Casale Marittimo, as I’ve said before, is my favourite hilltop village. It’s is a mini-labyrinth, left and right, up and down. It’s infrequently visited by people, easy to find parking there and is impeccably arranged and clean.
I had just visited a week earlier with our previous guests, but as Niamh hadn’t been that time (she had to work) and my brother had never been at all we thought we’d give it a bash. We would also attempt to eat a proper lunch there for the first time! We’d been foiled time and again in our attempts to eat eating there, so we were overdue some luck.
We parked in our usual spot at lunchtime, and then survived the 4 minute walk into the village. Incidentally, the approach from the east (which is almost always the way we approach the place), offers the least interesting views. From the west, you will see some fleeting glimpses of the villages upper strata towering over you. If you can, approach from the south, where you get to see the place in all its glory, where you can see it all crowning its hilltop.
On the way to the central square, we stopped to take snaps, in particular at an old chapel I hadn’t seen before.
Ok, now where to eat? I’d fancied the look of the Taverna via di Mezzo, but it was once again closed. There was a place open (Osteria L’Impronta). There are a couple of tables sitting outside on a small covered veranda. I had heard that there might be a small amount of seating within. The tables were full, so I didn’t hold out much hope. It turns out I was very wrong!
We were welcomed to lunch, then went up two short flights of stairs, past one dining room, then another higher up, which had a nice view out onto the main piazza. Then we were led up *again* and were shown to a table on a covered terrace with wonderful vistas over the hills and woods to the east and south of the village. The food was good, not award-winning, but honest and homemade. I enjoyed it. The surprise of the place itself may have added to the whole package. The staff were friendly, and yeah, I’d recommend it if you’re in Casale Marittimo of a lunchtime!
We had dessert there in the form of gelato after the meal – they serve some homemade flavours on the ground floor by the small bar. Then we had a wander around the town. I took Niamh and my brother on more or less the same route as I took our previous guests.
At one stage, we popped out at the southern entrance and had a long look over the coastal plains, noting the huge ferris wheel just south of Marina di Cecina. Google says it’s permanently closed, which is a shame if that’s the case.
We took a bunch of staircases and ramps to the upper section, passing through the main square again. I wanted to take the other two to the leather goods artisan. On the way, we spotted the car we often spot here and gave him a rub hello. Sadly the leather workshop was closed. After taking in a few more viewpoints, we went back to the car. We were pretty roasted by then, and so drove home.
We made a video! It’s a nice gentle post-lunch walk.
That evening, we went to La Mangiatoia for beer and pizza. I’d never had a Calzone before in my life, so after seeing several others have it here before I thought I’d give it a bash.
And I’ve been put off them for life. Not that it tasted bad. I could be churlish and say I liked the dough, and it *was* nice, but sadly there was little else to enjoy. There was just a smear of filling and I was crushed. Pity – the pizzas here are usually really nice, as evidenced by how much Niamh and my brother enjoyed theirs. I consoled myself with a house beer, which was lovely!
At the end of the night, it was home for screenwatching and bed!
I know this was shortish, but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless. Please feel free to leave a comment or question!
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!
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.
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 Café! 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.
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!
It was St. Stephen’s/Boxing Day, and I was tasked with driving to Florence. We had a mission: the ladies wanted to buy some gloves. I went with our usual idea of going the country route there, and parking in the Coop Carpark, and then going back via mostly the autostrada. I was thinking to myself “Gosh, wouldn’t it be great to be able to show Lily and Mark (Niamh’s sister and her husband) some of the wonderful countryside, in particular between Volterra and Montaione!” Three unfortunate things occurred, which somewhat spoiled the journey:
The weather. It was foggy in Volterra, then we got further down to a corner of the Val d’Era where it was relatively clear, but the climb began again into more fog. Well…. dang! Then came the rain, which further reduced visibility. It’s a shame, as some of the countryside is beautiful – so reserve it for a sunnier day if you ever wish to explore.
I was perhaps driving a little too quickly. Niamh and I are usually so used to both the road and having no people in the back seats, but about 20-25 minutes into the drive, I was informed that the ladies in the back were feeling queasy, so I had to slow down (sorry, ladies!).
