There are a fair few photos in this blog – you have been warned! It’s pretty long too – it was a busy day!
Every year, Tuscan tenor Andrea Bocelli plays a couple of concerts in late July near Lajatico, the municipal centre of the area he was raised. He was actually brought up in small town just north of there: La Sterza, and there you can see several buildings bearing his name: a restaurant, a cantina and, most improbably, a farm machinery outlet.
That day, we decided to take a look at where his performances take place: Il Teatro del Silenzio (the theatre of silence). So called, I assume, not because Signore Bocelli has a sense of sarcasm, but that it is completely outdoors, away from the town, in nature. I guess wind doesn’t count on the decibel scale. The surroundings were supposed to be lovely, and so we were looking forward to the trip, and maybe getting some lunch in Lajatico itself.
But first – the morning walk. Looks like we got lucky with the clarity of the sky, if not the actual temperature that day.
I walked to the panoramic view at Piazza Martiri della Libertà, down viale dei Ponti, re-entered at Porta a Selci and carried on home from there.
Once done, washed and breakfasted we took the all-too-familiar road towards Pisa. The first part of this road always enthralls us, with views of sweeping valleys dotted here and there with agriturismi and tiny hamlets, surrounded by olive groves, cypress and vineyards. As soon as you have entered Molina d’Era, however, the road bores a little as it flattens, although you will still see glimpses of Tuscany-in-a-bottle scenes such as farmland, small homesteads on hills and distant borghi atop ridges. 98% of the time at the end of this section of road we turn right towards La Sterza, whether we’re going to Pisa, Pontadera, La Rosa etc. for shopping or actually heading back to Ireland. This time we were turning left! Excitement!
A couple of kilometers later, we turned right at San Giovanni di Val d’Era towards Lajatico. If you went straight on instead, you could take an alternative route to Volterra, on a road plagued by subsidence, but offering views easily rivalling the Crete Senesi, or even the Val d’Orcia itself. Maybe more on that another time, though. For now – onwards towards Lajatico!
The theatre itself lies on the outskirts of the town – to the southeast – so, we followed Missus Google’s advice and wound up at the near-empty carpark. We got out, and were glad of our jackets. The base temperature wasn’t so bad, but the wind howled about us like banshees, doing the day a little injustice.
There were only a couple of other small groups of people here (three nuns and an older couple), and one or two workmen who where tending the immediate area. It took a minute, but once we had gotten used to the gales of the exposed region, we took in the landscape. And it astonished.
As you can see above, we spotted Volterra in the far distance, crowning the butte.
We headed down farther, to take a look at some of the sculptures on display, as well as the theatre itself, taking snaps and filming all the while!
And finally, two of my favourite ever photos:
Captions not needed!
I would recommend a visit to the Teatro for sure, but maybe during the off-season, like we did – and you can forget it in late July, unless you’re actually attending the concerts. The road to the place is narrow, and I can only imagine how insanely busy it can be. I know from a local that, although they are grateful for the business that is brought, Lajatico becomes a little unbearable during the gigs. It’s a small place, and I can imagine hordes of people would spoil it.
We had been to Lajatico before (before I had started this blog – although I’m sure I still have photos), and found it lovely, but it was during a cooler day, and the town was shrouded in mist. Today was bright and sunny, and the light made the colours of the town pop with extraordinary clarity. This time, we found Lajatico utterly captivating. We had no idea that there was so much art placed in and around town, on the walls, hidden inside buildings with doors which, at a distance, seemed randomly left open. They had placed coloured lanterns over the street lights, and I imagine the town looks amazing at night.
We arrived at the main church in the town, dedicated to San Leonardo Abate and had a look inside and in the nearby park.
Once done there, we headed back up the town to see if we could find somewhere to eat a place of pasta, snapping furiously on the way.
At first we checked out a recommended restaurant – different to the one in which we’d already eaten – but it was closed that day for lunch (Il Marmaldo). In fact, it looked like it only opened at weekends for lunch, and during the evening for most other days. A pity. But, at least we had Ristoro Da Nello – where we had eaten before and had good food and tons of geniune small-town charm. Right? Well… no. Sadly, they were on holidays for a few weeks while we were there, and so were closed too. Another pity. So, I had a flick around Google Maps and remembered that we had never visited Ghizzano, and it certainly looked big enough to have a restaurant, so we headed back to the carpark and drove there.
