Tag: eating

A Manbag, A Manbag, My Kingdom for a Manbag (24/08/2022)

A Manbag, A Manbag, My Kingdom for a Manbag (24/08/2022)

Not much writing in this one!

It was our guests’ last day, but they weren’t leaving until the early evening. It gave them a chance to pick up some souvenirs before they left, including an elusive boar-themed t-shirt.

But first, I had a walk on my own that morning, to and from the archaeological dig site, back and around the town a bit.

Then back to town and the rest of the walk!

After I had tidied myself up and eaten, then we wandered out and did some shopping. We split up into multiple ranks and went hunting.

We met up with our guests at a souvenir store on Via dei Sarti, where, if I recall correctly, a t-shirt of a boar on a motorbike was finally bought by our guests. Both couples bought also walked away with a pro corkscrew – one with a double-flanged lever that we’ve seen all the waiters use here… by touristy themed!

Oh yeah, and this happened:

They are super-handy, especially for lugging around water and my filming tools (gimbal, microphones). Would I wear it anywhere? Absolutely not. If I were to attempt to wear this bag at home, especially, near where I work, I would have seven shades of snot beaten out of me. Dublin is fun!

Afterwards, we had time for lunch in Torre del Porcellino, because they rock!

We then had the sad task of bring our guests back to the airport. Never a fun time, not least because we’ve travelled that road a few dozen times already! But really, we enjoy showing people about the region. A short enough visit, but plenty of scope for a re-visit!

Unsurprisingly, I took no photos of the airport. You only have 10 minutes to get in and get out of the drop-off carpark without charge. This leads to us looking like we’re giving our guests the bum’s rush. Which is pretty much what’s happening. “Bye, then!”, “Buh-bye… bye-b-b-byebyebye!”. Cue validating our card and running for the exit.

What *IS* surprising is that we finally stopped at a store in La Rosa we had been threatening to stop in for 4 years. It has a huge hiking boot outside it and, to our embarassment, spent almost all of those 4 years wondering what the shop sold. Shoes. It sells shoes. In fact, it is a shoe outlet store, and a pretty damn big one at that!

The less we have to pack going over, the better – so I wanted to build a small stock of footwear so one day, all I’d have to bring over is my laptop bag! There is about a half a column of men’s shoes, a half a column of kids’ and 2 columns of ladies’. ‘Twas ever thus. Anyway, Niamh found flip-flops and other shoes for herself, and I found a nice pair for Bugatti’s for myself. I had found another pair too, but what they have on the floor is what they have in stock, and sadly they didn’t have them in my size. Still, I’d put a hole in my goal and was happy enough.

We carried on towards home, rested and then went to Ristorante Etruria for a slightly windy meal outdoors.

And that was that for the day. We were alone again, naturally.

A Tiny Market, Casale Marittimo and Querceto (23/08/2022)

A Tiny Market, Casale Marittimo and Querceto (23/08/2022)

It’s been a while coming. I have spent so much time editing a compilation video, that everything else (apart from my job!) has been put to one side. Sorry about that! But I’m back, and going to continue our August/September trip.

It was the last full day for our guests, and Niamh had to work and therefore couldn’t leave the apartment. They were keen on seeing an Italian-style market. They also didn’t want to drive halfway across the region to find one, understandably – they would have a day of travel ahead of the them tomorrow. I looked up Tuesday on this Market Days in Tuscany site – so useful if you’re looking for a market yourself, by the way! Peccioli was one of my suggestions, and it’s not an awful drive if it happened to be closed that day – it’s just that I didn’t know where it was in the town itself. San Miniato was perhaps too far away. Then, BOOM, at the end of the Pisa section they said that there was a market just 8km away in Saline di Volterra! We picked that, said our goodbyes to Niamh and headed out.

It can take a little while to drive 8km in Tuscany – more than you’d reckon. The road from Volterra to Saline begins with a large series of hairpins (switchbacks), and it can take about 20 minutes. Anyway – the scenery is fab and there were no complaints.

We arrived and parked, and I had to admit to being a little excited myself. It was going to be fun to show new people the buzz and clamour of an Italian market. Except, oh dear. Usually you would see people returning from a market with bags of produce and household goods, and you’d hear the excited calls of hawkers and customers as they exchanged. We saw one lady. When we turned the corner, I counted the stalls and just about ran out of fingers on one hand. It was incredibly quiet. I don’t know if it’s always like that, or if it was because that Saline is a genuine working town, and a lot of people (both stall-owners and customers) may have been on holidays during August, which is frequently the case in Italy.

I grimaced an apology to my guests. They had a quick look around, and gave me some kind words to placate my embarassment. We then had a debate about what to do. It was still early enough, so I played my 2 Aces: Casale Marittimo and Querceto. I definitely picked the right hand, but I definitely picked the wrong order to play them in.

We went first to Casale Marittimo, and parked in the free carpark there. We strolled to the central piazza, which has many lanes and ramps leading from it, promising an explorer’s dream. It is impeccably clean and as quiet as a funeral home.

We had a wander from one side, to the other, up and down through multiple layers of the town and gave ourselves a decent workout in the heat.

It is, in my opinion, one of Tuscany’s most beautiful villages, and after having talked with our guests since, it certainly left a hugely positive impression – they were blown away by it.

Towards the end of the walk, we stopped off at a leatherworker’s shop. Inside we bought belts and masks. He fitted and worked the belts while we were there. I’m wearing the belt as I type this. Tuscan leather is saving me from public scandal! Here is the mask I bought – Niamh added it to her creepy collection.

We breezed past the church and realised we had a gently sloping walk back down to the carpark. Before heading there, we had a debate about what we’d do for food. It was just after lunch time, but we weren’t quite hungry yet. We agreed to heading to Querceto for an explore of that small hamlet, and then go for lunch there, as Niamh and I had done previously.

