Market day! Yes, Saturday means market day in Volterra. During the tourist season, it sends to be on in the Vallebona carpark outside the walls, rather than in Piazza dei Priori, Via Roma and Piazza San Giovanni. It tends to be a little smaller as a result – not just as a result of a lower real-estate space, but people are on holidays. Plus this year, the remnants of Covid were still hitting. Still, they’re usually pretty lively events, and a great place to buy cheaper ingredients.
We picked up some foodie bits and bobs. Niamh checked out shoes and something light to wear to a beach, should we venture – but came away with nothing.
We had a light lunch of cuts, leaves and cheeses. In fact, I think this was possibly our lightest day of the holiday, apart from the first day, when we drove from Ciampino. Afterwards I went out to scout for a handbag for a friend (who visited us in 2019). I was an expert by now, so I was happy to advise.
I sent her the photos from the shop, and a day or two later I bought it for her! With one thing and another (mostly Covid and return to office) I didn’t get it to her for another couple of months – in fact, I had to drive to her house to get it off my hands!
Good deed done, I rewarded myself!
That evening, Niamh made a super little risotto, complete with parmesan crisp. It was delicious. And just the fare we needed for the attraction that evening!
It was time for one of the medieval sports events of the year – the crossbow competition – Ludus Balistris. There were a representatives (ballistrieri – crossbowmen/women) from towns across Italy (mostly Tuscany – Lucca, Massa Marittima, Pisa, Pisa Porta San Marco, San Marino and Volterra), all of whom had a squad of people aiming from 70 meters (guess) to try to hit a small target. Hint: they were all bloody marvellous at it. There were two trophies up for grabs: for the team, and the best crossbowman/woman.
I have some photos, but not much of the opening cerermony because I was shooting it live – videos below.
As you can see in the last couple of shots, no bolts are removed from the targets between rounds. This makes it progressively more difficult for the team members featuring later in the competition.
When the entertainment was over, the best of the group competition were selected for the indivual competition, and they had a shoot-off on a single target. You can see that in the last of the photos above.
When all was done, and judged. The winners were announced: Volterra had won the team competition, and one of the Luccan contingent won the individual. Yay us!
To close out the competition, there was some pyrotechnics!
Below are the videos of the opening ceremony.
The next day, we collected another guest from Pisa airport, but before we did that – I didn’t walk! We picked up my brother, who had been with us previously and drove home.
We also did something for lunch we hadn’t done in a long time, and there is no good reason why: we went to Don Beta, just a couple of doors up from the arched entrance to our apartment.
When looking at the menu you’d be forgiven, if you were an Italian purist, for thinking the menu was more than a little touristic. And it kind of is. There is something for everyone here – be it pizza, pasta, meat or fish – the menu is fairly enormous. In addition, they do something most other Italian restaurants don’t do: foreign food! Yes, they do Poke Bowls here. Now, I have no frame of reference with these, so I don’t know how good they are – but I appreciate that they’re giving it a go. I think it’s a progressive move.
Now, with such an extensive menu you’d think the food would be so-so, but it’s actually pretty good. It’s by no means ostentatious, but it’s tasty and honest, and the service is friendly and pretty fast for a Tuscan restaurant. We had pici with ragu and pappardelle with wild boar.
My brother’s all about the chilling, and we would have a busy day tomorrow (more in the next blog!). So, chill we did. Before dinner that evening, we had a short walk.
Food! We went to Pizzeria Ombra della Sera and had some food and a couple of beers apiece. I had been missing my veggies over the previous few days, so I had a Zuppa alla Volterrana, while the other two had pizza. Once done – it was TV and music time back at the apartment and to all a good night!
Thanks for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed it. Please drop me a comment with any queries. I’d love to hear from you!
Another short one – possibly the shortest ever – as we stayed in an around Volterra.
I went for a walk that morning.
As you can see, I kept it within the walls.
I have to admit that we really must have had a seriously lazy day. Thankfully, we did get out of the main town by going to lunch at a resort called Tuscany Forever. To get to it, we had to drive the winding way to Saline di Volterra, then head out of the town, toward the north-west before turning left at a gravel road which is a 1.7km drive to the carpark of the resort. As the crow flies, you’re almost halfway back to Volterra by the time you hit the carpark!
