Well, Marie and Lorenzo had guests to greet that morning, so it was a quick goodbye before they headed back to Vicopisano. We agreed to meet for lunch that day. We were also going to meet Marisa and David, who have their own YouTube channel, there too, so there was a modicum of excitement! In addition, it was also Collectors Market day in Vicopisano – a triple-treat.
We wandered out to main Piazza to walk Marie and Lorenzo back to their car, only to be greeted by a few dozen classic cars. There seems to be some sort of car rally in Volterra nearly every month, and there were some beauties.
I shot and edited a shortish music-video style thing too.
After seeing them to the gate, we wandered back and spent a couple of hours in the apartment. We had to meet the gang for lunch, and so it wasn’t much of a wait before we had to get to the car for our journey to Vicopisano. It’s only an hour there.
We were soon reunited and first met Marisa and David near the centre of town. They were in town to shop for furniture and oddities for their new place in Chianni. Before we assisted them, it was time for lunch! Lorenzo and Marie brought us to Aurora Taverna Toscana – it was an all-in-one bar, patisserie and restaurant. Heck, they even own the gelateria next door – the full gamut… you’d never have to leave!
We had a lovely 3-course lunch, and took our sweet time about it too, which was great as we had a great time just getting to know each other and having some laughs. They are all such super people! The food was delicious, especially the pork steaks I got, which were cooked in a yummy peppercorn sauce.
At the end of lunch, I caught one of the most fabulous smells you can ever smell: fresh porcini. It was the beginning of the season. Let me tell you, dried porcini have absolutely nothing on fresh! They smelled amaaaazing.
A couple of hours later (a long Tuscan lunch!), we wandered up one of the streets to check out the collectible stalls. Marisa found a nice mirror and table and I played the role of boy scout and helped carry it back to her car.
Why not check out Marisa’s own video of the day, guest-starring yours truly and Niamh!
We got back to Volterra, and arriving at Piazza XX Settembre we heard some wonderful close-harmony singing from the old cathedral, which is now the Museum of Sacred Art. I’d been to Volterra on and off for a little over 4 years by then, and I’d never heard of the Blessing of the Salt, but this is exactly what we caught. We listened to the wonderful voices for a while (I am a sucker for harmonies), but couldn’t enter the church, as it seems you had to book. I got a little footage, which I edited into mini-video:
We stayed in that night, as we were quite full from the big lunch. We just chilled and screenwatched. Next week we’d be back in work!
I had no walk this Sunday – sure even God rested on the seventh day, so cut me some slack! We were to head to Vicopisano to attend their flower festival, and film it a little. It’s funny how car journeys seem to shorten the more often you do them, especially when you know you’re going to enjoy the destination. It’s only a little over an hour (if even) from Volterra, and we got parking in the massive overflow field they had opened for the event.
I got out and started filming/papping.
It didn’t take us long to bump into Marie and Lorenzo of Authentic Tuscany (Instagram, website), who offer some wonderful accomodation options throughout the town. They work really hard and giving their guests an opportunity to experience life in small-town and rural Tuscany. They offer guided hikes and experiences of produce-tasting (wine, cheese, olive-oil, truffles) with locals, with whom they have established a fun relationship.
Met Marie and Lorenzo soon after. Amazing couple. Even though it comes naturally to them, they work so hard at keeping people happy. Not many jobs are better.
So we were led by Marie and Lorenzo to a restaurant called 30metriquadri (because it’s the area of the indoor space!), and is run by a couple of Roman lads.
We settled down and slowly, but our group began to grow, from the 4 of us, then to 6 as a couple Marie and Lorenzo knew joined us. The man was a retired pilot and knew Marie from when she was an air Stewardess with British Airways. The lovely lady was a wonderful abstract artist (Instagram). Then three more came, including Chef Celine, who you might know from Nicki Positano’s content if you watch her. She’s a private Chef in the Lucca region, so if you’re in the area and are in the need of one, look her up (Instagram). Celine was joined by another British ex-pat couple. Everyone knew each other, so it was a little overwhelming at first for Niamh and me – and we remained relatively quiet (improving our listening skills, as I imagine it!), but everyone was so lovely, that their manner (plus a glass or three of wine) put us at our ease.