We got back in the car, and it took us 20 minutes on a very narrow, winding road to get to Querceto. We parked here, just before the road into town. As we hit the place, we say one of the places you could book a degustation was locking up for riposo. Damn. They wouldn’t be back for a few hours. Anyway, I trotted to Locanda del Sole and found it shut too. Noooooo! We consoled ourselves with a look around the place anyway.

I love Querceto, but after Casale Marittimo and the disappoinment of lunch, I don’t think the guests were quite as enamoured of it was I am. The clock was pushing 14:00. I don’t think we’d get a table at Casale Marittimo if we flew back, so I googled places that were opened.

On the plus side, I got to drive some back roads I hadn’t driven on before, looking for a place to eat. I almost jammed on the brakes when I saw a place on a bend, but wasn’t too sure if it was just an agritourismo with food for its guests. When I look at it now (it’s Locanda Le Giunche), I’m a bit annoyed I didn’t bite the bullet and stop there. We drove to another place, and when I put saw it I didn’t at first recognise its name or the area where it was located.

It was La Baracchina, and Niamh and I had driven past it a ton of times on the way to/from Cecina and other towns on the coast. Parking was handy, made even more so by the availability of shade on a hot day. We approached the restaurant, and saw that it was not a table-service place. It wasn’t buffet either – they had tons of salumi for sandwiches and tasting plates, and a menu of pasta and meat from which you order at the till, take your number and wait for your order to be cooked, so you can bus it back to your table. Hand enough arrangement, and what followed was simple enough fare. I thought my pasta was ok, and the roast chicken was said to have a good flavour, even if it was a little dry. It was fine for lunch – not a meal to remember, but fine. And reasonably inexpensive!

Once done we headed back to Volterra, but we had a stop at the Veronika and Fabrizio’s art gallery (as Niamh and I had done on a few occasions). I ended up buying another of Veronika’s pieces, and the guests came close to buying something of Fabrizio’s but relented at the last minute.

Then home for a rest. We were a little boiled by the time we got home, and Niamh was finishing up in work too. As it was our guests’ last night, and the lunch we had earlier notwithstanding, we headed out for a little walk and ended up in La Vecchia Lira to make pigs of ourselves once more.

Then the meal:

I have no memory of what occurred afterwards, other than I must have drifted into a food coma. It was a fun day, but sadly our guests would be leaving tomorrow.

A Long Expected Party (21/08/2022)

A Long Expected Party (21/08/2022)

Righto, this post contains a decent amount of media!

Back in 2019, we attended both of Volterra’s Medieval Festivals, the second time with a guest – where we also played dress-up. The instances of the festival are only a week apart in mid-August. We missed the first week, but we really wanted to catch the second. I think you can already guess what happened to the 2020 and 2021 festivals – that stupid pandemic! Anyway, we were going to party like ’twere 1398 (sort of).

But first, a walk!
I wanted to check out what kind of preparations were being made that morning for the festival, so I took my gimbal and phone with me and did a little filming, pausing to take photos too. I tried recharging my microphone receiver, but it overheated massively – to the extent that the charging jack melted a little, so that was that system broken. At the time of writing this (mid November), I still don’t have a mic system – roll on Christmas!

There really wasn’t anyone additional about beginning to set up the festival, so I assume that the people involved are so used to it now, that they have it running like clockwork.

One of my favourite things about the landscape surrounding Volterra is that if the climate conditions are right, fog will descend in the shallow valleys between the rolling hills, giving the latter the appearance of islands amidst a foamy sea. It’s so awesome looking. Hence, most of the photos in the gallery below are of this phenomenon.

I filmed, as I already said, so here’s a link to the (long-ish) video too.

The Festival – The City
We thought we left the apartment in time to avoid a large crowd, and we did so… at the ticket office. The ticket system is a 2-staged affair. Firstly, pay your fee at one desk to get your ticket. Secondly, present your ticket at another desk to get your wristband for showing at at any of the border gates. I presume this is to keep things motoring when lots of people arrive at once. Once adorned, we presented ourselves at the nearest gate which led to the square. It turned out that getting there early seems to have been a popular decision: there was a large crowd already in the square enjoying a display by the sbandieratori (flag jugglers) and their accompanying musicians.

There aren’t really any photos of this, as I was filming – so you can catch that near the bottom of this post. After having taken in the spectacle, headed straight to the costume hire shop, which was no longer through the main doors of the Palazzo dei Priori, but through the Via Turazza entrance. I wanted to hire another monk’s costume (see the blog about the second festival in 2019), and managed to find one. I changed there and then, but eventually regretted not also losing my shorts. Note – you must have some photo ID (driver’s license or passport) to hire the costumes. Everyone’s was hired with my driver’s license. The other three wanted to preserve their dignity and instead change back up in the apartment. After a little confusion about what was and what wasn’t paid for, we headed out, me in my monk’s robe. Being linen, it was quite breathable, and not too warm. I was comfy enough in it.

While I waited for the return of the others, I headed to La Sosta del Priore to buy a couple of bottles of water. I was given an enthusiastic welcome by Ilenia and I got a chance to practice my shoddy Italian. I stuck the bottles in my pouch and headed back to the main square. Something happened to me on the way back: I fell in love with man-bags. The monk’s costume came with a large over-the-shoulder pouch, and it not only was handy for holding the water, but my phone and gimbal when I needed to. I vowed later that I would buy myself a man-bag later during my stay!

I sat on the ledge outside Palazzo dei Priori and people-watched while I waited for the others to return.

