> SlowTrav > Stories > Pauline's Pages > 1997, Italy, Switzerland

Summer 1997 - Italy and Switzerland

Two weeks in Chianti

Saturday May 31

Drove to Todi (only 30 minutes from Spoleto to Todi, but then a 30 minute walk from parking to center of Todi). Had lunch at the Umbria. Fabulous - best meal in Umbria. Ate on the balcony looking over the countryside. Todi is built on a cliff.

Drove to our first vacation rental - Santa Maria in Chianti, just north of Castellina in Chianti. We spent 2 weeks there: the first week in the apartment called Giogo, the second week in Lavanda.

Sunday June 1

Rained most of the day, with big thunderstorms by the evening. Went to the Sunday market in Panzano.

Monday June 2

Still overcast, but went into Greve to hunt out the bakery and bookstore I remembered from last year. It is strange to remember everything so clearly about this place (it was only 8 months ago that we were here). Then the rain poured down.

The weather cleared, so at 5:00 we drove into Siena. Parked on the north side. Took 30 minutes. to get there and be parked. Then only a 10 minutes walk in. Walked to the piazza - Il Campo, one of my favorite sights in Italy.

Tuesday June 3

Drove to Radda, a wonderful town. The day was starting to brighten, so we went home, had some lunch and left for Florence (Firenze) just before 3:00. We parked east of town, along the Arno. Got there via route 222 in an hour but it took 30 minutes to walk to the center from where we parked. Had a great afternoon in Florence.

Dinner at Osteria la Piazza, a few minutes from home. Fabulous - the best meal yet. Home by 10:30. Clear night sky and fireflies.

Wednesday June 4

Headed out just before noon for a hike. Picked up pecorino, rucola and pomodorro panini and apples in Greve, then drove down an extraordinarily narrow, winding road for about 15 km to Lamole and did the Lamole loop hike. Left at 1:30, back to car at 5:00, with 30 minutes lunch and maybe 30 minutes wrong turn. Started off all uphill through somewhat buggy and muddy woods, but then you are at the top of the hill with views, then down through fields, across a stream, through olive groves and vineyards and farms, with the most beautiful views. It was slightly overcast, but didn't rain. We wore short sleeves but long pants and hiking boots. We carried 2 small bottles of water, but needed more.

Thursday June 5

Light rain. Wasn't raining hard so we went out for a short drive. Ended up at a winery - Badia a Coltibuono - east of Radda. Lunch up in the vineyard - by now pouring rain - incredible lunch. We both had our first Cantucci with Vin Santo for dessert. The Vin Santo comes in a small wine glass and you get a little bowl of small biscotti. You dunk the biscotti in the Vin Santo, which is sweet - wonderful! Still pouring rain.

Friday June 6

Breakfast in Greve. We love this town and its beautiful triangle-shaped piazza. Had two sets of cappuccino and pastry at the bar in the square. Home for lunch, then drove to Vinci outside of Florence. The drive from Poggibonsi to Vinci was very slow, even though it was a red road, because there was heavy traffic, construction and lots of towns to go through. We returned via the superstrada from Empoli, the autostrada around Florence, the superstrada towards Siena and the 222 making better time.

In Vinci we went to the Leonardo museum (Leonardo da Vinci was born here - they renamed the town for him) and then did the most wonderful walk to the house where he was born. The walk was only 30 minutes each way but went through olive groves - old olive trees with bright red poppies growing underneath. It was the most perfect moment - sunshine, walking in the olive groves. One of those moments when you thought that if every decision you have ever made in your life has brought you to this moment, then they were all good decisions. Perfect sunshine, perfect olive grove, perfect happiness.

We bought olive oil from an old woman sitting outside her farmhouse alongside the path. She had a table with a basket with a few bottles of oil from her farm. Just a plain bottle with a cork. Drove home and had dinner in. A perfect day.

Saturday June 7

After changing apartments, we drove to Greve for the Saturday market. Found a parking spot in a crowded lot, walked to the piazza and had coffee and pastry at the bar. Lots of people and the piazza crowded with food sellers, clothing, shoes, hardware, etc. It is like they take their stores, load them into trucks and drive them around the countryside.

The cafe was crowded. You walk up to the pastry bar and they hand you the pastry you point at with paper around part of it for holding, then you walk five feet to the espresso counter and order your coffee. The guy makes it and hands it to you - always in a nice cup and saucer with a spoon. Then you take it to the table outside, under umbrellas, surrounded by plants, looking out on the square. Sometimes we go in for another round. No one keeps track of what you had. When you are ready to leave, you go to the cash register and tell them what you had. All the different types of pastry are priced the same. Later we found that this process changes in the summer when there are more tourists. You sit at the outside table and they take your order and you pay more. There is a casualness to the off-season that is wonderful.