And this was the only thing wrong with it, for me, anyway. That blasted road is an uncomfortable drive – there and back. The resort itself looks lovely, and well-maintained. There are a couple of pools for residents among the mini-villas used for lodgings. The place is smack bang in the middle of the hills of the Val di Cecina – and commands some stunning views, so if you were looking for a place to chill for a while, without feeling the need to travel, this would seem to be a good solution. If it weren’t for that road. I understand that the road is not private, but the owner has been unable to successfully lobby to get the road properly paved/asphalted. You have to have your wits about you driving there and back.
Anyway, the restaurant there is called Osteria Etrusca, and given that it’s located in a resort, it’s very family-oriented and its dishes are what we would call at home ‘Italian’… i.e. there are common pasta classics, pizzas and steaks – just about everyone should find something here to eat. I hear that at nights they have live music and light the place up impressively.
Here’s some of the surrounding area:
Below is the food. I had a double-carb set of pasta and pizza. Niamh had fritto misto and a pizza. I think I was happier with my choices – I think most diners would be happy enough with the fare. The only thing that put me off while eating was being assaulted by wasps!
We drove back home on the bumpy track and slept off the calories and the heat of the day.
Our guests, bless them, had left a bunch of beers with us, and I had this little beauty:
We watched the sunset, and I finally found some space left in my stomach for my evening ‘meal’:
I had a traipse around the town a bit, watched the telly an then hit the hay!
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.
Plans! Sometimes they fall apart, and sometimes they not only come to fruition, but you find yourself adding to them as the day progresses. I am pleased to say that it was the latter for us – it was a good day!
I think that you can’t beat a good walk to start the day off, especially in a hilltown. I usually wait ’til mid-morning for a walk when I’m back home in Kilcullen, but early walks are best when the weather is going to be stinking hot!
I kept it within the walls at first, but then had a quick exit as I decided to batter myself with a walk out of the town through Porta San Felice and down past the CoOp and schools, finally entering by Portal all’Arco. It’s not too punishing a walk, but is still fab for cardio vascular. I was at first rewarded with views of colline islands and cloud lakes.
I approached and went through Felici, and didn’t take many photos until I hit the old Etruscan gate again.
After that walk, I was intending being a good boy, breakfast-wise, but Niamh had already kindly bought me a massive, cream-filled donut, not unlike a Roman maritozzi. I didn’t complain as I yummied it down. Once I had stuffed myself, we headed out to the carpark.
The last time we drove to the Lucca province, back in December 2018 (before I started blogging), the drive was somewhat spoiled by us getting stuck behind trucks the whole time on the approach roads to Lucca. No such ill luck this time, we got to our first destination in good time – a little over an hour and a half. The Devil’s Bridge (aka in Italian as Ponte del Diavolo or Ponte della Maddalena – very poor form to associate Mary Magdalene with the devil, but there it is) spans the River Serchio, near the town of Mozzano. Mountainsides, lushly carpeted with forest and bushland, surround the whole area, making you wonder if you’re actually still in the same country, let alone the same region. The bridge itself is a bit of a jaw-dropper, with a larger arch towards one end of the bridge, giving the construction something of a lopsided appearance. It also makes it viciously sloped too. Nonetheless, it’s something of an engineering marvel, as well as an aesthetic masterpiece – and a practical boon to those needing to cross the river cenuries ago whilst on the Via Francigenca pilgrimage. It began life in the late 11th century, and has reuquired renovation throughout the centuries. Have a look at it!
The road from which the best shots can be taken is somewhat busy, so be careful, as on the one edge there is no footpath, and trucks power by. We spent about 20 minutes there and then drew the conclusion that we were both hungry. Now, there are a couple of places at the bridge, but we didn’t try them – they just seemed like tourist traps, and the Google review scores seem to indicate that too. We head back the way we came, and went over the more modern bridge into Mozzano.
We pulled into a supermarket carpark (second time of asking), and did a little shopping there at first. Seeing no warnings about being towed or needing a pay-and-display ticket, we left the car there and had a quick walkabout to see if there was somewhere we could have a sitdown lunch.
