We had been informed that some sort of alarm had been beeping on our terrace. Apparently, a couple of people from Napoli lodged a complaint, so our building super arranged to have our electricity cut off. Lovely. It had no effect, so we were reconnected before we arrived back. We lost food in the fridge and freezer. Thanks, Napoli!
Anyway, that morning after we had dragged ourselves out of bed, we checked it out. Yes (and we had noticed this the previous night), the thing was beeping avery few seconds – very annoying! To me, it sounded like a smoke alarm whose battery is about to run out. We cracked open the large circular frame and had a look inside.
I think that the large grey cuboid near the top of the ‘stuff’, held in by the large metal bracket, is the battery. Anyway, we were too chicken to play around with it, even though it really looked like it wasn’t connected to any mains wire). We contacted our property manager, who arranged for an electrician to call over on Monday (today was Saturday).
Back to the fun parts!
Volterra was to hold it’s first Medieval Festival in 3 years the next day, and we had to drive to Pisa to pick up a couple of guests – people from our workplace – as they would be staying over with us for a few nights. I think Pisa is a hugely underrated town, and honestly believe that people with access to a car could make it a good base for a week’s holiday – particularly if you have already been to Florence and Siena. The problem we have with it, is that people new to Tuscany always want to see the Leaning Tower. I know it sounds like sour grapes, and certainly is a first-world problem, but if I were to be truthful, we accept their visit to that over-visited square with something approaching an eye-roll. But we do it. And we try to be as gracious as possible, but if you were to listen deeply to us, you would hear us sigh when people decide not to climb up the tower. Having said that: it’s a must-see if you haven’t seen it before!
So, we were delighted when the people staying with us had actually stayed the day previously, andd so had already seen it. Their hotel was nearer the east side of the square, so we figured we’d have to park the car in our favourite spot, and walk to meet them. However, as we were running a little late as a particular artery nearby was clogged with traffic, we spotted them waiting by a corner at the west side of the square. Yay! We signalled to them; they saw us and we were able to take a left and double-park while they bundled themselves and their luggage inside.
We took off and headed back to Volterra. We stopped at the Conad in Capannoli and bought essentials (salad, cheese, salummi, beer!). Rather than take the left after La Sterza, we continued straight on the SR439 – the sexy route to Volterra. The SR439dir route is nice in spots, but the former takes you so much closer to the rolling colline, through scenery that – to my biased eyes at least – rivals that of the Val d’Orcia. Here’s the route we took:
A couple of weeks previously, there had been a serious heatwave in the area, which sparked a couple of forest fires. We saw the devastation first-hand and for a couple of kilometers, the road cut through dead woods, the trees charcoaled by flame. Here and there, roadsigns were blackened and twisted. That was a sorry, if fascinating, sight. But then the road broke out into the open hills. The Torre dei Belforti standing sentinel over Montecatini Val di Cecina could be seen for miles around. Lone trees decorated the tilled fields, and you could see sculptures in some others. You can see some examples in this blog from back in May, when the hills were somewhat greener, but you’re always better off seeing these things for yourself. I think our friends were suitably impressed! As they were with the view from our terrace (they were less-impressed with the steps!).
We debated about whether we should lunch on our CoOp purchases, or head out to a restaurant. Our puppy-like exhuberance for showing the town won-out, and we headed to La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo instead!
We had a pasta course each and a little vino. I usually like the house red here – only one year out of four has it been a little iffy. I think the white fares about the same. Both are dangerously drinkable, but light.
With fattened bellies, we took the guys on a calorie-busting tour of… hmmm… maybe half of the town. I have to profess that Niamh and I really are like toddlers when we remember yet another vista we haven’t shown guests yet.
That evening, we had the Conad purchases as a light dinner/supper and drank a little and chatted. We took things quite easy, as we knew we would have a hell of a fun and long day ahead of us tomorrow!
Good night! The next one will be a little longer. Please leave a comment or like.
We had to wait another 12 weeks before could return. It’s wrong to wish your life away. And you should try to be grateful for what you do have, no matter where you are – if you want to maintain healthy mental balance. However, it’s hard to put this all into practice when you have a little slice of heaven waiting for you just over 2 hours away by airplane.
It turns out that our usual gateway to our slice of heaven would require you going through the eye of a needle! Car rental in Pisa had become incredibly expensive, and we had an idea to shop from a different airport. We would have to ensure that the agency we rented the car with could take the car back in Pisa, as we would fly out from there. Anyway, we found that Thrifty, who also have an office in Pisa, were renting the exact same car class for the exact same period for almost €1,000 less (although see below!) in their agency in Ciampino Airport, Rome. The name ‘Thrifty’ didn’t exactly instill confidence, but we had no issues throughout our stay.
We decided that it could be a win/win if we got an early enough flight, and found a route we could enjoy. We had 2 basic choices:
To head immediately to the coast and take as coastal a route as possible. I love coastal drives, but planning a route would be tricky… as quite often many of the roads right next to the sea are gravelly or sandy, or simply prohibited. Often the road closest to the coasts is still several hundred meters away from the sea, which defeats the purpose. In addition, there are very few coastal towns with true ‘centro storico’ charm in Lazio and Tuscany.