I joined a much busier road a little after we passed Montaione. I took a left onto the route, and saw a huge puddle in the road – a lane wide, which chunks of asphalt aroud the rim of it. I had no doubt that if I had driven into the puddle, I’d have probably hit a hidden pothole – a bad one. I swerved to avoid it, but didn’t properly notice a mini-cooper coming up behind me in the other lane. He was still a little away from me, but made a show of his anger by blasting me out of it with his horn. Almost a kilometer down the road at a roundabout, he blasted me again as we parted ways. I can never get over the fact that Italians are so chill, but put a good number of them behind a steering wheel they can turn into demons!
We got to the Coop carpark in the end, and from there hopped onto a tram into the centre. We were hungry, and somehow all had a simulataneous hankering for pizza, not having had any while Lily and Mark were with us. I tend to lean away from restaurants where the staff are selling seats outside the door, much preferring to let the food do the talking. However, we were ravenous, and the establishment into which we were being ushered had some pretty good reviews (Lorenzo di Medici), so in we went and had our pizzas. They were delicious! In fairness, the service was good and the staff friendly too.
It was damp when we got out, and getting damper. Fortunately, we dressed for the occasion! We wended our way towards the Duomo, passing a few landmarks on the way, both old and new.
On the outside of the Basilica, at its north-eastern an alternative presepe (nativity scene) had been set up, but instead of a stable, it was a medical facility where doctors and nurses working to exhaustion in surgical PPE. This was a wonderful mark of respect to them during these past couple of years when the pandemic had put us, and them in particular, to the sword.
We reached the Piazza del Duomo, and wandered about the front of the cathedral. We had never seen the presepe there, nor the Christmas Tree, so it we covered off visiting Florence in yet another season. You’ll see that the town was pretty busy!
We then wandered to the Piazza delle Signoria. The city still looked great in the rain, and there were no complaints about the weather. I’ve seen videos of Florence’s Christmas lights in the evening, and they look amazing, so some of the following photos don’t really do them justice.
On the way to the Ponte Vecchio, Lily pointed out a shop where they were selling what looked like artisanal gelato. I checked the window briefly, and saw that they were serving the creamy goodness from little sunken tins (I forget what they’re called). I hopped straight in, without checking the awning on the store. I’d made my order when I noticed that it was a well-known brand of coffee (and despite trawling the map, I’m having difficulty locating the brand), who just so happened to be selling gelato in their store ‘on the side’. Too proud to cancel my order, took a goodly sized cup of it away. It was ok – not really artisanal, but ok – but it was still ok gelato, right? Yay!
We wandered over the bridge, all the way over to Palazzo Pitti, and guess what? Well if you’ve been following these blogs for a while, you’ll be pleased(?) to know that we kept up our habit of not actually going in! One of these days, I swear!
We were happy walking around and exploring though. Staying on the Altr’Arno, we headed over to the Piazza Santa Spirito. We were overdue a coffee (me, a hot chocolate), and found a place with indoor seating (Café Cabiria), and were promptly greeted by a lady with a Dublin accent! The world is too small. She sounded pretty fluent when she was talking to Italian customers, and had been over here a while. We had a 20 minute pause for refreshment, to chat with the Irish lady and to use the facilities.
Once finished, we had one more errand before the trip back home: the ladies needed to buy some gloves at Martelli on Via Por Santa Maria. It was only a trip of a few hours, but we really wanted to limit the time we would be driving in the dark. Anyway, we re-crossed at the Ponte Santa Trinita and made our way there. The ladies went in. Mark and I waited outside. And waited. And we waited a little more, a little more impatiently. It began to rain again, so Mark waited across the road, by the awning of a fancy men’s shop while I stood outside Martelli.
Then I was accosted by one of those African doo-dad sellers. Listen, I agree that every person needs to make a living, but the hucksterism some of these guys pull-off really try my patience. It began well, and we fist-bumped and chatted for a minute. Then out of nowhere he held out his hand to shake. This is where you back off, or move on etc. What happens here is that they attempt to pull and bracelet over onto your wrist and get aggressive when you refuse to buy it. I refused the handshake and immediately moved away, despite some weak protestations from him. He wandered off, while I joined Mark on the other side of the road to wait some more.
The ladies certainly spent way more time in that shop than we did in th café… not much fun, I have to say, when it’s grey and drizzling. But we bucked-up (glove-buying was our #1 mission after all), and waited stoically. They came out eventually, mission accomplished and very happy – and even a little apologetic. Satisfied, we walked back towards the tram.
We had a couple of unscheduled stops on the way. First, we paused briefly at Piazza di Santa Trinita to admire the conical Christmas tree there.
