I skipped the morning walk again that day. This is a feature that plagued me for much of my December visit too, I’m sorry to say. The best I can offer was that it was down to simple laziness, rather than anxiety. Anyway, I knew we had a journey and a half ahead of us.
For ages I had wanted to go check out one of the few outdoor retail outlets in Tuscany. Probably the most famous is The Mall, in Leccio, a short ways southeast of Florence proper. But it was a little too high-end for what we needed. Another is Designer Outlet Barnerino, but as it’s a good bit north of Florence/Prato, and we didn’t really want to take the car through that traffic-filled nightmare, we opted instead for the much more leisurely Valdichiana Village, which is a good bit east and slightly south of Siena – near the town of Foiano della Chiana.
That would mean another trip on the Siena road, but it’s a far less stressy drive than going through Florence or Prato. The lengthy motorway stretch is very boring, however. So boring, in fact, that I didn’t film the journey part of the day at all – the rest of the day you can see in the YouTube video further on down in the blog.
The first third of it – the part before you hit the motorway – has some special moments:
- The countryside immediately outside Volterra (around the ‘O‘) and a good bit beyond.
- The section before Campiglia, where you’re surrounded by vines and hills, and you cross the Via Francigena and hit those hairpin bends (even better on the way back).
- As always, going past Colle di Val d’Elsa – the part where the old town meanders along the ridge made our jaws drop when we first saw it. Despite dozens of passings-by now, it still impresses!
- Even when you’re on the motorway, you’ll get to see Monteriggioni on the way there, and it’s easier to see Siena on the way back (if I recall correctly)
But the rest is kinda yawns-ville. The outlet itself is just off the autostrada, so yeah – you’re looking at a lot of multi-lane driving. Anyway, we got there in the end, and very safely!
It was a nice enough day, as you can see – I just wore a light jacket. Much of the perimeter of the outlet was lightly cordoned off, and where we entered a man was taking temperatures to ensure you could enter. Even outdoors in the outlet, you had to wear a mask. At other locations on the perimter, you had to engage with machines to take your temperature – so if you left (which we did to use the bathrooms at the perimeter walls), we had to get our temperatures checked again on the way back in.
There are some nicely appointed stores there – most of them containing clothing or household stock items. We noticed with a little amusement, that there was a youngish nun wandering around with a group of lay-people friends heading into the stores with tremendous enthusiasm. I thought she looked like one of the nuns we saw wandering around Il Teatro del Silenzio a couple of days previously, but then I have an over-active imagination! The first store we entered was, in fact, a pop-up Christmas store! We got a couple of decorations for the apartment, which we put up when we came over for Christmas – more on that in a few weeks’ time!
Niamh was looking for a couple of throws for our couch, which she managed to get (by going past the perimeter). We got them, and put them in the car, and once again went through to get our temperature taken. Fun times.
We continued to wander.
I had half a mind to buy myself a form-fitting jacket, as I had lost a lot of weight in the first 15 months of the pandemic. Unfortunately, I discovered to my cost that my belly had grown back a little. A shame, as I found a couple of lovely looking jackets I really wanted to get.
What better way to console myself than to grab some pizza? I think I might be in denial! We had wandered up to the food court and were on the verge of, once again, heading into Old Wild West for a burger or ribs, but reminded ourselves that we shouldn’t eat too much prior to dinner that night. Maybe a pizza with a thin base might be an option….especially if we skipped dessert! We knew the place we were going to that evening didn’t do pizzas, and so didn’t want pasta either. Our minds were made up!
We saw a bar/restaurant on the perimeter which looked like it did pizzas – Al Borgo. We headed in, and selected a couple from the menu, and a couple of soft drinks to keep the fluids up. I noticed that they had their own sauces (pasta, pizza etc.) for sale, but the place had more of a ‘franchise’ feel to it, than it being a once-off place. In any event, I have to say we really enjoyed the pizza!
Once done, we went back into the outlet to reach our car on the far side (temperature check!), pausing briefly for cash at a Bancomat. We hopped in, and we had plenty of time to visit the nearby town of Fioano della Chiana. It was only a short drive, but to get to the carpark we had chosen, Missus Google took us through parts of the older town. One always gets nervous about straying inadvertently into a ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato) and having to pay the resulting fine. Google, in fairness to it, has never done so before – but the worried glances between myself a Niamh didn’t cease.
We wound our way through the town to a carpark at the bottom of a very tall section of the walls of the even older town! A forlorn duvet rested at the bottom of the wall and for some reason I immediately thought that this was the rough end of town, where homeless people kept their domains. We were getting ourselves ready outside the car to explore, when a young lady marched towards us, speaking energetically on her phone. Without word or gesture to us, she snatched up the duvet and marched back towards the small opening in the wall. I looked up, and there it was: the ubiquitous washing line beneath a window, overlooking the carpark. This was probably a common occurence, then.
