Plans! Sometimes they fall apart, and sometimes they not only come to fruition, but you find yourself adding to them as the day progresses. I am pleased to say that it was the latter for us – it was a good day!
I think that you can’t beat a good walk to start the day off, especially in a hilltown. I usually wait ’til mid-morning for a walk when I’m back home in Kilcullen, but early walks are best when the weather is going to be stinking hot!
I kept it within the walls at first, but then had a quick exit as I decided to batter myself with a walk out of the town through Porta San Felice and down past the CoOp and schools, finally entering by Portal all’Arco. It’s not too punishing a walk, but is still fab for cardio vascular. I was at first rewarded with views of colline islands and cloud lakes.
I approached and went through Felici, and didn’t take many photos until I hit the old Etruscan gate again.
After that walk, I was intending being a good boy, breakfast-wise, but Niamh had already kindly bought me a massive, cream-filled donut, not unlike a Roman maritozzi. I didn’t complain as I yummied it down. Once I had stuffed myself, we headed out to the carpark.
Tuscany’s landscape is so incredibly varied that at times it almost beggars belief. Vineyards and olive groves, crest along smooth rolling hills, flirting with ancient hilltowns and hamlets. You have other-wordly terrains like you would find in the Val d’Orcia, the Crete Senesi and Volterra’s own Balze area. Hills and mountains transform into plains and deltas on the coast where sea meets sand that varies is colour from black to yellow to pure honest-to-God white. There are islands with tropical-style waters. There are forests, mini-desert like regions, geothermal areas and, of course, alpine mountains in the north. You can ski in the Winter, and sunbathe in the summer. All within one region (for Irish readers, Tuscany is only about 90% of the area of Munster). Today, we would be heading northwards towards the more mountainous areas, and I would experience my first taste of ‘environment envy’ – once you get past the more heavily populated belt north of the FI-PI-LI highway (so-called, as it is the main free transportation artery that joins FIrenze (Florence), PIsa and LIvorno on one route). For a while you’ll find yourself drving in areas where one town merges into another.
The last time we drove to the Lucca province, back in December 2018 (before I started blogging), the drive was somewhat spoiled by us getting stuck behind trucks the whole time on the approach roads to Lucca. No such ill luck this time, we got to our first destination in good time – a little over an hour and a half. The Devil’s Bridge (aka in Italian as Ponte del Diavolo or Ponte della Maddalena – very poor form to associate Mary Magdalene with the devil, but there it is) spans the River Serchio, near the town of Mozzano. Mountainsides, lushly carpeted with forest and bushland, surround the whole area, making you wonder if you’re actually still in the same country, let alone the same region. The bridge itself is a bit of a jaw-dropper, with a larger arch towards one end of the bridge, giving the construction something of a lopsided appearance. It also makes it viciously sloped too. Nonetheless, it’s something of an engineering marvel, as well as an aesthetic masterpiece – and a practical boon to those needing to cross the river cenuries ago whilst on the Via Francigenca pilgrimage. It began life in the late 11th century, and has reuquired renovation throughout the centuries. Have a look at it!
The road from which the best shots can be taken is somewhat busy, so be careful, as on the one edge there is no footpath, and trucks power by. We spent about 20 minutes there and then drew the conclusion that we were both hungry. Now, there are a couple of places at the bridge, but we didn’t try them – they just seemed like tourist traps, and the Google review scores seem to indicate that too. We head back the way we came, and went over the more modern bridge into Mozzano.
We pulled into a supermarket carpark (second time of asking), and did a little shopping there at first. Seeing no warnings about being towed or needing a pay-and-display ticket, we left the car there and had a quick walkabout to see if there was somewhere we could have a sitdown lunch.
Sadly, one promising Osteria wasn’t open for lunch (remember this was in mid-May, on a Wednesday), and we couldn’t find anywhere else. We walked back to the car, and found another restaurant called Ristorante La Lanternina in a town about 6 or 7 minutes away called Fornoli, and Google proudly declared that it was open for lunch! We hopped in the car and got a parking spot immediately opposite the restaurant. It was getting quite warm at this stage – maybe pushing 27 or 28. We went to the restaurant and found it closed. I guess the owners hadn’t updated the times in Google – what a pity. We had a walk about the town.
We found Bar La Ruota Di Riccardo Franchi, which was one of those rare places where you could get drinks, sandwiches, salads, pizzas and gelato. During our meal there, I grew a strange fondness for Fornoli. It’s a modern town, and so you could argue that many of the buildings have little intrinsic charm-value, but it has a kickass bridge that looks like something off a steampunk movie set. I can’t put my finger on it – I just really liked the place. Maybe being at the bar and being treated so well helped. Sometimes you can’t explain the vibes you get. Niamh ordered a Caprese salad, and I got a speck and mascarpone pizza – both were tasty.
When we got back to the car, we had a decision ahead of us: go home, or head on to the town of Bagni di Lucca. We chose the latter, and had a lovely drive along the river, past Fornoli’s kickass bridge (why didn’t we stop there?!) and we hit the town maybe 10 minutes later. It seems to be in two parts. The first part is at Ponte a Serraglio, at one end of which is a cute piazzetta where a bar gives you a great view of the nearby bridge – we didn’t stop there, but headed on to the ‘main’ part of town.
Then there’s something of a lull in structures, before the town begins again around an elongated bend a couple of minutes later. We parked in the nearly-empty Conad carpark, prayed to the gods of free parking that we wouldn’t be clamped, and had an explore of the main part of town. But it was in the first part where I began to get my first bout of ‘environment envy’. I thought the place beautiful, and if there is one thing I miss ing Volterra it’s being able to be by running water (the fonts don’t count!). The second part sealed the deal. I would strongly recommend this place for a visit. We didn’t do a thorough explore, as we had blown a lot of the day, and still had a longish drive ahead of us.
We still enjoyed a lovely riverside walk, an explore of the town, we hit the communal park, and found a viewing point which gave us a vista over the rooves of the town. Below, you could hear the sounds of screaming schoolchildren as they enjoyed an afternoon break. Niamh was stopped by a couple of Austrian tourists as they were looking for a panoramic viewpoint from a supposedly nearby church. But she had to apologise, saying we were in the same boat – new to the area.
We headed back to the car after our walk, and drove home. We covered the other side of the river, and parts of it were equally nice. We got home in good time, though. We will definitely do this trip again!
Here’s a video of some of our day:
Once back in Volterra, we immediately took to a mini bar-crawl, which is rare. Firstly, we had a beer in Brasseria del Grifone. We rarely eat in Piazza XX Settembre, as it’s tourist-central, but you can’t argue against a cool drink there under the shade provided by the trees there. My ginger-infused white beer was fab, but we got no nibbles. We headed then to enjoy a spritz/prosecco at Enjoy Cafe (Cafe Etruria was closed, sadly – we’ve never been there and we’re practically neighbours!). Not bad, but also no nibbles! On to Volaterra… could we strike out on snacks? No! We had nice wine and a spritz, and champion aperitivi food too – well done, gang! Finally, we had primo and dessert with wine at another of our neighbours: Porgi l’Altra Pancia.
We just about manged to haul ourselves upstairs for screen-watching a music-listening – anything to ensure digestion had begun before we headed to bed!
Thanks for reading this… if you have any questions or comments, please let me know! I’d love to hear from you.