The one thing I regret this trip (no, not not Palazzo Pitti!) is not going to check out the lights at Piazza delle Republica. I saw videos of them afterwards and they are spectacular! Anyway, we instead continued farther north, and stopped in the vestibule of the Strozzi Palace to check out Jeff Koons’ balloon bunny. We didn’t go into the exhibition proper, as it was beginning to get dark.
Time for one final touristy photo-op before we boarded the tram. Yet another visit to Florence with too much time spent outdoors. We really have to pop inside some of these landmarks!
Mark had to drive home in the dark and rain… not the most pleasant of drives, but we got through it! We didn’t head out that night, but instead we had antipasti bought at La Bottega and the market a couple of days previously. Then Lily made a wonderful risotto with the blue cheese and kale, topped by a parmesan crisp (we picked up everything for this at the market). It was absolutely delish. Below is a photo of an adulterated one: Niamh doesn’t like blue cheese.
Unfortunately, the next morning it was time for us to once again leave Volterra. At the time of writing this blog we haven’t been back yet since, but are looking forward to going some time in May. Our guests were staying another couple of nights on their own, so we were more than a little jealous – but we had to head home to get our booster shots, which was more important in the grand scheme of things.
It was actually quite a nice day in Pisa itself, and Mark and Lily joined Niamh and I for one last cup of something hot and a slice of cheap pizza before we headed into the airport for the flight home. It was at a circular kiosk outside. The coffee and pizza were ok, but the hot chocolate I almost spat out. I had taken one watery mouthful that was barely tepid and left it at that. In hindsight, I should have taken it back to complain, but at the time I didn’t want to end the holiday on a downer.
So, this wraps-up this series of blogs until some time in May. I will have another one or two in the offing, in particular about Volterra being Tuscany’s inaugural capital of culture, so keep an eye out for that!
I hope you enjoyed reading this and admiring Florence’s beauty, even in the rain. Please leave a like and a comment to let me know, and please ask any questions. I’d love to hear from you.
Buon Ferragosto! Or so it was. Ferragosto is a national holiday in Italy, which is held the same day as the Assumption of Mary. It has Roman roots, in that it is thought that the holiday is dervived from one celebrating Caesar Augustus. Who knows?
What we did know, is that we weren’t going to leave town and brave the usually crazy traffic that day. So we had a nice day pottering about in Volterra instead.
We started off with the morning walk. This time, my brother came with me, as he is an avid hiker, and weathers the hills and steps of Volterra very well. Some snaps ensued!
Then we screen-watched, gamed, wrote until lunch time. Then we wandered out to the flea market. Niamh subsequently went back there later and might a coupld of sets of drinking glasses (I broke one later that week – d’oh). I spotted this little piece of art, but we didn’t go for it in the end – it was a bit mismatched with most of the other pieces we had in the apartment.
Getting a table without a booking was proving tricky in Volterra again this year. It wasn’t in 2019, but since the pandemic Volterra’s tourist numbers have risen. Fortunately, we were able to find a table for three in La Vecchia Lira at a pinch… it was the second-last table in the place.
Niamh and I had been there a couple of times, and remembered enjoying the food, and that the owner was really enthusiastic. But it was this visit for me that really caused its star to shine. It leapt up mightily in our estimation.
I went for ravioli stuffed with cod and leek in a seafood bisque, while Niamh had cinghiale (wild boar) stew with grilled veggies and my brother a plate of pappardelle al cinghiale. We were all astounded by the quality and taste of our dishes – everything was simply amazing. As it was lunch, our plan was just for one course, but we had tirimasu afterwards, and it was superb too. Put La Vecchia Lira on your map.
After lunch, we had another stroll about the town. It was (unsurprisingly) a warm day. Our stroll took us to the ‘modern’ theatre (Teatro Persio Flacco), a whippersnapper with a birth-year of 1820, as opposed to the older Roman Theatre, which was in the 70’s AD.
Apparently Niamh had already been inside the theatre with her sister on an earlier day, and so opted not to go in.
Once inside, we gave a decent donation and proceeded to the first exhibit. It seemed to be a modern art show. A man was sitting down, and he seemed to perk up when I showed an interest, so I asked him if he was the artist. I guess my Italian was so broken, that he immediately sought help, which arrived in the guise of one of the museum’s volunteers. I thought it a little comedic at the time that we proceeded to completely skip the modern art exhibition, and continued onto the next two. The first of these was an alabaster exhibition, the highlight being band instruments made from alabaster (Volterra being very famous for its alabaster works) which were arrayed in front of the proscenium. Escepcially impressive was the complete drumkit forged in that delicate medium.