Ghizzano is a small town nestled atop a hill (quelle surprise!), aways north and a little west of Volterra. What makes it different to the other hilltowns of Volterra? Well it is down to the inhabitants, of course, but also three artists: Alicja Kwade, David Tremlett and Patrick Tuttofuoco. You can read more about them here. But essentially, parts of the town are outdoor art installations – the most notable of which are the buildings of Via di Mezzo – all it seemingly just took is paint. You won’t find many streets in Tuscany looking anything like Via di Mezzo.
At the time of writing this, Google Street View last visited this street in 2011, before the installation was implemented. You can check it out here.
After having a brief tour of Via di Mezzo, we went in search of a restaurant. Not finding one, we instead headed into a cute little bar, attached to a really old-school looking alimentari (food store) called Bar Alimentari Campani. The foodstore, although very clean, looked designed out of the 1950’s, with simple wooden square shelves linging the walls from floor to ceiling. At the deli end, we cheekily asked the young lady there if there was a restaurant in the neighbourhood. She shook her head and pointed us in the direction of Peccioli and Legoli, both about 15 minute drives away. We didn’t feel like another trip in the car to quest for a restaurant, so we looked hungrily instead at the wonderful produce behind the glass counter. We shrugged and thought, sure a change is as good as a rest and went for sandwiches. I had a baguette with cooked prosciutto and fresh pecorino (the latter is the kind of pecorino that has a very short shelf-life and is much softer than the harder, more aged, pecorino you may find in Ireland. Niamh more had the same with added tomato.
We thanked the lady and went back out to the bar section to pay for the sandwiches, a couple of accompanying drinks and a small bag of BBQ crisps (potato chips). Amusingly, that took us about 15 minutes in a non-existant queue. Anyway, we managed to escape, and went in search of a bench on which we could sit and watch the world go by. We found one, near a church and an artist’s studio. By God it was quiet in Ghizzano, but lovely.
We broke out our food and started eating. Well, it was a minor revelation. I enjoyed that simple sandwich like I had enjoyed few others. The ham was wonderful and the textures of the cheese and crunchy crust contrasted wonderfully. It really was good for a change, rather than putting yourself under pressure to find a place that does good hot food.
As we ate on the bench, the crusts cracking and crumbling to the stone flags below, a larger vehicle pulled up near us and a father and son climbed out and headed into a building beside us. The father left the car completely unlocked. I’m not sure anyone in Ireland, even in the smallest of towns, would leave their car unlocked beside a couple of strangers. He saluted us and they both disappeared.
Anyway, once done with lunch, we disposed of our trash in a bin beside a big blue ball (see photo above)!
Our carpark, as it happened, was beside a modern cooperative mill where people take their olives for pressing into oil. There was a small (currently closed) colourful bar area where people could wait while their green gold was being pressed. Wandering about outside, very randomly, was a peacock. Just one of the more unusual sights of the day.
We got in the car, and it was my turn to drive. I punched in the instruction for going back home to Volterra – much of it on roads we’d never travelled before, which is usually what I enjoy. Except that the first part of the road back wasn’t enjoyable – not at all. It quickly crumbled from asphalt to one of those bumpy gravelled roads, made worse by the previous week’s rain. At one stage, we both winced as we heard the brief crunching of the underside of our rental being scraped by a ridge in the middle of the road. It was another kilometer at least before we managed to find a proper way again, but it was plain sailing from there.
Have a look at our video of our day out below.
Our day wasn’t done. To treat ourselves after our lunchtime forebearance, we decided to head out to La Vecchia Lira for dinner. This would be no sandwich, so we had a bit of a golden-hour walk before we headed into the restaurant itself.
We headed into the restaurant, and the waitress there (whose English was really good) recognised us, and both her and the owner gave us a cheery welcome. We settled in, and ordered our food and drink.
And that was our day. I hope you enjoyed the read. Please leave me a comment and/or a question below. I would love to hear from you!