So, here we are after a wonderful two weeks in Tuscany. I have to say, the whole vacation exceeded my expectations and although we had a couple of days of slightly dodgy weather, the villa was fantastic, the area is gorgeous, the family and friends were magnificent and, all in all, it was just about perfect. I guess the only imperfection was having to come home.
Our second week was, apart from one long day out, somewhat more local and relaxed than the first. On Saturday Ben, Nick, Lucy and Bump had to set off fairly early to make their way to the airport and our new guests, the Waltons and Kelly-Browns weren’t due to arrive until late in the evening. So, Adam, Pen, J and I had the day to ourselves. We decided to set off in the car to Montefegatesi, a magnificent hilltop village about thirteen km from Bagni di Lucca. It’s actually probably only about five or six km from here as the crow flies but it’s towards the top of the mountains and hence is accessed by narrow, winding roads that snake their way up the hillside. It’s a gloriously exciting drive up through chestnut woods with fabulous views of the peaks above and the foothills below, the excitement intensifying on every hairpin curve as you wonder whether you will meet another mad Italian careening down the hill. Fortunately, the SatNav guided us expertly and equally fortunately we met only a few other vehicles on the way up. Meeting the bus on the way down the mountain was more than exciting enough.
I know that Ms Playchute has chastised me for over-using certain expressions but I can’t think of any other way of describing Montefegatesi – it is simply stunning. It sits perched on the side of the mountain with magnificent views in almost every direction and we wandered happily about the narrow alleys and piazzas for a few hours. At the very top of the village there is a small park with a 360o panoramic view of the surrounding countryside and an impressive statue to Dante who was, it seems, inspired by the scenery. Click the image below for a slideshow of images from Barga and Montefegatesi.
On Tuesday Pen, J, Adam and I set off on a longish trek to visit San Gimignano which is south of Florence on the way to Sienna. San Gimignano is probably the archetypical Tuscan hilltop village, somewhat similar to Montefegatesi but whereas Montefegatesi is in the mountains, San Gimignano is on a hilltop on the rolling Tuscan plains. Also, San Gimignano was on the main pilgrim route from Northern Europe to Rome and hence is on a much larger, elegant and prosperous scale. In its day there were 76 towers all within the town walls, a very small area. Today the village is still dominated by the towers even though there are only 14 remaining. Apparently, the towers were built both as private fortresses and symbols of their owners’ wealth and status. (You can just imagine the wealthier inhabitants leaning out from the tops of their towers hurling insults at their neighbours with inferior towers. “Nyah, nyah! My tower’s bigger than your tower!”) Also, where we were just about the only visitors to Montefegatesi, San Gimignano was heaving with tourists. Still it is, I’m afraid to say, simply stunningly gorgeous.
On the way back we decided to set the SatNav to take us on the “shortest” route as opposed to the fastest. This way, we thought, we would get to see some villages which were somewhat off the beaten track and indeed we did drive through some lovely little villages. One, in particular, was approached by way of a very narrow bridge over a deep gorge with one way traffic controlled by traffic lights. On either side of the bridge there was a large and impressive but very narrow stone arch, the entrance to which was marked by two large bollards, one on either side. We waited patiently for our light to turn green and, when it did, I set off. What I had not noticed was the concrete into which the bollards were set extending about a foot into the roadway. Although I was only travelling about ten miles an hour, I guess, the right front tyre struck the concrete with force sufficient to burst a hole in its sidewall with quite a jolt and an impressively large explosion. After a few colourful epithets we limped across the bridge (much to the annoyance or possibly the amusement of the crazy Italian drivers behind us), staggered into the piazza, changed the tyre and wobbled our way home on the temporary spare. Next day made our way to the next village and visited the local tyre emporium where fortunately the proprietor spoke a smattering of English and we were able, eventually, to secure a new replacement tyre. Click the image below for a slideshow of images from San Gimignano.
The rest of the week we spent just relaxing, eating, swimming, walking (well, Penny, Adam and the girls mainly) and resting. It’s been grand.
You can find a Photo Gallery of the least bad photos here. Enjoy.
We had an e-mail from Nick a few days after his return to the UK with a link to a couple of Time Lapse sequences he shot out here and stitched together, some of which are very cute. I particularly like the one of Lucy swimming 100 lengths of the pool in about thirty seconds. You can access them here.
And finally, just to show you what a magnificent place Tuscany is, it seems that all the best people come here to holiday including David Cameron and his family. To be fair, the villa they are hiring is further south and, while this one was very, very impressive and luxurious, the one he has hired comes in at about four times the price of this one. Now that I think about it, I take back what I just said – he is hardly one of the “best” people.
Love to you all,