We then proceeded to have one of those wonderful Tuscan lunches that was about 1.5 courses of food, but lasted almost 4 hours. If a few people in the party hadn’t been short on time it would have been a little more relaxing, but Niamh and I weren’t in a hurry! We had little veggie balls of goodness, bread and pasta to accompany our wine – all very delish. A couple had desserts after, but we held back as we were heading out to dinner that evening.
Halfway through the wait/food, Marie had to meet up with a couple of ladies from Cork, who she introduced to the table. They looked to be enjoying the hell out of themselves. More happy clients for Marie and Lorenzo!
To be honest, I had always been worried about meeting more ex-pats and being enveloped in an ex-pat ‘bubble’, as we had wanted to try to integrate with locals primarily, but after this encounter we felt no more worries about that. Most of their Italian is fantastic, and it has just given me further impetus to learn and integrate more. On top of that, we met a bunch more interesting people we would never have met otherwise. More people equals more stories!
Once done, we headed out to explore the flower festival a little more.
It was a fun little festival. They combined it with their collectors market, and so there were a lot of people. A little brass-based marching band were playing throughout the town adding to the fun. The fact that the weather was pleantly warm and clear was just the icing on the cake.
You can watch a video of our trip to Vicopisano here:
We had a nice drive home, and were a bit naughty at L’Isola del Gusto (it was beginning to get busy), and sat out with our ill-gotten gains by the Church of the Archangel Michael.
We rested at home for a while, urging on our digestive systems to allow more food to be crammed in. Thankfully, they complied.
We were granted another lovely welcome, and as always the food flipping rocked!
We were plied with offers of after-dinner drinks, but we had to turn them down, as we had to be compos mentis for the next day. The next 5 days, in fact. No more on that, I’m afraid. We were also offered the use of the pool at Marcampo. I had every intention of taking them up on the offer, but I never actually did. We still intend this again in August when we return. A day out by the pool may be just the thing. Despite my hydrophobia and creamy whiteness.
We said our goodbyes, took the shot below and headed home.
I didn’t go for a walk that morning, as I knew we were heading off early to travel. I did take a pic from the terrace, and one on our way to the car, though.
We’d been following people from Vicopisano on Instagram for a while (Authentic Tuscany – check them out). It seemed like a nice town, but what really clinched the deal was the collectors’ and antiques market they hold the second Sunday of every month. We’d passed it by on the way to Montecatini Terme in August too (and yes, it still galls me that I lost the video footage of that trip), and there were a couple of historical features that certainly looked worth checking out.
We set Mrs. Google to the carpark that looked most promising, and got underway. The trip is about 54km and took a little over an hour. I didn’t take any photos, because I was filiming! You can scroll further down the page to check out the video of the journey and the market itself.
We arrived around 11-11:30 and found that it was only a short stroll to the market itself. And what a market! I’d heard that Arezzo had the biggest regular antiques fair in Tuscany, which is probably true – in that it is strictly antiques. But Vicopisano’s market is absolutely enormous, and so lively. I’m struggling to think of anything that wasn’t for sale! There were books/comics, toys, old wireless radios, furniture, crockery (including very fancy dinner sets), cutlery, wonderful stalls with gramaphones (being demonstrated), clothes, weapons, musical instruments, old bikes, alabaster and terracotta-ware, mirrors, glasses, genuine war memorabilia. The market wrapped around Piazza Cavalca – a large square just west of the oldest parts of the town, and snaked its way along multiple adjoining streets. We really couldn’t get over the size of it. It was so huge, that while we didn’t buy anything (we came close), we still spend a good 60-70 minutes simply strolling through it while stopping only briefly to check out a few stalls of interest.
One of the best things about Italian markets (I think I’ve noted this before), is how lively they can be – the excited chatter of Tuscan accents buzzed about us and really added to the overall atmosphere. I really couldn’t recommend this enough! There was one stall in particular that grabbed me. A man was demonstrating a gramaphone, and despite the age of the technology, the massive horn was blaring out the old tune ‘Roses of Picardy’. You can check it out in the video towards the end of this blog.
