Lazy days and driving in the hills
11.03.2017 - 16.03.2017 18 °C
Weekends are a pretty quite affair in Lucignano, with the exception of the church bells, although the sun brought a few Italians to visit the town. What a joy it must be to live in the city and drive to a Tuscan village for the day. It appears that once Spring has decided that it has arrived, everyday is a sunny day with a light breeze, how can one be busy on days like that? We spent our weekend wandering in and around the town, enjoying the sun, the magnificent views and soaking up a little local history. We visited the church of San Francesco, where we were greeted by a charming gentleman who proceeded to give us a guided tour of the whole church, it's art works, frescoes and adjoining cloisters. Unfortunately he spoke less English than we do Italian and Cath managed to get about every third word or so; we did however pick up that the church was first built in 1248, the frescoes show the stories of St Francis' life and those with him: poor St Agatha had her boobs removed and became a martyr; St Agnes had her eyes removed and became a martyr; when the nuns got pregnant they were sent away. Oh, and that the church has an underground passage that runs from the altar to lower in the village where at times churchgoers could hide and still attend mass. After all that it was a quick visit to the butcher for some supplies before heading home to cook up lunch and salve our somewhat assaulted imaginations with some wine. We had planned to head out for another Sunday night football match but decided that the wine at home was just as good and collapsed on the couch rather earlier than expected.
We decided that it was time to brave the Italian road system and hired a car for a couple of days to explore the region a bit more. The public transport is ok but does limit visiting smaller towns. So after picking up the car in Arezzo we were off and driving, look left drive right became the mantra and we soon learnt that speed limits are really a suggestion, even the oldies drive like they have just entered the F1. This is of course when a farmer is not taking his tractor for a test drive or revving his Piaggio for one more kilometre up that hill!
Our first stop was the medieval town of Cortona, scene of the film, Under a Tuscan sun. It had been recommended to Cath at the hairdresser and it did not disappoint. It is again a hilltop town but built in a square, rather than round design. The town is supposedly car free, although it again seems that is only for those who are not in the know, and we spent a good hour climbing never ending streets to the very top. Ian was somewhat cranky when we got to the top and realised that you could just drive around the back of the hill to the Cathedral of St Margherita. She must have been one special lady because the view that her crew have across both Tuscany and Umbria is nothing short of stunning. A quick visit into the church before we headed up the last portion of the ascent to visit the castle built by some Medici family member, only to find it closed. A sneaky look around the back and we found a more amazing view and what appeared to Etruscan ruins. We were however a bit doubtful about the ruins as they had inscriptions and as we had previously found out, there is very little trace of the Etruscan alphabet and we are pretty sure that they would not be sitting out the back of a castle in Cortona. A bit of wandering looking for lunch before we decided that we would head off to the lake we had spied from the top of the town to get lunch.
We had read that Lake Tresimeno is one of the jewels of Umbria and from the top of Cortona we would have agreed. On closer inspection it is a bit drab and frankly the water does not look very inviting, this of course may be because it is not summer yet and we can imagine that during the season people flock to the shores for water sports of all kinds. As always atop the hill is a castle and walled town, Castiglione del Lago where we spent a very nice afternoon perusing the shops, tasting the local cheese and salami, purchasing a couple of bottles of Umbrian wine (including one simply based on the name Corio) and Cath introduced Ian to the delights of Aperol spritz.
Late in the afternoon we headed off to Montepulciano which promised to be one of the prettiest towns in Tuscany but on arriving there we just could not face the third hill climb in a day and decided that a quick snap shot of the view from the car park would be enough. The drive back to Lucignano was about 30 km but due to the winding roads took a good hour or more, in which time the sun sunk toward the hilltops, the changing light and colour is obviously what has drawn artists and film makers to the region for many years and is exquisite to see. We arrived home feeling very lucky to have had such a lovely drive and ready for a couple of wines to soothe our sore legs, mountain goats we are not.
Day two of driving saw us heading for the Chianti region, for obvious reasons and the drive did not disappoint. Cath had planned a round trip to Greve in Chianti, so that we would not end up seeing the same views twice, very thoughtful! Cath got to enjoy some of the most breathtaking views as we sped up hills, down dales and around corners, oh so many corners and Ian was feeling confident enough to "drive like an Italian" which translated means faster around the corners than on the straight stretches. We had thought that the Villas were impressive in what we refer to as our local part of the region, but they have nothing on Chianti, they are castles not Villas and it didn't take Cath long to choose her favourite and insist that Ian stop for a photo. We decided that you know you are in Chianti when there are more grapevines than olive trees and there are some seriously large vineyards here. As far as the eye can see, rows of vines trail up and down the hills. At one point Cath had thought that "doing a vintage" might be ok and then it dawned on her that you have to go up as well as down the rows of vines and the idea was quickly scotched. It turns out the Greve is not really much of a town at all- thanks Trip Advisor, you loser! We should have stopped at the previous town, Panzano. We bought some bread to go with the picnic that Cath had packed and were off in search of a picnic spot. After toiling up yet another hill, following the signs to a panoramic terrace, we realised we had missed it a kilometre or two earlier and rolled back down the hill (almost). Before we knew it we were back in the Val di Chiana (did anyone mention racing car driver?). The give away was the enormous white cows, which we had not seen before but now understood as the source of such large steaksAfter that we headed home to have our picnic.
After a couple of relaxing days in Lucignano, we were ready for more adventures. After all as they say in The Life of Brian, we were off on Friday to Wome you know!