Friday, 31 August 2012

A Villa in Tuscany

As I write this, we’re on a train travelling to Florence. We’ll catch a plane from there to Frankfurt and then another to Riyadh. Back home.

We’ve spent four weeks in Italy - the last two in a remote part of Tuscany where we rented a villa for the four of us: me, my husband, my daughter and her husband. The nearest village, Gioiella, was a forty minute walk away along a winding gravel road. It consisted of a narrow main street, a cafe, a grocery shop, a post office and a church.


Further away and somewhat bigger was Castiglion del Lac. We used its supermarkets for our main grocery shopping and explored its medieval fortress and city walls. Most days the Tuscan sun got the better of us and we were content to assume a horizontal position beside our villa’s pool.

Lunch demanded a short stroll up the the driveway past kiwi fruit vines, a pomegranate tree and olive trees to a tomato patch. Picking the red cherry tomatoes became something of a daily ritual, as did collecting the ripe figs from the tree right beside them.

Lunch was delicous. We ate freshly baked foccacia, lettuce, ham, cheeses and tomatoes still warm from the sun. Now I understand too, the Biblical references to the sweetness of figs. These were melt-in-the-mouth-yummy. And each day the small tree somehow kept yielding more fresh fruit.

On the days we felt compelled to assume a more vertical position, we ventured out, the four of us in our small silver Fiat, tackling driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and an array of confusing Italian road signs. One day we went to Arezzo, where we saw the statue of Guido d’Arezzo and a small plaque on the side of the house he’d lived in.

Guido d'Arezzo
We were disappointed. Somehow we’d expected more for someone who had made such a significant contribution to the development of musical notation. We ate lunch under white sun umbrellas around the edge of a pleasant piazza and imagined the colour and pageantry of the medieval jousting tournaments that had taken place there. After an hour or so of ambling through the tangle of small cobbled streets, the heat got the better of us and we returned to our villa and the pool beside fields of freshly furrowed earth, sunflowers and golden corn.

On another day we drove to Perugia. We’d consulted our guide books before hand and discovered some intriguing information.

  • Pope Martin V died in Perugia in 1431 from eating too many eels in one sitting. This would not seem a good obituary for anyone, but far less so for a Pope. 
  • In the middle ages Perugia was a place of violent infighting and nastiness. A favourite game was Battaglia dei Sassi (War of Stones). Perugia's men would pelt one another with hefty rocks until at least a few dozen of them were dead. 
  • Nowadays violent pastimes have given way to other interests. Perugia is famous for its chocolate. We discovered a shop selling a delicious array of chocolate-y goodness. There was however, one flavour that left us very surprised. We were not tempted. 

  • Perugia’s Duomo houses a holy relic. Nothing to do with St Anthony this time - the wedding ring of the Virgin Mary. We saw a replica displayed in a corner of the church behind iron grille. Apparently the real ring is kept inside a locked box, which is inside another locked box, inside yet another locked box. I think there are fifteen in all. Each box’s key is held by a different Perugian citizen. 

We also visited Florence, crossing the Ponte Vecchio and making our way to the Duomo. Seeing Brunelleschi’s Dome was a pinch-me-is this-for-real moment but the seemingly endless queue of people waiting to get in did not entice us to stay around. It was just too hot. As our train continued speeding along the tracks I considered what I’d loved most about our Tuscan holiday. It was probably none of the typical tourist things. It was simple pleasures, like waking up each morning to a view that took in sky and hill, grass and paddock.

It was the walking and talking along quiet country roads. And it was meandering cobblestone roads, geraniums in window boxes against stone walls, brightly painted shutters and the play of light and shade.

But most of all it was the time we spent together, in the kitchen preparing pasta with fresh herbs for an evening meal or laughing as we leapt into the pool for an evening swim only to discover we had company - one small frog who was just as unhappy about his being there as we were...

These are the memories I’ll hold on to.


  1. Hi Penelope, I found your blog today and just wanted to let you know I enjoyed reading it.