I was waiting for ages for some reason. My guess is the 76 steps up to/down from the apartment. I had to call to find out they were at the side of the palace again and ready to start their walk about the first festival area. So we did just that! We contemplated exchaging our money for the fair’s own currency, and that can be fun alright, but we stuck with the slightly more convenient modern cash. We checked out some of the stalls, and signed our name on parchment using old-school quills.

There were stalls which were demonstrating various trades such as jewellery crafting, salt-making, wood cutting and carving, and a barbeque pits were dotted here and there too. The locals added to the atmosphere by playing ‘parts’ while walking around of hawking wares. One guy was hobbling about with a bandaged foot on a crutch.

In other parts, there were games and activities for kids (including a hobby horse and a medieval merry-go-round) – some of these were usurped by (probably tipsy) adults. No photos of that – but see the video near the bottom of this blog.

We wound our way to the abbey on Via Roma. It is usually closed to the public, but it opens on during the medieval festivals, and some of the monks participate in demonstrations. Some of the ‘monks’ are also townspeople, as we met our regular contact in our Bank (Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra) dressed as a monk and demonstrating bread-making. The monk on the way in asked if I was from the north. I assumed he was referring to my pasty skin, and I declared that I was from Ireland. He was actually referring to my ‘fur’-lined hood… duh! We had a chuckle at my idiocy, and checked out a couple of other things going on there (art, old sheets of music and gospels and mosaic-making). The courtyard was not accessible, but you could see it through a shut gate.

When done, we headed back out onto Via Roma. It was a little quieter than in 2019 – there were simply fewer stalls; maybe only half as many as usual. This is a shame, as when it’s fully-lined, there is no street that looks as medieval when looking south-west to north-east, taking in the arch that spans the Buonparenti house towers. I know I keep harping on about this, and not producing the photographic goods – but you can see it all in the video below.

By now we were back at the main square, and were hungry. We headed to Voltaterra and grabbed some wine, beer and sausage sandwiches. We people-watched as we deveroured and drank. The pyrotechnical group (see the festival’s closing section below), marched through with their drummers.

The Festival – The Rustic Village
We’d had enough of city-life for now, and leaving this section of the festival, we headed over to the main part, which was in the town’s municipal park (Parco Enrico Fiumi), a lovely green above the town, which used to contain Etruscan temples and palaces of nobility. Now it’s a lovely relaxing green area, with a circular path surrounding a dell around which people can sit for performances and demonstrations. Essentially they had set up a village with eatieres, armories, games for people to play and participatory activities.

There were animals there for the kids to watch (and everyone to eat), bottle fishing where the prize was a fritella dolce – a sort of sweet donut-like little ball. A tasty treat, but you could pick up a nice big cone of them for €2. There were suits of armour on display, and lots of townspeople wandering about in medieval costume adding to the ambience.

Trumpets blared, heralding the approach of a nearby town’s marching band, with flag throwing. We settled underneath a large tree and watched them do their stuff. They were a smaller troupe, and so weren’t as polished as a Volterrans, but you can’t say they didn’t give it their best.

We took to the path, acknowledging the bowmen who were having lunch – so that would be no archery for us, sadly. However, the ballistrieri (crossbow men/women) were facilitating target practice. A few Euros for 3 shots. We had a go – and astonishingly one of our guests hit the tiny target. We all came at least close, but his shot was fabulous. The targets are a good 20 meters away and tiny. First time I’d ever seen someone hit it. The crossbows you’re given probably have seen better days and the bolts not properly weighted (so they don’t kill people!)…so yeah – very impressive. You can watch all that footage on the video below.

August in Italy gets stinking hot, so by now we were gasping for a nice, cold drink. We left the village and went to L’Antica Velathri CafĂ©. Last time we were here during the festival in 2019 we had some delicious chilled mulled wine. This time we had some cocktails – the star of which a variation of a Mojito with bitters and ginger beer. The outdoor bar they had this year was far bigger and was very busy. The drinks were absolutely delicious!

The Evening Meal
It was time for riposo – a mid-afternoon break. We went back up to the apartment and rested a while. We weren’t going to be wearing the costumes again, and I wanted my driver’s license back – so we left the apartment an hour or so later. The two ladies were champs and took the costumes back while us lads waited around the main square. We then went on a short walk, including a little walk into Vicolo Mazzoni, where the manhole which is said to be the entry to the home of the Volturi – the vampires of the Twilight series. I love this lane. It is gloriously spooky, but you do play a little pigeon roultette there, and hope you don’t get crapped-on whenever you go there. Niamh made her now signature move of frightening the bejesus out of our female guest!

After laughter and apologies, we found ourselves in L’Incontro for aperitivi. We had nibbles there too… always a nice welcome there!

You can see in the pic above that we were still wearing our wristbands, as we had the closing ceremony to go to.

Anyway, hunger was the new order of the day, and we decided on somewhere close to home – next door, in fact – to the always lovely Porgi L’Altra Pancia (literally, ‘grow another belly’). We might have had too much.

The Festival’s Closing
Nice and stuffed, and perhaps a little wined, we headed back home again for a while to let the tummies settle, before the festival closing show at 23:00. I was disappointed when I remembered that we had missed the falconry exhibition in the park. We caught it in 2019. The birds were a little uncooperative then, but regardless we would have to wait until next time.

Anyway, after a short walk to check out the main panoramic viewpoint we hit the square on time, but it was packed. We managed to get close to the fence at the corner where it met the bleachers. I filmed a little and shot a little. It was a fun event. The sbandieratori put on a display, and after that, the band that we had seen traverse the square at lunchtime had brought all sorts of pyrotechnic paraphernalia with them and began to do their thing!

They ate fire, whipped with it, danced and hoola-hooped with it, all to the unceasing tattoo of their drummers. Right at the end they lit numbers ‘1398’ (AD1398 is the official name of the festival), which blazed in front of the seated audience. We could only catch it from the side.