Drive inland instead, skirting around inland lakes and exploring a couple of lakeside towns on the way. The towns on the lakeside would have a better chance of being ‘oldy-worldy’.
So we decided on the latter and I plotted, which would take is through parts of Lazio and Umbria – we’d never driven outside Tuscany before. Including a couple of scheduled stops, I estimated it would take us 7-7.5 hours.
Firstly, we had to fly!
We did exactly what we did that last time we flew out: booked the night in the Maldron at the airport so we could walk directly to the airport and get a couple of hours extra sleep. My brother kindly gave us a lift to the hotel. Our room was grand, and we ate in the bar instead of the restaurant this time. Not bad at all. We slept well enough and, with no breakfast, got up at sparrowfart and walked to departures with a nice young lad from Cork. Niamh and I just had carry-ons; he had nothing but the clothes he had on him.
We got there, positively sailed through security and walked much of the way towards the gate to an eatery that was, mercifully, open. We somehow grabbed a table – the airport was freaking mobbed at the gates – and sat by a multigenerational family of 6 or 7. I had a sandwich; Niamh a sweet breakfast – to start the time off Italian style!
Everything was going to plan. We got to our gate, were checked and began our Ryanair cattle-queue to the aircraft, close to the front. The sky was blue, the birds were singing…
So we queued and waited, and waited. We chatted for a bit with a funny older couple who were hung-over and going for Rome for their first time. Grounds-people and boarded staff wandered in and out of the craft. Several times I could have sworn we were going to be allowed to board. But then, alas, a man told us we all had to go back into the terminal. There was an issue with the aircraft, and we would have to wait an hour for another craft.
There was no waiting area in the terminal, so we had to walk past the gates again, which of course meant that we would have to be re-checked on the way out. On the plus side, the dude who said an hour was actually pretty much spot on. Any delay, however, was going to eat into our ability to wander around the couple of towns we had chosen.
Anyway, we were re-boarded an hour later and spend about 30 minutes longer than usual in the air, as we were flying to Rome, rather than Pisa. The flight was pleasant and without incident. We spotted a couple of lakes – one of those at which we would stopping. We disembarked, got through the passport check handily, and broke out Missus Google to search for the Thrifty agency to pick up our car. It had just finished raining heavily and the sun was making its reappearance. It was therefore becoming both hot and humid. Fortunately, we were at the agency in 9 or 10 minutes. We took up a couple of options, not realising one of them was an additional driver. We checked our booking, and lady was quite correct – the booking didn’t include me as an additional driver, and it would cost just under €300 more for the month. It took a little gloss off our saving, and cast a shadow over whether or not we should have flown to Rome in the first place. But was done was done, and the day and the journey ahead were still ours to make the most of.
We got the keys and checked the car out. It was a Fiat Panda and was as basic as cars get – even in these modern times. There was no infotainment screen – almost a basic requirement, but our budget was set and we gave it a shot. In truth, once we had bought the phone holder that clipped into the airvents we grew to love the old girl.
Off we went towards the ringroad around Rome, and then, quite quickly, we seemed to be doubling back before we felt he’d left the airport. And then back again. We re-checked Google and re-input the route, but it seemed to be right. We hit a roundabout that we’d hit before and took a different exit. Very odd. Anyway, we were off and in 3-lane traffic around Rome. Well, they certainly drive a little more aggressively here, don’t they! We were only on the ring road about 30 minutes, before we were back on more the more civilised 2-way roads. About 20 minutes later we entered the lovely lakeside town of Anguillara Sabazia. We very luckily got parking right by the lakeside restaurants, and had a little explore.
Not too far away from us, there was a Ferris wheel, and people lounging in the sun on the dark sand. But the town itself is gorgeous, like a mini Positano, with a pyramid of buildings crowing a nearby hill. A lovely and peaceful place. I took a little video footage you can find farther down below. Sadly, due to the lateness of our flight we had to do the thing we came here for: have lunch. There was no time for a proper explore.
Sadly, this is where things go a little pear-shaped. I have been using Google maps street view to ‘drive’ along the Italian coast, sussing out amenities, restaurants and properties. One thing I can say with reasonable accuracy is that a great many (i.e. not ALL) lakeside/seaside restaurants will force you to sacrifice the quality and price of food for the aesthetics of the location.
I’m afraid this was the case here too. I won’t name the restaurant. Niamh had a passable Amitriciana, but my Cacio e Pepe was utterly abortive. I’m usually not harsh in my food critiques, but this was a crushing disappointment. While the tonnarelli noodles were done well and toothsome (and I at least ate those with relish), the sauce was a total mess. The dish arrived with the noodles swimming in a soup with congealed cheese parked in marble-sized packets through out the serving. I finished the pasta, but left the sauce, which had by then looked like a plate of porridge. I wouldn’t have expected it to be so badly cooked halfway around the world, let alone in Italy, in the region considered to be the home of Cacio e Pepe.
Anyway, let’s move on.
