Italian Food, Natural Spas & Medieval Cities: A Week in Tuscany

My Tuscan holiday. We spent an adventurous week in Tuscany, and would like to share some of the highlights such as the delicious food, the small medieval cities, the Etruscan history, and the relaxing (mostly free) natural warm springs and mud baths.

Our Itinerary:
Piazza dei Miracoli
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Dantes Divine Comedy
Semproniano
Novecentro
Terme di Saturnia
Free Saturnia Mud-Bath
Pitigliano
Santa Fiora
Zuppa di Inglese gelato
Monte Amiata
Castiglione della Pescaia
Massa Maritima
Tuscan Sunset
Etruscan Archeaology
Bagno di Vignoni
San Gimignogni

DAY 1 OF TUSCAN HOLIDAY: IS PISA REALLY BORING?

I arrived in Pisa on a sunny Thursday morning in June. Pisa airport is small and the staff are very friendly, and within no time at all I was equipped with city maps, some Euros, and directions on how to get to the city centre. Most travel blogs will tell you to take a train from the airport, however this is unnecessary as the trains are expensive and infrequent. As soon as you walk outside there is a bus stop and every bus will stop at both Pisa Centrale and the Piazza dei Miracoli for only 1 Euro.

I soon found myself in the Piazza dei Miracoli and it was not what I expected. Most people say Pisa is a waste of time, because it is boring and touristy. Well the piazza was filled with tourists from all over the world, but it was a beautiful and interesting place. It was also immaculately organised, not typically Italian; all the buildings looked scrubbed white, the grass was freshly cut and bright green, and there was not a single piece or rubbish – not even a cigarette butt – on the carefully polished tiles. Obviously famous here is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which costs about 19 Euros to climb up the 300 steps.

The piazza was originally a medieval town, built from the money gained by pillaging the nearby town of Palermo. It consists of four buildings: the Cathedral, the Tower, a Baptistry and the Cemetery. Each of the buildings were purposely designed to sit in harmony together, with the Cathedral in the centre so from any point of the piazza you can see it.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has more than 300 stairs to reach the top.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has more than 300 stairs to reach the top.

I first visited the Cemetery. It is a large rectangular building with a garden in the centre. Its name in Italian is Campo Santo, which means Holy Field, because it was constructed on sacred soil that was shipped in from Golgotha (the hill where Jesus was crucified) by the Fourth Crusade. They first began building this Cemetery in the early thirteenth century, and it was only completed 180 years later in 1464. You can view the dedicated statues and tombs as you walk around the outer edge of the structure.

The most famous person buried here is Leonardo Fibonacci, an Italian mathematician from Pisa who died during the middle ages. He was best known for spreading the decimal system (Hindu-Arabic numeral system) throughout Europe. Most of the tombs were giant slabs on the floor, with names and dates carved on the stone.

Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who spread the decimal system.

Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who spread the decimal system.

My favourite part of this building was the back room, which was covered in murals representing themes of life and death and greatly influenced by Dantes’ Divine Comedy. During WW2 a grenade was thrown into the cemetery starting a fire and many images were destroyed. A very quick job at fixing the murals was made using the cheap materials they had on hand, which further led to its degradation. Today the utmost care is taken to preserve what is left of the images, which I really enjoyed looking at. Two significant scenes remain in fairly good condition. The first shows a contrast between the people who are damned and the people who are blessed, and the type of life each will lead on earth and in the after-life. Here we see the devastating image of several damned men contained in a pit, with pained faces who cry in terror. Those who are blessed are playing fun games with the angels. The second mural depicts a scene from Dantes’ Divine Comedy: the enactment of man’s sins of greed, arrogance and self confidence. There are the martyrs, who are miserable in giving up their lives for all the wrong reasons. Then there is the group of upper class peoples, who are dressed richly and enjoying the pleasures of music and dance. Death is represented by an old woman with a sythe, and we can see the cherubs and demons fight over wrenching the souls out of the dead bodies. Both murals are pretty dark, but they tell interesting stories.

