Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hill Towns of Central Italy

By Claire
My dream has come true. I have always yearned to see this area but didn’t know where it actually was. I’ve seen it in movies and I’ve read about it. But where is that part of Tuscany you always see on the postcards? All of a sudden it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I had picked up a postcard for our granddaughter, Sarah, and it was the classic shot of a stand of Cypress trees lining the road up to a house. I looked at the back of the postcard and it said Val d’Orcia. That’s the place I had read about in the book War in Val d’Orcia: an Italian War Diary, 1943-44. I became determined to find it, once I found out it’s an area and not a house or a town. In fact, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s filled with tiny, medievel hill towns. Driving through this gorgeous area, I tried to imagine it during the war.

We drove from Siena to our present location on the shore of Lago Trasimeno, 1 km from the town of Passignano. We have entered paradise. It is beautiful, warm, autumn weather and we were able to get a site right on the belvedere, overlooking the lake.

We spent the afternoon reading, dozing, napping and staring off into the distance. Camping Kursaal is located on the lovely grounds of a small hotel and is our favorite price of €15, thanks to ACSI. The owners, mother and son, greeted us so warmly with ready smiles.

Villa Kursaal

We’ve started rating campgrounds based on the bathrooms and this one is in the top ten. Siena’s was pretty fabulous with heated floors but they failed to have a separation between the shower and where you put your towel and clothes. We survived, but this place is far superior. Huge showers with the separate shelves behind a little wall and lots of hooks. Just what we like. Location is our other priority and this campsite is probably the nicest, so far.

But, back to the drive. I could tell Chuck wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was at the idea of driving tiny back roads on a “Sunday” drive. I wore him down with the promise of a four day vacation on a lake at the end of the drive. We did really well by programming the hill towns along the way into Susanna’s brain and she did all right. We didn’t want to actually drive into any of the towns, under small arches and up impossibly narrow alleys so 2 or 3 km before arrival Chuck would pull over and I’d give Susanna the next town along the route. It was kind of a seat-of-the-pants style of planning but it worked. The colors were fantastic and around every corner we found another Roman ruin or walled city. We saw a woman with a laundry basket, completely blasé to the fact that she was walking through an ancient arch. Along the way we passed Pienza, our favorite, and a possible place to stay for an extended period of time in the future and Montepulciano, another classic walled hill town. This is the Italy I was looking for and now here we are at this exquisite lake in Umbria with friendly owners and friendly British and Dutch and German neighbors and gorgeous sunsets that we all just watched in awe.

It is so still and quiet here except for the occasional church bells and the quack of ducks. This morning we woke to birds singing and chirping, enjoying an al fresco breakfast.


Our neighbors on one side decided to stay another day. It’s just too beautiful to leave. Meanwhile, Chuck and I walked into town to look around, and get a map of the area for biking and hiking. We also found the market and picked up a few things.

Walking, skipping, dancing into town--Passignano, a perfect place to visit


The grounds of our campsite

Lunch: ciabatta with olive oil, assiago cheese, fresh basil and tomatoes and Italian birra

We really feel lazy and relaxed here. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get up the motivation to leave my spot in the sun for a bike ride along the edge of the lake. Friday, we plan to explore the local castle.

I’ll stop gushing now.

A few more observations:
Both Chuck and I noticed 5 people between us that had bandages on their faces when we were in Florence. We finally figured out that they must have stumbled and fallen on the curbs and uneven stone streets that are sometimes so difficult to navigate.

The bread in Italy that is served in restaurants, and for which you are charged an average of €3, is completely tasteless. I believe they do not add salt. We look for Ciabatta in the stores and it’s wonderful.

Our only fear at the moment is sunburn. I look like one of those old men, asleep in a chair with a hat over my face.

We love having an Italian/English dictionary and wonder why we didn’t think of it in France. I found fare la pipi (go for a pee), especially useful.

Smoking is not an issue. We hardly notice it, but when we do, we realize how rarely we encounter it.

Sugar and high fructose and chocolate have all entered the packaged foods. We have trouble finding cereal without chocolate. When we do, it is referred to as “fitness cereale”.

It is becoming comical how often we see the polizia. Mostly just standing around or zipping around in their toy cars with their squeaky sirens.

Avrai tu l’universo,
Resti L’Italia a me
You may have the universe,
But let Italy remain mine
~ from Attila, music by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Temistocle Solera


Arianna said...

The bread should get better now that you've left Tuscany. Tuscan bread doesn't have salt because of some thing where they didn't want to pay the Romans for the salt tax way back when and needless to say, things are slow to change there... :-)

Chuck and Claire said...

Thanks for the info!