Sadly, one promising Osteria wasn’t open for lunch (remember this was in mid-May, on a Wednesday), and we couldn’t find anywhere else. We walked back to the car, and found another restaurant called Ristorante La Lanternina in a town about 6 or 7 minutes away called Fornoli, and Google proudly declared that it was open for lunch! We hopped in the car and got a parking spot immediately opposite the restaurant. It was getting quite warm at this stage – maybe pushing 27 or 28. We went to the restaurant and found it closed. I guess the owners hadn’t updated the times in Google – what a pity. We had a walk about the town.
We found Bar La Ruota Di Riccardo Franchi, which was one of those rare places where you could get drinks, sandwiches, salads, pizzas and gelato. During our meal there, I grew a strange fondness for Fornoli. It’s a modern town, and so you could argue that many of the buildings have little intrinsic charm-value, but it has a kickass bridge that looks like something off a steampunk movie set. I can’t put my finger on it – I just really liked the place. Maybe being at the bar and being treated so well helped. Sometimes you can’t explain the vibes you get. Niamh ordered a Caprese salad, and I got a speck and mascarpone pizza – both were tasty.
When we got back to the car, we had a decision ahead of us: go home, or head on to the town of Bagni di Lucca. We chose the latter, and had a lovely drive along the river, past Fornoli’s kickass bridge (why didn’t we stop there?!) and we hit the town maybe 10 minutes later. It seems to be in two parts. The first part is at Ponte a Serraglio, at one end of which is a cute piazzetta where a bar gives you a great view of the nearby bridge – we didn’t stop there, but headed on to the ‘main’ part of town.
Then there’s something of a lull in structures, before the town begins again around an elongated bend a couple of minutes later. We parked in the nearly-empty Conad carpark, prayed to the gods of free parking that we wouldn’t be clamped, and had an explore of the main part of town. But it was in the first part where I began to get my first bout of ‘environment envy’. I thought the place beautiful, and if there is one thing I miss ing Volterra it’s being able to be by running water (the fonts don’t count!). The second part sealed the deal. I would strongly recommend this place for a visit. We didn’t do a thorough explore, as we had blown a lot of the day, and still had a longish drive ahead of us.
We still enjoyed a lovely riverside walk, an explore of the town, we hit the communal park, and found a viewing point which gave us a vista over the rooves of the town. Below, you could hear the sounds of screaming schoolchildren as they enjoyed an afternoon break. Niamh was stopped by a couple of Austrian tourists as they were looking for a panoramic viewpoint from a supposedly nearby church. But she had to apologise, saying we were in the same boat – new to the area.
We headed back to the car after our walk, and drove home. We covered the other side of the river, and parts of it were equally nice. We got home in good time, though. We will definitely do this trip again!
Here’s a video of some of our day:
Once back in Volterra, we immediately took to a mini bar-crawl, which is rare. Firstly, we had a beer in Brasseria del Grifone. We rarely eat in Piazza XX Settembre, as it’s tourist-central, but you can’t argue against a cool drink there under the shade provided by the trees there. My ginger-infused white beer was fab, but we got no nibbles. We headed then to enjoy a spritz/prosecco at Enjoy Cafe (Cafe Etruria was closed, sadly – we’ve never been there and we’re practically neighbours!). Not bad, but also no nibbles! On to Volaterra… could we strike out on snacks? No! We had nice wine and a spritz, and champion aperitivi food too – well done, gang! Finally, we had primo and dessert with wine at another of our neighbours: Porgi l’Altra Pancia.
We just about manged to haul ourselves upstairs for screen-watching a music-listening – anything to ensure digestion had begun before we headed to bed!
Thanks for reading this… if you have any questions or comments, please let me know! I’d love to hear from you.
I was true to myself and got up early for a walk around the walls. It’s such a good (and sweaty workout), as it involves a lot of inclines and declines on the 4.5km route. I’m always looking for a way to change the route up a bit and actually found one! But first, it was out the Porta Fiorentina for a clockwise path around.
About a week earlier, I had a walk outside the walls, looking for things I hadn’t seen before (or too often), and I came across the workshop of artist Nico Lopez Bruchi. Well along the walls of the town, in the south-east on Viale dei Filosofi you’ll find another of his murals. Clever and striking it is too!
