I assume you’ve all seen The Gladiator, the great movie about a Roman General loyal to his emperor, betrayed and seeking revenge as a gladiator. If not, please put it on your “to watch” list, because it’s one of the best dramas of the last 20 years. In the movie, there is this idilic scene with wheat fields and cypress trees, as Maximus dreams of returning back home after the war and, at the end, as a last vision before his death. Seems that director Ridley Scott did a great job there, as, even since we saw the movie, we wanted to visit Val d’Orcia, to see in real life those beautiful landscapes. So Tuscany countryside came as natural option in our road-trip through Italy.
We got to Val d’Orcia in the afternoon and the weather was just like in the movie scene: mild sun-rays warming up the cypress trees and the dirt road in front of us, in a complete silence. No wheat fields though in mid-September, we should return early summer one day :)!
The “agriturismo” we selected in the Tuscany countryside was perfect for us: a small family business located on a hill, in the middle of an olive garden, in a traditional, but comfortable setup. We found here the tranquility and privacy we needed and almost lost the track of time. We would wake up early morning and have a fresh natural breakfast where Eric could also taste some organic fruits. Then he would take a nap in the car while we were driving through the Tuscany landscape to visit little villages, walk through olive gardens and wineries and stop for lunch in some “osteria” we found on the road, where we always savoured simple delicious food. We still remember the pappardelle with funghi porcini or the cinghiale (wild boar) stew we tried on a small terrace in the forest, were we really felt like guests for the owners.
We had some plans on what to visit in the Tuscany countryside but, as I said before, we were really flexible, the main point being to enjoy the time we were spending together. On one of our trips, we drove to see the Abbey of San Galgano, a cistercian monastery from early 1200’s. The first Gothic church built in Tuscany, the building looks imposing until today, even though its roof collapsed a few hundreds of years ago and was abandoned ever since. From the Abbey, there is a path uphill to the Hermitage of Montesiepi, a round chapel that hosts Saint Galgano’s Sword embedded in a rock. The plan was to visit Sienna also, UNESCO World Heritage Site and main attraction of the region. We realised we would need at least half day there, to see the beauty of the city, so we decided it’s better to skip it for now, than just rush it only to tick it off the list.
The following day we took the southern road and drove to Saturnia’s thermal baths, a group of sulphurous thermal water springs that formed a series of waterfalls and pools. They are a very popular relaxation area, a free, natural spa. I heard this is very crowded during the summer, but in mid-September when we visited it was quite decent and enjoyable, except for the rotten-egg smell from the various minerals contained by the water.
In the evenings, we could spend some time on the outside terrace, just the two of us, close enough to the bedroom to hear the baby in case he had troubles sleeping. This wasn’t necessary the case as, after more than one week of holiday and spending the days outside in sunny Tuscany he was very tired, but also relaxed and able to sleep peacefully; we actually had some of the most quiet and sleepy nights of his babyhood during this holiday. Planning on the following destination, our chatting was completed by a glass of Brunelli di Montalcino, a full-bodied red wine, typical from the area. As I love desserts, some cantucci, traditional twice-baked biscuits, were a great pairing for the wine. We liked them so much that I searched the internet for some recipes and baked them at home as well – great success for Eric, after he got a bit older and grew more teeth.
This side of Italy is wonderful and you can spend a lot more time there. See also a one week itinerary through Tuscany.
Tuscany countryside marked the middle of our Italian road-trip and was the most quiet and serene of all locations visited, perfect before the next stop – the famous Amalfi coast; but more on this in our next post.