The sweet roses of Isabella d'Este: "Torta delle Rose"

A bouquet made with soft roses of pastry and buttercream, known as "Torta delle Rose" ("Cake of Roses") is one of the signature-dishes in the Mantuan gastronomy.
A story goes about the origins of this delicious dessert: it is said that the cake was first created on the occasion of the marriage of Isabella d'Este and Francesco II Gonzaga.
Although we have not any document, which validates this legend, every pastry-chef in Mantua will tell you that this cake is connected with the Renaissance.

Click here for the recipe (s
croll the page down for the English version), or follow this video-recipe:

Leonardo's Swans Tour: ten days in Italy, on the footsteps of Isabella and Beatrice d'Este. Following the Genius of Leonardo da Vinci

Set your clock back to the fifteenth century, and let us guide you into the Renaissance. Please, forget all your Italian guidebooks, as we are going to use another kind of book to set our itinerary: the international bestselling novel “Leonardo’s Swans”, by Karen Essex, will literally take you back to the Italian Golden Age. 
Word by word, step by step, we will walk in the footsteps of Isabella and Beatrice d’Este, following the genius of Leonardo da Vinci.
Our extended tour will include: Milan, Mantua, Ferrara, Lake Garda, Lake Iseo, Cremona, Pavia and Lake Como.
Spending ten days between the finest art cities of northern Italy and the lake district, we’ll proudly offer to our customers the opportunity of some exclusive experiences: a privileged view of to the “Last Supper”, a private dinner in the Castello Sforzesco, an unforgettable show at “La Scala” theatre, six nights in a magnificent Palace with golf court located on the hills of Lake Garda, a Stradivari concert, a farewell night in one the most luxurious locations on the Lake Como. And much more.
The tour will be guided by Italian art historians and scholars, and - of course - the novelist Karen Essex will be travelling with us.

"Come with me to Renaissance Italy and walk in the footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci and his patrons and muses.  The fabulously wealthy and powerful Este sisters of Ferrara highlight our tour of the artists, aristocrats, knights, and ladies of ‘Leonardo’s Swans’.  I will share with friends and readers an intimate experience of the Italy that I love.  We will explore the towns and countryside of Northern Italy including a cultural tour of Milan, which was truly the Athens of the Renaissance.  We’ll be housed in luxurious surroundings overlooking beautiful Lake Garda, where we can relax after meticulously planned day trips, personally guided by Italian historians who will deepen our experience of the art, culture, and times.  Of course, we will make time for the best wines and cuisine as well!  This will be a unique, exciting, nuanced experience of Italy to cherish for a lifetime" - Karen Essex 


Discover the itinerary of "Leonardo's Swans Tour".
Click here for pricing and availability.


"Torta di San Biagio": a winter delight halfway between Mantua and Lake Garda.

“Hiersera arrivassimo quì in Capriana, 
per una via sassosa et aspra, 
pure assai dilettevole per la bellissima vista 
di colline et campagne piene d’amandoli, et olivi”.

“Last evening we arrived here, in Cavriana, travelling along a way that was stony and rough, but also delightful for the beautiful view of hills and fields, full of almond and olive trees”.
These words, from a letter written by Isabella d’Este in 1535, describe one of the many visits of the Marchioness to the Lake Garda Hillside.

The letter was sent from Cavriana, a small village on the mantuan hills, close to the Lake. Here Isabella had one of her leisure residences: you can still see the name of Isabella carved on a fireplace architrave in the local museum.

On the hills of Cavriana – today as in the times of Isabella – many almond trees grow, and almonds are the main ingredient of a very special cake, which is cooked every year in Cavriana, on the occasion of the feast of the local patron saint: San Biagio (Saint Blaise).

The "Torta di San Biagio" ("Cake of Saint Blaise") is a tart, stuffed with an almond-filling, and made with a special pastry, which has not eggs, but white wine in. The filling is composed with almonds, eggs, chopped chocolate, anise and sugar. The top of the cake is decorated with a grill made of pastry, cut in lozenges, which shows the interior filling.

Every year, on February 3rd, an enormous "Cake of Saint Blaise" - with more of 3 meters of diameter - is cut on the main square of Cavriana.

If Isabella d'Este had been the Duchess of Milan...

The blind Fortune played her game with the lives of Isabella and Beatrice d'Este. Princesses, sisters, patrons of the arts, rivals. And Muses of Leonardo da Vinci.
In the year 1480, two ambassadors - one from Mantua and one from Milan - reached the Castle of Ferrara. They both had the same mission: to represent their Lords, asking for the hand of the six-years-old six-year-old Isabella d'Este, daughter of Ercole, the Duke of Ferrara. The ambassador of the Gonzagas, rulers of Mantua, arrived first. So the young Princess d'Este was betrothed to Francesco Gonzaga, heir of the ruling household of Mantua.
And the future Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, had to content himself with an engagement to Beatrice, Isabella's younger sister.
Was this a joke of the Fates? Perhaps it was: in the following years Isabella had to complain more than one time, dreaming that once she might have had the destiny of her younger sister. But, in the end, Beatrice died young giving birth to a stillborn son, and the good star of Ludovico soon faded into disgrace.
How would the Milanese Renaissance have been, if Isabella d'Este had been the Duchess of the city? We can only speculate about this.
But something would have been exactly the same.

In many of the rooms of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, we can still see the joined Coats of Arms of Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d'Este. For example at the center of the ceiling of the Sala delle Asse, frescoed by Leonardo da Vinci. 
A similar impaled Coat of Arms appears above the Last Supper, in the central lunette. The same Sforza-Este Arms are also carved on a keystone in the cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Another example is offered by an embroidered paliotto (altar frontispiece) now in the Sacro Monte in Varese, woven on the occasion of Ludovico and Beatrice's marriage.

If Isabella d'Este had become the wife of Ludovico, and so Duchess of Milano, all these Coats of Arms would have been exactly the same. And we can imagine what kind of thoughts may have crossed Isabella's mind, every time she looked at her sister's Coat of Arms.

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Leonardo's Swans Tour