I have to confess something. I missed the last 5 minutes of the show, as my feet and back were protesting terribly. Fortunately, Niamh’s constitution proved better on the day, and she managed to capture video of it. You can check it, and all of what we got up to, in the video (finally!) linked below:

If you’ve gotten this far, firstly fair play to you – secondly, thank you! Drop me a line if you like this, and I’d love to hear from you if you have questions or comments!

That was the food of the week that was 2 (23/05-27/05)

That was the food of the week that was 2 (23/05-27/05)

Well it was another week where my time wasn’t my own, but I still managed to get out and about and we still stuffed our faces, so let’s go!

Monday 23rd May

I still got out for a walk! There were stairs!

Tuesday 24th May

I can’t get over how green the hills still were – althought it had signs that they were beginning to turn grey/brown. For lunch we went to a place to which we very infrequently go: I Ponti Volterra. I guess I consider it touristy given its location (by the main viewpoint). But sometimes anywhere new is good.

I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of an Orzotto on the menu (think Risotto, but made with barley, instead of rice). I love them, but they’re damn hard to come by in Tuscany. Anyway, this one was made with sausage and cabbage. It tasted lovely, but… well… maybe my stomach was nervous on the day. Let’s just leave it at that. I’ll give it another go some day – if even just to test my, em, theory.

We carried on the theme of new places to eat (for us) that evening and ate in Life Bistrot, a plant-based restaurant at the top of the lovely Via Porta all’Arco. We were put sat in the half of the restaurant that doesn’t have the glass floors looking down on the Etruscan ruins. It gets good reviews on Google, so we thought we’d give it a bash. The service, it must be said, was friendly and their English excellent, if your Italian is lacking.

We noted that they had chefs that looked like they were from the Indian continent, noted with joy that they had a couple of Indian-influenced dishes on the menu. The Chapati was ok, I guess – it had a hint of Indian spices, but needed more kick. Niamh’s salad was merely ok too. I cannot remember what Niamh had for primi, but I had pici ‘cacio’ e pepe. Instead of using vegan cheese, they used ceci (chickpeas). While the noodles themselves were nice, the sauce was a little bland – and frustratingly the ‘pepe’ side of it – the part truly vegan – was barely there at all.

Wednesday 25th May

Another walk today, this time around the maze-like lanes just off Via Porta all’Arco.

Carrying on the theme of eating in places we’ve never tried before, we tried Il Peschereccio for lunch. I had the high end fried fish mix, and Niamh the less expensive one. I think Niamh one that round. I think next time I try here, I’ll either go with the standard fritto misto or just a bit of grilled white fish. I had white wine to wash it all down – a rarity for me!

For dinner, we went to La Vecchia Lira. I had chickpea soup to start – not sure what Niamh had – I can’t recognise it from the photo. For primi, I had my new favourite – the tortelli stuffed with shredded lamb in a savory apple sauce, and Niamh had the pici cacio e pepe – they do it very well here. Delicious. A tirimasu might have been had. I’m sure it didn’t last long!

We burned calories by taking a gentle nighttime stroll.

Thursday 26th May

Well, today was clearly not one to remember. What little I remember is that Niamh hadn’t been to the park yet this visit, so we headed out during lunch for our walk there. Dinner was a couple of yummy pizzas in La Mangiatoia. They had definitely started to recognise us there! I love their speck and mascarpone! Afterwards, a short trip to Antica Velathri CafĂ© for a couple of quick post-dinner drinkies.

Friday 27th May

A nice uppy-downy walk in the middle of, then around the outside of the town. I bumped into Volterra’s most photograhed cat on the way.

On my mid-morning walk I snaffled some gelato, because…. actually there’s no excuse needed! Thanks, as always, to L’Isola del Gusto.

We pigged out a bit that day, firstly going to our neighbours Porgi l’Altra Pancia for lunch. Unusually, we sat outside and were given a little surprise of some Prosecco on the house. Niamh had her beloved Caprese salad, and I had a vegetarian dish – paccheri with a hazelnut-based sauce. Very tasty. We had cheesecake and tiramisu for dessert.

Later that evening for dinner, we did the touristy thing and ate in the main square, in Ristorante Etruria. The food there varies from ok to good, but they usually treat us to a half bottle of Chianti when we’re done with our meal. Tonight, the food was good! I kept up my veggies with Zuppa alla Volterrana, and followed that up with 4-cheese gnocchi. Niamh just had a carbonara. We enjoyed it so much that we had our second dessert of the day (or third, in my case!).

That was that week! Our next day would lead us to somewhere new, and would be our last full day for this trip. So, more on that soon!

Strolling Days (13 and 14/05/2022)

Strolling Days (13 and 14/05/2022)

Friday, 13th (dun-dun-dunnnn!)

I had a shorter walk this morning, up Gramsci, bumping into Robbi, the owner of Terra di Mezzo, towards the end of it. We exchanged pleasanteries and I carried on. Only a few shots today:

My time wasn’t my own for most of the day, so I had to stay in. Niamh got to ‘enjoy’ the outdoors a little more on the terrace while she repainted the terrace railings and that lovely terracotta orange on the outside walls. Honestly, I dread almost anything DIY, so I was somewhat happy to have been stuck indoors while Niamh carried out this task. Thanks, hon!

We grabbed a quick mid-morning mindful walk around the park with a gelato. On the way back, we waved hello to Massimo, the owner of La Vecchia Lira. Our lives, you might have noticed, seems to revolve around food.

