Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Timeless Tuscany

During our stay in Siena we had organised to hire a car in order to venture out into the Tuscan countryside. From our farmhouse high on the hill, we could view across wheat fields and the vineyards dotted with Cyprus Pines and wondered what might be beyond. As we headed out gingerly, we were mindful of driving on, what was to us, the wrong side of the road. We took our time along the picturesque winding roads, constantly being passed by impatient Italian drivers who were unaware that novice European drivers were at the wheel. As we looked around, we were reminded of the similarities the landscape had with parts of Australia. After all, it was the height of summer and the fields had taken on that familiar straw coloured appearance that is so familiar at home. We first made our way along winding roads to the hilltop town of Montalcino. Towns such as this are characteristic of the region and usually consist of a large central fortress surrounded by the sort of picturesque village that you would see in a coffee table book of Italy. The day we visited it was relatively quiet and we were able to wander around the enchanting narrow laneways almost entirely on our own. This was certainly not the case with the more famous village of San Gimignano. The tourists had certainly discovered this historic medieval town characterised by it’s many distinctive towers. After a pleasant drive through the Elsa Valley, we hit the outskirts of the town to spend a considerable amount of time simply trying to find a car park. Eventually we secured one down the hill and on the edge of town making for a lengthy uphill walk towards the central piazza. As we made our way through the narrow cobbled laneways, we dodged the many visitors who daily make their way to this popular spot on the numerous tourist coaches. The town is buzzing with a wide variety of trinket shops and of course there was plenty of food to be had from the various rustic cafĂ©’s. We sit for a while on the steps of the cathedral to do a little drawing while soaking up the atmosphere, before Jules spots a shop claiming to sell ‘the worlds best gelato. We are always wary of such claims, but it seems that the shop had indeed won an award at some kind of international competition for gelato makers and as we found out, it was indeed very very good gelato! Over the next few days we would meander the countryside, passing through little villages like Castellina, Corsignano and San Giovanno, enjoying the odd slice of pizza, porketta sandwich or gelato. We adored the vineyard area of Chianti, famous for it’s light red wine and particularly enjoyed the little town of Radda with it’s commanding views of the whole region. We were amazed at what we could see within a reasonably condensed area. There was many a classic scenic montage to be viewed and the sense that Tuscany had not radically changed much over the passing years.

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