There’s a section outside Volterra I hadn’t been to before. It contains the old bus station, and an emergency helicopter pad for the hospital. The Bus carpark (if that makes sense) is there too. Now that alone doesn’t make it sound very attractive, but couple Italian architecture, sculpture and the Tuscan countryside and you could have something a little special. Not sure if hiking routes begin from here, but if anyone more familiar with hiking around Volterra is reading this, please let me know!
Once done there, I carried on with the rest of the familiar route.
I stopped off at Migliorini for a mille foglie for me and a creamy rice tart for Niamh. We spruced ourselves up good, as we wanted to check out the Strawberry Festival in Terricciola, about 30 minutes drive away from us.
We headed for the carpark we used the last time we were here. Well, that was a little too optimistic! The place was jam-packed. In addition, Terricciola a town some of whose roads are narrow, but are nonetheless 2-way. We had some fun navigating our way through the town which, incidentally, also had a market on that day. We had to drive the guts of a kilometer out of town to a carpark beside a restaurant. Not the worst thing to have happened, as we didn’t miss the lovely framed views!
The roads were initially quiet as we made our way back to the town centre. It turns out that was because people were making their way towards a park where a few stalls were set up. Outside, a menu indicated what was going to be served for the communal lunch, and sure enough, there was already a huge queue for food. Rather than queue, we wandered deeper into town, past more stalls and wonderful panoramic viewpoints (see the YouTube video below). People kept streaming past us, presumably on the way to the commmunal lunch area. We didn’t see much in the way of celebration of the strawberry outside the park – just one bar was advertising strawberry produce, and a string of cardboard strawberries were to be seen nearby. What I thought was cute, was that outside many places, people had left colurfully painted chairs, with pots of flowers resting on them. I am not sure if that’s a general thing in Terricciola, or if was just done for the festival.
We took in some more panoramic viewpoints and when on the way back to see if we could join the communal lunch, stopped instead at the marketplace and bought us some sugary goods (jellies, sugared almonds, nougat). We passed by a restaurant and were tempted, but it looked busy. Unsurprisingly, the communal lunch area still had a huge queue. It might have been fun to stay anyway, but we were too hungry – so we made the counter-intuitive move of driving while hungry instead of standing while hungry. We went back to the car (the restaurant we parked next to was closed, sadly), and headed to Casciana Terme to see if we could find anywhere to eat.
We had been there before and found it quiet. So, I was thinking (forgetting it was Sunday) that perhaps it would be a good bit busier than last time. Sadly, maybe due to on-and-off drizzle, it was even quieter! We were pushing our luck for lunch, as it was a little after 14:00, but we did manage to find a place that would serve us. Yes, many Italian restaurants close between dinner and lunch services. Inside, Il Merlo Pizzorante was pleasantly busy with couples and small families noisily enjoying their food. We experienced a nice meal – I think I enjoyed it a little more than Niamh. The one thing that will stand out, though, is the service – and for strange reasons. There was a 2-person team… I’m calling them father and son, but they could be easily much older and much younger brothers. Anyway, the father greeted us and told us our menus were online. We papped the QR code and chose. We saw the younger man, with a moustache, flit from table to table in almost all cases not saying a word to anyone at the table when he delivered food. I think a family near us got some words out of him, but he was the definition of ‘taciturn’, to the point of it actually being amusing. In fairness to the main, he was efficient at his job! He delivered our drinks – standing on Niamh’s toe in the process, not a word… – barely even looked at us. By stark contrast, the father was warm and generous with his time, and we chatted with him briefly using my broken Italian. Now the food:
Would we go back? Ah yeah – the food was nice, even though there was a large choice on the menu. There was something for everyone, and I have little doubt that just about anything you try will be well-cooked. Their pizzas might be interesting. But I would also personally come for the comedy value of the curiously quiet, moustachioed server!
Once finished, we headed out to explore the town a little again. We walked past the spa – there were a handful of people frolicking around in the pool. The weather had flitted from dry to wet and back again, but eventually setted on dry and warm. It’s a nice town, but very quiet – maybe the spa is worth a visit for sure. They had bleacher seats set up in the main square, so maybe a festival is imminent. One strange thing about the town – it seems to end abrubtly in most directions. Whereas most towns trickle out – this one seems to have hard borders.
