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History hilly in Tuscany

By Fyllis Hockman
Travel, World Slideshow
October 10, 2015 - 0 comments

Making our way up and down the interlocking passageways, stone stairways, alleys and narrow cobblestone streets that curl through and around and beyond the main square of this medieval Italian town, I reminded myself I was strolling through 800 years of history.

Stopping for lunch, I ordered a glass of the house wine. I protested when a bottle arrived at the table but I was told to drink what I wanted and I would be charged accordingly.

Later, sipping more wine on our apartment balcony overlooking the vineyards from whose grapes it was made, we debated whether to eat in or go out for another Florentine steak. The fact that our apartment was housed in a structure dating back to the 13th century on a farm boasting one of the best-known vineyards in Italy was a bonus.

We were learning how to appreciate our neighborhood. Rise early or sleep in. Sightsee the countryside or stroll around town. Cook in or eat out. Whatever the choice, we found our apartment much roomier and warmer ambience than any hotel would provide.

We quickly mastered shortcuts to the center of town, got to know local vendors, and began to feel secure enough to risk getting lost on purpose. The sense of pride I felt when gave some harried American tourists directions bordered on smug.

Each day brought a new adventure, often beginning with a visit to one of several nearby hill towns.

One day, it was the Renaissance city of Pienza, known for its harmony of ambience and structure – a town for which the word charming was invented. Another day, it was San Gimignano that claims more intact towers than any other hill town: 13, 14 or 15, depending upon the not-so-reliable source material.

Then there was tiny Murlo, a town of 17 that resembled a movie set of a 13th century village than the reality of it. And historic Volterra, flaunting evidence of Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Renaissance influences.

A visit to Abbadia San Salvatore introduced us to an 8th century abbey that boasted of being newly renovated – in the 15th century. This sense of time warp is ever present. The present, past and long-ago past coexist harmoniously as one travels back and forth through multiple centuries during a couple of hours of daily errands

Whatever the village, we made sure to walk off the main piazza to see where the people really live. While navigating 13th-century arms-length-wide corridors flanked on both sides by two- and three-story stone apartments, we eavesdropped on venues teeming with life.

Every town has its church dating from the 1200s, a museum celebrating its art, and usually an Etruscan tomb.  I also enjoyed stopping at the cafe for a cappuccino or gelato, checking out the wide, heavy wooden apartment doors with their ornate designs and fanciful brass knockers, and the vistas popping through ubiquitous archways overlooking the red-tile roofs of the towns below.

Almost every bend in the Tuscan road produces a WOW moment as you drive through rolling hills and the patchwork-quilt of vineyards, olive trees and wheat fields dipping into valleys and clinging to hillsides, with colors of green and brown and reddish gold depending upon the season and the crop. Adding accent are the stately, slender cypress trees standing guard along long driveways leading up to stone villas.

There's something different about the light. It seems richer, more intense. A young artist we met who was painting her way through Tuscany characterized it as "luminescent."

Grant and Patricia Wood from Mississauga, Ontario, on their third Southern Tuscany trip, added: "We fell in love with the simplicity, the community, the people, the views, the light. We left our hearts here so we had to come back. It feels like we've come home."

We made ourselves at home dining on pasta, cheeses and pizzas at the many taverns in our neighborhood, every table sporting the ubiquitous bottle of wine. Even at lunch.

The sausages and salami come from their resident pigs, the cheeses from their sheep, the veggies from their garden and, of course, the wine from their vineyards.

Our days were meshed with hills and happenstance, vistas and vino, walled cities and watch towers, a chance meeting at a museum, church, fortress or, better yet, a wine tasting. After all, this is what Tuscany is famous for, and wine bars are as omnipresent as Starbucks are in the States.

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