The next exhibition was the one I wanted to see: a series of perfectly-made sculptures of Volterran buildings and ruins by Mauro Parenti. We were led along by the guide with whom I conversed in my awful Italian (it’s getting better, though, I swear!). He was kind to give us his time, and he definitely gave us some useful information, but like many things imparted verbally, much of it is lost to me now.
The miniatures looked so perfect, that afterwards my brother and I searched for broken stones in the real versions to see if they matched the miniatures. They didn’t but the sculptures were a marvel, nonetheless.
Later that evening we went to La Mangatoia, and had pizzas. I like the pizzas there, and wolfed-down a lovely 4-cheese! And yes, it included Gorgonzola… if there isn’t blue cheese on your 4-cheese pizza, then you’re doing it wrong.
Finally, to walk off the essentials carbs and fats we had a walk around town.
Once home, I took a couple of shots from our upper and lower terraces – one featuring a fun bit of shadow-play by my brother. Then it was beer, screen and bed.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment and I’ll answer any (sane) question you send my way.
Today was the day when we said goodbye to one guest and hello to another. But before we had our trip to Pisa airport, I had time to get up and have a nice walk that morning. Unsurprisingly, I took some photos!
Near Porta San Francesco, there’s a small square, Piazza Marcello Inghirami. Tucked inside one of its corners there’s a modern-looking covered laneway, which leads to Viale Franco Poretti, where the main residents carpark and the Roman theatre ruins lie. It used to be covered in graffiti, but it looks like they coated over most of it. I’m conflicted by this, as some street art can be amazing, but I don’t have any strong memories of anything jumping out at me. But I hope they allow controlled access to the more serious street artists this time around.
I didn’t go through the lane, but continued past the piazza up Via San Lino, and onwards into the Piazza dei Priori before heading back to the apartment.
We dropped Niamh’s sister off at Pisa Airport. I silently marvelled that we might get away without having to visit the Cathedral and tower this trip! Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful, but we’ve done it a bunch of times over the past few years.
My brother was arriving in later that evening, so we had a fair few hours to burn. We didn’t want to go back to Volterra and make the trip all over again, so we decided to head off to Montecatini Terme.
Now comes the hazy part. I *think* we needed to go to Navacchio to buy something or other – I think I was looking for a gorilla grip for the phone I could leave over in Tuscany, so I didn’t have to carry it through security again. I didn’t find one there. I think we ended up eating in Old Wild West again…. a burger each, and then I offered to drive us to Montecatini.
This place holds a special place in Niamh’s and my hearts. In 2008, we went on a Travel Department tour to Tuscany: I think this was our first visit to Italy. The Travel Department had been occasionally scoffed at by people of our own age (as old as we were at the time), as being a holiday agent for crocks and fuddy-duddies. Well, we met some wonderful people on that tour, and another subsequent one to China, so don’t believe everything you hear – if you think you’ll fancy it, go on and do it. They offer taster day-trips from a central base, and it gives you a good idea of the place you’re visiting, and instills a longing to return (or it did for us, anyway). If I had one complaint about such tours, is that the food included is often sub-par.
Anyway, our home base for the 2008 tour was a hotel in the northern part of Montecatini Terme called The Grand Hotel Panoramic. It lies in the leafy ‘burbs of town, but the best thing about it was that it was just a couple of hundred metres away from the funicular that took up to the old town: Montecatini Alto.
I drove from Navacchio, through several towns, bypassing the lovely looking Vicopisano (which I have since visited in October), and we parked at the free ‘L’-shaped carpark directly opposite the hotel where we stayed. Funnily, I don’t remember the carpark having been there, but I remember the trees that provided much needed shade in near-40 degree heat. It was as hot today as it was then, and I was actually wearing shorts that day as a result. Shorts-wearing is something of a rarity for me, but it’s a habit I’ll have to break.
Anyway, we got out of the car and headed directly towards the funicular. We were hoping that the Funi Bar would be open, as we were in dire need of refreshment. Sadly, it was closed for riposo (Italian siesta), but we managed to grab a couple of bottles of water from a vending machine instead.
