Tuscany

(15th June to 24th June)

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Our reproduction of a typical photo of Tuscany!

There was lots on the plan for Tuscany mainly being the Chianti and Montepulciano wine regions.  However we ended up doing a rough figure of eight and that was because we had two random plan changers.  Whilst in Livorno we spied a poster for a pizza/local music festival in Montecatini Terme which was taking place over the coming weekend.  I love pizza and part of our tour’s aims is to take in as many of these local festivals as possible therefore we decided to head that way after our stop over in Livorno, even though it was kind of heading back on ourselves.

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Livorno ferry port, view from front cab

The free stop over place in Livorno was interesting as it was inside the barriers of the port and Livorno itself is an interesting place.  By day we walked Livorno’s town complete with it’s own little Venice canal system and beach side boulevard (5 Kms) and by night we were intrigued by the ‘Italian’ way the ferries to Sardinia and Corsica were loaded, as this was taking place each night right in front of our cab window.

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Little Venice, Livorno

Once in Montecatini we searched high and low for a suitable bar to watch the football (Eng vs Wales) and this led us to our second tour deviation.  Whilst watching the game we met fellow Brits Robin and Juliette who joined us for the pizza festival afterwards but also invited us to stay with them for one night at their holiday villa in Lari during the following week.

In between Montecatini and visiting Lari, we spent the best part of the week completing the ‘Chianti’ road (SS222) which runs from Florence to Siena.  We used Greve in Chianti as our base to visit the other Chiantis (Radda is well worth visiting).  Greve has a great free Aire and for our stay it seemed quite social too.  Under the backdrop of motorhomes and fields growing the grapes we met Auzzie/Brit combo Giles and Kerry who were travelling several months in a 25 year old Talbot, be it one in the best condition I have seen on the road.  G and K, let us know how you are getting on?

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Radda in Chanti

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Helmut from Germany touring complete with a Longbridge Mini Cooper, Giles’s Talbot is in the background.  Greve in Chianti.

After being spoilt in Lari (thanks R and J!) we then circled back again towards Siena staying at both free aires Castelfiorentino and Poggibonsi and completing drive bys of San Gimignano and Colle di Val d’Elsa.

Siena itself is obviously a classic Tuscan city and one we both really liked.  My eyes noticed more the famous ‘Italian’ design with the majority of the small restaurants being presented in ‘quirky’ styles (note to self – remember bicycle seat).  We managed to walk in, around and out of Sienna relatively easily but unfortunately we had completely melted as the humidity was very high.  This led to choosing Bagno Vignori near San Quirco d’Orcia where there are natural spa pools that have been used since before Roman times – and these are free to enter!!!!  Sharon and I were the only ones in our pool which was amazing after the heat of Siena.  The beautiful milky pale blue water itself has high mineral/alkali content giving healing and well-being properties – all good!

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Thermal pools at Bagno Vignori

We seemed to have moved a lot around Tuscany and have seen lots of places and met lots of people.  I can’t help commenting on how friendly the Italians are, every one we have met has been really genuinely nice.  We have had some slightly unpredictable recent examples of this:  the old actor in a bar in Castelfiorentino who insisted in reading his poems and photocopying them for us, even though they were in Italian: the cyclist complete with full team lycra in the same town who passed the van but then turned around to say hello and ask us where we are from how were we doing etc: the shop keeper in Greve who kept me an hour talking (in a mix of Italian and Portuguese) and even shared a beer from his fridge with me: Andre who we asked directions for Vila Vignamaggio (Mona Lisa’s birthplace, reputedly) who chatted on the street corner talking about his organic wine (we were walking towards a vine yard at the time) and the list goes on of more normal examples of people being friendly – bar staff, shop keepers, and 99.9% of all the Italians we have met so far.

Another observation is that the Italians do not seem that bothered about the football Euro Cup, both times we have struggled to see the England games, and this totally has surprised me.  I am sure every game is on the TV in the majority of the pubs back at home…??….

Further to all this we have two slight negatives:  wow it is hot and humid and for some reason my hay fever has returned.  Also, on a slightly different subject, the Italian roads are in a terrible condition, even some of the paid tolls, and we are sure the motorhome will finally rattle itself to death, never minding our ear aches.

Finally, we did not consume as much Chianti as expected as most of the wine tastings you have to pay for!  The going rate seems to be 10 euros for three samples which for my brain seems quite expensive – I would rather buy a couple of bottles from the supermarket or have 2 glasses of wine in a bar watching the world go by.  Conclusion, we will leave the wine tasting for France and Spain or maybe a different Italian wine region.

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In Greve we completed a spring clean of the van.  Everything out, reorg, everything back in.  Dare I say it, it was a bit like 5S!

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