Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Drive in the Tuscan Countryside

This scene is not as green when winter approaches
A view of Pienza
We are staying in Moltepulciano in Tuscan for two weeks. Rick Steves was nice enough to include a drive through the Heart of Tuscany in his guidebook for the region. We were more than pleased to follow it and get some great views of the countryside along with visits to several of the small Tuscan hill towns.

Our first stop was La Foce Gardens. They only open on certain days which did not include Friday so we just made a quick stop and a short drive on a dirt road around the garden. Rick would have been pleased as we discovered a lovely small cemetery where we turned around.

Spedaletto Castle
Spedaletto Castle
From there we drove to the spa town of Bagno Vignoni. We did make a short stop at Spedaletto Castle which has long been a hostel for pilgrims walking the Via Francigena to Roma.

Wool in an old mill building
Beautiful spa waters
We found a parking space in Bagno Vignoni so we could wander the town. We expected to see some shops and a bath utilizing the hot spring water since the spa has been used since Roman times. And we did. The surprise was that this was also a mill town utilizing the spring water to turn the mill’s wheels. The mills, which were used into the 1950s are now gone, but the water paths remain and we could see the amazing series of runways leading the water to the millstones. It is always amazing to see the resourcefulness of those who came before.

The old mill site
Water coursing everywhere

Ingenious ditching to get the water to the right place
Our next stop was the papal city of Pienza. Pope Pius II was born here and when he became Pope in the 1400s, he decided to remake his home town into a city fit to be the birthplace of a Pope. We walked the main street through town, spent a few minutes watching workers transforming the square into something from the time of the Medicis for the upcoming TV series starring Dustin Hoffman. Perhaps next week we will get to see them filming. We had lunch and then spent some time on the walkway overlooking the valley listening to a pair of musicians (guitar and flute). Steve purchased their CD.
Pienza Cathedral altar
Ancient stone carvings in the Cathedral
This interior is typical
Watch for this coming to a television near you.
Dustin Hoffman starring in a series about the Medici family.

Small Courtyard in Pienza
Tie up your horsecart here
Enjoying the music and the view of the countryside
On our way out of town we stopped at the old church where Pius was baptized. It was also of interest because some of the decorations hark back to pagan times and the early years of the church when it was still dealing with its pagan roots.

The old church door
Ancient carvings above the door
Baptismal Font
From there we made one more stop on our way back to Montepulciano. Monticchiello is off the main road so is less visited making it a bit more rustic Italian. We had to park below town and make the walk up to see this lovely village with its typically narrow, curvy streets, shops, town square, and large church. We also noted a couple of excellent-looking restaurants one of which offered incredible views of the valley.
A more modern work of art in the church in Monticchiello.
Wine tasting in Monticchiello.
The entrance to Monticchiello with a fine restaurant just beyond the gate.
A welcoming minstrel

The only notable event on the ride back to our apartment in Montepulciano was the fact that we had to find our way through these narrow, winding streets of town without a guide. Our method to keep climbing when a choice was offered eventually led us to the Piazza Grande just above our apartment. After some discussion with a neighbor who wasn’t at all sure we were allowed to park in this restricted area, we parked anyway and took to a rest before heading out to another fine dinner and conversation. Three hours over a meal with friends is a good way to end any day. 

Some updates on the film set as we visited again four days later with my brother Kent and his wife Jina.

Final look to the set
Covering the paving stones with clay and straw
We saw a dozen wagons
Extras waiting for the next scene to be shot
If anyone knows the story this fresco references I would be happy to know.

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