We left Anguillara Sabazia and had a 10km or so pleasant lakeside drive, before we joined the main road towards Passignano sul Trasimeno. We circled around the walls of Nepi, and past tantalisingly close to Narni, Todi and Perugia – but we will have to visit those some time in the distant future. It was anethema to the explorer in me to pass them by, but our time was limited. I really enjoyed the drive, and didn’t really notice it pass by too much. I even drove this leg!
Anyway two and a half hours later we arrived at the large pay carpark to the east of Passignano itself. It lies alongside the lakeside promenade. We paid for the parking ticket and got out of the car and had a little explore.
Lake Trasimeno at around 130 square km is Italy’s 4th biggest lake and something of a boon to the otherwise landlocked, yet beautiful, region of Umbria. The photos above look a little gloomy, but the sun was on the other side of town, and we were just in time for the sunset and a gelato!
The touristic side of town has a lovely promenade lined with restaurants and shops. We only had the gelato and walked a little farther to have a look at the pier and check out the golden hour. Behind the promenade buildings there were hints of an older town, begging to be explored – but alas, we had no time.
The pier was essentially a dock for the ferries which can take people to and from a couple of other towns and a couple of islands. The other plus side to Trasimeno is that it’s not a huge drive away – a little under 2 hours, so it’s a ripe target for exploration at another time. In fact, we had planned on visiting again, but other things got in the way and we never made it.
We got back in the car and Niamh drove the last leg to Volterra. Passignano was a little larger than we expected and the more modern part had its virtues and amenities too – quite a lovely place. On the way home, we actually passed very close to Cortona – another gem of town that we’ll have to visit at some stage in the near future.
We knew much of this road, and it was multi-laned. We didn’t stop off anywhere, and once parked, we wheeled our bags to the apartment, changed the bedsheets and collapsed into our beds.
Below is a short video of some footage of Anguillara and Passignano – take a look!
I hope you enjoyed the read. Let me know what you think!
Back in October of last year, we took an inland route to get to Castiglione della Pescaia. On the way back to Volterra, we drove part of the way hom by the sea. Cresting over the top of a hill, we got a dynamite view of Follonica – it looked so lovely from above, and so we promised to return some day. We drove through some of its suburban areas to get to the E80 and home.
It only took us about 7 months to return! Anyway, we went by the quickest route (the aforementioned E80 from Cecina), and I think it only took us about 75 minutes to get there. I thought I had selected a nice free parking spot. It was free for sure, but sadly when walking out of the urban area, Google led us astray a little and took us too far south. I thought we’d have a 5 minute walk. It turned out to be 15-20 minutes. However, it turned out to be something of a happy accident, as we discovered the free beaches south of the main part of the city.
As we were fully dressed and had no beach gear with us, I can’t say what the water was like, but the sand was nice and golden! So, we continued farther north back towards town. There were houses right on the beach, between which we got more glimpses of free beaches. There seems to be an enormous stretch of such strands immediately south of Follonica’s main promenade – a tip for those of you who are tired of the Lido-life and don’t mind lugging your own gear. One thing negative to note is that you would have a bit of a walk to get to any beachside amenities.
Something that it puzzling to me is that I heard Tuscans extolling the virtues of Castiglioncello, Rosignano Solvay, Marina di Pisa (the south part anyway), the Gulf of Baratti, Marina di Cecina – but nobody ever mentioned Follonica. Does it have a bad reputation? Do they just want to keep it secret? I don’t know either way – comment if you do know, though! Maybe Italians just prefer beaches with all the gear ready for use.
Another thing we found, which we wouldn’t have had we paid for parking in the centre, is that Follonica has a Centro Storico (old town)! It’s far from medieval, but is maybe a couple of centuries old. There only seem to be a few blocks in it – so it’s small.
Soon after, we followed the road over and snaked around to the left to get our first view of the main promenade, before which lay yet another free stretch of beach.
There was a ton of free space on this beach, even though it was a Saturday and quite warm. We might come here next time we have a hankering for some sea. We then hit the beginning of the proper part of the promendade and went a little deeper into town, a little past one of the apartment buildings that towers over the rest of the city, and past that pierside building you can see in the distance above.
It was by now the middle of lunchtime, and we were starving. We took the opportunity of being in a bigger town and headed to an Asian restaurant, in our ongoing quest to find somewhere that serves decent stir-fries. We didn’t quite find it. We went here, and found a pleasantly familiar menu, with a few cantonese favourites – it was typically extensive. Like many Chinese restaurants in Italy, they do fried rice and steamed dumplings very well, but it all falls apart in the stir fries. The meat is cheap, the sauces seemingly flavoured with soy or salt – apart from the curries, which are barely passable. I don’t know why this is! It’s annoying and baffling! The veggies were nice and crunchy at least.
We didn’t want to eat too much as we knew we had a dinner date later that evening. The portion sizes are actually quite small, so that was good.
When done, we headed out to burn some additional calories along much of the promenade.
We stopped after about 500m, and it seemed to go on for at least another 5-700m. It was getting warm, so we stopped at a lively gelateria – Sogni Golosi (greedy dreams). On the way there, we passed by a tented area – the town was getting ready to party! I can’t remember the flavours I selected at the gelateria, but I do remember being hugely impressed. Definitely worth a go if you’re in town.