We bought our return tickets, and then had a 10-15 minute wait for the next funicular. Once on, I began filming. And here’s the unfortunate part. When I was done with the day’s filming I transferred the Pink Floyd tribute act movies (see later) to my laptop so I could edit the movie for YouTube. Then I purged my phone to ‘free up space’, which I really didn’t need to do. Unfortunately, that meant I ended up deleting all the Montecatini footage, and I was back home in Ireland when I discovered this. I cursed myself for a fool. On the other hand, it means I very much have a valid reason to return someday soon!
I at least grabbed some photos while filming.
The funicular finally thundered and groaned its way to its destination. We got out and marvelled at the views looking back over the plains, and the new town.
While there, we were accosted by a small, older gentleman who was selling his artwork by the railings. He was full of chat, both Italian and broken English, and had a typcially Tuscan charm about him. He was retired and was painting scenes of villages in the area on flat, smooth pieces of wood, and framing them in wood too. I asked him if he was a salesman before retiring, which he had a good laugh at, and declared that selling yourself is an important skill in life. I had to agree, and then bought a piece from him for €30. I think he was selling it for €20, but it was too low a price for a unique piece of work. Stupidly, I don’t have a photo of it, but will take one and post it next time I’m over.
With my art packed away, we headed up to the main square, and were immediately reminded of the first ‘real’ slow Italian food experience we had there. It was during one evening, and we’d had enough of the prescribed food at the hotel. We had been given a brief tour by Laura, our young Italian tourguide, whose shrill calling of our room number during roll-call we still remember and mimic to this day (“TWO TWO THREEEEEEE!”). I can’t remember if we made a booking through the tour, or if we just headed up and got lucky in finding a table. I think it was the latter. Anyway, 4 courses and 3 hours later, and I was pretty sure I could live happily in Tuscany. Actually, it wasn’t until we visited San Gimignano for the first time (on the same tour), that the deal was fully sealed. I was mesmerised.
Anyway, back to that night in 2008. We were sitting on the edge of outdoor seating of a restaurant on one side on the square. Behind us, not 10 yards away, was a large group of ladies seated at another restaurant. Without warning, they all stood up and began singing. Niamh and I looked at each other, doubly surprised. There were definitely Celtic undertones to what was being sung, and it was done with such perfectly layered harmonies, time seemed to stop. At the end of it, everyone in the piazza stood up and applauded. To me it was a perfect slice of life; like it was hand-crafted for a movie. It turned out that they were a choral group from Galway! They weren’t on our tour, so it was completely serendipitous.
The heat was crippling, so the first thing we did was head for a gelateria I remembered being in one of the corners of the piazza. I seem to have a memory for gelato and good food generally! I had lemon sorbet – just the thing to cool you down on a day where you feel like you’ve just opened a hot oven’s door.
When done, we filmed about the town, heading into a church, and to a nearby park. I could kick myself for losing the footage, as the only photo I took was inside the church itself.
It’s a lovely place, so please go there if you ever find yourself in Montecatini Terme. Once done, we headed back to the piazza, where I grabbed a couple of bottles of frosty water from the gelateria – having to coax the owner back inside so I could pay. He was nice about it… I just wouldn’t have been comfortable to just leave the €2 on the counter and scoot out.
We were still parched, however, and so went to the bar on the other side of the piazza, and asked for a table (always ask for a table, don’t just sit randomly!). It was so baking, I think we each had two drinks: me, two lemon sodas (probably the greatest soft drink in the world), and Niamh a Coke Zero and a shakerato – an ice-cold coffee, served in a martini glass. I had a taste of it; it nearly made me want to take up the habit. The barman was super-friendly too.
We just missed the funicular back down, but were happy to wait the 15 minutes for the next one. Lovely views, and it was great to see families, three generations, all out and being normal during this crisis. We headed back down, opting to stand outside the hindmost carriage.
The next stop was the neo-Romanesque spa in the new part of town which gives it the monicker ‘Terme’. We were blown away by it the first time we were there, and it didn’t disappoint 13 years later. I think it was €6 per person in, but you could have as much spa water as you wanted. There are several types, but the one most people were taking has an acquired sulpurous taste – no thanks. Instead, we had a mooch and went ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ a lot at the spotlessly clean architecture.
There is a classy bar within, and once again we were succumbing to the heat of the day and grabbed a couple of drinks. We sat inside for about 30 seconds, before grabbing our gear and going for a table in the shade.
