Welcome to Volterra!

Hi there.

We are an Irish couple, who have an apartment in Volterra, Tuscany. While we still mostly live and work in Ireland, we still manage to get over to Italy a few times a year.

This blog will diarise our time over there. I hope to cover not only life in Volterra itself, but musings on Italian culture, language and food. As we will have our own (rented) transport, the blog will also feature trips around Tuscany, especially central and west-central parts. I hope you enjoy reading it, and if you have any questions about living life in Tuscany, please let me know.

The Vicopisano Market (10/10/2021)

The Vicopisano Market (10/10/2021)

I didn’t go for a walk that morning, as I knew we were heading off early to travel. I did take a pic from the terrace, and one on our way to the car, though.

We’d been following people from Vicopisano on Instagram for a while (Authentic Tuscany – check them out). It seemed like a nice town, but what really clinched the deal was the collectors’ and antiques market they hold the second Sunday of every month. We’d passed it by on the way to Montecatini Terme in August too (and yes, it still galls me that I lost the video footage of that trip), and there were a couple of historical features that certainly looked worth checking out.

We set Mrs. Google to the carpark that looked most promising, and got underway. The trip is about 54km and took a little over an hour. I didn’t take any photos, because I was filiming! You can scroll further down the page to check out the video of the journey and the market itself.

We arrived around 11-11:30 and found that it was only a short stroll to the market itself. And what a market! I’d heard that Arezzo had the biggest regular antiques fair in Tuscany, which is probably true – in that it is strictly antiques. But Vicopisano’s market is absolutely enormous, and so lively. I’m struggling to think of anything that wasn’t for sale! There were books/comics, toys, old wireless radios, furniture, crockery (including very fancy dinner sets), cutlery, wonderful stalls with gramaphones (being demonstrated), clothes, weapons, musical instruments, old bikes, alabaster and terracotta-ware, mirrors, glasses, genuine war memorabilia. The market wrapped around Piazza Cavalca – a large square just west of the oldest parts of the town, and snaked its way along multiple adjoining streets. We really couldn’t get over the size of it. It was so huge, that while we didn’t buy anything (we came close), we still spend a good 60-70 minutes simply strolling through it while stopping only briefly to check out a few stalls of interest.

One of the best things about Italian markets (I think I’ve noted this before), is how lively they can be – the excited chatter of Tuscan accents buzzed about us and really added to the overall atmosphere. I really couldn’t recommend this enough! There was one stall in particular that grabbed me. A man was demonstrating a gramaphone, and despite the age of the technology, the massive horn was blaring out the old tune ‘Roses of Picardy’. You can check it out in the video towards the end of this blog.

It was time for lunch, though, and perhaps we were a bit optimistic in thinking we could walk-in just about anywhere – especially during the pandemic. I saw the reviews for Ristomacelleria Testi seemed to be quite good on Google, so I chanced my arm. They looked like they were opening, and I approached who I assumed was the manager/owner, who was on the phone. I waited until he finished, and said to me ‘Dimmi!’. So I asked him in Italian if there was a table for two available now. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. In hindsight, that was probably just as well, as we were going to go out to eat at Terra di Mezzo in Volterra later that evening, so something smaller would have been better. We walked past that restaurant again after we’d explored the old town, and the smell coming from it was amazing (definitely for meat lovers!) – so one day we’ll return with a booking!

Instead, we went to Le Belle Torri, and ate inside. Our waitress was so enthusiastic and friendly, so in the end our choice was right for that reason too. We had a pizza each – they were pretty nice, and just what we needed.

We had a ramble through the old town of Vicopisano afterwards, hoping to maybe catch an attraction or two, like the Palazzo Pretorio and the recently re-opened Rocca buttress for walking over – part of the fortifications created by Brunelleschi (yes, the same lad who fashioned the dome of the cathedral in Florence).

So we walked through the town, and were delighted by its old charm. It seemed to be built on terraces, and towers dotted the views throughout. At one point I thought that it might even rival San Gimignano for its towers, but that was just my over-active imagination. But just look at the pretty:

We walked to the Rocca and found it closed to public tours. On our way back we passed by a large group of Italians outside the gate, and assumed that they had organised a special private tour. It was Sunday, and we probably should have realised that many places stood a good chance of being shut, just slightly the wrong side of the tourist season. Onwards we went to Palazzo Pretorio (pausing to let a massive 4×4 perform a complicated 17-point turn), and saw that it too had closed just after lunch on Sundays. D’oh! I had a little explore of its courtyard, and then we had a look at a sequence of switch-backing steps leading all the way down to the river. A little disappointed (as much in our lack of preparation as well as ill luck), and wandered through the more residential area of the old town.

