A Tuscan week

We were not planning to go away this summer; spending it at home in Switzerland is the Plan.  I like planning.  I even plan for a Not-Having-A-Plan Plan ! So when, at the end of an evening with friends who have planned a vacation in Tuscany, we have somehow planned to join them, I am a bit taken aback. We mull it over the next few days.  My good man is sorely in need of a break from work so the plan gets momentum and before we know we have signed in to join them at their holiday homes in two different spots in Tuscany.  My plan for the holiday? Go-with-the-flow, so very unlike me !!

Aug 4, 2010 : The drive

St Bernard Pass 

After a leisurely start, we drive through the St. Bernard Pass to get to Italy. An old pass, with the remains of a Roman road, it’s home to the St. Bernard hospice created in the 11th century, which became famous for the St. Bernard dogs and their rescue missions.  We have been through this pass before and visited the museum, the kennels (the puppies are cute !!) and the church. Today, we stop only to snap a few pics.

Holiday Home  Holiday Home

After a long and uneventful drive, we reach the holiday home in the little village of Borgo a Giovi, close to Arezzo.  A driveway lined with beautiful cypresses leads us to an aristocratic old country mansion, which has been renovated but still has plenty of period furniture and an authentic old kitchen with a stone table and a giant fireplace. There are ceramic decorations from the 15th and 16th centuries, old chandeliers, paintings from the past and beautiful furnishings.  Our friends have dinner ready and we enjoy a good evening of food, wine and conversation. They introduce me to Lemoncella, a lemon flavour liqueur, and I am addicted !! I am in an awful teasing mood (what comes into me??) and bait Paul endlessly. Our good and patient friend puts up with me with such good spirit that I am put to shame 😦 I am very contrite later and vow to be a reformed character for the rest of the holiday!

Aug 5, 2010, morning : Arezzo

Piazza Grande

We spend the morning exploring Arezzo. Piazza Grande, the central square which traces its history to the 3rd century, is lined with beautiful buildings. On the right of the picture above is the beautiful Logge Vasari, in front – the Law Courts and the back of the church Pieve S.Maria.

 Basilica of San Francesco Cattedrale dei Santi Pietro e Donato

We stop to admire the stunning frescos of Piero della Francesca in the Bacci chapel of the Basilica of San Francesco.  Unfortunately photography is not allowed but you can see a hint of the frescos behind the cross (above left). They tell the story of the Legend of the True Cross. We also see the Cathedral (above right) with its beautiful stained glass windows.

Coffee shop  Foodstuff shop

Of course we do what any self respecting tourists do – we browse through the shopping street with its many inviting shops and have coffee at a beautiful old coffee house.  Look at its mosaic flooring..it reminds me of my childhood home in India !  Afterwards we have lunch in the arcades of the Logge Vasari (below left).

Me The better half

And like all tourists, we take many pictures of ourselves in front of various edifices 🙂 Do we, like some animals, have a need to mark territory? And is photography our ‘ mark’ ?

Aug 5, 2010 Afternoon : The Apennine mountains & Caprese Michaelangelo

Church Michaelangelo Baptised

Birth home Michaelangelo

We two ladies accompanied by one young ’un decide to take a drive in the afternoon while the men occupy themselves with more important things, like food and wine. We stop to look over Bibbiena and then go for a drive in the Apennine mountains towards the birth place of Michaelangelo, the little village of Caprese. We see the church where he was baptised and his childhood home as well.  The mountains are a surprise, I would not have imagined that such a vast, untouched forest would exist in a region as well populated as Tuscany. However, I am not in a frame of mind to enjoy it very much because the winding road has made me suffer a terrible case of motion sickness.  I somehow keep it all in until we reach back home and afterwards I need a long lie-in to perk up again.

Aug 6, 2010, Cortona

Cortona view

Today we spend the day in Cortona, a beautiful hilltop town.  I am taken immediately by the beautiful red roofs surrounded by miles of greenery.

Art gallery, Cortona Ceramics, Cortona

We walk along a street lined with art galleries, shops selling ceramics, leather goods and other handicrafts. I fall for a pretty red handbag and give in to the temptation! There are plenty of cafes brimming with tourists, many of whom seem to be English. This doesn’t seem to please our English friends much, a fact which amuses me because I grin from ear to ear when I see the occasional Indian tourist during our various wanderings !

The central square is a busy little place and we stop for coffee and a pause to take in the atmosphere.  There is a music festival on and it seems that we have just missed Sting who performed yesterday.  My dear man is disappointed; he is a fan.

Theatre. Cortona Fortress, Cortona

We stop for lunch at a quiet place after ensuring that they can make me something vegetarian.  It turns out to be a delicious meal and my man, who orders a steak without knowing it (he misreads the menu item as fettuccine), declares that it is a truly happy accident. Afterwards, we peep in to see the beautifully multicoloured theatre and then take a long hike up to see the fortress. It is hot and the climb steep.