For lunch, Niamh made penne with an aubergine and tomato sauce she had cooked up previously and frozen. It was toothsome and rich. I usually shirk tomato-based sauces (which is why I enjoy Tuscan cooking so much – yes, that’s right, Stanley Tucci! Tomatoes are NOT actually a major staple ingredient in Tuscan cuisine), but this sauce was tasty indeed! I went to the framers to finally pick up the drawing I bought from Fabrizio, but discovered he only works half days. D’oh! I’ll guess I’d have to wait another day.

That evening, after I became a free man again, we had to choose between the two men I met earlier in the day. We chose over aperitivi in L’Incontro. We chose La Vecchia Lira as Massimo had seen us again from his restaurant and waved. Also, in the end, we over-ate.

We had a short walk to burn off calories and to catch the sunset, before heading home to screen-watch.

Saturday, 14th

I had another walk this morning. I’m so proud of myself, to be honest. I had shirked somewhat on my previous few stays, so I’m glad to be back in the saddle, so to speak. This time, I walked a little longer than I had intended, but kept it mostly within the walls of the town.

After breakfasting and tidying myself up, I FINALLY managed to get Fabrizio’s drawing. We hung it up in the kitchen.

We just lazed about all morning, and then had lunch in Ristorante Etruria, in Piazza dei Priori. It’s a bit touristy, and is one of the few places that insists on limited table time during busy periods, which is rare. But there’s something for everyone here, and the food isn’t bad. In addition, they recognise us and treat us well – often presenting us with a half-bottle of Chianti to take home when our meal is over. If you’re ever there, and have someone who is a little picky with food with you, you should try it. Also, the inside seating area is lushly decorated and worth a quick view!

We then, rather unusually, spent some time walking about town. I say ‘rather unusually’ as (a) we know better than to walk around town during the hottest part of the say, and (b) we spent a couple of hours doing it! I took some snaps, sure – but most of the time was spent going from one part of town to another, and people-watching as the sun began to dip in the cloudless sky. It may not be the only way to enjoy Tuscany, but it’s one of the best: just sit back and enjoy the present.

I think I began to doze a little while sitting in the bench at Piazza XX Settembre! We had a gelato at L’Isola del… no, wait. We actually had it at Enjoy CafĂ©! I think they’ve upped their gelato-game in a the last year or so – it was actually quite good!

We rested back at the apartment, and when hungry again headed out to La Mangiatoia. I love the pizza at Pizzeria l’Ombra della Sera, but it just isn’t as lively as La Mangiatoia. To be honest, I don’t think I could have put a pizza away after the lunch I had. And you can’t share pizza in Italy. It’s a mortal sin. Although in La Mangiatoia, they actually make massive, family-sized pizzas, with multiple sections similar to a Quattro Stagioni (the family at the table next to ours was chomping on one). Anyway, I wasn’t up for it. Niamh was, but I had a burger instead. For those reading in Ireland, the burger here is the closest you can get to a chipper-style burger in terms of taste, if you fancy that!

Once re-stuffed, we headed back to the apartment for audio-listening and screen-watching.

We Climbed a Tower in San Gimignano (09/05/2022)

We Climbed a Tower in San Gimignano (09/05/2022)

Now here’s a thing: we both hopped out of the bed, left down the trash and took a walk. She was intrigued by my little diversion by the bus station, and I was more than happy to have a hiking partner.

The route wasn’t too brutal. We went to the panoramic vewpoint, and took Viale dei Ponti, down past the fountain, past the Garibaldi and war monuments and straight to the bus station. I didn’t take any more shots around there.

From there, we took a road we’d never taken. It led to a quiet residential area, which had cul-de-sacs everywhere, but which eventually led to the sports stadium. During our second ever visit to Volterra, we stayed in Park Hotel le Fonti near the stadium, which has a swimming pool, but also has a fairly savage uphill walk to the walled town. We took that route, up to Porta all’Arco and up again towards the centre of town.

We were a bit socially bold: instead of going home to tidy ourseleves up, we headed straight for L’Incontro for a cornetto con crema and a cappuccino (Niamh)/hot chocolate (me). Delish!

We went home and showered and beautified ourselves, and did a little screenwatching. What to do for the day, though? We settled on going to San Gimignano. I am sometimes a little down on SG, but really if it weren’t for our visit to that town years ago, plans to buy a property in Tuscany may never have germinated. We have over-visited it, but there was one major thing we still hadn’t done there: climb one of the towers for which the town is famed.

We hoped for a plum parking spot in P2, but had to settle once again for P4. The town was busy, but there were a lot of spots in P4. First order of the visit? Lunch! We had wanted to try La Mangiatoia (unrelated to the restaurant of the same name in Volterra!), but it was closed, and we settled for Osteria Delle Catene instead. ‘Settled’ is probably an unfair word. There were a couple of older gentlemen waiting on us, and they were so nice. An English family near us had a baby with them, and they doted on it. They served us up some rural Tuscan food, and very nice it was too!

Once done, we stopped off in two places before we hit the famous Piazza della Cisterna. Firstly, we stopped at a gelateria. It was priced highly and not bad… the lady serving had great English, and kindly offered us samples. Certainly no L’Isola del Gusto, but it was ok. The second stop was at a perfume store, in which a man was selling his artisinal perfumes and eaus de toilettes. We must have tried about a half a dozen mixes before settling on a 100ml bottle of his black pepper unisex scent. We both liked it, but Niamh has since worn it a great deal more than I have, lest we become Mr. and Mrs. Stinksthesame.

