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Caffè degli Svizzeri, a piece of history in Tuscany

Caffè degli Svizzeri, Pontremoli

Pontremoli – Puntrémal in the local dialect – is a peculiarly special place, mainly because it has been variously claimed by Emilia-Romagna, Liguria and Tuscany, leading it to suffer an ongoing identity crisis. The geographical position between the Magra and Verde rivers has not helped in the course of history: it has been repeatedly razed to the ground and rebuilt, yet has never lost its strength and appeal.

“Caffè degli Svizzeri is a place rich in history, where even a simple coffee tells stories about the past, and never leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth.”

Every year many travelers pass through Pontremoli on their way to Rome, following along the religious pilgrimage road of the Via Francigena, or at the end of their Via degli Abati begun in Pavia. During one of the raids over the years, one of them left something good behind. This was a “sweet” invasion, so to speak: it brought the Beeli family and the Aichta brothers from Switzerland to Pontremoli. It was 1842 and they settled in the medieval tower of Cacciaguerra, opening a bakery and grocery. The Art Nouveau style of the furnishings remains intact today; after the renovations of 1905, today’s coffee bar was opened next to the grocery in 1925. From that point forward, Pontremoli became a gathering point for the middle class and the intellectuals of the neighboring towns, a place where people could enjoy quality products in an environment with a refined atmosphere. At Caffè degli Svizzeri,you feel like you’re traveling back in time, even when just taking in a sip of coffee.

Among the signature products are the Amor, pastries made with whipped cream and liqueur, or the classic Spongada, pastries covered with a filling of dried fruit, cocoa and spices, all prepared following the original recipes that have been in use since 1841. Residents of the town all know the famous Giovanni Steckli, a descendant of the founders, and have always described him as a private person, although surely his eyes have seen much over the years. He preferred to devote himself to his passion, pastries, which he cultivated throughout his life. From nougat to almond cake to chocolate pralines, Caffè degli Svizzeri is always stocked with the tastiest delicacies.

““Amor”, a pastry with whipped cream and liqueur, conquers all at the Caffè  degli Svizzeri in peculiar Pontremoli.”

Even the weariest of pilgrims wind up here, enjoying a slice of spongada, known for being an energizing sweet and ideal for walkers looking for a bit of respite and refueling. This cake dates back to the Middle Ages; evidence of this can be traced to some texts uncovered in the Abbey of San Colombano in Bobbio, right along the Via degli Abati. But as always, it’s Amor (love) that wins: this is the aptly named Swiss cake attracting gourmands from all over Italy. It calls to mind the image of the bourgeois ladies of that time who attempted to eat such pastries, pinkies up, without letting the cream and crumbs dribble down their chins. The Caffè degli Svizzeri is a place rich in history, where even a simple coffee tells stories about the past, and never leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth.

CONTRIBUTOR

Patrizia, born in 1992, graduated in Architecture at the Politecnico of Milano. I’ve always loved this world of stories, stories and construction techniques, but what really didn’t convince me was the idea of spending my life between subway trips, fixed schedules, patterns and habit. It was exactly in front of the possibility of having a permanent contract that I decided to leave for America. To do what, you may be wondering? To realize the first of my many dreams: being a cook. And here I am, writing stories of my travels, of the people I met during my transoceanic trips and handing down the recipes of the dishes I taste around the world.

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