By the time we’d gotten back to the newer part of town, I was pleasantly surprised at how the two seemed to successfully mingle. The blend is very subtly balanced. The old with the new – the border isn’t hugely evident. We entered a bar to grab a coffee/hot chocolate, but for some reason we lost confidence on the protocol on grabbing a table. Some tables seemed to be for dining – or maybe all of them, but we weren’t sure. We chickened out, sadly, and went for one final stroll past the restaurant in which we had failed to secure a lunchtime seat – the smell of grilled meat was wonderful – even after having eaten. We walked past Le Belle Torri, and saw a gate beyond which were other gravelled-and-green-area seats and a couple of other establishments. It was a lovely little mini-park. What a fine little town this is! We wandered up and down it for a few minutes before heading back to the car.

I have to say, we didn’t do Vicopisano full photographic justice, as we missed the ‘classic’ shot of the tower with sloping battlement – but it’s best captured a little way out of town. Maybe next time.

Should you wish to make Vicopisano your base, rather than Volterra, then please out these excellent people – Authentic Tuscany!

Here is the video of our journey to, and exploration of, Vicopisano:

A little while after we had returned to Ireland, and I had published the above video, Vicopisano was awarded the Bandiera Arancione (orange flag) from the Italian Touring Club – basically a recommendation to visit one of the finer towns in Italy. I’m pretty sure it was coincidence! *wink* To be honest, I was amazed it wasn’t already on their list.

But the day wasn’t over. When we got home, we found we had a fondness of our own little town, and had a little walk before heading back to the apartment.

Later that evening, we went to one of our favourite places for food: La Taverna della Terra di Mezzo. We were welcomed warmly, as always, and then had a three-course dinner.

Afterwards Robbi, the owner, handed us a bottle of dessert wine – an almond variety. We haven’t tried it yet, but I look forward to the day we can crack it open.

Before I go… a quick art update! You may remember a few blogs ago that we bought a little original painting from a lovely old gent in Montecatini Alto, just outside the funicular station. I promised I’d post a pic of it next time I got over (and remembered!), and so here it is!

Well that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please leave a like and a comment or question. Thanks!

Our Return in October (09/10/2021)

Our Return in October (09/10/2021)

Time moved along, as it always does. I began to struggle a little more with work-based anxiety, and when I look back on it now (a little anxious/sad after having just come back after a Christmas visit), I see the fault really lay with me. My workload was not crippling, although it challenged me given my condition. I took on new things, and I am glad that I have been so well-managed throughout this stage of my life.

It must be remembered that when you are anxious, the quickest route to recovery lies through you. It look me ’til late November/early December to realise that (again!)… but… I’m projecting too far ahead.

In any event, Volterra proved, as always, a haven from my most of my symptoms. Oh, I always felt it lurking over my shoulder, but exercising my toolset always takes less effort when I’m back in Italy. I cannot rely on this, however. I should be the same no matter where I am or what I’m doing, more or less… Ireland or Italy, filiming/writing or watching the box, at home or exploring – it’s all the same in mindfulness.

Sorry about that! Back to the travel stuff!

We just went alone this time. The first thing we noticed: the airport was busier again this time, than when it was in early August.

I think I had sandwich for brunch at the airport. Hard to remember – it was a functional meal anyway, as it always is in most airports! We boarded without fuss – this time opting for zero checked-in luggage, to enable us to move through Pisa airport quickly. I had taken a note of what I had and didn’t have in my inventory in Volterra – so I didn’t have much to bring with me, outside of some slightly warmer clothes and, of course, my tech.

I got some snaps from the ‘plane – well, mostly alps…

Once off, we had a little bit of a wait, as immigration officers took our temperatures (electronically), and so with only 2 officials available, they could only release us slowly for identification, in order to adhere (somewhat) to social distancing guidelines. Once through, we skidaddled outside and headed to Sixt for our car. This time, we managed to fulfil a years’-long ambition of driving a Fiat 500!

It was a manual for a change, but the tech within it wasn’t bad, and we found it super-easy to bluetooth our phones so we could use CarPlay – fair play, Fiat. We sent the email to the Volterran Municipal Police that our resident’s parking permit would be associated with a new car registration for a week. Niamh did the honours once again (she always drives from the airport – I don’t think I’ve ever driven to/from the airport, as a matter of fact!).

Because we arrived a little while after lunch, no places were open for food. We did what any self-respecting visitor to Volterra should do: we had a walk (after having left our luggage in the apartment)!

We stopped off for refreshments at L’Antica Velathri Cafe and L’Isola del Gusto, before continuing on our way.

Later on that evening, after we’d been back to the apartment, we went downstairs to Porgi l’Altra Pancia. If you’ve read my blogs before (or are Italian), you will know that the name of the restaurant means ‘grow another belly’. Both the name and their food make me smile.