Onwards:

We found where you head up to buy tickets to climb the tower. The tickets doubled as an entry fee for a small museum too. We climbed the tower first. American travel guide, Rick Steves, had said it was 400 steps, but when we asked the guide, she said it was 217. So maybe Rick mean 200 up and 200 down. Anyway, the climb was interesting:

They never tell you, but frequently you have to contort yourself in some way, shape or form to actually get outside to the top of a tower. In this case, you have to climb a ladder, and watch your head and arms as you make your way through the opening. The hassle is worth it, but if you had issues with flexibility you might find the ladder a bit of a pain. And it’s a little awkward coming down, especially if you’re carrying stuff; you really have to watch your head, shoulders and arms. Anyway, back to the pretty of the topside:

You have to squat underneath a bit of structure to enjoy all sides of the tower. When we were done, we braved the ladder (glad nobody was filming me!), and had a mosey around the museum there. It may have been the old town council building. Not sure why I have no photos of it, but heck the whole experience is worth a visit.

Our mission complete, we headed back to the car (after a quick bio-break), via San Gimignano’s charming main square (the aforementioned Piazza della Cisterna), and saw parts of the town we hadn’t seen before.

We drove back in the rain to Volterra. Instead of going directly to the apartment, however, we stopped off at Antica Velathri CafĂ© for cocktails and nibbles. Pietro (the owner-mixologist) brought us our drinks, then gasped. He told us not to even take a sip, and then ran back downstairs. He came back up seconds later with the sexy garnishes he had forgotten to add! We had a good laugh at that. It’s all about the bella figura!

Later on, after watching our respective screens, we had a small hunger on us. We didn’t want to go out for a full meal, so I suggested L’Hamburgeria for burgers and fries. I headed out, and grabbed order forms. You ticky-box what you want (type of bun, meat, salads, cheeses, sauces, fries, other nibbles) and hand the chits back over and wait. There were a bunch of U.S. kids there creating lively noise while I waited. It was good seeing people being normal, and helping us to reshape this post-pandemic world.

I brought them home and we gobbled them down. Very nice. And for those reading in Ireland, the fries are like chipper chips! Just a little skinnier. Yum.

More screen-watching, music-listening and bed!

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think!

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

Market Day at Colle di Val d’Elsa and Meeting New Friends in Del Duca (06/05/2022)

I waited in again without a walk this morning, as the builder was due (again) to come (again). This time he did! He and his mate took the rest of the junk from the cellar away. Niamh was pretty much asleep when this happened, so she was pleasantly surprised when I told her that they’d already been. She had been settling in for a wait, but now we could head out somewhere instead. I suggested going to Colle di Val d’Elsa – the newer part of town, as we hadn’t really explored it fully. She agreed, and we headed out!

We drove past the old town on the ridge, and down into the newer old part of town to a carpark. Not sure how we avoided the ZTLs, but we weren’t fined so we must have done our job correctly. We parked at first in a carpark with white lines, which caused alarm bells to ring. That usually means that they are for residents only. The signs weren’t terribly obvious, so when we’d parked I ran back to the carpark entrance and saw that unfortunately, yes, it was for residents. Right next to this carpark was another with far fewer spots available. Luckily, a couple of cars pulled out, so by the time we got to it we found a handy place near the back. I put my filming rig together and we headed back into town to have a little explore.

We parked at these coordinates. Google says the carpark is closed, but it’s not: it’s the lift to the old town that’s currently closed (or was at the time of writing this – Mid June). We walked through to the main part of town, only to be immediately confronted by about a 9 or 10 market stalls in a small open area. Niamh was in the market for a small basket for our newly remodelled bathroom, and there happened to be a stall there that sold exactly that! Baskets, not remodelled bathrooms.

We bought a basket, and I thought that was the extent of the market… until we moved to the next open space. Then we saw more stalls. Which, when we reached the main square, turned into even more, with many more spider-webbing throughout the sidestreets leading from the square. The market was immmense – probably the biggest I have visited to date. There aren’t many photos of it, as I was filming instead – you can catch the video of it below. It was a regular market, rather than a collectible/antique market. It was mostly about food (local produce from farms, cooked food), clothes, electronics etc. It was super-impressive and many of the food stalls looked amazing – however, we really wanted a sit-down place.

We had been to a nice restaurant in the new town before under which flowed a stream, and it had a little water mill and everything… but we found out that it was now permanently shut. I’m not sure why – maybe it was another victim of the awfulness of the pandemic.

Colle di Val d’Elsa is famous for its crystalware, and I was hoping to visit the Museum dedicated to the glassware before we ate. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation on the day. There was no other thing left for us to do except stuff our greedy faces.

We found a place up a side street called Trattoria Bel Mi’ Colle. Our initial impression was that they weren’t particularly experienced with handling tourists. The service initially felt quite odd, a little stand-offish, but they soon warmed-up. I didn’t want another Coca Zero, and accepted a recommendation from the lady managing the restaurant. I wish I’d taken a photo of it – it seemed like a form of cedrata (clear, light citrus-based drink), and was really refreshing.

Niamh had a rigatoni pasta dish with a beef ragĂč, and I had a white ragĂč (usually one or more of pork, rabbit, hare or very occasionally chicken) with pappardelle, but the pasta was made with the flour of ancient grains – which is a great alternative for those seeking gluten-free options. Personally, I found the dish just a fraction dry, but I liked the texture and flavour. I would recommend the restaurant for travellers, but would suggest you practice your Italian a little! Our dessert was lovely, but was served on a hilariously outsized plate… not matter – we really liked it.

When done, we checked to see if we could get the elevator up to the old town, but it was closed. Niamh wasn’t in the mood to to traipse all the way uphill to visit the place (we have visited it before 3 or 4 times) in spitting rain. In hindsight, I can’t say I blame her! In the end, we ended up going home to place our basket in the bathroom and chill a while.

You can watch our video of our exploration of the market here!

We had been in touch with David McGuffin, a tour operator working out of Florida, who specialises in tours to Europe, especially Ireland and Italy. If you’re reading this in the U.S. I can say David has such a love of Europe and is super-knowledgeable about the places he tours, and is well connected too. On top of that – he’s just a good guy to hang out with too!

