“…Io era tra color che son sospesi” (Dante, Inferno – Canto II)
No. I don’t know Dante by heart but something, of what Ms Pezzin passionately tried to trasmit to her class of 29 adolescents, is still fix in my memory. And maybe this incipit is just an awkward “thank you” to her and to all the teachers who made the difference in my life.
“I was among those who are suspended”
“I was among those who are suspended”… But I am not Virgil, put by Dante among the “suspended” because he was born before the birth of Christ and therefore not baptized. I am suspended as all of us are in these days. Closed in a flat and thankful for the balcony from which I say Hi! to the nice old man of living in the block in front of mine. More than ever before, I find myself in love with my country and a bit guilty for all the times I took all this beauty for granted.
«Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice ne la miseria” (Dante, Inferno – Canto V)
And so, my serenata for Italy starts right from Dante’s Tuscany and from one of those places that, in the world imagination, responds to the name of Bella Italia. I still remember the first time I heard about Val d’Orcia. I was in my first year of university and bought Der Spiegel to practice translations. Years later, thanks to an eye surgery that transformed me from a mole into an eagle (only in terms of sight) I learned to know this area better…
The Val d’Orcia is an agricultural valley, declared Unesco World Heritage Site, perhaps because of those wonderful landscapes with smooth hills, rows of cypresses and wheat fields that characterize the landscape. The scene of “The Gladiator” in which Russel Crowe ideally meets his wife and son before dying was filmed near Pienza, just for your info. The Crete Senesi are also famous in this area. The name derives from the clay present in the soil that isr grayish and almost colorless so to create a “lunar landscape”.
San Quirico d’Orcia
Our discovery of the area starts with a walk in the splendid San Quirico d’Orcia. This small village rises on the top of an hill, halfway between Pienza and Montalcino. Since the Middle Ages San Quirico was an important stop along the Via Francigena. When we arrive it is already evening and a blue sky stands out behind the walls of this jewel.
It seems that the pilgrims who in the Middle Ages traveled the via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome, also appreciated two important spas just four kilometers far from San Quirico d’Orcia: Bagno Vignoni, whose central square is occupied by a large basin from which it flows thermal water and Bagni San Filippo where there are free thermal baths inside a natural reserve. From those waterfalls en plein air the beneficial water flows.
When you get to Siena you understand why it is considered one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Italy. The famous Piazza del Campo, where the Palio di Siena is held annually, has a unique shell shape. When you “enter” you want to sit and admire the sky: the feeling is of being in a splendid theater whose roof has been removed. If you feel particularly fit (or particularly guilty of what you ate and drank the night before) you might decide to climb the 500 steps of the Torre del Mangia, from whose top you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city.
The Cathedral of Siena
A whole separate chapter should instead be dedicated to the Cathedral of Siena (Duomo), whose interior literally leaves you speechless. The walls and columns are interspersed with black and white bands, the vaults are decorated in blue but the floor is the real masterpiece, whose 56 panels represent historical and biblical subjects. Before visiting the Duomo (and, I dare say, before planning a visit to Siena) find out about the periods and times of “uncovering the floor”. The work, in fact, the result of 500 years of work, is as beautiful as it is fragile and is therefore “discovered” only for a short period each year. We, without knowing it, were there just at the right time to admire it… Strokes of luck that fate makes you repay with twelve rainy Sundays in a row once back home.
Who has never heard of San Gimignano? Exactly, who? When we arrive in this fortified village, whose 15 towers earned him the nickname “Medieval Manhattan” (and which originally were 72!), rivers of tourists are downloaded from countless buses. Walking through its narrow streets understand the reason why of all this success, but the feeling is a bit too crowded so we go… We will try a visit in the near future… maybe at dawn or in full winter.
The atmosphere is completely different in Certaldo (Alta), 15 kilometers from San Gimignano. Famous for being the home of Giovanni Boccaccio, its streets, square and medieval walls are still perfectly preserved. Impossible not to run into Palazzo Pretorio, with its red terracotta facade. A relaxed aperitif is urgent as evening falls: moments of serenity that worth a trip.
Hamrock with view…
It is the last evening. Dinner – “Icandiehapply” prepared by Sabrina, the energetic owner of the B&B where we are staying. After dinner Matteo sits on the table in the garden (there are rare occasions when smoking is also recommended by doctors), I lie down in the hammock. The silence around us is something almost surreal, and is interrupted only by our voices which, in order not to ruin the magic, simply whisper. I look at the sky, I almost didn’t remember how beautiful it was.
“E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle (Dante, Inferno – Canto XXXIV)
- We stayed in the Palazzi del Papa B&B which offers both room and breakfast formula. If we got on well? I recommended it to three Irish ladies known in a pub.
- Val d’Orcia is an agricultural area: enjoy the landscape and do not push on the accelerator – literally. The risk of a close encounter with a wild animal is not so far as a hypothesis. It would be bad to end the holiday with a crush
- If you are a wine lover you have to go on a pilgrimage to Montalcino to taste the famous Brunello… as long as you don’t mind the idea of drinking excellent wine while enjoying a splendid landscape
- Cycling enthusiasts cannot miss the Eroica circuit, whose white roads are also famous for the commemoration in vintage dresses.
- To avoid the typical onslaught of the summer season, plan a long weekend during the autumn. Are you not convinced? Write “Val d’Orcia autumn” and crush on images… (and, in this regard, if foliage is your passion, read also this post by Nadia Bravo that tells how beautiful autumn is in the Casentino Forest Park )