We walked around the market, lined up for bread. I have become very confident in stores, no one gets ahead of me in line and I bravely say what I want or point to it if I don't know the word. On the last trip I wouldn't open my mouth - Steve had to do all the talking. And now I can handle the money, too.

Drove into Florence. Parked in the same area along the Arno, but closer because it wasn't as crowded. There was a guy washing car windows on the street where we parked, so we got him to wash ours. Figured we might as well have him on our side since he was near our car for the day. These guys, frequently immigrants but sometimes Italian, are all over the place. But it is a necessary service since the gas stations don't wash your windows (they are not self serve) and don't have supplies for you to wash them yourself.

Got into Florence just after noon, went straight to the Uffizi and only waited 10 minutes to get in. Went straight to the Botticelli room - Venus and Primavera. We got to look at them for a long time. They are covered by glass which makes it more difficult to see them, but they are incredible. It wasn't very crowded. We looked at some other paintings then went for a quick lunch nearby.

Then to the Academia - walked right in and up to David - magnificent. The Adam and Eve tapestries that we had loved 10 years earlier were no longer there.

Tried to get into the Duomo three times on this trip, but it was always closed (either just its regular closing or closed with no explanation). We didn't get into the Duomo until our next trip (1999).

Sat at an outdoor cafe on the Piazza del Republicca and I had my first campari and soda (it always sounds so "European"). It was bitter, but refreshing. Drove out of Florence about 7:00pm. The same window washer was there. He is from Casablanca.

Stopped in Greve for pizza. The day had started out hazy, but it was just fog and burned off by noon. Then it was clear, sunny and hot.

Sunday June 8

Fabulous Sunday lunch at Osteria de Piazza (where we had dinner last week).

Drove down white roads to Vagliagli, a village south-east of Castellina where there were several tourist rentals in the Vacances en Italia catalogue. A pretty village, but small - one bar, one restaurant. We were there at 6:00pm, the terrace at the bar was full and the passagiata was in full swing. The old men were sitting on benches at the main intersection of the town (maybe 8 guys). The old women were standing talking in the middle of the road - cars went around them. A group of 10-15 teenagers were at another corner. Everyone was out. An arrival of a young man - probably from the village - prompted squeals of delight and much kissing of both cheeks.

Monday June 8

Did part of the Radda to Volpaia hike. Parked on the road to Volpaia, just outside of Radda. It is hard to find because the signs are not clear and neither is the map. You go east of Radda and at the big intersection you take the turn that takes you under the main road and then you are on the road to Volpaia. It took us ages to figure this out. 

The hike from there was 1 1/2 hours uphill mostly to Volpaia. First up through a vineyard with views to Radda, then down through an olive grove to a 12th century church, then we lost the trail, but eventually found it and went down a valley, across a stream and up the other side to climb up to Volpaia along a cypress lined trail. Went into the square and got the last outdoor table for lunch (Steve had phoned earlier to be sure they were open).

Explored Volpaia - small, only the one bar/trattoria, beautiful. Walked downhill 45 minutes to the car. Explored the Etruscan tomb in Castellina. Hot, clear, sunny today. Fabulous weather.

Tuesday June 10

It was so hot that we decided to do a "vacation within a vacation" and drive to the Mediterranean, spend the night at a hotel we stayed at 10 years earlier and go swimming. 

1 night hotel: Hotel Torre di Cala Piccola

Drove to Monte Argentario - took 2 hours. The Med is blue and beautiful and it feels almost tropical here.

Porto Santo Stefano is a small town and quiet. The drive to the hotel goes over the island on a very narrow winding road. We took the wrong one at first because the signs were bad - ended up on a dead end road with barely room to turn around. The drivers are more crazy here, literally passing on blind curves.

Checked in to a nice room with a view of the Med. Put on our suits and drove to the water. The hotel is perched at the top of a hill and you drive to the bottom, park, and use a private swimming area. Sat on the rocks under an umbrella on the hotels beach chairs. Swam - wonderful. Salty, but not as cold as I remembered. Went for two good swims. Banged my knee on a rock swimming in for Steve to take a photo of me. (Still have the scar.)

Drove to Porto Ercole for stroll and dinner. A pretty and quiet town with several restaurants. Beautiful harbor. Drove back to the hotel in the near dark, with the insane drivers.

Wednesday June 11

Had trouble sleeping because of the bugs and humidity. Very hot.

Stopped in a roman/Etruscan site inland from Grosseto. Wonderful ruins of a small settlement. Walked around for an hour or more around noon and got too much sun. A very hot day.

Thursday June 12

Drove to Lamole for lunch. Hot today.

Friday June 13

Drove to Panzano to walk through the town. Decided to lunch again at Badia a Coltibuono - a great lunch.

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