Saturday, 1 August 2015

Italy - under the Tuscan sun

Away from the coast and up into the mountains into the region of Tuscany for our next stop. Despite being in the middle of a very hot summer, the rolling hills of this region are still beautiful and the small villages with their church or bell tower as the highest point are so picturesque. The condition of the Italian roads generally is not good, making it a slower drive than usual and taking longer to get to places, but this also allows us time to absorb the vista and stop for photos. 

We stayed at a campsite near the village of Pitricci and explored the surrounding area over the next couple of days. Lunches in old towns after wandering around exploring their history, a swim to alleviate the heat in a fresh water lake and another in the surf after an hours drive to the coast. Black sand beaches and an amazing amount of driftwood which people have used (along with sarongs) to construct shelters from the hot sun. It gave the beach a very messy look, but quite unique and enterprising. Sellers walking along the foreshore laden with sarongs and doing a roaring trade. Another day we visited the thermal springs at Saturnia and had a soak for an hour in the warm surplus smelling blue waters - and free of charge which makes a change. It did take a while to get the smell of sulphur out of our bathers!!


                               Hot thermal springs at Saturnia, in the Tuscany region of Italy


                                     The village of Pitigliano - a day trip and lunch stop

Decamping and back on the road heading north, we stopped for a hike around Mt Vesuvius. It was another scorcher of a day with the temperatures showing 42 degrees outside. After the long walk from the car park all uphill to the top of the volcano, we opted to listen to the short 10 mins spiel of its history, a quick look inside the crater and then back into the air conditioning of the car. The heat coming off all the volcanic rock was almost unbearable and very few if any people were taking the circuitous route around. Still, a great view from the top across to Naples, the bay and surrounding countryside.

                                                 Looking down inside Mt Versuvius

Our next stop was Siena, a lovely medieval city in the heart of the Tuscany region.As it was only an overnight stay, it was a hotel again after our three nights of camping and we stumbled on one just outside one of the gates to the old town, a view over the surrounding countryside and a pool. The centre of town is a huge fan shaped piazza known as Il Campo. It was featured in the Bond movie Quantum of Solace and is famous for a horse race run twice during the summer months and known as   Palio de Siena. A dangerous circuit for the horses as not only is the piazza small, it funnels down to one side making the race both uphill and downhill with the spectators corralled in the centre. The architecture of the surrounding buildings is stunning, including a black and white stone church and a slender tower with a distinctive white crown.


                      Siena Cathedral.                                             Now that's a set of doors !!


            The black & white stone church                             The tower in Palazzo Pubblico

Our last campground was just on the edge of the Tuscany region and not far from Bologna. Again set in the peace and quiet of the mountains, we enjoyed a couple of lazy days chilling by the pool, reading and catching up on blog. One day we took the train and spent a day discovering Bologna. Hopping on a city tourist bus equipped with audio, we spent an hour learning about its history. We meandered up and down beautiful leafy streets with huge villas either side, passed lovely gardens and of course endless old buildings that date back so far it makes you realise Australia is such a young country in comparison. Back on foot, we wove through inner city alleyways - stalls of cheeses, cured meats, colourful pasta and delicacies. Shame we can't bring some of it home with us.


                                   A huge selection of cheeses and meats in a deli window

The further north we have come in Italy, the more we have enjoyed it. Apart from the intense heat with which we have found difficulty coping with at times, the scenery of this area has been breathtaking. It has so much to offer with mountains and valleys, cute little villages, great food and wines. It's on from here back to the coast of the Cinque Terre area for our last stop in Italy. With only a week left of our holiday, we must start making tracks back towards Calais and our ferry to the UK.

                                                A lovely Italian mountain view along the road


                            The view looking out from our tent - our last camping stop in Italy

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