We had to wait another 12 weeks before could return. It’s wrong to wish your life away. And you should try to be grateful for what you do have, no matter where you are – if you want to maintain healthy mental balance. However, it’s hard to put this all into practice when you have a little slice of heaven waiting for you just over 2 hours away by airplane.
It turns out that our usual gateway to our slice of heaven would require you going through the eye of a needle! Car rental in Pisa had become incredibly expensive, and we had an idea to shop from a different airport. We would have to ensure that the agency we rented the car with could take the car back in Pisa, as we would fly out from there. Anyway, we found that Thrifty, who also have an office in Pisa, were renting the exact same car class for the exact same period for almost €1,000 less (although see below!) in their agency in Ciampino Airport, Rome. The name ‘Thrifty’ didn’t exactly instill confidence, but we had no issues throughout our stay.
We decided that it could be a win/win if we got an early enough flight, and found a route we could enjoy. We had 2 basic choices:
- To head immediately to the coast and take as coastal a route as possible. I love coastal drives, but planning a route would be tricky… as quite often many of the roads right next to the sea are gravelly or sandy, or simply prohibited. Often the road closest to the coasts is still several hundred meters away from the sea, which defeats the purpose. In addition, there are very few coastal towns with true ‘centro storico’ charm in Lazio and Tuscany.
- Drive inland instead, skirting around inland lakes and exploring a couple of lakeside towns on the way. The towns on the lakeside would have a better chance of being ‘oldy-worldy’.
So we decided on the latter and I plotted, which would take is through parts of Lazio and Umbria – we’d never driven outside Tuscany before. Including a couple of scheduled stops, I estimated it would take us 7-7.5 hours.
Firstly, we had to fly!
We did exactly what we did that last time we flew out: booked the night in the Maldron at the airport so we could walk directly to the airport and get a couple of hours extra sleep. My brother kindly gave us a lift to the hotel. Our room was grand, and we ate in the bar instead of the restaurant this time. Not bad at all. We slept well enough and, with no breakfast, got up at sparrowfart and walked to departures with a nice young lad from Cork. Niamh and I just had carry-ons; he had nothing but the clothes he had on him.
We got there, positively sailed through security and walked much of the way towards the gate to an eatery that was, mercifully, open. We somehow grabbed a table – the airport was freaking mobbed at the gates – and sat by a multigenerational family of 6 or 7. I had a sandwich; Niamh a sweet breakfast – to start the time off Italian style!
Everything was going to plan. We got to our gate, were checked and began our Ryanair cattle-queue to the aircraft, close to the front. The sky was blue, the birds were singing…
So we queued and waited, and waited. We chatted for a bit with a funny older couple who were hung-over and going for Rome for their first time. Grounds-people and boarded staff wandered in and out of the craft. Several times I could have sworn we were going to be allowed to board. But then, alas, a man told us we all had to go back into the terminal. There was an issue with the aircraft, and we would have to wait an hour for another craft.
There was no waiting area in the terminal, so we had to walk past the gates again, which of course meant that we would have to be re-checked on the way out. On the plus side, the dude who said an hour was actually pretty much spot on. Any delay, however, was going to eat into our ability to wander around the couple of towns we had chosen.
Anyway, we were re-boarded an hour later and spend about 30 minutes longer than usual in the air, as we were flying to Rome, rather than Pisa. The flight was pleasant and without incident. We spotted a couple of lakes – one of those at which we would stopping. We disembarked, got through the passport check handily, and broke out Missus Google to search for the Thrifty agency to pick up our car. It had just finished raining heavily and the sun was making its reappearance. It was therefore becoming both hot and humid. Fortunately, we were at the agency in 9 or 10 minutes. We took up a couple of options, not realising one of them was an additional driver. We checked our booking, and lady was quite correct – the booking didn’t include me as an additional driver, and it would cost just under €300 more for the month. It took a little gloss off our saving, and cast a shadow over whether or not we should have flown to Rome in the first place. But was done was done, and the day and the journey ahead were still ours to make the most of.
