The Villa Week in Tuscany, May 10-17, 2008

Okay, I am now realizing that the date at the top of this post is the day I’m WRITING, not the days I’m writing ABOUT! So . . . while the date for this post says Monday, May 26, our Villa week in Tuscany was May 10-17. Last episode found us settled in, well fed on the first night.
So . . .

Sunday, May 11 . . . Carol and Kay opted to hang around the villa and relax, while the other eight of us got into two cars and went in search of the Giardino Tarocchi, a Tarot garden near Capalbio in southwestern Tuscany, very near the sea. Our first stop, though, prompted by our host’s recommendation, was to head for Monte Argentario and Porto San Stefano, just off the western coast of Tuscany south of Grosseto. It was beautiful and seemed less polished than most of the tourist driven Tuscan towns, and we found a lovely little restaurant on the water that served fish fresh from the nets.

We tried to drive around the island, but found ourselves in very rough countryside, with the locals urging us to turn back . . . “Bruto, bruto!”, so we took their advice, headed back the way we came, and down the coastline about 45 minutes to the Tarot Garden (www.niki-museum.jp/english/tarot.htm). This unique site was designed and constructed (for decades, mind you) by artist Niki de Saint Phalle, whose Major Arcana figures, brought nearly to life in gigantic mosaic figures, were inspired by the Spanish-born architect Antoni Gaudi. (See his Park Guell in Barcelona on the site http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Park_Guell.html)

Words cannot express the surreal majesty of Niki’s creation, her life’s work, and I had to buy a book to take home with me, so people would better understand my poor attempt at describing the figures in this Disney/Gaudi-on-psychedelics wilderness park. Half of our group was overwhelmed and headed off to the parking lot early, and the other half of us just wanted to stay for another day! I will definitely return to that haunting place . . .

At closing time, we piled back into our cars and found our way to our villa again. A new experience for me, and perhaps I’ll work it into the next Italy Women trip in 2010.

Monday, May 12 – San Gimignano
San Gimignano is a Tuscan hill town whose spectacular skyline is formed by fourteen remaining towers of the seventy-two original medieval spires. Half of the group ventured a bit west to the Etruscan town of Volterra and the rest of us spent a day wandering in and out of shops, churches, and cappucino bars. The light rain didn’t dampen (ha!) our spirits too much, and I visited my favorite potter, my favorite pasticcheria, and my favorite quiet little piazza tucked away at the back end of the main road.

Though we wandered individually through much of the day, six of us ended up at the same cafe in the middle of the town, sipping wine and espresso by 5:30 or so. And then the return to our lovely little villa for dinner.

Tuesday, May 13 – Montepulciano/Pienza
Pienza is one of my favorite towns in all of Tuscany, perhaps in all of Italy so far, and I love this little day trip. Montepulciano is one of those walled cities up on the hill, with churches, shops and restaurants, as well as the ever more popular internet cafes. There’s also a leather shop there, where I’ve bought lovely journals in the past visits.

We ate lunch together at Caffe Poliziano, actually a recommendation from a friend of one of the 2004 participants, and it was such a good suggestion, I incorporated it into my bi-annual plans. Mid-afternoon we made our way to Pienza, just a few kilometres down the road, where the little piazza and the church were the sites of two scenes from The English Patient.

Pope Pius II (I think he’s the one) was born here, he was baptized in the Pienza church, and there’s a lot of historic hoopla sround him and this claim to fame! But that matters not a whit to me. What I love is to just stand on those broad stone steps leading down to the second tier of the town, where I gaze out on the Tuscan countryside below. It is a spectacular view, sweeping, green and glittering, with the staccatto and explamation points of the cypress trees lining long driveways up to farmhouses on the hillsides.

A cappuccino in the corner bar on a chilly day, a chance meeting with some people from London, Ontario, and the chatter of Italians in the area . . . all remind me that my “win the lottery” place is here in this area.

Ciao . . . to be continued . . .

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