We wandered inland a bit in a rough direction back towards the our parking spot, and I once again was impressed by the centre’s pedestrian areas, packed full of eateries, shops and bars. It was quiet that day, but I can imagine it getting very busy in high-season.
We enjoyed a nice (if lengthy – thanks, Eoin!) walk back to the car, and took the same road home.
Below you can find a very short and shaky video of footage of our day out.
Needless to say, we chilled after we came back, and then we went out for our last meal of this stay in Volterra. Where better than Del Duca? We skipped aperitivi (our lunch was big enough!), and got treated like minor royalty as always! The food was pretty damn good too! I will really miss that place when it closes.
And that was that! We few home the next day and life began as normal on the Monday.
The good news, though? We came back in mid-August to mid-September… met new friends, experienced the Medieval Festival and Red Night again and enjoyed weather than was hot, but thankfully not appressively so. More to follow over the coming months!
Please let me know if you enjoyed this, or if you had any queries about travelling in Tuscany – especially west-central Tuscany. I’d love to hear from you!
We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this little nostalgic broadcast – yes, you read the date at the top correctly!
In early November the Del Duca family will shut the doors on their restaurant for the last time. In fact, they will no longer be running a restaurant after having run one for over 30 years. Niamh and I will miss them and their wonderful enoteca very much.
We first fell in love with Tuscany back in 2008 after an organised tour brought us to the hilltop towns/cities of Montecatini Alto, San Gimignano and Siena. We were blown away by the beauty of these places, the food and the surrounding countryside. As the years went past, we had other trips to Italy (Rome, Lake Garda, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily), but it was Tuscany that captured our hearts.
Fast-forward nearly 10 years, and we decided that we had enough money saved, and were earning enough to be able to buy a property in Italy. I used Google maps to look for coastal towns in Liguria, Le Marche, Umbria and Tuscany. It turns out there aren’t many hilltop towns right on the coast! So, we looked farther inland, and settled for a deeper scan of Tuscany, as although the prices were higher, air transport there was easier at the time than anywhere else, and Tuscany was just so huge and open, with plenty of things to do and see. That research, which took us nearly 6 months, had us eventually settle on Volterra. I had not heard of it (Niamh had, thanks to the Twilight Series), but I was amazed at how beautiful it was, how central it was and that it had all the amenities we could ever need. We bit the bullet, and made arrangements to meet with VolterraCasa and Milianti. We would arrive in Volterra on April 18th, 2018.
While we waited for that date to come, we entertained ourselves with videos on Volterra, especially ones by David McGuffin and Denis Callan.
Below is the video which helped us decide where we’d eat as soon as we’d arrive in Volterra: Del Duca. It’s by David McGuffin.
Aaaannnnyway… we arrived in Pisa in the evening, and took a bus to the farthest car rental area (thanks, Ryanair). I cannot for the life of me remember what we drove, but I remember it was the first time either of us drove on the other side of the road! I remember (being the passenger) that we always seemed so close to the verge! I think this is a common occurence with those who first do this. You lose the fear of it eventually.
Some time later (after super-careful driving) we arrived at our hotel outside the walls – Hotel Porta all’Arco. We chose this place as it had (just!) enough parking for our car, without having to pay for it. The place had advertised a bar, but really it was tiny and rarely manned. There wasn’t much choice in breakfast, but it was adequate. What sold the place for us were the people and the rooms. They were so friendly, and the rooms were spacious, well-decorated, air-conditioned and clean, the hotel being a converted palazzo. As I had not started my blog at that point, I didn’t take as many photos then as I do now. While I can say I was hampered by the iPhone’s 7 limitations, in reality you’ll see below that sadly my shot composition was generally terrible too!
After we had settled and freshened-up, we strode confidently outside. Then we took a good look up. I’m not going to lie: we thought ‘Oh shit!’. We had been to three other Tuscan hilltowns/cities at that stage: Montecatini Alto, San Gimignano and Siena. To get uphill to those, you have a funicular, a long gently-sloped road (to the most commonly used entrance) and multiple escalators, respectively. This time, we’d be using our own legs to travel just under 250 meters, but about 50 meters up…. on average a 1/5 gradient. That’s pretty steep!
We walked the first 50m, across a zebra crossing and up steps, then more steps, then a steep gravel slope, then even more steps until we reached Porta all’Arco itself, and the very first photo (fittingly) I ever took of Volterra.
Because we had never really heard of the phrase piano piano! we powered on up Via Porta all’Arco after a short break. We were pretty breathless when we reached the top!
It was so quiet! This was ok by us, as this town, if we could find a property, would be our chill zone.
When we had reached the top, I consulted Google maps, and saw that Del Duca was 30m to our right. I said to Niamh “Let’s go to that place the beardy lad recommended!” (Sorry, David!). So, in we went. It, too, was relatively quiet. We didn’t know the family, and so can’t quite recount who we were greeted by. I can remember for certain that Claudia wasn’t there, but Genuino was. Anyway, our waitress for the night was really lovely, and settled us at a large circular table, in a corner, quite near the entrance to their wine cellar. If I recall correctly, Alessandro Calabrese, their head chef, hadn’t been too long there – please correctly me if I’m wrong! I didn’t know that at the time, and assumed Ivana was still heading things up in the kitchen.
