The base for our week in western central Tuscany was the castle at Querceto. The village itself nestles below the castle and has, for the most part, been turned over to running the castle’s holiday accommodation enterprise. There are houses and apartments to cater for almost any size of party, along with a swimming pool, bar, restaurant and shop for the estate’s oil and wine, which can be sampled by joining one of the tours. The location is superb, being roughly halfway between the coast and Volterra.
Of particular note is the restaurant, Locanda del Sole (below). The two chefs, brothers Enrico and Eduardo, prepare some of the best food you could hope to eat anywhere – and I don’t say that lightly. In addition to the a la carte menu and extensive wine list, there is a tasting menu, freshly baked breads and focaccia, daily appetisers and other specials. It is so good that we ate here three times to make sure we were able to try nearly everything available! Noteworthy dishes at the time of writing were the Chianina tartare and marinated venison starters, along with the pigeon, lamb, duck and roe deer mains.
It seems that no matter where we go, we always get followed by some kind of classic car event. On our first full day, we set off for Volterra but, in Saline di Volterra, we discovered that the road onwards was closed because of a classic car hill-climbing event, which resulted in a 30km detour to approach the town by another route. That said, we were not disappointed, as it enabled us to enjoy touring some of the Tuscan valleys that we might otherwise not have seen.
Over the last year, the weather in our part of Italy has been a bit strange. The summer of 2015 was one of the hottest that I’ve experienced in the ten years that I have lived here and was followed by a wet but unusually mild winter. Spring maintained the pattern with temperatures in the mid twenties throughout most of March and early April. Suddenly, as April gave way to May, we have experienced one weather system after another, lowering the temperature considerably. All the photos of Volterra here, were taken within the space of a few hours and show how dramatic the Tuscan sky can be and how quickly it returns to its characteristic blue.
As we emerged from the duomo, a bolt of lightning hit the campanile, causing many bystanders to panic. Lena has never been so close to a lightning strike before and was temporarily concerned that it was an explosion. I have to confess that it made me jump, too.
We managed to escape the heaviest of the rain by being in the excellent Pinacoteca (art gallery) that is housed in the Palazzo Minucci-Solaini and the Alabaster museum, which is in the adjoining medieval tower.
The view above, of Volterra’s roman theatre, was taken from the window of the pinacoteca.
By the time we got to the roman theatre, the sun was out and the sky was blue again.
When we set off on our holiday, we had made a loose plan to celebrate Lena’s birthday in Grosseto but the weather forecast for the Tuesday was very bad for southern Tuscany so we went on the Monday instead. We were so glad that we did because, apart from the collection of buildings below, we didn’t like Grosseto at all. What we did like though, was touring the vineyards of Scansano!
The revised plan for Lena’s birthday was a tour of the vineyards near San Gimignano followed by lunch in the town itself. The image below is of San Gimignano as seen from the vineyards of the Carlesi Zucconi family estate of Fattoria il Piano where we hijacked a tasting event and came away with a few cases of excellent vino.
View looking over the second of what are known as San Gimignano’s Twin Towers. The one that you climb has had a room designed and furnished on each of the artificial floors to give the impression of a thin, vertical house. In reality, the towers were empty and built purely as symbols of wealth – he who hath the tallest tower…
We finished Lena’s birthday with a visit to the enchanting little walled town of Monteriggioni and a celebratory dinner in a nearby restaurant. I had hoped to include a photograph of the town from the Via Francigena, as it passes through and offers good views of the town walls. Unfortunately, by the time we walked there, the clouds were back and all I was left with was an uninspiring silhouette.
Lena busy reading her birthday messages from family back in Russia.
We spent the second half of the week on the coast but not without touring the vineyards of Montescudaio and Bolgheri first. Again, we found ourselves walking away with several cases to add to our collection. The image below was taken in the chocolate box village of Bolgheri and is of the restaurant, La Taverna del Pittore, where we enjoyed a super lunch in the warm sunshine.