It's been a wonderful sandwich of historic cities - Lucca and Siena at the start and Pisa at the finish - with a filling in the middle of smaller hill towns nestled in the most wonderful countryside of southern Tuscany.
Steve was in his element, driving a small Lancia car around the hairpin bends and "white roads" of the Val D'Orca and Crete Senesi, stopping every so often so that we could leap out and take photos of the awe inspiring views.
It wasn't all driving...we did a fair amount of walking too, most of it up and down - they are called hill towns for a good reason.....but with a few stops to admire the views, Steve made it up and down slopes, ramps and steps. I think we are now both a little fitter than before we started out, in spite of treating ourselves to a bottle of wine with our meal every night, after a long day out in the fresh air.
Although our plane landed at Pisa, we saved that city until the end of the trip. Having picked up the car at Pisa airport, we drove first to Lucca, an ancient walled city which was the birthplace of Puccini (composer of Madame Butterfly and La Boheme). These days it calls itself City of Art. We noticed that it's also a place where many of the locals ride bicycles, just like Oxford where we live.
|Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca|
Later that day we headed off for Siena, our base for the night. After booking into the hotel, we walked up into the historic centre and found the Piazza del Campo, a wonderful shell-shaped open space which twice a year becomes a horse racing track for the Palio, which must be quite a sight!
|Siena Piazza del Campo|
We returned there the next morning and also took the opportunity to visit the museum which has panoramic views from the roof terrace.
|Steve on high in Siena|
After lunch in Siena, we traveled south to Il Casalone, an "agriturismo" (farm- stay) near the hill town of Montepulciano, our base for the rest of the week. Great views across the surrounding countryside from the area around the apartment complex, but sadly most of the time it was too cold and windy to use the sitting out areas, picnic tables, BBQ and pool.
After stocking up on food (and wine - Montepulciano is noted for its "vino nobile") we hunkered down for the night and watched the Italian Job on the ipad. We'd intended to watch the movie on the plane over, but had dropped off to sleep instead because of the very early start!
The next day we set out to explore the local area, stopping first to view the zig zag line of cypress trees leading up to a farm house on the La Foce estate
|La Foce Estate|
(interesting back story to La Foce - google if you want to know more!) then on to Pienza and San Quirico, two more hill villages towering over the surrounding countryside with splendid views out from the town walls over the surrounding contryside,
|Flags at San Quirico|
before returning "home" via San Bagio, a huge church on the outskirts of Montepulciano.
Rather than spend another night huddled together under a blanket to keep warm, we asked our host Paolo to turn the heating on - unheard of at this time of year. However, Italy has been experiencing the same sort of weird weather as the UK. That same day the Italian cycle race Giro d'Italia was abandoned due to snow in the north of the country, which will give you some idea of how cold it was!
We awoke to blue skies the following morning, so grabbed the opportunity to do some landscape photography on the way to and from Montalcino, another hill village further east also famous for its Brunello wine and quirky wine labels
|Brunello wine label plaques on a wall in Montalcino|
before heading back to base, stopping often on the way to try to capture more of the stunning landscape, dotted with cypress trees, poplars and hill farms as well as fields of spring flowers.
|Cypress tree avenue|
We explored the local town Montepulciano the next day, arriving in the main piazza to find a wedding taking place in the cathedral.
However, our meanderings were cut short by the onset of some very heavy rain, so we headed back to base for lunch. A good call as it happened. Not long after, hailstones as large as marbles were falling out of the sky. Time to watch another movie - The Grumpies (Les Miserables to you....) which kept us entertained until bed time!
The storm clouds passed in the night and we woke to blue skies for our last full day at Il Casalone. A perfect opportunity to get out and about again for more photography, sharing the road with a posse of Ducati bikers enjoying the Tuscany experience!
|Ducati "Tuscany Experience"|
The day was filled with a visit to Bangno Vignoni - a tiny village with a thermal pool right at the centre which Ducati had already colonized!
|Bango Vignoni - complete with a Ducati bike in the thermal pool|
The water would have been warm enough to bath in comfortably, had it been allowed.
On from there to the Rocca D'Orcia, a rocky outcrop with a castle that dominates the skyline for miles around,
then on to the Abbey of Sant'Antimo, arriving just in time to shelter from a short thunderstorm.
From there we headed to another abbey, Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, perched on a remote ridge in a stunning location. It was too late to look inside (and we were probably too tired to appreciate it anyway), but the setting alone was worth the visit.
|Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey|
Then it was back to Il Casalone for our last evening meal at the farm stay.
We spent the last day traveling to Pisa via other memorable locations - the tiny fortress of Monteriggioni and the walled city of San Gimignano, its skyline dominated by 14 tall towers.
|The distant towers of San Gimignano|
A great place to stop for lunch and a walkabout before heading on to Pisa, where we dropped the car off at the airport and took the bus back to the city centre for our last night in Italy.
Most people have heard of the leaning Tower of Pisa. You might not be aware that it is just one of a group of stunning buildings comprising the Duomo (cathedral); the Bapistry; the Campanile or Bell Tower aka the Leaning Tower, and the Camposanto or cemetery all set in a huge space called the Plazza de Miracoli, or the Square of Miracles. And it really is amazing!
|Plazza de Miracoli by day|
Our hotel for the night was right next door, so as well as visiting the square in the daylight when it was full of tourists, after our meal out we walked back through it at night when there was hardly anyone about. It was wonderful!
|Plaza de Miracoli by night|
The grey skies had returned when we woke up the following morning, making it easier to catch the bus back to the airport (a small, chaotic place - I dread to think what it's like in the high summer) to catch the plane home.
So here we are, back in the UK, another adventure under our belts. One of the tour groups we encountered while we were in Italy was called "Tuscany in a Day". We barely scratched the surface of just small part of Tuscany in our week away, so I feel a bit sorry for those people who think they have seen it all in just one day. Much nicer to think there is more to explore on another visit. I do hope we go back one day. Perhaps the visit to the Square of Miracles will ensure our return.....
Having turned our back on "normal" life for 8 days, we have lost track of what's been happening in the big wide world in general and to the meso warriors in particular. Hope to catch up with your news soon, but we might be having another small adventure before then....just to keep our minds off Steve's hospital assessment next Thursday. Who would have thought three months could go so quickly?
But for now, it's down to business for me with a work related visit to Guernsey later today. Perhaps summer will have arrived by the time I return tomorrow evening....