The food there was as delicious as always. To cap it off, they are also such lovely and welcoming people. After growing another belly, we took in the town at night.

If I recall correctly, it was the beginning of a dry, fine week for us – which was lucky as I think the weather was quite wet the previous week. I guess someone was smiling down on us!

And that’s it again for now. Please leave a like and a comment if you wish – questions and suggestions are also always welcome!

Prison, Tournament, then Home (22/08/2021)

Prison, Tournament, then Home (22/08/2021)

It was our last day of this August trip, but seeing as our flight wasn’t until the evening, we still had time to mooch about town. The fortezza (prison) had opened its gates again (so to speak), and one of its towers was available for a guided tour. Now, I had visited it before, but Niamh hadn’t.

We walked up the ramp and along the walls to the entrance to prison gardens. If I recall correctly it was still €5 per person, but this time there was a tour in English. Due to the pandemic and the different languages on offer, there was a bit of a wait to get in – they said maybe 30 minutes. We each bought a bottle of water, and explored the gardens – including the section out front which wasn’t on offer before.

No sooner than had we walked around the gardens, when we were called to take the English tour. I think our group was referred to as gli stranieri (the foreigners) between he tour guides, rather than ‘these people’, ‘this group’, ‘the English speakers’. This rankles with me a little, but it could be just an Italian thing. No harm, no foul. We went in… my disappointment didn’t quite end there.

Last time, the tour lasted a good 30 minutes, and a lot more information was given out. This time, the guide brought us from floor to floor, giving us no more than 2-3 sentences at each stop before moving on. We had time for shots from the windows, and there are some fabulous views of the town from the tower. Anyway, we were done in 10-12 minutes and bundled out.

If you have any Italian, I’d recommend taking the Italian tour, if you feel up to it; definitely more bang for your buck.

We had a lunch I’m afraid I don’t remember much about, and then Niamh and I went to Piazza dei Priori to have a look at the ceremonial opening of a competition between the medieval crossbowmen/women (balestrieri) from several different towns. We tried to get into the piazza by Ristorante Etruria, but unfortunately, the event was limited to certain numbers, and so by the time we got there, we had to wait until people started to leave before we would have been allowed to enter. We didn’t have the patience for that, so hung around the Torre del Porceillino, trying to steal glances over the temporary meshed fence.

Each team was fanfared-in by their accompanying medieval marching band and flag-wavers (sbandieratori). We hung around for 30 or so minutes, but as our time to leave was rapidly approaching, we decided to head back to the apartment.

There’s always a melancholy when we leave the place, and this time was no exception. However, as my anxiety symptoms were relatively low, I was almost excited to return to work to see how I’d cope (sadly, for the first time in nearly 2 weeks I had a sleepless night as soon as I got home to Kilcullen). We drove the usual route, always marvelling at the farmhouses in the valleys near the town. The hilltown of Peccioli still had some sunflowers in a field nearby, albeit wilting rapidly, but they made a pretty picture.

Finally, to Sixt to drop back the car, and head into the terminal for our flight home.

But we went back! These blogs will continue, detailing our week in October. I hope you enjoyed reading this – please leave a like and a comment. I would love to hear from you.

Separate Walks and a trip to Chianni (21/08/2021)

Separate Walks and a trip to Chianni (21/08/2021)

A short one, this!

While my brother and I walked together, Niamh took a separate walk. I took some pics of my walk – how much of a surprise is this to you by now?

And Niamh’s photos are below. There is one in particular which is incredibly striking.

After having had a couple of longer trips recently (to Val d’Orcia and Chianti), we decided to stay a little closer to home, and drove to the town of Chianni. As we were still in August, it was still quite sleepy. We had a short wander around. I decided not to film, just so I could have a break from it and enjoy the day more mindfully.

It is a cute little town, and worth a little walkabout. But we were hungry (what else is new?!), so we found a hotel still open. Now, I blow hot and cold on hotel-based restaurants, but I’m glad we stopped at Le Vecchie Cantine.

The welcome at first seemed a little indifferent, as we were shown to our table (inside because, you know, blasting furnace outside), but it turns out they had a couple of other groups there, who must have arrived shortly before us, so they were a little busy. Once we got personal attention for our order, normal Tuscan service had resumed and our waitress was warm and enthusiastic.

We made our choices, and it seemed that I would be driving back home, which was fair enough. I think I had one glass of red. Only I had both an antipasto and a primo. Niamh had a Caprese salad she raved over, and my brother went for a pasta.

I have a vague memory of having had a a tiramisu too… but I’m not certain. It sure sounds like the kind of thing I would have done.