View from the fortress, Cortona

The Fortress is well worth the effort. It’s an interesting building and the views from the top are stunning.

Aug 7, 2010 Montalcino and Siena

We head today to our new home near the coast.  We are ready in time to hand over the keys and then drive towards Montalcino.

Tuscan landscape

I truly enjoy this drive through the Tuscan countryside. It is exactly how I imagined the Tuscany to be !  I annoy my dear man by wanting to stop often to shoot pictures, but I have a responsibility towards you, my blog readers, don’t I ?

Tuscan landscape Tuscan landscape

There are beautiful old farmhouses, interesting looking country homes, rolling plains, cypresses and Mediterranean pines, all put together in myriad wonderful combinations. But my photos don’t do the landscape justice; it is infinitely more beautiful.

Montalcino

Montalcino is a small hilltop village famous for its red wine which our friends are particularly partial to.  It’s on top of the hill above, the tiny buildings are just about visible.

Montalcino

But like most places in Italy, this village too is steeped in history and offers beautiful vistas around every corner.

Montalcino square

We are lucky because today there is a re-enactment of a medieval festival.  Soon this square is full of colourfully dressed people, music and tourists.  We sip drinks under the yellow umbrellas on the right and watch the proceedings with interest.

Montalcino, medieval festival Tuscan landscape

While the men tackle the important job of stocking up the cellar, I quickly take a walk up to the fortress to take some pics. The view of the countryside around this village is fabulous.

Siena cathedral

Next stop: Siena.  My good man and I have been here before with our son, quite a few years back. But I am happy to see the cathedral once more.

Siena cathedral Siena cathedral & me

The decorative facade reminds me of a wedding cake, it SO white and pink !! I dutifully pose for a pic 🙂

Cathedral roof Piccolomini library

I love the interior, all of it.  But the most breathtaking is the Piccolomini library with its outstanding frescoes and the painted roof panels. For any art lover, this is indeed a place of pilgrimage.  Simply unforgettable.

Piazza del Campo

The famous central square of Siena, the 13th century Piazza del Campo is stunning.  We all treat ourselves to mountainous servings of delicious Gelato (I choose chololate and caramel and later wonder why I am so unadventurous??) We sit in the piazza to savour every lick with immense pleasure 🙂

The farmhouse

We head to our new home, satisfied with a day well spent.  This is a renovated farmhouse close to the medieval village of Campiglia Marittima.

My siege

Unlike the other one, this house is modern.  It has a stunning view of the Mediterranean in the far distance. I spend a lot of time during the next few days sitting out at exactly this spot and daydreaming.

Aug 9, 2010 Elba

After a day of rest, we set off to catch the ferry to the island of Elba.  The ferry from Piombino to Portoferraio takes about an hour.

Ferry Terminal, Piombino

The cars line up in the terminal and we drive into the belly of the ship. Then we clamber up a number of flights of steps to the deck on top, trying to find some shade on this very hot day.

Elba

The first sight of Elba.  You can see Portoferraio, the port town.

Elba

We set off for a drive around the coast.  The sea here is turquoise and quite brilliant looking !

Poggio Poggio

Our first stop is at Poggio where we have a light lunch.  My man has opted for wild boar – for those of you who have followed the adventures of Asterix and Obelix, this may conjure up familiar pictures. But it’s nothing like what Obelix chews into; it looks as boring as any other meat does to my vegetarian eyes 🙂 Afterwards I have a little wander through the hilltop village which is quite deserted except for a young English couple who are intent on photography, just as I am.

Marciana Beach

Next stop Marciano.  I would have liked to go to the fortress but it’s a climb, the weather is hot and nobody seems keen.  The plan was to find a beach for a little swim before catching the ferry back and on this hot day, the thought of the cool water is very inviting.  We drive around the coast looking for a good spot.  Unfortunately there is no quiet spot to swim at all.  Anything accessible is a mass of bodies and at other places we can find no place to park.  After a couple of hours driving fruitlessly we finally give up and head back to Portoferraio.

We stop at a cafe and then wander through this port town, admiring the lifestyle of wealthy seafarers. Finally we catch the ferry and return rather tired from this long day. We have a lovely meal together in a little pizzeria in Campiglia Marittima.  Our friends will be staying back until the end of the week so this is a goodbye-for-now meal.

Aug 10, 2010 Drive back home

A short stop at Lucca and we set off on the long drive home. This time we come back through the Mont Blanc tunnel which is frustratingly backed up.  Even though I sleep through most of the drive, I am exhausted when we reach home and glad to be back.

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