An evil pit of damned men who scream in terror.

An evil pit of damned men who scream in terror.

There is not much to see and do in Pisa Centrale however the main train station is here with a network that connects you to most of Italy. I took a fast train to Grosseto, which took 80 minutes. Grosetto is one of the biggest cities in the Maremma region and it is just a wonderful place to hang out. It is still protected by Medicean Walls and the city revolves around the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence, who is the patron saint of Grosseto. It houses several works of art and has amazing 15th century stained glass windows. The stairs at the front of the Cathedral are a popular place to sit and wait for friends or just pass the time. Besides it is the Piazza Dante, which has a statue of Leopold II in the middle, the previous monarch of Tuscany. I enjoyed a pleasant stroll around this city and purchased a few items including: mozzarella di buffalo, prosciutto, focaccia bread, powered hot chocolate, and peach iced tea. I then returned to the stairs of the Cathedral to wait for for my ride.

We used the site House Trip to find accommodation and we found a lovely little villa in Semproniano owned by Luisa and Carl-Magnus, who agreed to collect me from Grosseto by car for 35 Euros. It was approximately a 90 minute drive. The house is on the edge of a hill. It has a charming little garden, with tables and chairs, from which you see a sprawling view of the Tuscan countryside as well as the Isle di Giglio. The owners lived on the top level of the house and I had the entire ground floor to myself. It had a modern bathroom and a small kitchen. The kitchen contained many old-fashioned items like a miniature box grill for toasting bread, an aluminium Italian coffee maker, a vintage kettle, and some quaint teacups and sauces. There was a fridge, an oven and a stove so we could cook if we wanted to. In the back of the place was a small bedroom with two single beds however it smelt strongly of cat pee, which was probably because the owner had 9 cats. The main living/dining was large and contained several large units containing lots of books, expensive china, photographs and tourist pamphlets. There was a large wooden dining table that seated 8 people, a small breakfast table for 2 people, a couch, a fireplace and a big double sofa bed, which is where we slept. The place was perfect and great value for money, however I must admit I was a bit scared to sleep there alone on my first night.

That evening I enjoyed a refreshing glass of wine, which went down so smoothly. It is only in recent times that the quality of the Maremma region wine has been recognised. Traditionally it was always referred to as table wine. The Tuscan regulatory councils refused to recognise them because the wine is made from foreign grapes that are not Italian, such as Sangiovese, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay. Winemakers who were confident in their winemaking continued to make wines without the Tuscan quality seal and by the 1990s they became favourites with wine Journalists and drinkers alike. These wines are now referred to as the Super Tuscans and they are more popular than ever. They are easy to drink because they don’t contain a metallic or acidic taste prominent in cheap house wines, and they are free from many additives and preservatives that normally give you a headache when you drink too much. On this occasion, one glass of wine was more than enough for me because I was weary after a long day site-seeing.

In answer to the question: is Pisa boring? I would say that it is well worth exploring if you are passing through and if you are staying for longer, well you just might find the surrounding villages to be of more interest.

DAY 2 OF TUSCAN HOLIDAY: DISCOVERING SEMPRONIANO ON FOOT

I had a well-deserved sleep-in and awoke to see a very gray day outside. My first task was to have breakfast. Luisa had left some ground coffee for me and I tried to prepare a pot of coffee using the Italian coffee maker. The device is made of three components: the base, a small centre piece with holes on the top and the bottom, and the top piece that has an open tube in the middle. I spent a lot of time and wasted a lot of coffee trying to figure the device out. In the end I had to Whatsapp my mother to find out the trick. What you need to do is fill the base to the top with water, put the ground coffee into the middle, and then connect all the pieces together. You then heat it on the stove until the water boils and the top piece becomes filled with coffee. I made myself a small pot and prepared a plate of mozzarella, prosciutto and focaccia bread. I then put on my walking shoes and headed to the heart of Semproniano.