Afterwards, we got a little lost in Chianni. Ok, not so much lost as not being able to find our way to the church, the apse-end of which met flush with cliffs at the end of the town. Google was throwing us everywhich way and back again, so we eventually abandonded the idea in the heat, took a few more snaps and headed back to the car.

We drove past the church on the way home. Sadly, I don’t have much of a memory of what else happened that day, apart from the ubiquitous:

I hate to leave on a bitter note (sorry!), but I hope you enjoyed this shorter blog. Please leave a comment!

Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardegna in the Chianti area (20/08/2021)

Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardegna in the Chianti area (20/08/2021)

This was a another fairly packed day, with a lot of driving involved. First of all, of course, we got up for a walk about town. Volterra was partly surrounded by a sea of milky clouds – it looks just beautful in the dawn light.

It must have been a pretty short route – to the Punto Panoramico and back!

In fairness to me, it wasn’t down to laziness, but because I knew we had a decent journey ahead of us. Once again, there aren’t any shots of the journey, but you can find a video of our day towards the end of this blog. Just be patient!

We set out for a place we had visited before – Castellina in Chianti – as we found it the loveliest of the towns within the area. When we got there, we parked in a carpark which I thought used to be free, but this time there was a parking meter in it. I may be mistaken. Anyway, the fates were kind to us, as there were a small group of ladies ahead who seemed baffled by the machine. After they shrugged and left, I had a look, and it was broken. Yay! Free parking!

We took the pic, as it was proof that the machine was out of service, in case we need to explain our case to the Municipal Police. We ignored the poor machine and continued on up into the town instead.

If you’ve ever bought a Chianti bottle of wine, you’ll notice not only the DOCG label on the cork (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – an indication that you’re getting the genuine article, from the genuine region), but that there’s a large rooster emblem printed somewhere on the vineyard’s own labelling. Why is that? Check out this article – it explains the whole history very well. No point in me plagiarising it! In it, there’s a cool story of how the city-states of Florence and Siena used roosters to decide their borders between each other.

Chianti should be made with at least 80% Sangiovese (meaning Blood of John, rather than Saint John) grapes. Many so-called ‘table wines’ in the area are made the same way, but being outside the designated region, they don’t get the famous badge. Many taste just as good, in my opinion, and being on the dry side, they’re excellent for cooking with too.

Anyway, we wandered about the town prior to lunch, seeing if there was a restaurant that took our fancy.

We wandered down a small collection of tunnels that ran parallel to the main street, and found a restaurant there (Ristorante Sotto le Volte), and the menu looked so good. There was lady outside who was folding napkins and generally busying herself about the tables. A friendly sheepdog was napping under one of the tables outside, but was happy to acknowledge our few rubs with wags of his tail. Unfortunately, despite the lady’s presence and work-effort, she declared that the restuarant wasn’t opened for lunch, so we had to continue our quest.

There were a number of restaurants opened, but we found it hard to take our minds of the previous year’s meal in Taverna Squarcialupi. And so it called to us. We were welcomed by friendly staff, who looked at our Covid vaccination certificates, and sat the three of us in the lovely slightly air-conditioned dining room. It was far too hot to eat outside on their panoramic balcony, sadly. This was confirmed a little while later when a family who had been sat outside ran back in and asked for a table near us, which they got. Such a big difference between Castellina and Volterra at lunchtime. Volterra was getting so busy that most restaurants couldn’t accept walk-ins, even during lunch.

The meal

We took one more look at the chuch and the main medieval square (see the video).

We left then, with no parking fine(!) and amazingly came close to genuinely earning another ticket by, immediately driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Thanks, Missus Google! (Yes, I was driving!) Thankfully, it was a short street, and the driver ofthe 4×4 I met was understanding and able to move out of the way. I was guided by a kindly local the feck out of his town. And on towards the southern border of the Chianti area, to a town we’d never visited before: Castelnuvo Beradegna. We went by a rural route, so it took us the guts of an hour, but it was a fun drive.

We got parking easy enough just outside the old town. The town had an interesting effect on me. I have to say I really liked it, even though it was a ghost town when we arrived (in the middle of riposo). It had such a lovely residential area atop the main hill.

Wonder of wonders, however, we found a bar open – it had gelato, and we were baked, and in need of some cooling off. We grabbed a cone or cup each and sat outside in shade and devoured it. It was nice to see a couple of people other than ourselves. It is a lived-in town, rather than a tourist destination, but with everything more or less closed, it was time to head home. We captured a couple more shots on the way back to the car.

