Back in 2019, we experienced Volterra’s outdoor arts festival, La Notte Rossa (the Red Night) for the first time. Outdoor art installations and musical performances are dotted throughout the town, as private palazzi open for an explore. In the lead up to it, there are often some performances or talks you can attend. I covered off a couple of these in the last blog. If there was one thing that worried me a little about this year’s (even though Volterra was Tuscany’s capital of culture), there was a distinct lack of outdoor installations being worked on. In 2019 there were a bunch of them, but I didn’t really see any. In fairness, the world was still trying to pick itself up after Covid, so that too might be a reason.
Anyway, we were still excited as we would be celebrating it this year with our first Italy-based overnight guests. We mentioned Marie and Lorenzo before. They are a couple who live in Vicopisano, and manage properties as holiday-rentals as Authentic Tuscany. They are super-nice and very enthusiastic in showing their guests Tuscan delights, such as wine and oil tastings, truffle-hunting and cookery classes. They are definitely worth looking into if you want somewhere different and less-frequently visited (but nonetheless very lovely!) than the big names – Vicopisano is a gorgeous little town. While they had been to Volterra a number of times, they had never seen the Red Night, and so we were only too happy to show them around. One thing to note: I was probably a little shy in asking them if I could include them in photos/video, and didn’t assume either way, so you won’t see them in this blog, but you’ll see them at the above website and, of course, their Instagram accounts. Also, I was happy to limit video-taking, as I wanted to be more present at the festival.
But what did we do in the lead-up? I honestly haven’t a clue! There are no photo-memories, nor actual human memories available.
So, on with the main event! We met the guys at a corner outside the west part of the walled town and walked them back through Porta San Francesco, through the main square, where a band was tuning up for the evening. It’s uphill all the way, baby, but they hike quite a bit outside Vicopisano, and didn’t find it too taxing. As they had been to Volterra a bunch of times before, I we kept the tour stuff to a minimum. We had quick tour of the square and the streets near our apartment. Then we gave them a quick tour of the apartment. They weren’t exhausted by the steps up either, so that was a bonus!
When we were ready, we made for L’Incontro for aperitivi. The service was a little slow, but I think we had time enough for a couple of drinks and some nibbles, before heading directly across the road to La Vecchia Lira for a dinner before exploring the festival.
We enjoyed the grub, and skipped dessert.
We headed for the Piazza dei Priori to see how the festival was progressing. It’s a late-starting affair (21:00), and it was dark when we got there. The first thing I noted was that the band still wasn’t playing, and nor were there any demos or installations on display. I did like the projection on the Palazzo dei Priori, and the fabulous lighting.
As soon as I had the snaps taken, I ran towards the private palazzo that runs perpendicular to Del Duca. I just missed being able to explore it in 2019, and got stupidly scorpy as a result. I jogged there. And, of course, it was closed. Anyway, it was what it was, and with a shrug of the shoulders I went back to the rest of the gang and continued the exploration.
We went clockwise around the square, so I could check out northwestern end of Via del Mandorlo to see if there was any nice artwork installed outdoors. The town is set up so that wherever you see a red blobby asterisk, you will be assured of some sort of treat. The street had the sign, but nothing outside it. However, it was signed because one of the palazzi on the street was open – or at least their backyard was.
After a quick visit there, we wandered to Porta San Felice. It’s paths and stairs were lined with tons of little oil lamps, as it was in 2019. It looked stunning. From there, it was a climb up one of the steepest streets in Volterra: Via della Pietraia. At the top of it was the piazzetta where Osteria Fornelli can be found. It had a display of alabaster lit up from within – not just for the festival – it seems to be a permanent fixture now.
We completed a circuit by heading back to the Piazza San Giovanni, where the baptistry and cathedral can be found, as well as Volterra’s fab exhibition centre. There was a cool jazz band playing outside the exhibition centre, so we hung around for a couple of tunes before moving on.
Onwards towards the art museum, but you had to book it that night, so we had a brief glimpse. Luckily, we did get into a piano blues concert inside the beautiful Teatro Persio Flacco. While he was an excellent player, he didn’t have the gravelly voice needed for blues. He was a technically good singer – very clean with wonderful tone, but would have excelled in a different genre.
From there, we had a long walk up our street, then wandered past Del Duca again and up towards the park. We ambled along the prison walls to Porta al Selci. Near the ramp that leads to the prison entrance, there lies a large building which is also rarely open to the public – an arts building, which chiefly seems to be the resident to a dancing troupe. We had a nose around inside, while our guests chatted a little with the ladies who where hostessing the evening there.
At the back, there is a large space, with enormous trees – a backyard which few again see. In 2019, I was allowed to explore the garden fully. This year, the safety dance was in full effect, and we couldn’t wander farther than 5 or so meters. Still gloriously spooky!
We stopped off at L’Antica Velathri Café for a quick libation, before heading to Piazza Settembre XX, through Gramsci and back to Piazza dei Priori to witness the festival-closing fireworks display!
And now for some blog-exclusive content! Here is video footage of the fireworks display. It get’s pretty spectacular towards the last minute or so.
Thanks for reading, all. I hope you enjoyed it – please let me know in the comments!