A mere couple of hours drive from Bellaugello takes you to the beautiful cities of Florence or Rome, to the seaside at Rimini and Ravenna or to the slopes of Monte Amiata in southern Tuscany, and it was to the latter that on Friday I headed for a walk in the woods and the challenge of climbing this extinct volcanic plug.
Driving through uncluttered Umbrian roads via the delightful road from Chiusi that winds its way through the Val d’Orcia, that wonderful landscape made famous by the sterling works of Iris and Antonio Origo who in the nineteen thirties bought the then decrepit inn of Le Foce and surrounding million and a half odd hectares of scrubby crete sinese and through sheer hard work, determination and a large help from Iris’s paternal grandfather’s money turned it into one of the most innovative estates, I arrived in Tuscany. The delightful legacy of Cecil Pinsent‘s garden remains, and is occasionally open to the public, a very do-able day out for guests at Bellaugello. Antonio’s roadside planting of cypress trees toward one of the estate farm houses opposite the main house created the archetypical Tuscan landscape, and the building built for the estate workers social club, the ‘Dopolavoro’ – ‘after work’ now a delightful restaurant (even if a bit over -frequented by tourists) it serves good local cuisine, with cute wait staff.
After a hearty lunch of Tuscan bean soup and bruschetta with new olive oil
I continued onwards and began the climb of Monte Amiata and found a delightful track that led me through chestnut woods. Chestnuts are and have been a hugely important resource for this part of southern Tuscany which like Umbria has always suffered from poor soils, poor farming conditions and hardship. Many of the woods are now privately owned and chestnuts are picked for the table, roasted on braziers all over the world. They are also ground into flour, baked into breads, cakes and used as an ingredient in salamis. The trees make building materials and the broken branches, fuel for winter fires, much needed as we rise to 1700 metres. To me they make a perfect place to walk, scrunchy leaves deep and abundant, trees with silver lichen covered bark, leaves bright green and translucent yellow, dappling the sunlight, and chestnut husks everywhere.
Climbing uphill I hap across a wee chapel, built in the 10th century and still maintained. Close by two ancient ‘seccatoio’ the ovens where chestnuts were slowly dried over wood fires, even here on a hillside history abounds.
The more I looked the more nuts I found…
Gradually climbing higher the chestnut woods give way to beech woods, one species melds into the next, long slender beech trees, mottled trunks majestically thrusting skywards, their leaves making a deep carpet of burnt siena on the forest floor.
I headed to the top where there are views to the west of the island of Giglio and east over Lago Trasimeno to the Apeninnes, home to Bellaugello.
Leave the hill and drive north, the roads are slow and winding, land becomes richer and more intensively farmed and you arrive at Pienza, that delightful photogenic Tuscan town, home to the Piccolomini Palace and Pecorino cheese (the town positively reeks of cheese) and of course, lots of tourists.
Continuing the turn back toward Umbria I just had to stop in Montepulciano where they are currently filming season two of the Netflix series “Medici” starring Dustin Hoffman and ‘Rob Stark’
Although I came across neither Dustin or Rob, I did by sheer chance meet up with Toby and David two American guys who stayed at Bellaugello whilst searching for their dream home in Italy last year. They ended up buying a property just outside the town and are currently in the process of having it restored. It was great to meet these two guys just embarking on their ‘Italian Dream’ and learn of their news and plans for their bed and breakfast estate. Their experiences took me back to the early days of my own Italian adventure.
Saying ‘ciao’ to the guys and walking back to the car, as ever parked on the outskirts I cut through the local park and was confronted by a huge pair of balls…
They belong to the more than lifesize modern version of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Cavallo di Fransceco Sforza’. You can see why the horse is smiling…. which leads me by curious means to a side trip of this adventure.
Drive south of Monte Amiata and you come to the town of Saturnia home to many spa resorts and the famous terme at the ‘vecchio molino’ or ‘old mill’. Again a much photographed spot, thermal waters at 40˚c rush out of the ground and down a torrent at the side of the old mill cascading into a series of pools. Yes, the place is always busy, but there are quiet corners and it is well worth putting up with the crowds for the chance to soak in the sulphurous waters…