We drove back to Volterra, but by that time there were diversions active around Terriccciola as they were having a concert to help them celebrate their festival. It added about 10 minutes to our drive home, but at least we explored roads we hadn’t been on before.
Here’s a little vlog of our day up to that point:
Back in Volterra, before we returned to the apartment, I took a couple of snaps of Via Gramsci and for the first time I saw my favourite server at L’Isola del Gusto: Giorgia. She is a truly lovely and generous person (who also happens to speak 6 or 7 different languages). She also lets me practice my Italian, but I don’t delay her too much as the queues here can be long. I was in desparate need of a granita, as although it was probably 25 celsius, the day was quite humid and I had been out a long time. Unfortunately, it was not quite the season for granite, so I had to settle for a cup rammed full of lemon sorbet instead. It did the trick!
Back in the apartment we napped, screenwatched and edited some video footage. Then we did something a little piggish: headed out for more food. Just a pizza (just!) this time, with a beer, in Ombra della Sera Pizzeria. On the way there, we bumped into the builder we had been dealing with recently – he let us know that the wine bar he was entering (Enoteca Scali) was the best one in town. It’s a nice place, and we’ve been there once or twice, but dang it, he closes around 21:00-21:30, so we rarely get a chance to visit after typical Italian eating times. He has an excellent selection though.
Back to Ombra: We skipped fries this time. For me, pizza can get samey about halfway through, so I like to break it up with the occasional mouthful of fries. Anyway… we ate and drank everything up!
We rolled out of the place, and went for a nightime walk. I captured some lovely photos!
Afterwards, we sat up screenwatching for a while, then went to bed!
I hoped you enjoyed the read – please let me know what you thought!
For the first time in a long time we wouldn’t be flying RyanAir. Don’t get me wrong, I will always be grateful to them for flying during the pandemic, as we managed to get to Volterra in both 2020 and 2021, but a change is as good as a rest, as they say. The problem with the Aer Lingus flight was that it was at 06:00. We took the never-before-taken step of booking ourselves into the Maldron the previous day, so we could get to bed and rise early. We also had the bonus of Aer Lingus allowing you to drop your bags off the airport, should your flight be at sparrowfart the next day.
So, that’s just what we did! We got a lift from my brother on Saturday afternoon and checked our bags in. We had more difficulty walking back to the front entrance of the hotel than we did checking in the bags. It all went so smoothly. We dined in at the Maldron itself, and to be honest I was expecting a duff meal at a one-night-stay traveller’s hotel, but the food was actually pretty good! Well done, The Maldron! I was caught between wanting a pint after and just wanting to rest so I wouldn’t be destroyed the day after. The latter won out, and we went back to the room and stayed there ’til 03:30.
We got up and dragged ourselves the 7 minute walk to the airport. Truth be told we were excited, and there was no dudgery involved. We were quite hungry, however, and didn’t grab anything from the hotel (not sure if that was even possible at that point). We’d looked up the Dublin airport site, and sure it looks like there was a bunch of stuff opening at 04:00-04:30, so we’d be ok.
Because we’d checked in the big bags, we went bull-headed for security, and were stopped in our tracks by a 30+ minute wait. Not so bad, really, when you consider that a few weeks ago the queues were hours long thanks to an inept firing/rehiring policy. Anyway, we got through, and marched towards the shopping and dining area. We were stopped in our tracks again by the fact that absolutely nothing was open, but there were big queues outside everywhere. We joined the one at Starbucks, but left it after about 15 minutes, as people were busy behind the bar, and maybe it was going to open soon, but then Butler’s did open… and was instantly mobbed as we ran to it. Oh well.
We went to the gate hungry instead. Café Bar near the gate wasn’t open at all, even though it should have been. We were hangry. First world problems. On the plus side, Aer Lingus were super-efficient at getting us onto the plane, we were seated in a jiff. How nice it is not to be treated like a farmyard animal. I’ll always be grateful to RyanAir for flying during the pandemic, but I much prefer the treatment you get Aer Lingus. We had comfy seats, jacket holders, SEAT POCKETS!!