It was only a few kilometers to the motorway, so we headed in that direction, as we didn’t mid a quicker rather than lovelier route home. On the way, we stopped to refuel the T-Cross (not the most economical of cars). Niamh got out and managed to decipher the instructions in a couple of minutes. She got back in not a moment too soon, because the heavens opened. A cyclist stopped at the garage to take shelter underneath the pump canopy, while we headed home. Rain was rare in Tuscany during July/August, so it was a ‘Dear Diary’ moment.

There’s a video of our day below!

The only other thing I have to report from the day, is that I enjoyed this wonderful piece of deliciousness from La Sosta del Priori.

I hope you enjoyed the read. Please leave a like and let me know what you think – and also please ask me stuff!

A rest day in Volterra (19/08/2021)

A rest day in Volterra (19/08/2021)

Well, after our epic day yesterday, we took it easy today, which is reflected in the blog size! My brother and I got up, and left the trash out and went for a walk about the town.

Someone had taken a photo of a statue rumoured to be within Volterra, but none of the locals had seen it before. The photo was one much closer than the one I’ve shown above, and people were puzzled as to where it was. New statue fever, mixed with a treasure-hunt!

Anyway, I found it near Porta San Felice, on top of the wall, staring wistfully out to sea over the colline. She must be staring from someone’s private backyard, as I don’t see any way to get to her to take a similar closeup photo.

We finished up with the steps. In comparison to previous visits, I have been finding them less of a challenge, as 3-4 days a week, just before I start work back in Ireland, I climb up and down our first flight of stairs 12 times in a row – that’s a total of 164 steps. It’s left me in good shape to tackle both these, and the steps leading up to our apartment. Well worth doing!

Then the laziness set in, and we stayed in the apartment (me possibly gaming or writing), the others reading or screenwatching), until it was time for lunch. Again, we hadn’t booked anywhere, but we all had a hankering for pasta with wild boar. For a change, we went to Osteria La Pace, and had some of their killer pasta with said pig. They usually throw in some black olives as little treats within the sauce, but I swear that this time we literally only got one each!

When lunch was done, we had a quick afternoon stroll, via Café Etruria. One of these days, we will actually sit in their garden and have a little something, but once again, we fought past a small horde of tourists to take this shot.

And then another bunch of laziness kicked in. So uneventful was much of the afternoon and evening, that sadly I don’t remember what we had to eat. We may have stayed in, we may have gone out… those engrams may well be lost forever.

We *did* go out for a walk that evening, though!

So that was that. We would have to do something the next day to make up for this! And we did… more next week!

Thanks for reading this. If you enjoyed it, please share it with your friends, and give us a like and a comment. I would love to hear from you.

Crete Senesi and the Val d’Orcia (18/08/2021)

Crete Senesi and the Val d’Orcia (18/08/2021)

Hello again! A little warning that this blog will have a ton of photos.

As we knew we had a day-and-a-half in front of us, we didn’t go for a walk in the morning. Instead, we left early and drove the route to Siena, past the starkly lovely Colle val d’Elsa. Rather than take our usual exit to head to Siena, we motored past that and on into the Crete Senesi. This is an unofficial region of which you probably already have seen if you’ve seen postcards of Tuscany. Rolling hills and winding dirt roads abound, lined with Cypress – everything you’ve seen is true. Then there are other parts which seem almost lunar – it’s a remarkable place.

However, we didn’t stray off the main roads, as you risk damaging your car if you do. The result was that we really didn’t see the best of it. In fact, what we did we didn’t thrill us any more than the surrounding area of Volterra: the Val di Cecina, Val d’Era etc. I would be tempted to say that those areas are actually nicer! Anyway, I didn’t take photos of the journey, as I was filiming instead – you can find the movie of this day near the bottom of this blog. We did see several signs with kilometer indicates to Rome – you know you’re heading south in Tuscan when you see those!

After winding our way through several towns, we stopped at Buonconvento – at first in the large pay carpark outside the walls of the old town, thinking it was the free carpark. The free one is in a small triangular section just beside it, so we moved the car just in case and had a wander around the old town.

It was lunchtime, so we checked Google where to eat. We passed by a couple of places that looked ok, including a bit of an oddity I’d never seen in Italy before: choose your noodle, then choose your sauce – a bit like the prescriptive menus you get in Chinese places. We skipped that as I thought you should be guided towards the right pasta for the right sauce.

Instead, we went for one of Google’s highest-rated places. It was outside the town walls, and when we got there it seemed to be a simple bar with a small menu. I had high hopes. Unfortunately, the best thing about the experience were the kickass soft drinks which were made locally. Niamh had a cola, and I had a lemon. The pasta dish Niamh and I both had was so-so (some sort of zucchini sauce), but the dry, bunless burger my brother had with undercooked potatoes was a shocker, to be honest. What a shame. Anyway, with our tails between our legs, I suggested we had the time to visit Pienza, little knowing the route we’d travel through to get there. Things were about to get better. So, to sum up – definitely travel to Buonconvento, but if you want a decent lunch, maybe actually stick to the old town!

