(Ed. note: In a return to our roots, Terry has written this blog and Geoff is adding his comments and the photos. He is doing his part at 9:30 Sunday morning overlooking – well you can see for yourself what he is overlooking from our villa.) (Ed. note #2: BTW Faggots are the English version of Haggis)
This is our second trip to Italy and what can I say? I LOVE Italy! Just when we thought we were saturated with stunning views, we head somewhere new and are inundated with luscious landscapes. We are also playing a game with our travelling friends, Karen and Mal, about value–$1-$10–adjectives so had to throw in the alliterative description there. Sorry about that but I can’t promise there won’t be more to come. Italy is so beautiful!
Things I have noticed about Italy hotels: they scrimp on the amenities. Not one hotel or agritourisimo farm-stay has provided body lotion and all offer only a modicum of shampoo and soap. Except for the last night of seven did we have a hairdryer that blew more than a warm breeze. It was safe enough to dry a baby’s bottom but my arms were tired long before my hair was dry. Shower stalls also seem to be inordinately small, even in the newer places we stayed. Need a tissue? Forget it.
On our first trip, we rented three different private residences through VRBO. One was an old farmhouse in the Tuscan hills, one a renovated servants’ quarter near Venice and the third, an apartment in an ancient walled city, called Viterbo, near Rome. This trip we didn’t want to retrace our steps but returned to Venice and stayed two nights in a “real Italian hotel” which was an adventure: a three-storey walk-up in an old building with old fixtures but lots of character and a fantastic location, just down from San Marco. We missed George Clooney’s wedding by a week. Sorry, George. We would have loved to be there but alas, one can’t do everything.
Our next stop was to an agro-tourism farm south of Florence in San Gimignano: great rooms, fantastic hosts and ridiculously good and cheap organic wine. We ended up staying three nights, eating their home-cooked meals and drinking copious quantities of birra, vino, red and white. Really, it was silly. I lost count of the bottles that were brought in the wink of an eye. We all heartily recommend Poderi Arcangelo! Our hostess, Tiziana was wonderful and we had nothing but fun there after spending our days in San G. and then Florence. (Ed. note: For those of you who enjoy wine and tours: Tiziana provides a great tour of one of their 4 cellars with great explanations followed by a plate of antipasto and enough wine “tasting” to put you at 1.6 – and leaves the bottles on the table for you to finish. Mamma Mia!)
This stay in Tuscany proved once again how amazing Italy is. It doesn’t matter where you go, you will find some fantastic site. Case in point, I looked to the east from Poderi Arcangelo and spotted a walled city that wasn’t San Gimignano! We headed up to Centraldo and had a quick look before heading off to the ‘real’ walled city of San Gimignano.
In Florence, we explored the San Lorenzo markets for leather (I bought) and fabulous food in their central market, then had a quick look at the main sites, including the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi (from the outside only), and the David. You’ll be happy to know that David is still stunning.
(Ed. note: Oh yes, before we left Poderi Arcangelo, we enjoyed a steak dinner. Tiziana had been talking about their top red which was called Gran Baccano and how it was best served with Steak Florentine. What is Steak Florentine? – See below)
We left Tuscany and drove to Umbria to explore another walled but additionally interesting city, Perugia. After 300 years under the thumbs of a group of cruel monks, the town’s people finally overthrew them and were still so angry, they sealed off the entire city and built another on top of it! It’s true and amazing, even if you can’t see much of the underground city at this point, although they are working on exposing more of it. The early city dates back to the 10th century; the new, to the 13th, in feudal times. They have what sounds to be a great chocolate festival, which we unfortunately missed by coming one week too early.
Next stop, Todi, another walled city (see what I mean?) south of Perugia but smaller. We didn’t do much there because pretty much as soon as we went in to a place for lunch, the skies opened up and a deluge fell for the next hour. Fab pizza though! At this point, even Karen and Mal were starting to sense that if you’ve seen one walled city…
Having no plans for this leg of the trip, we studied the map and chose a place down the road, Rieti, also relatively unknown and also having a vast underground city. We booked ahead at the Park Hotel, a former summer home of an Italian Prince. The place sat vacant for 30 years from the time of his death to when it was reopened in 2000. It was somewhat creepy, I must say. It is definitely a period piece with the former ceiling paintings, furniture and draperies all intact. The lay out reminded us of the Biltmore home in North Carolina—one passes through various parlours and meeting areas before emerging into a corridor. The road in is totally innocuous and easily missed but the long drive takes you up a hill into a beautiful forested park, hence the hotel’s name. We didn’t explore much as it was foggy the next morning.
The next day, we drove to Pitigliano, a destination Karen chose because of a painting we saw in a Northampton museum! True story. On our way, we stopped at Civita di Bagnoregio, a place Geoff and I had seen before. It is—guess what—a walled city, BUT it stands alone on a narrow hill and is approached only on foot via a long, long narrow walkway (Mal says Grouse Grind). Very cool little spot which has recently seen a resurgence in tourism as evidenced by the large number of Asian people. Geoff launched into his usual photo-bomb mode and made them all laugh. (Ed. note: Civita di Bagnoregio goes back 2500 years to when the Etruscans built it)
Next stop, Pitigliano. We were driving through the town and wondering where the actual site would be when we rounded the corner and saw it. Amazing! The walls of the buildings came right down into the cliffs and appeared to have grown full blown from the rock. It was in terrific shape and fully inhabited. We wandered the narrow streets and alleyways and marveled at the houses stuffed into every nook and cranny. Not much fun to haul in groceries but it must be fun to live there.
Our end destination for the day was Artena and another agri-tourisimo hotel, eventually found at the end of a narrow, long and quiet country road. But it was well worth the trip! Called La Rocca Bei Gigante, it was new, clean with friendly staff, and good food in the restaurant. What more do you want? We woke up in the morning to the sound of bells on the sheep in the field and a rooster crowing, signaling the beginning of a gorgeous sunny day. Wonderful.
Today, after a long and somewhat harrowing drive, we arrived at our destination, just outside of Positano. What a place! We are all drained and have decided to do nothing for the next day or two save watch the golf on TV (Ed. note: Sadly they don’t have SkyTV so no golf, just relaxing) and take advantage of the local delivery service for groceries and pizza. Eventually, we’ll work up the steam to drive to Pompeii and Vesuvius, the island of Capri, and a few other places on our list. Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy our gorgeous views of the yachts and sunsets.
The Shoe Blog
For a man with a supposed fetish for shoes and chocolate, what could possibly be more successful in fulfilling a fantasy?