On Tuscany, part I
Back in the second year of my Hungarian studies I have been sitting in the train, voraciously reading the adventures of Mihály, the main character in the book Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb. This narrative about the man, who traveled along Tuscany and Umbria after having abandoned his wife in their honeymoon remained engraved in my memory for a long time.
This year, in the first summer of the Italian part of my life I had the chance to walk in the footsteps of the lost Hungarian character in the tapered streets of the medieval towns in Tuscany: our vacation turned out to be a twisted journey into conversations with local vendors, fragrances of freshly baked bread and smoked prosciutto mixed with the dampness of the buildings sheltering souls for centuries and astonishing landscapes of olive-emerald-lime green hills and rocket-like cypresses.
By being in the same time settled in the city of Viareggio on the coast of Tyrrhenian Sea and going on little journeys for day or two towards the heart of Tuscany, we were changing skylines of water and sand with those of medieval towers.
The milestones in the trip definitely were Florence and Siena, but these are some moments captured in some of the stops we made on the way there.
Barga was the first hidden gem, situated a little bit more than 30 kilometers away from Lucca. Our visit happened to be on Thursday when most of the places in the petite historical center were closed, so we could not really savour the local culinary delights, but we filled our eyes with the splendid scenery from the rising ground where Il Duomo is built.
Another town for climbers, Volterra used to be called the windy town as it stays on several velvet hills. Once approaching the place the visitor has the feeling that the roof tops are hugging each other so tightly that a walk on them is possible. Unlike other medieval towns in the heart of Tuscany, I found Volterra’s center far more inhabited and respectively far more cozier. The place is also well-known with the artisans working with alabaster. During our walk we encountered pretty original objects and pieces of furniture manufactured with extreme care for the details. Some of the craftsmen were even so hospitable that they were demonstrating firsthand the process of carving.
The first time when the surrealistic skyline of San Gimignano opened on the horizon we were left astonished. The fourteen preserved medieval towers that are raising in the sky resemble in a way the skyscrapers of a modern city. For their owners back in time they were symbols of prosperity and dignity. Moreover, in case of enemy attack bombs of boiling oil have been launched by their tops.
As the historical center of San Gimignano is listed as a UNESCO Heritage the main square in a hot summer day becomes an international stage for tourists from all over the world: for less than an hour we heart Hungarian three times. May be for the same reason the town does not miss typical tourist venues, souvenir shops and restaurants offering tourist menus.
We arrived in Buonconvento on Saturday morning and found a huge market in front of the town walls offering wide selection of articles from home made cheese and freshly picked vegetables trough fish, fried meat and clothes. Behind the walls we discovered a miniature medieval center, neatly organized and impressively clean. Part of the locals who were already finished with the market visit were hiding in the shade of the old buildings enjoying the modest arietta.
By noon we reached the hometown of one of the best Italian red wines Brunello di Montalcino – just on time to catch the the Apertura delle Cacce in piazza Cavour, when representatives of the Montalcino neighbourhoods: Borghetto, Ruga, Travaglio, Pianello, dressed in colorful medieval costumes, observing the tradition, gather together in the main square to challenge themselves in the annual archery competition. Highly appreciated by locals and tourists the event was a real spectacle in open air, accompanied by the festive singing of the chorus of Montalcino citizens, hidden in the nearby covered stairway passage.
After a pleasant walk along the almost vertical streets in the town center and visiting the Fortress we enjoyed a glass of Brunello in the inviting shade with a spectacular view towards the Tuscanian hills.
Our journey that day finished with a little stop in the Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, a Benedictine monastery, which could be found 10 kilometers away from Montalcino, offering a spectacular view of the Abbay laying in a little valley encompassed by verdant hills.