While we waited for our first course, two amazing things happened: we were given some bread, and then an amuse bouche. The latter was one of the most extraordinary things I had eaten up to that point in my life – I remember the crispy pork belly and anchovy on the top, but I can’t remember what the central part was. Here is a picture of it from a later blog. Do you remember Willy Wonka’s Three Course Dinner gum? This was like that! I took it all in one bite. I got the crisp of the belly first, then that was followed by a savoury pesto-like flavour of the middle substance, and finally at the end was a gentle hint of fishiness from the anchovy. It was incredibly tasty! Then we destroyed everything by thinking we were sophisticates and ordered olive oil and balsamic for our bread. Brutta, brutta, BRUTTA!!
Oy! We were obliged, which was nice of them. Our primi arrived, and I grabbed my first ever taste of cinghiale – I had the pappardelle. Niamh was likewise blown away by her ravioli with their delcious sweet and sour tomato sauce, topped with crispy pancetta.
Our secondi were just as tasty. I had fish with cabbage (a first for me!) and Niamh had lamb 3-ways.
I think we both had a chocolate fontante bomb for dessert. So yummy. We actually made both the sweet and sour tomato sauce and and these desserts when we attended a cookery class in the Del Duca’s home.
We had some wines from the Del Duca’s own range, so the waitress asked us if we wanted to have a look inside the wine cellar, which is in a small cavern at the back of the restaurant. I took a photo (with reflections) from outside the door, but not inside the actual cellar itself – which is a shame, as it was impressive!
We left, fully satisfied, and took some more awful photos outside.
So that was our first ever night in Volterra! We went on to visit 3 more times in 2018, eventually sealing the apartment deal in December. We got a lovely little plate from the Del Ducas as a warming gift.
We’ll miss this restaurant hugely, and can only hope that the new owners will still offer Volterrans a fine-dining option going forward.
The Del Ducas themselves are still carrying on with their other businesses (their highly recommended agritourismo and wines), so I am sure we will still see them about the town. And we have been offered the use of their pool on more than one occasion – we’ll take them up on the offer some day! So, thanks folks for all the fun times we’ve had in the restaurant. I think you are doing the right thing in slowing down a little. Your health is your wealth, and in the Pisan colline, there is no finer place than to take as much time as you can grab and enjoy your surroundings and each other’s company. In bocca al lupo!
Well it was another week where my time wasn’t my own, but I still managed to get out and about and we still stuffed our faces, so let’s go!
Monday 23rd May
I still got out for a walk! There were stairs!
Tuesday 24th May
I can’t get over how green the hills still were – althought it had signs that they were beginning to turn grey/brown. For lunch we went to a place to which we very infrequently go: I Ponti Volterra. I guess I consider it touristy given its location (by the main viewpoint). But sometimes anywhere new is good.
I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of an Orzotto on the menu (think Risotto, but made with barley, instead of rice). I love them, but they’re damn hard to come by in Tuscany. Anyway, this one was made with sausage and cabbage. It tasted lovely, but… well… maybe my stomach was nervous on the day. Let’s just leave it at that. I’ll give it another go some day – if even just to test my, em, theory.
We carried on the theme of new places to eat (for us) that evening and ate in Life Bistrot, a plant-based restaurant at the top of the lovely Via Porta all’Arco. We were put sat in the half of the restaurant that doesn’t have the glass floors looking down on the Etruscan ruins. It gets good reviews on Google, so we thought we’d give it a bash. The service, it must be said, was friendly and their English excellent, if your Italian is lacking.
We noted that they had chefs that looked like they were from the Indian continent, noted with joy that they had a couple of Indian-influenced dishes on the menu. The Chapati was ok, I guess – it had a hint of Indian spices, but needed more kick. Niamh’s salad was merely ok too. I cannot remember what Niamh had for primi, but I had pici ‘cacio’ e pepe. Instead of using vegan cheese, they used ceci (chickpeas). While the noodles themselves were nice, the sauce was a little bland – and frustratingly the ‘pepe’ side of it – the part truly vegan – was barely there at all.
Wednesday 25th May
Another walk today, this time around the maze-like lanes just off Via Porta all’Arco.
Carrying on the theme of eating in places we’ve never tried before, we tried Il Peschereccio for lunch. I had the high end fried fish mix, and Niamh the less expensive one. I think Niamh one that round. I think next time I try here, I’ll either go with the standard fritto misto or just a bit of grilled white fish. I had white wine to wash it all down – a rarity for me!
For dinner, we went to La Vecchia Lira. I had chickpea soup to start – not sure what Niamh had – I can’t recognise it from the photo. For primi, I had my new favourite – the tortelli stuffed with shredded lamb in a savory apple sauce, and Niamh had the pici cacio e pepe – they do it very well here. Delicious. A tirimasu might have been had. I’m sure it didn’t last long!
We burned calories by taking a gentle nighttime stroll.
