Tag: arts

Red Night with Friends (10/09/2022)

Red Night with Friends (10/09/2022)

Back in 2019, we experienced Volterra’s outdoor arts festival, La Notte Rossa (the Red Night) for the first time. Outdoor art installations and musical performances are dotted throughout the town, as private palazzi open for an explore. In the lead up to it, there are often some performances or talks you can attend. I covered off a couple of these in the last blog. If there was one thing that worried me a little about this year’s (even though Volterra was Tuscany’s capital of culture), there was a distinct lack of outdoor installations being worked on. In 2019 there were a bunch of them, but I didn’t really see any. In fairness, the world was still trying to pick itself up after Covid, so that too might be a reason.

Anyway, we were still excited as we would be celebrating it this year with our first Italy-based overnight guests. We mentioned Marie and Lorenzo before. They are a couple who live in Vicopisano, and manage properties as holiday-rentals as Authentic Tuscany. They are super-nice and very enthusiastic in showing their guests Tuscan delights, such as wine and oil tastings, truffle-hunting and cookery classes. They are definitely worth looking into if you want somewhere different and less-frequently visited (but nonetheless very lovely!) than the big names – Vicopisano is a gorgeous little town. While they had been to Volterra a number of times, they had never seen the Red Night, and so we were only too happy to show them around. One thing to note: I was probably a little shy in asking them if I could include them in photos/video, and didn’t assume either way, so you won’t see them in this blog, but you’ll see them at the above website and, of course, their Instagram accounts. Also, I was happy to limit video-taking, as I wanted to be more present at the festival.

But what did we do in the lead-up? I honestly haven’t a clue! There are no photo-memories, nor actual human memories available.

So, on with the main event! We met the guys at a corner outside the west part of the walled town and walked them back through Porta San Francesco, through the main square, where a band was tuning up for the evening. It’s uphill all the way, baby, but they hike quite a bit outside Vicopisano, and didn’t find it too taxing. As they had been to Volterra a bunch of times before, I we kept the tour stuff to a minimum. We had quick tour of the square and the streets near our apartment. Then we gave them a quick tour of the apartment. They weren’t exhausted by the steps up either, so that was a bonus!

When we were ready, we made for L’Incontro for aperitivi. The service was a little slow, but I think we had time enough for a couple of drinks and some nibbles, before heading directly across the road to La Vecchia Lira for a dinner before exploring the festival.

We enjoyed the grub, and skipped dessert.

We headed for the Piazza dei Priori to see how the festival was progressing. It’s a late-starting affair (21:00), and it was dark when we got there. The first thing I noted was that the band still wasn’t playing, and nor were there any demos or installations on display. I did like the projection on the Palazzo dei Priori, and the fabulous lighting.

As soon as I had the snaps taken, I ran towards the private palazzo that runs perpendicular to Del Duca. I just missed being able to explore it in 2019, and got stupidly scorpy as a result. I jogged there. And, of course, it was closed. Anyway, it was what it was, and with a shrug of the shoulders I went back to the rest of the gang and continued the exploration.

We went clockwise around the square, so I could check out northwestern end of Via del Mandorlo to see if there was any nice artwork installed outdoors. The town is set up so that wherever you see a red blobby asterisk, you will be assured of some sort of treat. The street had the sign, but nothing outside it. However, it was signed because one of the palazzi on the street was open – or at least their backyard was.

After a quick visit there, we wandered to Porta San Felice. It’s paths and stairs were lined with tons of little oil lamps, as it was in 2019. It looked stunning. From there, it was a climb up one of the steepest streets in Volterra: Via della Pietraia. At the top of it was the piazzetta where Osteria Fornelli can be found. It had a display of alabaster lit up from within – not just for the festival – it seems to be a permanent fixture now.

We completed a circuit by heading back to the Piazza San Giovanni, where the baptistry and cathedral can be found, as well as Volterra’s fab exhibition centre. There was a cool jazz band playing outside the exhibition centre, so we hung around for a couple of tunes before moving on.

Onwards towards the art museum, but you had to book it that night, so we had a brief glimpse. Luckily, we did get into a piano blues concert inside the beautiful Teatro Persio Flacco. While he was an excellent player, he didn’t have the gravelly voice needed for blues. He was a technically good singer – very clean with wonderful tone, but would have excelled in a different genre.

From there, we had a long walk up our street, then wandered past Del Duca again and up towards the park. We ambled along the prison walls to Porta al Selci. Near the ramp that leads to the prison entrance, there lies a large building which is also rarely open to the public – an arts building, which chiefly seems to be the resident to a dancing troupe. We had a nose around inside, while our guests chatted a little with the ladies who where hostessing the evening there.

At the back, there is a large space, with enormous trees – a backyard which few again see. In 2019, I was allowed to explore the garden fully. This year, the safety dance was in full effect, and we couldn’t wander farther than 5 or so meters. Still gloriously spooky!

We stopped off at L’Antica Velathri Café for a quick libation, before heading to Piazza Settembre XX, through Gramsci and back to Piazza dei Priori to witness the festival-closing fireworks display!

And now for some blog-exclusive content! Here is video footage of the fireworks display. It get’s pretty spectacular towards the last minute or so.

Thanks for reading, all. I hope you enjoyed it – please let me know in the comments!