Once done, we had another quick mosey aroud a couple of other parts of the
The hours passed pleasantly, but it was time to head back to Pisa to pick up my brother from the airport. All went according to plan, except that there was an adult taking care of a bunch of kids – one of whom left his rucksack behind customs. He tried to go get it anyway and set off all sorts of alarms. No sign of customs police, so he tried it again, before the ‘responsible’ adult decided to ring the door to engage with the authorities. Unattended baggage at an airport tends to be frowned upon. Anyway, we didn’t witness the outcome, because my brother arrived and we headed home!
The powers that be were kind enough to welcome my brother back to the town with an imprompu show. Playing were Magic Regoli’s Band were playing a Pink Floyd tribute show in the main piazza. We thought that (a) we’d be too late for the beginning, and (b) there was no chance of tickets.
Fortunately, (a) proved false as the band began fashionably late, but (b) was bang-on. Fortunately, Ristorante Etruria had some seating outside, and while the view to thre stage wasn’t epic, the sound certainly was! The Piazza dei Priori really acts as a fantastic natural theatre. We grabbed a table, and enjoyed some pizzas (Niamh had pasta)… then after dessert, Niamh left us, and my brother and I held onto the table, guzzled down some Moretti and enjoyed the show. They really were fantastic, especially the female vocalist who blasted Great Gig in the Sky out of the park. Well done, that lady!
At the end of the gig, there was a minute-long firework display, and after that we were off to bed!
That was the end of one of my favourite days in Italy to date. I captured some of the music act on video, and you can catch it below.
Thanks for reading this. I hope it wasn’t too long. Please leave a like, and a comment!
As it was just after our first night, we had no trash to take down, so I could afford to take my time. I still had to move the car by 08:00, though. I grabbed my phone, grip and mic and headed to the carpark.
I got in and drove down to the free carpark, at Docciola. At that hour, I found a spot with no hassle. However, the downside of that carpark is that you have to climb up a couple of hundred steps to get back into town. When there, I walked along Via Gramsci, and stopped off at Pasticceria Migliorini for some pasticcini for breakfast. Italians’ breakfasts are usually sweet, so I just wanted to fit in.
I have a little video about my little walk here:
Once done, I yummied down the pasticcini, had a shower and headed out to meet Alice from our estate agents, who have a great property management service. We gave them a gift of a ton of drink-themed chocolate, and we were given a quick tour of their new office; a great upgrade from their previous one! Very nice indeed.
We had to renew our parking permit, so Alice brought us to the municipal police station in Torre di Porcellino. We waited in line here while the queue slowly moved along.
While we waited, I ran to a tabacchi to buy stamps to affix to the permit… a sort of mini-tax to be affixed to the permit itself.
It was finally our turn, and we were served by a dapper young gent in civilian clothes. For some reason, and we’re still not sure why, our permit was downgraded from ‘R’ (pretty much full resident’s permit – you can park almost everywhere, and drive through town on designated roads), to ‘F’, which allows us park in 3 areas – and we’d have to ask for permission to drive through town. Now, it annoyed me, but in practical terms it didn’t really impact us, as we were still able to park in our usual carpark.
Anyway, next year, we’ll see if we can get upgraded again… but maybe not get so upset if we can’t pull it off.
One of the traditions Niamh and I have is to try to have our first major meal in La Taverna di Terra di Mezzo – largely down to the time we were welcomed back by them at the beginning of our second ever visit to Volterra. So, we went there for lunch! And we weren’t disappointed.
The food was amazing! We also doused ourselves in the house red and white. When all was done, Aurora opened a bottle of limoncello, and left it and three glasses with us! We weren’t abusive, and just had maybe five shots between the three of us. I ended up leaving satisfied and perhaps just a little tipsy!
The lunch took over 2.5 hours…. but I loved every minute of it. Afterwards, to burn off the calories (and some boooze), we had a stroll around the town a little. This was cool, as I so rarely take photos of it at this time… most of mine are taken in the morning. Anyway, here’s a selection!
We chilled for a little while, before inexplicably getting a little hungry again! So I said I’d pop out to Ombra della Sera pizzeria and grab a couple of pizzas to share. But on the way, sure I had to stop off in L’Antica Velathri Cafe for a quick aperitivo!
I ordered at the pizzeria, and was told it was a 20 minute wait, so I had a quick stroll.
I collected a veggie pizza and a 4-cheese…. I love Ombra’s 4-cheese!
And then to bed! Or maybe some time out on the terrace, then some TV, then bed!
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!