Thursday 26th May
Well, today was clearly not one to remember. What little I remember is that Niamh hadn’t been to the park yet this visit, so we headed out during lunch for our walk there. Dinner was a couple of yummy pizzas in La Mangiatoia. They had definitely started to recognise us there! I love their speck and mascarpone! Afterwards, a short trip to Antica Velathri Café for a couple of quick post-dinner drinkies.
Friday 27th May
A nice uppy-downy walk in the middle of, then around the outside of the town. I bumped into Volterra’s most photograhed cat on the way.
On my mid-morning walk I snaffled some gelato, because…. actually there’s no excuse needed! Thanks, as always, to L’Isola del Gusto.
We pigged out a bit that day, firstly going to our neighbours Porgi l’Altra Pancia for lunch. Unusually, we sat outside and were given a little surprise of some Prosecco on the house. Niamh had her beloved Caprese salad, and I had a vegetarian dish – paccheri with a hazelnut-based sauce. Very tasty. We had cheesecake and tiramisu for dessert.
Later that evening for dinner, we did the touristy thing and ate in the main square, in Ristorante Etruria. The food there varies from ok to good, but they usually treat us to a half bottle of Chianti when we’re done with our meal. Tonight, the food was good! I kept up my veggies with Zuppa alla Volterrana, and followed that up with 4-cheese gnocchi. Niamh just had a carbonara. We enjoyed it so much that we had our second dessert of the day (or third, in my case!).
That was that week! Our next day would lead us to somewhere new, and would be our last full day for this trip. So, more on that soon!
We thought we had seen most of what the Volterra Comics and Fantasy had to offer on the first day. We were only a little wrong – we had the awards ceremony and further costumes to come – more on that later.
We had been intrigued by Livorno during our first visit there a couple of years ago, and wanted to go back to at least experience the food market. I remembered the humidity then, and my promise to wear shorts next time, but wussed-out over sun-cream maintenanced and went fully-trousered. This time parked in the Parcheggio Moderno, just a couple of blocks north of the market. We missed a couple of turns in the middle of town, but Livorno is strangely forgiving, and we just had an extra spin around a few blocks and the hippodrome-shaped Piazza della Repubblica. Not much fuss, only a little muss! It’s a storeyed car-park, and so the vehicle would be shaded. We found a spot quite handily just one floor up. Did I mention this was a Sunday?
Anyway, we got out of the car, and headed immediately towards the market. Again, did I mention this was a Sunday? Of course it was closed. Shrugging, as we weren’t hugely surprised, we instead went on an explore of the city. I have to say, Livorno is one of the most underrated cities in Tuscany. Yes, it has an air of dirt of grit about it, but it is also quite lovely in places and it is a genuine city – you are looking at Tuscans and work and play there. While the tourist count is increasing (lots of UK people, strangely), it’s still quite uncluttered. I think we are going to make it a must-visit for most of our stays in Tuscany.
I love Livorno’s ‘Venetian’ quarter – we hadn’t seen it the first time around, so the return trip had already paid us in gold, with or without the market. We skipped the fortezza, not knowing it could be entered. As we had left around the 11:00 mark, we had become a little hungry. We were still on our Asian food kick, and so looked out for whatever Chinese/Japanese/Thai food place we could find.
Google (eventually) led us to ZEN Livorno. We settled in and had what turned out to be pretty decend food.
What wasn’t photographed was some tasty (to us, we hadn’t had it before, but had seen YouTubers rave about it) okonomiyaki – a sort of omlette made with cabbage, flour and eggs. There might have been meat in this one; I can’t remember – but I do remember the dancing fish-flakes. It was all tasty enough and we left satisfied. I am still (even at the time of writing this – Sept 14th, 2022) on my quest to find a decent Cantonese-style food – but after having tried places in Florence, Siena, Poggibonsi, Colle di Val d’Elsa, Cecina, Pontedera and Empoli. We have drawn the conclusion that Cantonese food here is at very best about equivalent to your average takeaway (with far fewer choices of dish), at worst Godawful. But they do dumplings reasonably well (sold as ‘ravioli’ on their menus). If you know of any good Cantonese restaurants in Tuscany, or north Lazio/west Umbria please let us know! There could be a virtual cookie in it for you! 🙂
Anyway, food done satisfactorily, we continued our walk about the town. It wasn’t insufferably hot, so my choice of trouserware was adequate for the day!
We stopped off at a gelateria and sat down to eat our bounty. Literally! I had bounty gelato. It was nice enough. We then headed back to the car and high-tailed it back to Volterra. We decided to head back on a more scenic route, when we got closer to Volterra.
It was still remarkably green in May. Amazing to think how it changes in the hotter months!
After a brief chill at the apartment, we headed back out to see what the cosplayers were up to that afternoon. There were definitely some cool costumes on display. There was a guy there dressed as Sean Connery as Indiana Jones’ dad in The Last Crusade. He blew me away… looked so much like him… even had the same dimples when he smiled.
The talent spotting continued. We hit up Bar Priori for an aperitivo while we people-watched.
Later on we watched the awards ceremony. I didn’t know who most were dressing up as, but Wolverine was my standout, as he sprinted up to the stage to get his award. He had fabulous spirit, and looked pretty damn good too.