We followed the young lady a couple of minutes later, and climbed the stairs between an even higher set of walls and a church. We saw part of the road we had travelled on to get here, but to our left another collection of steps led through a lovely arched entryway into the ‘even older’ part. We went up, and within minutes were blown away by the beauty of the place. Curved laneways lined with red-bricked 4-storey buildings, strewn with potted plants – almost as if there was constant competition between the neighbours as to how many plants they could pack outside their front doors. We had a wander, and took some photos.
All was quiet, as it always is in a non-touristy town during riposo. There wasn’t much to wander into, as this area seemed largely residential, but the main square was nice. Unfortunately, we seem to have missed Bell’s Pub – I only see it now when looking at maps. An auld pint would have been nice, but such is life.
Instead, alternative refreshment was in order, as we left our exploration of the old town, and headed (past hordes of emerging schoolchildren). We stopped off at the improbably-named “Gelateria Fiordilatte Di Presenzini Mattoli Manuel & C” for (as the name would suggest) gelato. I had coconut and white chocolate, if I recall correctly – I really liked the coconut.
Back in the car, we checked the clock and realised we had a bit of time before we had to get home, spruce-up and head over to the restaurant for dinner. So, we decided to head to Lucignano! It’s only about 15 minutes away. The carpark, while decently located – just outside one of the arched gateways to the old town – was almost completely full. We managed to squeeze into an awkward spot on a bend, and headed into town!
We were enchanted as soon as we entered the town. Like Foiano, the central part is arena/oval shaped, but Lucignano is just a little bit nookier, a little bit crannier – if that makes sense. It just appealed to us a little more. We found ourselves going ‘Oooh’ and ‘Ahhh’ every time we turned a corner. There were stairs here and there leading up to a higher level of town, on which lay a residential area and what must have been nearly a dozen churches or chapels.
For some reason, the photos just don’t do the town justice. We honestly both came away from the place thinking it was one of the top 3 towns we’d visited.
We ended our trip under an arch, on which little platforms were placed to provide seats (presumably for the customers of a nearby bar) – I thought this was was very cute. If there was any regret, it was that we visited just after lunch/during riposo, and during the off-season – so it was extremely quiet. I would love to see it a little bit more lively – even at night – at least we have excuses to come back!
We headed home via a petrol station. It was a fun, busy day out! You can watch a video of it below:
But we weren’t done yet! No, after a rest and a shower back at the apartment, we headed out to Del Duca for dinner.
We were greeted enthusiastically as usual, and shown to a table we’d sat at a couple of times before; a round table in a corner, which gave us a complete view of the rest of the dining room. A certain level of amusement ensued, when Claudia Del Duca – her English usually being excellent – fumbled a little at explaining a course that had, just that night, taken over from their previous lamb dish. She couldn’t call it anything other than ‘boiled beef’. She assured us it was delicious through laughter from all parties. The phrases ‘sauce’ and ‘baby cabbages’ were mentioned, and the beef was boiled in a stock. I was intrigued, so I ordered it.
About ten minutes later, after we had gotten our wine, a well-dressed couple with a kid sat at the table next to us. Being the people-watchers we are, we snuck glances and listened. Then there was confusion. I could have sworn that she was Irish, and that maybe he was American – but then here and there, there was snatches of a Scottish lilt from him. On top of that, the kid definitely had a north American accent. What was going on here? Anyway, we settled down eventually, and the food came out.
Halfway through the food, the head chef, Alessandro, saw us through the round window of the kitchen door, and gave us a cheery wave. We returned the favour. It’s so nice to be surrounded by people who care deeply about what they do, and who they do it for.
During the meal, the speculation continued around where this other couple and their child were from, but just when I was near to bursting with curiosity, the lady turned to us and said “I couldn’t help myself, but I heard the accents and had to talk to you.” She was definitely Irish, and as it turns out, so was he – but from the North. I reciproated the sentiment and told them that it was killing me not knowing where they were from!
They were living in Switzerland, and their kid was going to an American school, which explains the accent! They were so lovely. We chatted with them for a while. They were staying at a friend’s house a ways outside Volterra, but decided to come into the town for the first time for a bite to eat. They just happened to have chosen Del Duca. Life is full of coicidence and serendipity. It was a fabulous meeting, and, as if the food and the attention from the staff at the restaurant wasn’t enough, it really made our evening.
At the end of the meal, Niamh had a coffee and I an amaro (Ivana (the Del Duca matriarch) was still waiting on a batch of her limoncello to mature). We left the restuarant less high on caffeine and alcohol, but more on life.
Thanks for reading this. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment or question – I would love to hear back from you!