We met him in L’Incontro for an aperitivo drinkie, which turned into two or three. We mentioned that we were going to hop off to Ombra della Sera to grab a pasta, after having had lunch earlier. Out of the blue, he invited us to join is tour group in Del Duca for a set meal. We were hesitant at first, as we didn’t want to cramp anyone’s style, plus we weren’t sure that we could put away a Del Duca dinner! However, when he said that one of the courses would be a shared Florentine steak, we couldn’t say no. Neither of us had had it before, unbelievably – so we nodded enthusiastically and agreed. He left us to have another drink on our own, while he gathered his troop together and we met him at the restuarant. He generously offered to pay for our meal too… again, our protestations were not as strong as they could have been. The guy is a mensch, what can I say?

The rest of the people in David’s group were lovely, and some lively conversation was struck up between the 5 courses, most of which were paired with Marcampo’s own wines (the Del Duca family run the winery with with their agritourismo). Here’s the grub, including the fabled Bistecca alla Fiorentina!

Claudia was away in Sweden (if I recall correctly), but we got a warm welcome from Ivana and Genuino, and the waiting staff. The wine flowed pretty freely, and at the end of the meal we were given grappa. Now I am rarely one to turn my nose up at post-dinner amari, but this grappa was a nope for me… it was incredibly strong. We had a dessert wine instead… followed by a couple of other drinks. Truth be told we left the place quite merry.

Of course, one person often overlooked, was this time not forgotten. Niamh and I are huge fans of Del Duca’s head chef: Alessandro Calabrese, and when the restaurant was closing up and we were being kicked out (in a friendly way!), we came out and like a bunch of fanbois got our picture taken with him.

We all walked past our apartment entrance as a group, Niamh and I being somewhat gratified by the ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ when they saw we lived slap-bang in the middle of town.

We got home, and I stayed up a while listening to music, as I often do when a little merry.

David, thanks again for a wonderful evening. We still owe you and Charlotte a return dinner!

The Lovely Castiglione della Pescaia (15/10/2021)

The Lovely Castiglione della Pescaia (15/10/2021)

There’s a bit of write-y stuff in this one, but there are photos and a video below – I promise!

The town of Castiglione della Pescaia is one of those rare coastal places which has an old-town feel to it. This is because there was a profusion of dwellings settled nearby a large fortress, protecting them from potential raiders. The possibility of Saracen (and others) attacks was so high, that people tended to settle on hills inland, rather than risk slaughter. Perfectly understandable. Tuscan towns with an old-charm feel are incredibly rare in Tuscany, with many places with beaches having become more settled in post-war Europe. So, it’s always cool to find something that matches the tastes of the culture-vulture, the history-hound and the beach-baby. The foodie? Well… see below…

But first, bathroom remodelling! After our failed attempt to engage the builder, our appointment was properly set up for this morning. Our nice lady from Milianti (estate agents and property managers), Alice, arrived early, and although she’s young and slender she commented that climbing the 76 steps to our apartment whilst wearing a face-mask was tricky! A few minutes later, there was another ring at the door, and we let two gentlemen in: one was the builder, the other was an older man. This latter guy turned out to be the consulting geometra. What is a geometra? They are essentially internal building surveyors. One of their responsibilities is carrying out technical reviews of buildings for extensions and changes etc. We took them through the changes we want, with Alice translating all the way. All was tickety-boo.

Once gone, we headed out and took our 8 minute walk to the carpark, to our little stick-shift Fiat 500. Definitely one of our favourite rides we’ve rented since coming here. We stuck on Missus Google, and headed down SS68 towards Siena.

I don’t have any photos of the journey, because I was filming! You can catch the video towards the end of the blog. We decided to head the ‘country’ route, rather than along the coast. That made the journey very long, but it was interesting to see new towns appear on the signposts. I love to explore, so even new signposts alone sometimes give me an endorphin rush.

We passed tantalisingly close to Casole d’Elsa. We have visited it a few times (blogged about it once), and it’s a lovely little borgo, but we had a schedule! We blasted past it. Other highlights include also blasting past the Instagrammable Ponte della Pia. We didn’t stop. You can hear me squeal about it in the video below. We drove through the lovely Rosia, and shortly afterwards the 12 year-old in me was pleased by seeing signs for a town called ‘Orgia’ (literally ‘orgy’ in Italian). I imagine the property prices there are quite steep, but the people fit and healthy. Just outside Rosia, we were stopped for the third time this year, by a randomly parked police checkpoint. Once they found out we were tourists, they waved us on – but we found it prudent to carry identification documents with us at all times just in case. Just past Siena earlier in the year, they had us pulled over checking passports and licenses for a good 15 minutes.

When we were in the latter stages of the journey, on the multi-laned SS223, we flew past another hilltown. I checked my phone, and I’m pretty certain it was Civitella Marittima – one on my list to visit… but we ploughed-on!

If there’s one thing I really enjoyed about the journey, it was it showed us how hugely varied the countryside is in Tuscany. From the typical undulating hills and olive groves and vineyards, to winding valley roads with streams. Sometimes, yellow-golden, sometimes grass-green. Here and there farmhouses dotted throughout, with the occasional castello or hamlet crowning a lonely hilltop. It is beautiful land.

We knew we were getting close to the coast when we started seeing the coastal pines (I think they’re sometimes called Stone Pines) – tall trees topped with wide, flat foliage. They began to line to roads, once we left the highways.

I think that the journey took us a good two hours. Blame me… I just wanted to see more of the countryside. It took us 20 minutes less on the route home. Anyway, we got handy parking here, and had a quick stroll by the marina before heading up into the town itself.

It was close to lunchtime, so we just wanted to explore a little before having food. We strolled up the what we considered to be the main tourist drag, checking out some restaurants and a gelateria (for later!) on the way.