I think the flight was only about two-thirds full. We had to wait a bit before takeoff, as there was some air traffic control snafu. No biggie. We were up, up and away 20 minutes later, and as it happens more or less made up the different on the flight over.
If I had one gripe, it was that they didn’t begin their service until about an hour into the flight. We managed to get sandwiches, crisps and drinks and were happy at last. However, I believe got the last toasted sandwich, and I was suddenly reminded that Aer Lingus often run out of hot food by the time they get to you if you are sitting in the middle of the craft. I have to say, I was still surprised, given that the flight wasn’t packed. Anyway, enough of that – I got my grub and it satisfied perfectly.
We landed with no issues and with no temperatures or other checks of Covid documentation we were through passport control quite quickly, and into a 15 minute wait for our bags. All went smoothly, and off we went to Avis (for a change) to pick up our car. We love Sixt, but it was just too expensive for a full month, especially given that we’d be travelling little in the latter two weeks of our stay. It took a while to process our rental at the desk – the colleague of the person who was dealing with us had two rentals processed while we were still waiting for our keys. We weren’t in a rush, in fairness. We picked up the keys to a Citroen C3. I have to say, aside from the fact that it’s a manual, it’s one of my favourite vehicles so far. It has a little bit of power, and the hookup of to Apple CarPlay was near-instantaneous. Why doesn’t our Hyundai Kona at home play ball?!
We motored towards Volterra, and got there without any scrapes – it was just raining a little. Niamh dropped me off in Piazza dei Martiri delle Liberta with my backpack and the two large suitcases, while she had to go looking for a free parking spot in La Docciola. We had yet to renew our resident’s parking permesso, and so had to look for something else. This is something we’d have to take care of tomorrow.
Being a man, we are not given to multiple trips involving bags. This rule most often applies to dragging shopping bags from the car. The effort to wear my backpack whilst shifting two 18+ kg bags up a flight of 76 taller-than-average steps was nothing short of Herculean. I was quite wrecked by the end of it. Niamh arrived at the apartment 5-10 minutes after me – ok, she had 276 steps to manage, but only one light backpack. I took a couple of shots outside the guest bedroom to sicken a friend back home.
We rested a while, before heading out to Terra di Mezzo for lunch. It’s a general tradition that we dine here first whenever we arrive in Volterra, opening hours permitting. We said our hellos and were greeting with the same enthusiasm as always. After an antipasto sharing platter, Niamh had pasta with zucchini, I had pici alla boscaiola…. mushrooms and sausage. Tasty indeed.
We skipped dessert, as I had a very important date to keep. I hadn’t seen this in nearly 9 months!
We went back to the apartment, and burned off some of the calories by cleaning the apartment. I was on sweeping duty. We had the bathroom remodelled, and some repainting done, so the place was a little dusty. I’m glad we got it done, rather than sleeping in that overnight.
As it was our first day in Volterra, and we (believe it or not) considered our lunch rather light, we headed out to La Mangiatoia for pizza and beers. It was the first time I ordered speck and marscapone, and boy did it deliver. This place, along with Ombra Della Sera Pizzeria do the best pizzas I’ve had in town (so far).
We took a stroll around the town during the latter half of golden hour to burn off some more of those dreaded calories! The town and its surroundings are simply beautiful and video and photos rarely capure the true essence of the light there, nor the vastness of the landscape opened out in front of you.
I took some video of our journey and also included a little footage of golden hour.
We were very tired by then due to our early start, and so went to bed early enough, having thoroughly enjoyed the day (apart from those stairs!).
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.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please leave a comment – I would love to hear from you.
We went to the butchers and the market yesterday, to pick up some chicken for the next couple of days’ dinners, and some bits and bobs for lunch. At one of the rotisserie vans, we got a roasted chicken, some chicken kebabs and mixed battered veggies – we had the latter two for lunch. The kebabs were nice, but the jury’s still out on the veggies. They were nicer when we had them from the Neopolitan streetfood store in town.
I wrote a few hundred words in the morning and afternoon, finishing off a tricky chapter, so yay!