After the weekend we had been told by someone living in the town that it wasn’t nearly as well-attended as in previous years. That could have been down it being held 3 weeks or so earlier than usual, or that it was just post-pandemic – who can say? I hope it picks up again next year.
I have a youtube video of some of the festival down below. Take a look!
Later on in the day, I had a walk about to check out the sunset and grabbed a burger from L’Hamburgheria and ate it whole!
Screenwatching and bed! Not exactly detail-filled, but we enjoyed ourselves!
An unlikely clash of the International Bee Day celebration was with Volterra’s annual nerd-a-thon: Comics and Fantasy, which is more of a cosplay festival, than a full celebration of all things geek. Although it did feature a fantasy film festival for the first time this year (which I didn’t cover).
First things first, I did get up for a walk and although it was a shortish one, it did feature a climb of the stairs at Docciola, so I get brownie points for that! Although it was a downwards climb.
Once I’d returned, breakfasted and showered and had a little chill time, we left the apartment and had a look at what the Comics and Fantasy had to say for itself. Initially, not a lot. I thought I’d read that an opening ceremony was going to take place in Piazza dei Priori at 10:30, but the square was quite a little emptier than I thought it was going to be. Although there was one work of greatness on display – but more on that later. For now, we wandered from the square, up Via Roma and into Piazza San Giovanni to check out the various stalls.
We also bought a verrrry long piece of art, which we have not yet hung up – but are threatening to do so some time in late August. Once done, we brought the artwork back to the apartment and then decided to do lunch. Possibly the greatest thing for me about the festival, and maybe on of the greatest things ever to happen in Volterra, was the arrival of a Katsu Curry food truck into the main square. We got a bowl each and it was quite tasty! In fact, it was wonderful to be able to experience a different type of food in Volterra.
Whilst enjoying the curry, we people-watched the cosplayers!
We walked about the town, then, looking for people in costume.
After chilling for a little bit of the afternoon, it was time for dinner. We chose Terra di Mezzo as we had a hankering to try someone else’s Florentine Steak after our fab experience at Del Duca. We had ‘smaller’ steaks and veggies before at Terra and they were nice so we figured that all-out t-bone steak would be a good choice here too. After a little aperitivo at L’Incontro, we headed there.
The staff was busy, so there wasn’t too much interaction. Still, we enjoyed the food and had fun looking at the people going about the town in their costumes.
We walked back to the apartment full and happy!
Thanks for reading… I hope you enjoyed it – let me know what you think!
I had some stuff to do during the morning, but when it was done, it was time to check out what was happening for International Bee Day in Volterra. This day (or 2 days, really) is to celebrate all things apian, with a view to promoting both the produce and the conservation of our buzzing little friends! There were some decorations about town, entertainment for kids and shops were promoting produce made using honey.
We headed out to check out Via Gramsci, as most of the action was taking place there. I don’t have too many photos as I was filimg instead. But we got a good look at some stalls and a little bee colony they had on the main stand.
But hunger quickly overtook us, and we did something we haven’t done too often, which was go to Del Duca for lunch! It was a gloriously sunny day, and had refreshing starters followed by pasta dishes.
The food was wonderful, and while it isn’t the cheapest lunch you’ll have in Volterra, it is worth spoiling yourself for sure! We skipped dessert as we had a fair feeling that we would head out later that evening. Plus I had to be back in the apartment to do stuff for the rest of the afternoon.
When I was free again, we headed out for food. First, we made a stop at L’Antica Velathri Café, as Pietro had a special honey-based cocktail that day. He was kind and allowed me to shoot the making of it. My anxiety was peeking at me, and it sometimes makes me a little clutzy. I made a damn nuisance of myself by getting in the way of waiters as they came back and forth with orders and emptied trays. The worst was when I accidentally knocked a wooden tray to the ground – it contained a stack of cards advertising the café. Pietro’s dad had to come and pick them up and restack them while I filmed. I felt a proper idiot.
Anyway, once the humilating part was over Niamh and I enjoyed our cocktails.
Here’s a video of the day – note that some of it was shot the next day.
We headed around to La Mangiatoia, who were by now recognising us freely! I don’t think they have a booking system – you rock up and either you get seated or you queue (or you leave!). Anyway we just had the one pizza each. Yes, I have to say this is probably the greediest we’ve ever been in Volterra on holidays. Next time we have a long-haul here, we’ll have to rein in the restaurant visits and remember what it’s really like to actually live here, as ‘normal’ people.
We tried Forst lager for the first time this holiday and can’t recommend it enough. It’s from the north of Italy, and it seems to have invaded Volterra. So now I have a choice between it and Moretti – happy days. Still no cider though.
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A rare trip to lunch to La Carabaccia. This is a cute place in Piazza XX Settembre (and to be honest, the only place worth eating there – the rest are rather touristy, but in fairness to them have fine outdoor seating). They have a tiny menu (2 primi, 2 secondi), and some desserts. They will also knock up an antipasti plate for you on demand. The cooking is nonna-style and tasty.
And we had a homecooked pasta meal from Niamh that evening:
Thursday 19th May
No walk today… had… not the most nutritious lunch, but it was tasty, then had a walk about the town to burn off some calories afterwards.