Originally, I had in my head that we’d just travel around the Crete Senesi, maybe driving to another town or off-road to some of the more photographed. But then we blew through Buonconvento so quickly, and I happened to see that Pienza wasn’t a million miles away. I suggested it and it was accepted! Yay!

What I didn’t realise was that our road to Pienza went past what is possibly the most photographed section of Tuscany. In fact, one of the most photographed countryside scenes in all of Italy: the Cypress Circle in the Val d’Orcia. The first of my regrets of the day happened here – that I didn’t have a drone. Here are the photos. One of them is one of the best landscape shots I have ever taken.

There were about a dozen or so vehicles there, and so it was a comfortable number of people by the relatively new mirror monument. We saw tractors ploughing the land, and I’m pretty sure it was purely for aesthetics: the whole of the Val d’Orcia is a UNESCO heritage site.

How I wish I’d had a drone! It’s a stunning place. We only stayed 20 minutes, as it was murderously hot, and we wanted to have a wander around Pienza.

We got back in the car, ignored the one-way system out of the carpark (which was ok, as everyone else was ignoring it too!), and headed towards Pienza. On to the second regret: we blew past San Quirico d’Orcia, and there was a ton of parking space available. Ah well – apologies, San Quirico – maybe next time!

We arrived at Pienza, and found some free parking about a 5 minute walk outside the walls to the old town and wandered inside.

Pienza is a bit mad. It’s gorgeous, but was one of the first towns to ever have been replanned from the bottom-up by Pope Pius II. Pienza was his home town, and he suddenly had both the resources and clout to order it’s total redesign. So understated was the initial estimate by the architect (’twas ever thus!), that the Pope congratulated him on lying so convincingly so that the town was built and now the envy of the region… and gave him a bonus!

The whole walled town is a UNESCO heritage site, and so here and there you will find pockets of loveliness – but it’s also awash with tourists. I would not call Pienza a true representation of a lived-in Tuscan hilltown. Volterra is a better mix of a tourist site, mixed with real Tuscan life. I know I’m biased, but it really happens to be true in this case.

With such a high degree of tourism, you always run the risk of getting sub-par food and drink within a town, unless you do a little research. We were melted by the time we got into Pienza, that the first thing we needed to do was get some gelato. We just headed to the first place that was open. The gelato was so-so, but at least it cooled us down.

We went for another wander once we had cooled down.

We had to cool down again, as well as rest our feet, but had difficulty finding a bar with suitable seating. I also remembered that the artist who produced one of our favourite paintings in our apartment had her studio here, so we Googled it and off we went.

We found her working on a piece and managed to interrupt her. She knew me from Instagram, so we had a chat (her English is good) and we had a look about her studio and found this little beauty.

She had to spray it to protect the paint, and we’d have to come back. She started and the chemical smell from the spray was overpowering, so I asked her to recommend a bar at which we could sit, and she directed us towards Idyllium. We grabbed a seat there and had refreshments. The bar runs parallel to the wall which overlooks most of the valley. A camera with a good optical zoom would be a strong recommendation here!

After we finished the drinks, we headed back to the artist’s studio to find that she’d knocked a good 30% off the price of the piece. You should check her stuff out. I just found out she’s (she being Isabella Bisa) opened up a shop selling her work in Volterra! Anyway, you can check her out in Pienza or on her website.

We headed home then, having picked up our bonus artwork. We went a different way home, and so missed San Quirico again. I think we drove between Foiano della Chiana and Lugignano – towns I will blog about later, as we visited them during our return trip in October.

It was a long drive home, and you can see some highlights of the day in this YouTube video.

By the time we got back to Volterra, we were both hungry and thirsty, and so stopped at L’Antica Velathri Cafe for apperitivi.

The carbs didn’t end there, as we stopped for pizza. We found it hugely difficult to get a table anywhere, but we were shown down the back in Alla Vecchia Maniera. Afterwards, I had an obligatory stop in L’Isola del Gusto for a refreshing lemon sorbet. Then screenwatching and bed. An exhausting but incredibly fun day.

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Not very expensive drinks at Terre di Mezzo (17/08/2021)

Not very expensive drinks at Terre di Mezzo (17/08/2021)

We had another relatively light day today. No travel at all, apart from the morning walk. I dragged my brother all over town! Check out the shots.

If I recall correctly, I actively sought hills on the inside of the walls we could go up and down for a cardiovascular challenge. There are no shortage of those in Volterra!

And although our coverage of kilometers was light, we got a good workout!

We even took in the park, before heading back to the apartment, via the fountain and panoramic view.