It was time for lunch, though, and perhaps we were a bit optimistic in thinking we could walk-in just about anywhere – especially during the pandemic. I saw the reviews for Ristomacelleria Testi seemed to be quite good on Google, so I chanced my arm. They looked like they were opening, and I approached who I assumed was the manager/owner, who was on the phone. I waited until he finished, and said to me ‘Dimmi!’. So I asked him in Italian if there was a table for two available now. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. In hindsight, that was probably just as well, as we were going to go out to eat at Terra di Mezzo in Volterra later that evening, so something smaller would have been better. We walked past that restaurant again after we’d explored the old town, and the smell coming from it was amazing (definitely for meat lovers!) – so one day we’ll return with a booking!
Instead, we went to Le Belle Torri, and ate inside. Our waitress was so enthusiastic and friendly, so in the end our choice was right for that reason too. We had a pizza each – they were pretty nice, and just what we needed.
We had a ramble through the old town of Vicopisano afterwards, hoping to maybe catch an attraction or two, like the Palazzo Pretorio and the recently re-opened Rocca buttress for walking over – part of the fortifications created by Brunelleschi (yes, the same lad who fashioned the dome of the cathedral in Florence).
So we walked through the town, and were delighted by its old charm. It seemed to be built on terraces, and towers dotted the views throughout. At one point I thought that it might even rival San Gimignano for its towers, but that was just my over-active imagination. But just look at the pretty:
We walked to the Rocca and found it closed to public tours. On our way back we passed by a large group of Italians outside the gate, and assumed that they had organised a special private tour. It was Sunday, and we probably should have realised that many places stood a good chance of being shut, just slightly the wrong side of the tourist season. Onwards we went to Palazzo Pretorio (pausing to let a massive 4×4 perform a complicated 17-point turn), and saw that it too had closed just after lunch on Sundays. D’oh! I had a little explore of its courtyard, and then we had a look at a sequence of switch-backing steps leading all the way down to the river. A little disappointed (as much in our lack of preparation as well as ill luck), and wandered through the more residential area of the old town.
By the time we’d gotten back to the newer part of town, I was pleasantly surprised at how the two seemed to successfully mingle. The blend is very subtly balanced. The old with the new – the border isn’t hugely evident. We entered a bar to grab a coffee/hot chocolate, but for some reason we lost confidence on the protocol on grabbing a table. Some tables seemed to be for dining – or maybe all of them, but we weren’t sure. We chickened out, sadly, and went for one final stroll past the restaurant in which we had failed to secure a lunchtime seat – the smell of grilled meat was wonderful – even after having eaten. We walked past Le Belle Torri, and saw a gate beyond which were other gravelled-and-green-area seats and a couple of other establishments. It was a lovely little mini-park. What a fine little town this is! We wandered up and down it for a few minutes before heading back to the car.
I have to say, we didn’t do Vicopisano full photographic justice, as we missed the ‘classic’ shot of the tower with sloping battlement – but it’s best captured a little way out of town. Maybe next time.
Should you wish to make Vicopisano your base, rather than Volterra, then please out these excellent people – Authentic Tuscany!
Here is the video of our journey to, and exploration of, Vicopisano:
A little while after we had returned to Ireland, and I had published the above video, Vicopisano was awarded the Bandiera Arancione (orange flag) from the Italian Touring Club – basically a recommendation to visit one of the finer towns in Italy. I’m pretty sure it was coincidence! *wink* To be honest, I was amazed it wasn’t already on their list.
But the day wasn’t over. When we got home, we found we had a fondness of our own little town, and had a little walk before heading back to the apartment.
Afterwards Robbi, the owner, handed us a bottle of dessert wine – an almond variety. We haven’t tried it yet, but I look forward to the day we can crack it open.
Before I go… a quick art update! You may remember a few blogs ago that we bought a little original painting from a lovely old gent in Montecatini Alto, just outside the funicular station. I promised I’d post a pic of it next time I got over (and remembered!), and so here it is!
Well that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please leave a like and a comment or question. Thanks!