We got the keys and checked the car out. It was a Fiat Panda and was as basic as cars get – even in these modern times. There was no infotainment screen – almost a basic requirement, but our budget was set and we gave it a shot. In truth, once we had bought the phone holder that clipped into the airvents we grew to love the old girl.
Off we went towards the ringroad around Rome, and then, quite quickly, we seemed to be doubling back before we felt he’d left the airport. And then back again. We re-checked Google and re-input the route, but it seemed to be right. We hit a roundabout that we’d hit before and took a different exit. Very odd. Anyway, we were off and in 3-lane traffic around Rome. Well, they certainly drive a little more aggressively here, don’t they! We were only on the ring road about 30 minutes, before we were back on more the more civilised 2-way roads. About 20 minutes later we entered the lovely lakeside town of Anguillara Sabazia. We very luckily got parking right by the lakeside restaurants, and had a little explore.
Not too far away from us, there was a Ferris wheel, and people lounging in the sun on the dark sand. But the town itself is gorgeous, like a mini Positano, with a pyramid of buildings crowing a nearby hill. A lovely and peaceful place. I took a little video footage you can find farther down below. Sadly, due to the lateness of our flight we had to do the thing we came here for: have lunch. There was no time for a proper explore.
Sadly, this is where things go a little pear-shaped. I have been using Google maps street view to ‘drive’ along the Italian coast, sussing out amenities, restaurants and properties. One thing I can say with reasonable accuracy is that a great many (i.e. not ALL) lakeside/seaside restaurants will force you to sacrifice the quality and price of food for the aesthetics of the location.
I’m afraid this was the case here too. I won’t name the restaurant. Niamh had a passable Amitriciana, but my Cacio e Pepe was utterly abortive. I’m usually not harsh in my food critiques, but this was a crushing disappointment. While the tonnarelli noodles were done well and toothsome (and I at least ate those with relish), the sauce was a total mess. The dish arrived with the noodles swimming in a soup with congealed cheese parked in marble-sized packets through out the serving. I finished the pasta, but left the sauce, which had by then looked like a plate of porridge. I wouldn’t have expected it to be so badly cooked halfway around the world, let alone in Italy, in the region considered to be the home of Cacio e Pepe.
Anyway, let’s move on.
We left Anguillara Sabazia and had a 10km or so pleasant lakeside drive, before we joined the main road towards Passignano sul Trasimeno. We circled around the walls of Nepi, and past tantalisingly close to Narni, Todi and Perugia – but we will have to visit those some time in the distant future. It was anethema to the explorer in me to pass them by, but our time was limited. I really enjoyed the drive, and didn’t really notice it pass by too much. I even drove this leg!
Anyway two and a half hours later we arrived at the large pay carpark to the east of Passignano itself. It lies alongside the lakeside promenade. We paid for the parking ticket and got out of the car and had a little explore.
Lake Trasimeno at around 130 square km is Italy’s 4th biggest lake and something of a boon to the otherwise landlocked, yet beautiful, region of Umbria. The photos above look a little gloomy, but the sun was on the other side of town, and we were just in time for the sunset and a gelato!
The touristic side of town has a lovely promenade lined with restaurants and shops. We only had the gelato and walked a little farther to have a look at the pier and check out the golden hour. Behind the promenade buildings there were hints of an older town, begging to be explored – but alas, we had no time.
The pier was essentially a dock for the ferries which can take people to and from a couple of other towns and a couple of islands. The other plus side to Trasimeno is that it’s not a huge drive away – a little under 2 hours, so it’s a ripe target for exploration at another time. In fact, we had planned on visiting again, but other things got in the way and we never made it.
We got back in the car and Niamh drove the last leg to Volterra. Passignano was a little larger than we expected and the more modern part had its virtues and amenities too – quite a lovely place. On the way home, we actually passed very close to Cortona – another gem of town that we’ll have to visit at some stage in the near future.
We knew much of this road, and it was multi-laned. We didn’t stop off anywhere, and once parked, we wheeled our bags to the apartment, changed the bedsheets and collapsed into our beds.
Below is a short video of some footage of Anguillara and Passignano – take a look!
I hope you enjoyed the read. Let me know what you think!