Now for some much-needed controversy. I have often considered my blog to be something of a hagiography of Italy, so a little criticism is overdue. For a while, I have been exploring the Italian coast on Google Maps (yes, I have a sickness). So far, I have gone from the French border, and have just past Naples. It takes a long time! Anyway – one of the chief observations I have made is that generally, restaurants in touristy coastal towns are poorer than you will find a little inland – especially those along promenades. There are, of course, exceptions – but many… hmmm… I would say most, would seem to rely on seasonal, transient trade. My chief point is: do your research on Tripadvisor, Google etc. before selecting a place to eat, if you have a definite preference of quality over location.

Despite the time of year, there were still a few restaurants still open. We went to Pane e Vino on Corso della LibertĂ . It was open and seemed to be getting favourable reviews. We were shown to our outdoor table and were attended very quickly and enthusiastically. We needed the bathroom, and apart from a little lighting issue, all was good – the bathroom was nice and clean. We had a little struggle with the menu, as we aren’t huge seafood fans – mostly whitefish, salmon and mussels – I sometimes eat tinned mackerel too. Although, one of the nicest things I have eaten – in fact the very first thing I ever ate in Volterra – was an amuse bouche in Del Duca, of which anchovies were a part. I also kept hearing how anchovies in Italy were way better than they are elsewhere. Anyway, we found stuff we thought would be interesting and ordered. The results were…. mixed. The ingredients were cooked well, and some of the ideas novel, but in the main, they just missed the mark – one in particular was frankly bizarre. I laud restaurants for trying to experiment, and I think these guys were trying to do that – so, hats off on that front. One thing that bugged me outright, was that I had wanted a fritto misto, but didn’t see it on the menu. Nonetheless, a couple of parties came in after us and were served plates of it. Grrr! Off-menu items annoy me. Anyway – back to what we *did* get:

The staff were lovely I have to say, and attentive, but we left in something of an unsatisfied daze. If you love seafood, good presentation and experimentation (and what looked like amazing fritti misti – grrr!) then this place could be for you. I have to stress again, that the cooking was good. And Niamh’s coffee was great too.

Once we were done eating, we decided to delay our gelato fix until we were done exploring the old fortress part of town. What a lovely place it was. And hilly. Also, cats – cats everywhere! On our way we passed by an Irish bar – Tinakilly Pub. At first I thought that was a bit of a spurious name, as Irish town/townland names often derive from an Irish name that actually means something. However, I see that there is a Tinakilly House Hotel just a little over an hour from us – so it’s the real deal! Tinakilly is derived from the Irish words ‘Ti’ (house), ‘na’ (of/of the) and ‘Coille’ (woods) – so ‘House of the Woods’. There you go – very interesting! Of course, having blown a paragraph on that, I now have to tell you that we didn’t go in.

We briefly and indadvertently walked outside town through a porta at the top end. Beyond it was a carpark and what looked like a school, plus a hint of the bay view to come.

Next, we returned back into the town, and found a church. It was nice and cool inside, but not as decorated as many you’d find. There was another cat guarding the door.

Upon leaving the church, we walked uphill past some lovely houses – passing by yet another cat – an enourmous fluffy lad, and then looked left. Wow. The view of the gently curving bay was amazing. I think you could also make out Monte Argentario farther along the horizon. The closer mountain I think is the Parco Rgionale della Maremma.

We walked over the hill to the other side of the village, and down to another porta in the fortress walls. We jostled for our space with some other tourists there to get our shot by it. There wasn’t much beyond that porta, so we headed all the way back town to the newer part of town. It was gelato time! We grabbed some yumminess from Bar Gelateria Angolo Gelato and sat on a bench around the corner in the shade.

We headed back to the car after our gelato and, driving past the cemetary we saw earlier behind the church, opted to go home via the more coastal route. It was a good bit quicker. I was too slow to grab a shot of Follonica and its bay as we crested a hill to look down upon it. It was a gorgeous sight. Follonica itself looks to be an interesting place to stop for a modern beach-city – I have read that it’s promenade is nice (remember the tip about restaurants, though!). We skirted around the outside of the town, through its more suburban areas, and shortly after there joined the multi-laned E80. We turned off just before Cecina, and headed through Saline di Volterra back to our home-from-home.

You can watch a video of that part of our day here:

I took a couple of shots of Volterra on our way back from the car to the apartment. I do this because all too often I only catch some shots during my morning walk when the light favours some scenes, but not others.

We weren’t quite done with the day yet, though.

We wanted some way to help celebrate my writing competition win (see last week’s blog), and it was going to be our last night for this trip. We decided pizza and beer was in order. We headed out later than usual and were very lucky to find La Mangiatoia still open – they closed shortly after we left. Many Italians eat very late when compared to the Irish – often at 21:00 or 22:00 – but La Mangiatoia looked like it was closing around the 22:00 mark. They looked a little worried when we ordered, but brightened up when we selected pizza – I presume we’d be told that a lot of the stuff was off the menu otherwise. I like their pizza – it’s second only to Pizzeria Ombra della Sera. The didn’t have any Moretti left, so we had one of their own beers. I wish I had taken a photo of it – it wasn’t bad at all!

Once done, we had a walk to the Piazza dei Priori, and then thought… No! We’re not done yet!

I wanted something sweet, but already had a gelato that day – so we went to Antica Velathri CafĂ© and had a couple of cocktails (ok, I had an amaro). But then I saw a homemade panacotta on their menu, with a variety of different sauces. I think I grabbed one with a chocolate sauce, or it might have been caramel… I do remember it being eye-rollingly delicious, though!

And then we were fit for our beds. Thanks for reading – I really hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment below – I’d 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!

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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