commentary by Jane
|If you have ever been to Italy--the land of
Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Raphael-- , you know
that there will always be the next time. If you
haven't been, know that there is a land that beckons,
waiting to ensnare you into its charms, delights and
beauty--as she has done to so many who have gone
|We retreat here to be refreshed, to renew ourselves, to relish its sights
and hospitality, to greet old friends, to revisit favorite places and to
explore the new. It is a land where around the corner awaits the
unexpected--in the form of God inspired beauty, ancient ruins, medieval
intrigue, renaissance creativity or the electricity of the twenty-first
|I invite you to share in our memories of
2004--Southern Tuscany, Rome and Sicily. This
time, as in 2003, we were there with our delightful
grandson, Casey--but, now with a tutor so that he
wouldn't fall behind in his ABC's as he travels the
|Note: If you see something that interests
you, just click on the picture for a larger
version. Sometimes you can run the
mouse over and be treated to another
|Before and After
|Five weeks seems like so much glorious time in the planning
and dreaming--but, once there, it is so short--barely a breath
between arriving and leaving.
We began by traveling through Heathrow, giving us the chance
to spend a day in London, sitting on a red tour bus so that
Casey and Marc could say they had been there and
maybe--remember something of what they saw through their
jet lag and blurry eyes.
|There is nothing as exhilarating as touching down in Italy--this time Rome. The adrenaline rush and anticipation of all that is to come is enough to compensate
for lack of sleep, muscle cramps and the nightmare of "Homeland Security (a term too reminiscent of WWII for my liking)." As always, for us at least, the
journey through customs was easy and quick with the real test of patience being held at the rental cars station. For some reason, we always find the car rental
system at Leonardo Da Vinci (Rome Fiumicino) a very trying experience; but, once through the desk work, the pick-up and getting on the road is pretty simple.
And--we are on our way to our home-away-from-home Sant' Antonio Country Resort
|The road from Roma to Montepulciano is a favorite of ours. As you drive out of Rome on the A1, past industrial stuff , the always present road construction and a
confusing sign here and there--but not really that difficult a challenge--you soon look out and behold the golden hills of Umbria with little towns perched high
on the tops. No matter if it is the first time you have glimpsed them or the fifteenth time or maybe for residents the innumerable time, the aura of intrigue, past
mysteries, fiefdom feuds and the spirits of the Guelfs and Ghibellines emanate from them like wisps of holographs. What is there? Who lives there? What
treasures will unfold when you get there? Where will the gelato be? Oh--those first minutes and hours hold so much promise. Promise that will be fulfilled.
|And then we spy the Toscana sign--we are almost home. We begin
to anxiously look for the Chiusi / Chianciano Terme exit so that
we can begin the climb through little villages and the spa town of
Finally, we come to the place where we make the hidden left turn
onto the little road leading to the gates of Sant' Antonio. And
there they are, just as we left them last time--awaiting our
arrival. We are back!
Sant' Antonio is a lovely vacation retreat built into the walls,
rooms and stables of a 13th century Franciscan Monastery. The
monks have gone--to a hillside not too far away--but for the
romantic, the chants still whisper from the stones and crevices.
|Our first night in Montepulciano is always spent at La Porta in Monticchiello. Not going here for dinner that first night would be
somewhat like not going to Sant' Antonio. It's just what we do. Monticchiello is a charming, atmospheric medieval borgo across
some beautiful countryside from Montepulciano. La Porta is a small but known restaurant right inside the walls. We were first
introduced to it by Nico--the owner of Sant' Antonio--several years ago. This is a link to my 2003 review of La Porta. -- just scroll
down the page to find it. This year Casey loved the pici, the owner was as delightfully warm as always, Nico stopped in to say hello
and we were off to a wonderful beginning.
|Our days this year began with Marc and Casey spending at
least an hour first thing in the morning doing school work.
