The luxury of loving Italy… These are the very last words of Italian Hours, a collection of essays which the great Henry James wrote about the bel paese more than a century ago, and which I have recently read with great interest.
Last month, I got into my car early in the morning, on a Tuesday, and drove down to the lovely medieval town of Assisi, situated in the very heart of Umbria.
Every time I travel between Florence and Lucca – I must have done it a hundred times, – I drive through the charming medieval town of Pistoia, famous throughout Europe for its impressive and well-organized plant nurseries. And every time, without fail, I make the same resolution: “Ok, next time, I will stop and visit one or two of these nurseries.”
A resolution which, as you may have guessed, I haven’t yet fulfilled. Well, not entirely fulfilled, I should say. For I finally did stop in Pistoia a few weeks ago, urged to do so by my friend Molly, who invited me to join her in the heart of the Tuscan city.
Good news: all roads lead to Rome and, in some cases, will take you back to your starting point before the end of the day!
I experienced this two or three times last summer. After an early morning swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea, I hopped on a train, spent the day in Rome – combining business with pleasure, – and returned to my Mediterranean seaside just in time for the sunset extravaganza.
Shortly after starting to work at Italy’s oldest winery, during the first years I spent in the bel paese, I was already dreaming of touring the bucolic Chianti region on one of those beautiful vintage delivery bicycles, the rusty, creaking, ramshackle type…
I must admit that I quickly gave up on the idea – even though I have always thought that there is no better way to explore a place than by walking or cycling. For the Chianti is a pretty hilly patch of land!… up, down, up, down… So much so that there is an official bike race, the Eroica, which re-enacts those heroic times when cyclists had to tackle the rough bumpy dirt roads of the region on unsophisticated heavy-set bicycles.
Oh, look Mummy, there’s a mosquito sagra around here! Can we go? Pleeeaaase!
This was two years ago, in August. My family and I were leisurely driving through the Italian province of Ferrara, along secondary roads, on our way to our treasured Tuscany.
My daughter was already, at that time, a seasoned sagra spotter and unconditional sagra lover. We were driving down a hairpin bend when she suddenly caught sight, between two yawns, of a colourful poster announcing the Festa mondiale della zanzara, the International Mosquito Fair…
Until a few years ago, when we happened to be sojourning, my family and I, in the Maremma, an excursion on the Isle of Giglio used to be one of our favourite day-trip options.
Then, after the Costa Concordia ship disaster in 2012 – which took place off Giglio Porto, the tiny harbour of the island, – we abstained from visiting this beautiful gem of the Tuscan Archipelago. Ferries leaving from Porto Santo Stefano began to take hordes of snoopy tourists to the shipwreck area and affect the surroundings with unpleasant congestion, especially during the high season.
I have never tired of the view… During the day, the waters of the majestic lake are often peaceful and turquoise blue, and in the distance stands out the hieratic Isola Maggiore, the island where Saint Francis of Assisi spent forty days as a hermit in the early 13th century. Continue Reading →
The Leaning Tower of Pisa… Who has not seen it, at least in pictures, and tried to imagine what it feels like to be at its top, precariously tilting some 50 meters above ground?!… The prospect of such a thrill will definitely make your children pull you by the arm: “Mum, Dad, let’s climb up there!”
But in the high season, when you’re assailed with the hot spells and sightseeing hordes, even the most magnetic landmarks get a lot less attractive – to youngsters and grown-ups alike! So it’s always nice to have in store satisfactory alternatives.
I was recently having a drink with a group of Italian friends, in the Maremma. We were talking about seaside holidays when, at one point, our lovely Simonetta asked us:
“Which would you say are the most beautiful sea fronts and sea views of mainland Italy?
– Oh, the sixty-four thousand dollar question!” some of us replied.
And our expansive Giancarlo went one better:
“Do you know how much coastline Italy has in all, including the islands?”