By Gerald Bailey
The Tuscan landscape really is unique: the terracotta-coloured soil, the neat vineyards, the olive plantations and, above all, the soft light. Even the cypress trees look just right – which is something of an admission for us to make, seeing that we don’t really like them at home. Right now, we’re staying for 3 nights in a hilltop town called Montalcino, which we’ve not visited before. Spread out below us, as far as the eye can see, is an undulating Tuscan landscape Because there is a lower level, with a roof about 3 metres wide immediately outside our window, there appears to be a sheer drop to the countryside below.
It’s good to have an extra night in the same hotel after 3 successive 2-night stays. There’s some incentive to get to the bottom of the suitcase, rather than just pick out the bare minimum of clean clothes. It gives us more of an opportunity to explore the town.
We’ve had the services of Michelangelo’s wife Francesca for 3 days of walking in Tuscany. She’s also a very considerate and patient tour guide; her English is more heavily Italian-accented than his, and she doesn’t have his botanical knowledge, but the group has enjoyed her contribution to the tour. On the first day, the bus stopped en route to the starting point for our walk so that she could buy us sandwiches for our lunch. You can’t blame the hapless store owner who was called upon to produce 25 sandwiches in double-quick time for the quality of the fare provided – thick (and possibly the day before’s) bread with nothing but prosciutto as a filling – not even butter, let alone mayonnaise – and the bread here is unsalted! Since then, people have ensured that they obtained the ingredients for lunch the night before!
Our good fortune with the weather continues. Day after day of sunshine and just about the only rain we’ve experienced was during the night. It has meant that we usually arrive at our destination in a fairly sweaty state. However, a shower and change of clothes works wonders. We celebrated the 70th birthday of one of the party in San Gimignano with dinner at an excellent restaurant with magnificent views of the countryside (San Gimignano is another hilltop village) aided by a couple of magnums of champagne – there are so many of us, you must understand. The night before, in Florence, we’d each chosen rabbit for dinner – for about the first time in 60 years.
We had a different guide on our visit to Siena on Tuesday. Donatella was as well-informed as all of the guides we’ve had, with a mischievous sense of humour. We walked around the city with her and then had an extensive tour of the Cathedral.
Tomorrow, we have a walk described before we left home as the hardest day of the tour – but there is a bus option for part of the day (and a wine tasting to follow, which should keep spirits up).