While we vegetated for the afternoon, I occasionally heard some cheers coming from Piazza dei Priori (the main square). I immediately assumed that the motorbikes were finishing their run there and were being cheered on by some folks. I went out to have a nose, but nope. It was a wedding. Feeling a little disappointed (not for them; for me), I went to the view point to see if they were finishing there too. Again, nope – but I heard them racing somewhere – the engines of these bikes are loud. I squinted at the road leading from Saline to Volterra, and saw that it was lined with alternating red and white barriers along the bends. And finally, I saw them racing – but barely. They went behind a treeline, and then disappeared, not coming anywhere near Volterra itself. I couldn’t see where the finish line was, so for all intents and purposes, they could simply have fallen into a black hole.
On the plus side, it might mean that the roads aren’t as closed as we had previously thought.
I had set a reminder for myself to check out some musical event being held in the Museum of Sacred Art, but I got there too early, and I suspect it might have been for kids. So, I went home and grabbed a coffee milkshake from L’Isola del Gusto.
Later, Niamh reheated the rotisserie chicken, cooked up the veggies we bought at the Saturday market and had put together a lovely little gravy. We’ve been craving white meat, I guess – and a decent break from pasta dishes. It may look pretty average, but it was delicious!
During the evening I heard the strains of a live band playing in the square, while I was enjoying a beer. I went to check it out that night, but I was too late: they’d almost completely packed everything away by the time I got there.
There is a huge difference in Volterra between Saturdays in August and Saturdays in September. It was eerily quiet.
I was a hairsbreadth away from getting up at 05:00 to look for a blanket to spread over my legs, such is the sudden change in temperature! There was no rubbish collection today, and the sky looked a bit bleak, so I took advantage of that, and stayed in bed rather than going for a walk. I still got up at 07:40, though.
Instead, Niamh went out and had a cheery jog by the cemetary! She got caught in a shower too, unfortunately, but she struggled though it – fair play to her, and took a few pics.
No plans today – but with the road seemingly only blocked in one direction, we might be able to do something.
With my stomach all better, we decided to head to a town we’d been meaning to travel to for a long time: Monteriggioni. It’s a fully-walled medieval village, and is only about a 45 minute drive from where we are. We drove off and stopped off at the ‘O’ for the usual photos!
We got there, and parked handily enough – just a bit of an uphill walk into the town. And gorgeous it is! It’s certainly a bit of a tourist trap, but if you’re ever in the Siena area, it’s a must-visit. There are a few spots at the wall you can climb to and take snaps over. It costs €4 per person, but you can climb up to any of the spots around the wall for that fee. The whole village is tiny – you could walk it briskly in about a minute from gate to gate. But, as the saying goes, it’s small but perfectly formed.
After some gelato (naturally), there was a bit of impromptu shopping at Pratesi, where Niamh bought herself some nice boots. I was looking at a cool pair of shoes, but they didn’t have them in my size – and don’t seem to be available in their online store either. It was suggested that we go to their main outlet store in Ambra to try. It’s a bit of a drive, but we might give it a go one day.
I also bought a fabulous ink drawing (from this dude), which I’ll frame and position. I won’t show it ’til it’s in its rightful place! The artist either paints in oils on wood, or draws using everyday ball-point pens. When he heard that we had an apartment in Volterra (and so shipping wasn’t an issue), he said that he was due in Volterra to sell out by the viewpoint, but for some organisational reason couldn’t go at the last minute. Some things happen for a reason, I guess!
Before we left, we had lunch in Ristorante Il Pozzo. We all went for a pasta course, but were rewarded with a gorgeous mini-carpaccio amuse bouche to begin with. The winner was our guest, who had the pappardelle with wild boar sauce.
Instead of going directly home, we stopped off for an hour in the old part of Colle di Val d’Elsa. When we first visited Volterra, this town had completely escaped my notice, so when we decided to visit Siena early on, our jaws dropped when we rounded a bend and saw this long, town, atop a narrow ridge – but surprises like this are frequent in Tuscany. We drove through Badia A Passignano quite by chance, when we were on our way to the Chianti region, back in December. Anyway, I digress – we walked up and down the narrow town, stopping in the Cathedral and it’s crypt underneath. In a way, the town mirrored the crypt, in that it was almost completely devoid of people!
