A nature hike: After our intensely crowded day in Firenze, we needed a low-key, quiet day. Mostly, we needed to recover, so we let ourselves sleep in (and sleep we did, thank goodness!)
The road that the winery was located on, while being tiny and out in the country, was surprisingly well-travelled, and cars would come zipping along at a frightening clip, as we discovered when trying to walk along it one day. So we wanted to find either a nature preserve or a real walking path.
But who could we ask?
Lorella, our host, was busy with the harvest, which was short and brutal. The area had suffered from a damp, cold summer, and the grapes were dreadful. She and her son were working constantly. (Her son had stopped his work for a few minutes one day when we walked down to the cellars, and gave us some Cab grapes to taste. He had a big sunny smile that reminded me of my nephew Tavi.) Besides, even if Lorella or her son were around, neither spoke much English. But on Friday afternoon, we had a new “neighbor,” as the next apartment was taken by a young Italian couple with a toddler and a small baby. I decided to ask them. The guy was quite helpful, and directed us to the Via Francigena.
Via Francigena was a Roman road that ran all the way from France to Rome. Today it is well marked for hikers. Original paving stones can still be seen in spots.
We headed out of the winery property, walked for about 200 meters on the road, and turned off onto a smaller dirt road.
It was a cool, overcast day, perfect for walking. A cyclist passed us in the other direction, and we were overtaken by a serious distance runner, but other than that, we were alone. A few ultra-lights flew overhead, and a large pheasant rooster exploded out of the bushes (the second that we saw on the trip).
After several kilometers, it connected to the Via Francigena, and we had our choice of directions. One way led to Graciano, the town near us, and the other to some church ruins and another town, Quartaia. We chose that route.
We passed the ruins of a tiny church, quite modern (early 20th century). Who knows why it was abandoned.
After another kilometer or so, we came to the town of Quartaia. Calling it a town is generous; it was a small collection of houses, some quite modern. The first sign of a town was the small farm, where plump, smug-looking sheep, goats, horses, and chickens all shared the same area, guarded by a few big dogs.
One of the dogs came out and woofed happily, so we had to stop and pat it.
Some of the houses looked completely modern, and some looked quite large and fancy…
Some of the new buildings were done in an old style, and were quite charming…
The path, from before the church ruin, had been full of pottery shards, but there were even more in Quartaia. The smell of wood smoke and a few Sunday lunches wafted out towards us, and I realized how hungry I was getting!
We walked back, completing a pleasant 8 km loop, and spiffed up a bit to go into town. Our temporary neighbor had assured us that while shops are closed on Sundays, restaurants are open, as that is a big eating out day in Italy. Sure enough, the same little family traitoria was open and there were several families there, including one little fellow who raced up and down the restuarant. We had a great meal, including some really wonderful panacotta.
We decided to leave the car where it was and take the elevator up to the old city. David spotted the big pieces outside of La Grotta del Cristallo, and we decided to pop our heads in again for another look. Luciano was there, and this time I couldn’t resist getting a tiny glass to use as a bud vase.
In fact, all the crystal places were open, and we had a chance to confirm our opinion that Luciano made the classiest stuff. Still, David decided to buy another simple, inexpensive glass from a different place. While he was completing his purchase, I sat out on the terrace and admired the way people in the old city coped with laundry…
…or found tiny terrace spaces for gardens…
We also noted the “bus stop” in the old city (a sign stuck on the wall)…
As we were strolling along in the old city, we noticed that the civic museum, Colle di Val d’Elsa’s archeology museum, was open. We had missed it on our first visit to the city because it keeps odd hours. It was in the original civil building of that part of the city (dating back to the 1300s but seriously redone in the early-to-mid 1500s). There were lots of Etruscan finds, as well as a reproduction of a pottery kiln found in (you guessed it) Quartaia! It all came together!
The most astonishing thing were the frescos, totally unprotected, right in front of your nose, down low on walls that were completely accessible.
The colors were still very vivid. In fact, they were so casually there that David was sure that they were reproductions. But no; on our way out, I checked. They were the real deal, dating to the mid-1500s.
The building was also used as a prison until the mid-1920s, and a few cells were displayed, complete with the graffiti left by prisoners. Many were communists, and the hammer and sickle motif appeared a few times.
Strolling down throught the new part of town, I found an Internet cafe, and grabbed a computer. For 45 minutes I checked email and just reassured myself that nothing major (business-wise) had blown up! Meanwhile, David sat in the town square, which was really hopping on Sunday evening. We said good-bye to Colle di Val d’Elsa, got a lovely pizza to take back to the farm-house, and polished it off with the Borgo 2006 Chianti (great, but not nearly as good as the 2007). The next day, we would be leaving Borgo Santinova.