The virtues and pleasures of visiting Tuscany have been well documented since at least the early 19th
century. In the Romantic Age, poets and writers, artists and hangers-on
alike wandering the Tuscan countryside, prowled the narrow alleys of
medieval villages, wiled away hours in the wide piazzas of Florence and
Siena. Somewhere between drinking and frolicking, they sang and wrote
and painted about the beauties and vicissitudes of
Tuscany and the Tuscan people. The years have been kind and terrible to
Tuscany. Two millennia of on-again/off-again warfare built cities and
towers and bridges and castles, and then tore them down again, only to
see them rise again in some fashion. Post the last devastating war,
Italy, like much of Europe, experienced yet another assault:
modernization. And, like everywhere, this has been a mixed blessing.
Many of the smaller charms of Florence are subsumed under the crush of
traffic, human and mechanized. Graffiti and fast food chains cheapen 500
year old strade and during the high season the lyrical beauty of Italian is lost amongst the babble of tourists. But, it IS
still Tuscany: a place of wonderful food and wine, charming and
unspoiled villages, friendly people, and unmatched historical, cultural
and artistic treasures. It is a diverse land: beaches rising to the
bright green Chianti hills and rising further still to the darker
Apennine mountains, fount of both the Arno and Tiber Rivers. So, it is a
place one must eventually go to. For us, it is a place of return.
plus years ago in a small café in Montalcino (tucked away in southern
Tuscany) we watched the events of September 11, 2001 unfold on a small
Italian TV. Though we completed our two week trip through Tuscany and
Umbria, it and us had been changed, as indeed the world was. In the
ensuring decade we continued our travels including Italian trips to Rome
and Venice, the Lake regions and the Dolomites, Umbria, le Marche and
far-south Sicily. In the back of my mind was always a return to Tuscany.
We wanted to ‘do’ Florence at least semi-properly by staying in the
city. We love Siena and a return there seemed a must. I wanted both to
better photograph what I had seen before – San Gimignano, Monteriggione,
Montepulciano – and see and shoot new Tuscan delights: Pisa, Lucca and
Volterra. Perhaps we would even have a cup of espresso or a glass of
Brunello in that little café in Montalcino, where we had spent several
hours, or perhaps a lifetime.
plans changed when fortune and Facebook intersected. We became
re-connected with a friend from 20 years ago with whom we had long lost
touch. Our friend Dennis had purchased a Tuscan villa and retired to it.
After looking at villas in the Volterra area, I turned to Dennis’ Casa Cappellino
(‘Little Hat House’ in Italian). What a beautiful piece of property
(all 6 acres of it) with a small working vineyard, a natural spring
fountain, ducks, chickens and rabbits bounding about, a reticent cat
named Min and a friendly and loving sheepdog named Max. Of course, the
real clincher for us was the beautifully restored 2-bedroom farmhouse
that we would be staying in.
This would be a different trip than what I had originally envisioned. Casa Cappellino
is nestled above in the little wooded hillside hamlet of Lama, about as
far east of Florence as Pisa is west. With the borders of
Emilia-Romagna, Le Marche and Umbria close by, the appealing
destinations of Ravenna, Urbino and Perugia are about as accessible as
Florence and Siena. Much closer to ‘home’ and seen from our bedroom
window is the small hilltop birthplace of Michelangelo, Caprese
Michelangelo. In the valley below Lama flows the Tiber, beginning its
journey to distant Rome. The river passes by or through a number of
historically and artistically-important towns such as Sansepolcro and
Anghiari. Behind the villa the hills rise steeply through a mix of
chestnut, maples, ash and oak woods to reach heights where spruce and
other firs reign. High on the ridgeline sits the medieval Franciscan
monastery of La Verna, where St. Francis was reported to have received
his Stigmata. Hiking trails abound in this area and offer incredible
views both eastward into the Lama Plain and westward into the Casentino Valley, which is studded with hilltop castles and where the Arno River flows.
south, but no more than 45-60 minutes away is the ancient city of
Arezzo. Originally founded by the Etruscans, then conquered by the
Romans, the core of the city has many wonderful buildings and a
beautifully laid-out central piazza. Close by the border with Umbria is
the hilltop sprawl of a town Cortona, made famous (and subsequently more
touristy) by Frances Mayes book (and follow-on film) Under The Tuscan Sun.
is so much to see in this ‘little’ nook of Tuscany that out the
proverbial window went our plans to re-visit much of what we had seen
before or travel far to the west. And though we were going decidedly
off-season – early November – the added bonus of touring this region is
that it is definitely not on the typically well-beaten tourist trail.
Hallelujah for that!
The directions provided were superb – I don’t use GPS’ preferring to read maps – and though it was dark by the time we reached Casa Cappellino,
Dennis and his girlfriend Kumiko were on hand to greet us with a bottle
of vino from their first wine harvest. The following week was a time of
getting re-acquainted, driving to and wandering through old villages
and an older still countryside, exploring castles and monastic sites,
gazing at unparalleled art and architecture, drinking tasty and
inexpensive Tuscan wines, and eating at exceeding good restaurants (in
little old Lama, Il Refugio has been Michelin rated for years…do
not miss the traditional Tuscan fare!). Markets are relatively close by
so we also cooked several meals.
posts will detail our explorations through this region of Tuscany (as
well as our two days in Florence) but on our flight stateside I was
already thinking of another return to Tuscany and our new ‘home’ of Casa Cappellino.