Then back home for some deserved R&R! Later that evening we spoiled ourselves further by going out for pizza and beer, but found ourselves completely unable to do anything else after, except watch a bit of telly before bed!
This morning, our guest and I got up to do a walk around the walls, albeit a bit of an abbreviated one. We left by Porta Fiorentina (the gate nearest us), and then walked anti-clockwise until we hit Porta a Selci (by the prison). A good distance of the way through that 3+km, we saw Niamh jogging on the other side of the road and gave her a wave.
Today, we might go to Pontadera, to see if they have any mobile air-cooling units. There is a certain irony in that, as the temperature has dipped somewhat today, and may only peak at 24 celsius. We had to close the door to the terrace due to the temperature, for the first time today! Anyway, the unit will definitely come in handy. I just hope it’s not too expensive or to heavy to haul up those stairs!
Nat King Cole once sang “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer…”. I guess two out of three ain’t bad, to quote another song. Yes, we had a slow day yesterday.
After screen-watching, we went to the Co-Op to buy food for the next couple of days, and refil our Chariot of Fire… well, it’s more a like a smouldering dustcart… with fuel. Fuel is damned expensive in Italy. In Volterra it’s about 20% more expensive on average than it is in Ireland.
We got prezzemolo (flat-leafed parsley) and peperoncini (chilies) for tonight, and stock cubes for future attempts and making Zuppa alla Volterrana or risotti/orzotti (the latter is like a risotto, but it’s made with pearl barley). Amongst other stuff, I also bought some deodorant, which I wore for the first time this morning for my walk – in order to prevent me being chased by flies. For a while I couldn’t put my finger on what it smelled like to me – then I had a revelation. It’s like the spice mix you get in digestif liqueurs – specifically Amaro or Jägermeister. Er, lovely?
About an hour after dropping shopping back up to the apartment, we went out to La Mangiatoia for pizza and beer!
I had a 4-cheese and Niamh a cappriciosa, both were lovely – the second-best 4-cheese I’ve had here (Ombra della Sera Pizzeria being the best so far). The Moretti were lovely as always. They have large 660ml bottles of beer over here – slightly larger than your pint bottle of Bulmers (568ml). I’m not a huge beer drinker, but Moretti hits the spot. A Sardinian beer, Ichnusa, is pretty good too. But if anyone who lives local is reading this, could you please tell me where I could find some cider?! I can’t believe it’s not popular over here, given the weather in summer!
Afterwards, we had a stroll around town and got some gelato from L’Isola del Gusto. I got nutella & marscapone, and nocciola (hazlenut) – the first was great, but their hazlenut is a.m.a.z.i.n.g. So creamy.
And so back the apartment, pretty much until the sun went down. It took us a while to work up a hunger after the pizza, but at around 20:30, I rustled up my first all’olio, aglio e peperoncino dish (oil, garlic and chili respectively). We had bucatini to use up, so we used that instead of spaghetti – but ideally you should use spaghetti. I had a dread fear of over-salting since my last dish, and so didn’t salt the ingredients in the pan. The result needed salt, but that was easily recified after serving it up. It was yummy and I was well-chuffed! Certainly better than I’ve ever had it in Ireland.
Niamh stayed in, while I went outside in search of free entertainment and a shnakey pint. They had a band playing jazzed-up folk and avante-garde pieces in the Roman amphitheatre. They were pretty good, so I hung around for a little while.
This moring I went on a shorter walk (about 2.75km) around, and just outside, the town. In the cathedral square, a bunch of guys were unloading more props for the medieval festival, and the market was just about to kick off in the Vallebona carpark. Bleecher seating was out in Piazza dei Priori, presumably for the performances of the sbandieratori (those who practice the art of throwing and juggling large, medieval flags). They will be performing this Sunday, so I hope to get pics or movies. For the very first time, I also walked through the graffiti-lined shortcut that cuts out an entire corner of town.
We were planning to go to Massa Marittima today, but with the market in the main carpark, those put-out residents are on-the-prowl for handy parking. So if we left our spot, it could mean we’d have to spend a lot of time either finding/waiting for a spot, or parking in the arse-end of nowhere and having a difficult walk back to town. We have tons of time, and so can go next week.