We stayed in and vegged. My brother and I were brave enough to venture out for the team later to grab some lunch at La Sosta del Priore. I introduced my brother to Ilenia and had reasonable success conversing in Italian. I still have a long way to go, though!

We didn’t eat the sandwiches in the street, but took them back to the apartment to have outside on the terrace. Then we did what we do best: vegitate.

That evening we hit Terra di Mezzo for a bite to eat. I love this place. The food is good, and we have good rapport with the owner, Robbi, and the waitress, Aurora. Most of the time something memorable happens – and tonight was no exception.

I got the Zuppa alla Volterrana, and a steak. Sadly, I can’t remember what the others had. However, what I *do* remember is what we drank. Niamh and I each had 500ml (un mezzo) of white and red, respectively. My brother isn’t a wine drinker, and the restaurant only had craft beers available, so he opted for one of those.

It came out in a pretty fancy bottle, and had a slightly citrusy tang, the kind you might expect of a wheat beer. It was really nice. Because he liked the drink, and that the prices weren’t on the bespoke menu, my brother looked it up on the web. He found that the brewers were selling it for €48. Our jaws dropped, and I just kept thinking there’s no way Robbi would let us order one of those without telling us first! And to be honest, a little of my anxiety kicked in. I looked up the site, but it was a little poorly laid out and seemed to confirm that was the price. Anyway, we enjoyed the meal and had a bit of a laugh at my brother’s expense. So much of a laugh, in fact, that he ordered another one halfway through the food!

I couldn’t believe it. He was thinking ‘In for a penny, in for a pound!’

I stopped eating to have a look at the shopping page again. I climbed back up, from that page and saw that the main shopping site indicated that 6 bottles came in a crate, and the crate was €48. To be sure, I called Robbi over, and asked him for the price of the beet. If I recall correctly, he said it was €8.50. Expensive for a beer, but not the kingly price we had originally thought. I explained to Robbi what happened in my broken Italian, but he must have understood me, because he cracked-up laughing.

At the end of the meal, Robbi came out to us when we had paid the bill, and told us to wait. He came back out a couple of minutes later with a little cube of a parcel. We thanked him and got home, and then opened it.

Of all the things we could have guessed was in it, I would never have guessed this in the middle of a stinking-hot August: it was a snow-globe. Then I remembered that we had told him of our plans to return for Christmas, so it was actually quite a thoughtful little gift – and it is the first Christmas decoration we owned for our apartment!

We went to bed soon after, as we had a cool day of travelling planned ahead for tomorrow: the Crete Senese and the Val d’Orcia.

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Of Borghe and San Gimignano (16/08/2021)

Of Borghe and San Gimignano (16/08/2021)

My brother and I got up, left the trash out (bio waste and plastic/metal), and turned right to head towards the square. From there, we toddled down towards Porta San Francesco and headed down Santo Stefano and San Giusto to explore there, and check out the Balze.

Then we hit Borgo San Giusto, with its huge church.

Towards the Balze the town begins to look somewhat old again. The original Etruscan walls which once surrounded Volterra actually stretched this far north. The walls contracted in later years to make the town more manageable to defend. We’re still on a butte, so there are some wonderful views to be had along the Balze walk.

We walked back past the Balze Camping grounds, the Witches rock and Conad supermarket, and we must have gone to get pastries… why else take a photo of the 200 Docciola steps?

I shot some video of the walk, which you can see on YouTube!

Regrettably, I don’t recall much of what we did during the day, apart from upload the source videos to my laptop, so I assume it was a restful screenwatching/writing/gaming one. I can’t even remember what we had to eat. That’s a bad sign for me indeed. I am assuming it was light enough, as we wanted to take my brother to San Gimignano that night for a dinner and a bit of an explore.

Guess what mistake we made again? Yes, that’s right – we didn’t book any table. And if there was one place more difficult in the locale to get a table than Volterra, it was San Gimignano. The visit started off well. We had to park all the way back in P4, but got a spot anyway. On the way to look for a place to eat, we took a few snaps.

We tried a few restauarants along the way, including La Mangatoia, Olivieri and one a little way off the main throroughfare: Perucà. Sadly, we couldn’t secure a table, but had to opt (once again) for a restaurant which never fails to break my heart whenever we’re in San Gimignano. I won’t name it. It’s in a prime location, but the service is so-so and the food quite below average. Just look at Google ratings before going anywhere.

They didn’t disappoint this time either, in that they *did* disappoint. It took us ages to attract the attention of a waiter to ask if there were any free tables within, and eventually we were shown to one (thanks to the assistance of a tourist group whose Italian was better than mine). Alarm bells were immediately rung, in that although San Gimignano was reasonably busy (I’ve seen it way busier!), and there were no tables in any other place, this restaurant was half-empty. We had so-so pasta and Niamh and I a so-so steak and then we ran out of the place.