Before leaving, Marc met with Casey's first grade teacher
who provided work for him so that he would keep up with his
classmates. Often tutor and student would get up early and
be through with their work before breakfast. Of course,
during the day or in the evening, there was always reading to
do. We had brought many books with us and by the end of the
trip, they had all been read. Casey seems to really enjoy
non-fiction books on such things as volcanoes, sharks,
predators, etc. That is good because he continues to learn
even as he practices reading skills.
|The draw of southern Tuscany--actually all of Tuscany--lies in its golden hills, olive trees, vineyards, alleys and doorways--in the countryside dotted with farms and
agriturismos, cypress-lined roads, tucked away wineries--its daily life that goes on in spite of tourists coming to look and dream and once again fall under its spell of
enchantment--its villages and towns and churches and buildings with life moving on inside them. Tuscany is a place where the new is always colored and burnished by
the old. A place that can not be found in the new world which so many of us call home. A place that no matter how unreal and unattainable for most travelers thoughts
of moving seep into the mind and heart. Yes, this is the corner of the world where we return again and again as our eye conjures up unbidden but welcome memories
held in the camera of our mind.
|SCENES FROM THE VILLAGE OF MONTEPULCIANO
|In other years I have focused on
windows, doors, scenery, major
monuments. This year I wanted to show
life, shops--what it is like to stroll the
streets. You may want to browse 2001
and 2003 photos.
|Notes on Montepulciano: Nico helped us get SIM cards for our GMS phones which we had brought with us--one for Ken and me and one for Marc so that we could
stay in contact when "the boys" were off exploring on their own. Really--Ken and I must learn Italian! Spent the first morning walking around the never
changing, always appealing streets of Montepulciano--up the Corso, exploring the shops along the way--then slowly climbing on to the top to the Piazza
Grande--and then back down through the alleys with homes and smaller neighborhood shops. Nico and his partners have a new store on the Corso--Il Negozio del
Leone (the Shop of the Lion--reflecting their wonderful Osteria del Leon in the medieval town of Bagno Vignoni.) The shop specializes in such things as
hand-crafted Tuscan Berti knives and table products, high-quality olive oil, dried food products, honey, vegetables conserved in oil, Avignonesi wines and many
more such high-end items. Their shop is not a place to buy souvenirs as such but quality products you will use and treasure at home.
In the evening Ken and I left Marc and Casey at home with their instant mac and cheese and we went in to eat at Diva and Maceo--which consistently receives
high reviews. Unfortunately in the last year it has acquired a new owner--which means a new chef--and we experienced poorly prepared food and extraordinarily
bad service. Clearly we caution against eating here. Restaurants we particularly enjoy and recommend in Montepulciano are Ai Quattro Venti, Osteria del
Acquachetta and Le Logge del Vignola .
While in Montepulciano, do not ignore the lovely, stunning San Biagio, a Renaissance "Greek-cross" church designed by Antonio da Sangallo. Here it is the exterior that
is worth celebrating as the interior is very simple and unadorned except for lovely marble and other expensive stone. When the sun is setting and shining on it, the travertine
literally glows a golden bronze--very ethereal. You find this wonder down a tree-lined road outside of the village-- standing alone in a clearing so that it is the only thing
filling the eye and soul. It is easily missed or ignored, but, the traveler who does not find it, has missed a special treat.
|From Montepulciano we "day-trip". Although these adventures are generally destination-oriented, much of the pleasure is in the roads and byways between here
and there-- it is the loveliness of the Tuscan countryside and the seemingly magical glow of light that gives the aura of being in fairy-tale land--suspended
somewhere between heaven and earth. Our day trips take us to places such as Pienza, Cortona, Montalcino, Sarteano, Cetona, Orvieto, San Gimignano, Chiusi,
Sant' Antimo, Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Radicofani, the coast, and points in-between. There is always something new to find and pleasure in returning to
where you have been before. One begins to feel something a little other than a tourist when returning to a place and already knowing a few of its secrets. Again,
you can find more places and more photos if you explore our past trips (actually we have many more "past" trips but this website did not take form until 2001.)
These pictures are just a few of the 100's taken this last trip.
|MORE OF TUSCANY 2004
AND PHOTOS HOME