Bibbona, Bolgheri and Prepping for the Medieval Festival

Bibbona, Bolgheri and Prepping for the Medieval Festival

Erratum: Volterra has 8 contrade, not 6.  Always double-checks facts using multiple sites.  *Sigh*

We took the Lancia POS southwest along the SR68 (and its many hairpin turns immediately after Volterra), and cut off after Casino di Terra towards Bibbona.  We passed tantilisingly close to Casale Marittimo, my favourite hilltop village, passed some nice scenery, until we found handy parking, just outside the town’s Zona Traffica Limita (or ZTL – the area which, if you pass its boundaries without licensed permission, will ensure you are fined a three figure sum). 

It was a sleepy, pleasant place – probably affected by the August holiday, as we arrived there around 12:15.  We wandered around the old part of town, which is almost all residential and took some snaps.

It was a cloudier day yesterday, with high humidity, and so it was draining to be out in for a good length of time.

We were hungry, but the only place open in Bibbona was a family pizza place, so we took off for Bolgheri.  It’s only about a 6km drive, and I’d sussed out where to park, so it should be a cinch, right?  Oy… We got there and found car-parks rammed.  We had to drive the guts of a kilometer around the town, and park in an overgrown sports field, just beside the town cemetary.  I couldn’t believe it.  Bolgheri has a beautiful looking frontage – an arched entrance, which forms part of a well-kept castle.  I knew it was famous for its wine, and Niamh knew about Acqua di Bolgheri, an eau de toilette linked with the town.  But was I missing anything else?  Well, we’d see.  But first – food!  

We strolled past the first restaurant and headed down the street until we hit Enoteca Tognoni.  I stuck my head in and saw that it, too, was jam-packed.  A group of four got a table ahead of us, and so we thought we’d try our luck.  We got in!  They put us at a table with 6 other people.  They had used low-dividers to split out large tables for multiple smaller parties.  And it really worked!  They had no printed menu, and so brought the blackboard in from outside.  Niamh opted for ravioli and I went for tagliolini with wild pigeon sauce.  With a tourist-driven place like this, they probably could have thrown out any sub-par crap on the table, but they didn’t.  Both our dishes were superb – so it’s a high recommendation from me, should you wish to brave the parking!

Lunch complete, we set about exploring the town.  And this is where my puzzlement came to the fore.  Sure, it’s a pretty enough place – but it’s a small, more or less unwalled village, of three parallel, short asphalt streets.  If it weren’t for the castle frontage, or the many cute arts & crafts stores and eatieries you would wonder how it gets the number of tourists it does.  The stores were pretty, and the quality of products very high (which was reflected in the prices!) – so maybe that was it.  Dolly-up your shops to get the visitors.  Maybe the real heros of the piece are the people who make the products, and the people who market the town!  I don’t wish to belittle it – and it’s definitely worth a visit… but I feel that’s because it’s so close to other towns in the area (Bibbona, Casale Marittimo), which are sufficient to make it a fun day out.  Just go early in the morning, late in the evening, or maybe an hour after lunch.  Arriving in time for lunch was a mistake on our part.

One other good reason to visit: Bolgheri Ti Amo/Caffe della Posta – a café and gelateria.  The gelato here was fantastic – take a bow, guys!  

Here are some snaps of Bolgheri.

One of the highlights (see photo directly above) of Bolgheri is a 4km of perfectly straight, cypress-lined road. It’s impressive. We drove back and I took some distance-shots of Casale Marittimo and Volterra. We’ll go to Casale when we have guests with us.

As we approached Volterra, it began to spit rain – but it didn’t last long.  We chilled and Niamh cooked what was left of the mushrooms, panchetta and cream with bucatini.  I ran out to get some peas, so we’d have some freshness to cut through the richness of the other ingredients.  The result was better than the previous dish – it was really lovely!

We stayed at home all evening – sorry!

I got up this morning, and decided to keep my walk about town, specifically to check out the preparations that were being made for the medieval festival held this and the next weekends.  Some props were out and looked impressive.  I also took snaps of what I think are some of the contrada flags.  A contrada is a district within Italian towns.

You might have heard of the Palio of Siena – the twice-annual horserace?  Well Siena is split into 17 contrade (plural of contrada).  10 of these contrade are represented in the horserace, but the representative of the contrada is actually the horse, not the horse and rider together.  There is a fab documentary on Il Palio – check it out.  Anyway, the horse wins it – whether it is riderless or not – and the winning contrada goes a bit mad in celebration.

Volterra has a similar competition between the contrade, of which it has 8 (there used to be 12 or so 800 years ago).  It’s not a horserace – although it has its own Palio in October (racing a cheese-wheel through an obstacle course down one of Volterra’s many sloped streets).  We’ll sadly miss this – might have been a laugh.

Instead, there are flag waving/tossing and crossbow competitions to decide the winning contrada.  In addition, many of the townsfolk dress up in medieval gear and there are stalls featuring medieval skills (e.g. blacksmithing) and food & drink.  You have to change your Euros for a special currency upon arrival. We have limited experience of what happens, as it’s our first time here, but we’re excited to check it out!

You can see in some of the lower pics that they are putting together some of the props to give the town even more of a middle-ages feel to it.  Exciting 🙂

As I concentrated on the town, I didn’t check out what natural marvels were awaiting outside.  Niamh fortunately did, and captured Volterra on the edge of a layer of cloud.  Pretty spectacular!

No mad plans today, except to maybe go to the local Co-Op supermarket.  I have been tasked with cooking too.

See you in the next one!