During the evening we had a severe hankering for some Asian style food. I’ve gone on the record before as loving SE Asian flavours, even over Italian – so after several weeks of the latter, we were gumming for something different. We’d noted the place in Poggibonsi and contemplated it, but instead opted for a place in Colle di Val d’Elsa – Ristorante Sugoi.
We got there and parked in the supermarket carpark just down the road. Turns out we didn’t read the signs properly and only got away with it by the skin of our teeth. But first the place. We walked into a narrow place that looked small and intimate. Then we were ushered into a much larger side room, and from there into a pretty big semi-covered outdoor space. Wow! This place could cater for 150! And the food:
Look, I am seriously considering paying someone cash money if they can show us a good Chinese/Japanese place that does decent stir-fry sauce-based dishes. All the ones we’ve had in Italy are so insipid. It’s the same pattern: the starters are pretty good, but the mains are chronic. Halp! Ok, the curry here wasn’t too bad, but the other dish was decidely ‘blah’. The quality of Asian restaurants in Italy seems to be no better than a mediocre takeaway back home. Bit of a shame. We had an ok one in Livorno (more another time) and a nicely flavoured Katsu curry from a truck the visited Volterra during the Volterra Comics and Fantasy festival (again, more another time).
In fairness to the restaurant, the service was nice, the food was ok and the setting was great. We left and headed back to the car, and only then spotted the carpark was about to close and we were one of the last people to go. Phew!
I had no walk this Sunday – sure even God rested on the seventh day, so cut me some slack! We were to head to Vicopisano to attend their flower festival, and film it a little. It’s funny how car journeys seem to shorten the more often you do them, especially when you know you’re going to enjoy the destination. It’s only a little over an hour (if even) from Volterra, and we got parking in the massive overflow field they had opened for the event.
I got out and started filming/papping.
It didn’t take us long to bump into Marie and Lorenzo of Authentic Tuscany (Instagram, website), who offer some wonderful accomodation options throughout the town. They work really hard and giving their guests an opportunity to experience life in small-town and rural Tuscany. They offer guided hikes and experiences of produce-tasting (wine, cheese, olive-oil, truffles) with locals, with whom they have established a fun relationship.
Met Marie and Lorenzo soon after. Amazing couple. Even though it comes naturally to them, they work so hard at keeping people happy. Not many jobs are better.
So we were led by Marie and Lorenzo to a restaurant called 30metriquadri (because it’s the area of the indoor space!), and is run by a couple of Roman lads.
We settled down and slowly, but our group began to grow, from the 4 of us, then to 6 as a couple Marie and Lorenzo knew joined us. The man was a retired pilot and knew Marie from when she was an air Stewardess with British Airways. The lovely lady was a wonderful abstract artist (Instagram). Then three more came, including Chef Celine, who you might know from Nicki Positano’s content if you watch her. She’s a private Chef in the Lucca region, so if you’re in the area and are in the need of one, look her up (Instagram). Celine was joined by another British ex-pat couple. Everyone knew each other, so it was a little overwhelming at first for Niamh and me – and we remained relatively quiet (improving our listening skills, as I imagine it!), but everyone was so lovely, that their manner (plus a glass or three of wine) put us at our ease.
We then proceeded to have one of those wonderful Tuscan lunches that was about 1.5 courses of food, but lasted almost 4 hours. If a few people in the party hadn’t been short on time it would have been a little more relaxing, but Niamh and I weren’t in a hurry! We had little veggie balls of goodness, bread and pasta to accompany our wine – all very delish. A couple had desserts after, but we held back as we were heading out to dinner that evening.
Halfway through the wait/food, Marie had to meet up with a couple of ladies from Cork, who she introduced to the table. They looked to be enjoying the hell out of themselves. More happy clients for Marie and Lorenzo!
To be honest, I had always been worried about meeting more ex-pats and being enveloped in an ex-pat ‘bubble’, as we had wanted to try to integrate with locals primarily, but after this encounter we felt no more worries about that. Most of their Italian is fantastic, and it has just given me further impetus to learn and integrate more. On top of that, we met a bunch more interesting people we would never have met otherwise. More people equals more stories!
Once done, we headed out to explore the flower festival a little more.
It was a fun little festival. They combined it with their collectors market, and so there were a lot of people. A little brass-based marching band were playing throughout the town adding to the fun. The fact that the weather was pleantly warm and clear was just the icing on the cake.
You can watch a video of our trip to Vicopisano here:
We had a nice drive home, and were a bit naughty at L’Isola del Gusto (it was beginning to get busy), and sat out with our ill-gotten gains by the Church of the Archangel Michael.
We rested at home for a while, urging on our digestive systems to allow more food to be crammed in. Thankfully, they complied.
We were granted another lovely welcome, and as always the food flipping rocked!
We were plied with offers of after-dinner drinks, but we had to turn them down, as we had to be compos mentis for the next day. The next 5 days, in fact. No more on that, I’m afraid. We were also offered the use of the pool at Marcampo. I had every intention of taking them up on the offer, but I never actually did. We still intend this again in August when we return. A day out by the pool may be just the thing. Despite my hydrophobia and creamy whiteness.
We said our goodbyes, took the shot below and headed home.