Today begins our last week in Italy – we’ve been here two weeks already! This was a travel/orientation day, as we drove from Perugia to Posta di Chianti, a “country hotel” just on the southern edge of Chianti country and about 20 km east of Siena. It’s an old mill (molino) that’s been expanded and converted to a hotel/restaurant with 16 rooms.
Again, we drove through some lovely country, passing by Agello, another small hill town, and Lago Trasimeno (which is much bigger than it looks in the photo). We also have travelled back to Tuscany from Umbria. On this particular route, the transition is marked by the Torre Beccati Questo e Beccati Quello, two very old towers (the taller one in Umbria) that recall the rivalry between the two provinces. The towers are just east of Chiusi, another pretty hill town where we stopped for a while and had a late morning capuccino at the Caffè Venezia.
The Senese Chianti hills are lovely. Today was devoted to hanging around and getting to know the area. The nearest town is Castelnuovo Berardenga, which is about six km from our hotel. It’s quite small, but has all the basic amenities, including a small shop where we can buy English newspapers. It’s on a small piazza where we had our morning cappuccini.
We took an extensive driving tour that included many hillside estates surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. It’s a beautiful area. Our drive took us near Siena, which we plan to visit tomorrow.
After dinner last night at the restaurant in our hotel, tonight we decided to walk down the road to Il Bivacco, which is a short ten minute stroll, where we had a nice pizza. While every dinner hasn’t been superb, we have yet to have a bad meal here!
Another gorgeous day under the Tuscan sun. We spent most of the day in Siena, which is probably most famous for two things: the colour (burnt Sienna) and the Palio delle Contrade. The Palio is a banner awarded to the winner of a horse race, in yet another festival (common in Italian cities and towns – see our Assisi entry). The horse race is very short and takes place in the Piazza del Campo, which is a truly remarkable space. The festival takes place later in the summer.
One side of the Piazza del Campo is dominated by the Palazzo Pubblico, which we toured. Photos were not allowed, but the visit was certainly worthwhile, especially for the Sala della Pace (Peace Room). Three walls of this large room are basically a single painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti called Effects of Good and Bad Government. It is very interesting from a number of perspectives (visual, political, historical).
There is also a very famous Duomo in Siena, which we also spent some time in. It was quite impressive inside. All in all, Siena is was most enjoyable. And, after spending a lot of time going up and down hills, we needed a gelato to help us home! Later, we had an excellent dinner at Il Bivacco.
Much like Thursday, we leisurely toured around the area. Today, we ventured south of Siena into the Crete (clay or chalk) countryside. Different from the Senese hill country, but in some ways more scenic. Some of the vistas are incredible, which our pictures don’t begin to do justice.
We made three “major” stops today: Monte Oliveto Maggiore (an abbey); the small town of Montalcino (famous for Brunello wine and a medieval fort); and the battlefield monument at Monteaperti (where the Sienese defeated Florence in 1260). And, beautiful fields of poppies everywhere we go.
More Chianti countryside touring today but with a purpose. We drove to Castellina in Chianti to meet with Andrée and Aldo. Andrée is a friend of our niece Amber – they’ve known each other since Grade 4. She met her husband Aldo when she came to Italy for a year while at college. Her friend Jennifer arrived in Firenze yesterday for a holiday and we met the three of them in Castellina for lunch – very pleasant.
On our way back we saw even more of Il Chianti – did we mention that you can see Siena in the distance from just about everywhere? We got up close and personal with some olive trees at the Castello di Brolio. The Ricasoli family has been living in the castle since the 11th century.
Our trip is nearly over, and this was our last full day in the Siena region. Once again, we clambered into our wonderful Nissan (park it anywhere) Micra and set off to the west and southwest of Siena. Our first stop was San Gimignano (another hill town), famous for its towers. San Gimignano is swarming with tourists, but worth the visit. There are some great views of the surrounding countryside from the fortezza.
Then, on to a wonderful spot that was not swarming with tourists, but also definitely worth a visit – the Abbazia di San Galgano. This abbey was built in the 13th century by Cistercian monks, and then abandoned about 200 years later. It’s quite interesting to tour inside the roofless ruin, after being inside numerous other churches and cathedrals that are still being used.
Finally, our last dinner at Il Bivacco, yet another of the great restaurants that abound here. Unfortunately, our favourite pizzerria in Pisa is closed on Tuesdays, so we don’t know where we eat tomorrow!
Today was our last full day in Italy. We drove from our hotel near Siena to Pisa and checked in to the Hotel di Stefano which is where we stayed when we first came. We dropped off our rental car and then wandered around a bit.
Dinner tonight was at La Clessidra, which might mean hourglass (there were several scattered about the room). It was very good although we were disappointed not to be able to eat at Il Vesuvio again. And, finally, we walked down to the Arno on a clear, warm evening and had a final gelato watching the moon reflecting off the river.