, Apulian by birth, he has been living in Tuscany for 22 years. From Martina Franca in the province of Taranto, he arrived for the first time in Pisa to serve in the military, then Florence, where, after completing his military service, he began working in various restaurants. Thanks to his work, in 2007 he went to São Paulo, Brazil, with a chef sent by Antinori, to cook at an event at the ‘Terraço Italia’ and there he met Amanda. Love didn’t happen right away, but in 2009 she wrote him an e-mail to tell him that she was going to Europe the following year and maybe move to Florence. Amanda anticipates her departure and looks for a job in Greece where she has a friend, who, given the situation in her country at the time, tells her to go to Florence to her friend. Amanda quickly writes to Francesco “I’m coming on the X day, are you coming to pick me up? No airport.” Francis is stunned. Where will Amanda go? She decides to go anyway and she comes out of the gate doors! In Portuguese, “no aeroporto” means “at the airport”. The mystery is revealed and they can start a life together, the one that after a few years, together with the girls, will take them to Casentino.

Francesco arrived in Casentino thanks to his former employer, Mr. Sandro, who in his restaurant, in the 80s, often hosted three Casentino cousins, with whom a relationship of friendship and esteem was born. The restaurant industry has changed after the pandemic period, living in the city has changed. Amy and Francesco begin to feel the desire to discover new places and thanks to a snowfall in Porciano and an offer from their Casentino friends to whom they cannot say no, they cross the Consuma pass and arrive in Pratovecchio. It seems that there is a restaurant to buy, a new business to start and a house in the woods waiting for Francesco’s family. Everything calls towards the Casentino, not too far from Florence and very far from Puglia, where they have also thought of returning.

At first, not everything goes like a fairy tale and the opportunity of the restaurant fades from the hands of the Chef. What to do? Opening the restaurant in a trullo? Revert? By now he has already moved and the desire to have his own restaurant in this valley does not leave him in peace. But all of a sudden there is a new possibility: the ‘Caranbar’ is for sale. In a very short time, the ‘Bottega delle Esperienze’ was born, where Chef Francesco poured all his passion, his traditions and his knowledge.

In a valley that feeds on land, he brings an enrapturing menu of seafood, without letting the new countrymen complain too much though. Two parallel menus of meat and fish were created, which satisfied everyone, but without leaving Francis’ philosophy. Francesco does everything: from bread making with leavening for as long as 30 hours, ancient grain flours and a forty-year-old sourdough, to fresh pasta. He introduces into his menu the tortello learned from the women of Lonnano, but makes his own small variant with the scent of rosemary and the Apulian orecchiette made on his grandmother’s cutting board, made from the boards of the bed more than a hundred years earlier.

Among the fresh pasta we find the ‘fruciddi’, which Apulian women made with the iron of the umbrella – and the most famous ‘cavatelli’.

He offers meat in the classic variants of steak and fillet, but preferring the traditions of his land, cooking the ‘bombette’ and the ‘cervellata’, an Apulian sausage made with cooked wine that he himself produces in Puglia in ancient amphorae.

Flavours and aromas mix in Francesco’s Bottega, but the smell of the sea comes through a lot, like when you put the shell to your ear and hear its noise.

Its workhorses are the great raw fish that arranges and dresses up as if it were to dress a princess and the delicious fried food that has a peculiarity of its own: breaded with gluten-free universal flour it makes it suitable for all tastes.

The shop has a generic menu, divided between meat and fish, which forces you to ask, to talk, to communicate with the chef and the dining room staff. Every day a surprise and a new experience. What will the cavatello be with tonight? What will the risotto taste like, whose main ingredient is Acquerello rice, aged for a year, which can be purchased in the shop?

“Excuse me, chef: what is the ‘Catalana’? and the ‘Trabaccolara’?”

And sometimes more difficult questions, such as “What can a vegetarian eat?” Even for those who decide not to eat living beings, Chef Francesco has his own answer, which can be a studied and elaborate recipe or an invention of the moment. Don’t expect the tourist menu, translated into English, with spaghetti Bolognese. Come in, close your eyes, savor a glass of wine, travel with your mind and taste Francesco’s creations. It’s not just food, it’s an experience.

The one that comes from passion and love. The love of Amanda who has created a small crochet chef, who exhibits together with her other creations in the restaurant, the paintings that an artist leaves there on display and portray birds of all breeds. The attention to detail, the oil on the table no longer in those hateful disposable sachets to which the pandemic has accustomed us in spite of ourselves, the ceramic cups for water, the cloth tablecloths that taste clean and nostalgic.

The real experience is to let go of all this and go home with a full belly and heart.


Info: La Bottega delle Esperienze, Via Adamo Ricci, 19 – Pratovecchio Stia (Ar) / Tel. +39 349 5052678 / /