I know I like to beat up on San Jimmy as a bit of a medieval Tuscan Disneyland, but in fairness to the place it is the town that really made Niamh and I fall in love with Tuscany back in 2008. It gave me the dream of living in a Tuscan hill town. I mean, look at it!

There are two ‘best in the world’ gelaterie there. And both that night had ‘best in the world’ queues, so we skipped having gelato there, sadly, so we looked at some more pretty, and then headed home.

We missed the turn for heading back home via the most expedient route (via Castel San Gimignano), and were taken home via the much more lonely, and therefore darker, SP62. That’s the second time that happened. I was driving, so Niamh could have a drink, and I can’t say it’s the most pleasant route in the dark. I’m sure it has some spectacular sights in daylight though – I must give it a go sometime.

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Miniatures at the Theatre (15/08/2021)

Miniatures at the Theatre (15/08/2021)

Buon Ferragosto! Or so it was. Ferragosto is a national holiday in Italy, which is held the same day as the Assumption of Mary. It has Roman roots, in that it is thought that the holiday is dervived from one celebrating Caesar Augustus. Who knows?

What we did know, is that we weren’t going to leave town and brave the usually crazy traffic that day. So we had a nice day pottering about in Volterra instead.

We started off with the morning walk. This time, my brother came with me, as he is an avid hiker, and weathers the hills and steps of Volterra very well. Some snaps ensued!

Then we screen-watched, gamed, wrote until lunch time. Then we wandered out to the flea market. Niamh subsequently went back there later and might a coupld of sets of drinking glasses (I broke one later that week – d’oh). I spotted this little piece of art, but we didn’t go for it in the end – it was a bit mismatched with most of the other pieces we had in the apartment.

Getting a table without a booking was proving tricky in Volterra again this year. It wasn’t in 2019, but since the pandemic Volterra’s tourist numbers have risen. Fortunately, we were able to find a table for three in La Vecchia Lira at a pinch… it was the second-last table in the place.

Niamh and I had been there a couple of times, and remembered enjoying the food, and that the owner was really enthusiastic. But it was this visit for me that really caused its star to shine. It leapt up mightily in our estimation.

I went for ravioli stuffed with cod and leek in a seafood bisque, while Niamh had cinghiale (wild boar) stew with grilled veggies and my brother a plate of pappardelle al cinghiale. We were all astounded by the quality and taste of our dishes – everything was simply amazing. As it was lunch, our plan was just for one course, but we had tirimasu afterwards, and it was superb too. Put La Vecchia Lira on your map.

After lunch, we had another stroll about the town. It was (unsurprisingly) a warm day. Our stroll took us to the ‘modern’ theatre (Teatro Persio Flacco), a whippersnapper with a birth-year of 1820, as opposed to the older Roman Theatre, which was in the 70’s AD.

Apparently Niamh had already been inside the theatre with her sister on an earlier day, and so opted not to go in.

Once inside, we gave a decent donation and proceeded to the first exhibit. It seemed to be a modern art show. A man was sitting down, and he seemed to perk up when I showed an interest, so I asked him if he was the artist. I guess my Italian was so broken, that he immediately sought help, which arrived in the guise of one of the museum’s volunteers. I thought it a little comedic at the time that we proceeded to completely skip the modern art exhibition, and continued onto the next two. The first of these was an alabaster exhibition, the highlight being band instruments made from alabaster (Volterra being very famous for its alabaster works) which were arrayed in front of the proscenium. Escepcially impressive was the complete drumkit forged in that delicate medium.

The next exhibition was the one I wanted to see: a series of perfectly-made sculptures of Volterran buildings and ruins by Mauro Parenti. We were led along by the guide with whom I conversed in my awful Italian (it’s getting better, though, I swear!). He was kind to give us his time, and he definitely gave us some useful information, but like many things imparted verbally, much of it is lost to me now.

The miniatures looked so perfect, that afterwards my brother and I searched for broken stones in the real versions to see if they matched the miniatures. They didn’t but the sculptures were a marvel, nonetheless.

The real-deals:

Later that evening we went to La Mangatoia, and had pizzas. I like the pizzas there, and wolfed-down a lovely 4-cheese! And yes, it included Gorgonzola… if there isn’t blue cheese on your 4-cheese pizza, then you’re doing it wrong.

Finally, to walk off the essentials carbs and fats we had a walk around town.

Once home, I took a couple of shots from our upper and lower terraces – one featuring a fun bit of shadow-play by my brother. Then it was beer, screen and bed.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment and I’ll answer any (sane) question you send my way.