Semproniano is a very small village with a population of only 200 people. It took me 15 minutes to walk here from the house. It is divided into two sections: first there is the new part, which has a post office, a bank, a charming restaurant called Novecentro, a combined Bar and Gelateria with outdoor seating, a tabaccheri, a little grocery store, a small bakery that emits divine smells, and a pretty little flower shop, all of which are all located along the main road. Then there is the ancient part, which is more interesting. I walked up a very steep set of steps to the top of the hill, weaving in out of small stone houses and old crumbly buildings, in which I could hear the signs of life but still felt like I was in another world. At the top I came to the Chiesa di Santa Croce, a 12th century church. The Semproniano parish priest tends to the pretty flowers that adorn the outside. From the outside it looks like another village house, but inside it is beautiful. There is a medieval wooden crucifix, neo-Gothic patterned black and white marble adorns the walls, and an expressive depiction of La Pieta from the Renaissance. I enjoyed the view from outside immensely, as I could see a massive Tuscan countryside with patches of green and gold farms, picture-pretty houses, shining blue lakes, and a never-ending skyline.

A bit further down is the Chiesa dei Santissimi Vincenzo e Anastasio, which is a 13th century church and one of the few examples of unaltered medieval design that exists today. The church has only ever been restored once, in early 16th century, which atone for some of its Gothic aspects. The church has many decorative elements, and I really appreciated the medieval panels inside.

A 13th century church and one of the few examples of unaltered medieval design that exists today.

A 13th century church and one of the few examples of unaltered medieval design that exists today.

I noticed more and more clouds appearing in the sky and feared it might rain so I dashed down the hill to find shelter. I got as far as the post office when it began pelting down. I considered the 15 minute walk back to the house and realised I would get absolutely drenched if I attempted it. So I sat on a rickety old bench and waited for the rain to stop. I waited 20 minutes and the rain became increasingly hard and I was becoming very cold. I noticed some people running to their car, which was parked near me. I stopped them and asked in Italian: Puoi partarmi in macchina per cinque minuti? However they were actually from Germany so we could converse in English and they kindly gave me a lift.

Back home, I changed into dry warm clothes and made a comforting hot chocolate. I sat by the window and read my book until I eventually fell into a light afternoon nap. By the time I had woken up, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining again.

I risked another trip to the village centre, confident that there would be no more rain for the day. I went to the Bar and Gelateria for a cappuccino, which I drank at one of the small tables outside. Almost all the tables were full, and I watched the locals drinking wine and snacking on bread and tomato dip in the late afternoon sun. I purchased some Italian Marlboro cigarettes from the tabaccheri next door, which were nearly 5 Euros. I was a bit surprised as I expected it to be cheaper.

Italy is well sign-posted and there are brown signs everywhere that indicate historical sited. I had seen some signs pointing up hill, so I walked in that direction to find out what was there. I walked for approximately one hour before I realised that you really need a car to travel Tuscany. I was walking along the roadside for starters, as there was no pedestrian footpath, and the distance between places seemed to be quite far. The sun was slowly setting and I was thinking about dinner, so took a long walk back to the village centre. The walk wasn’t totally in vain. I had seen some very pretty views between the tree branches and I also passed a sentimental grave by the road of young man that had fought in WW2 but died in Italy from his injuries. It was freshly decorated with flowers and included a framed picture of the deceased.

Whilst walking alongside the road, I took some interesting photos.

Whilst walking alongside the road, I took some interesting photos.

Italians eat dinner quite late, and the only restaurant of Semproniano doesn’t open until 7.30pm. By the time I reached Novecentro it was already 8pm, however I was the first customer. This is a lovely little gem located on 4 via Toscana 58055 and you can view their website here. I took a seat in the back room, from which I could view the setting sun. I ordered a glass of white wine and some still water to start as I contemplated the menu. They specialise in home-made pasta and had some beautiful and unique dishes that incorporated the fresh ingredients of the season, including: wild boar ragu, and fettuccini with asparagus. I opted for the gnocchi with a light pistachio and gorgonzola sauce. It was without a doubt the best gnocchi I have ever had and definitely freshly made as they literally melted in my mouth.

This freshly made gnocchi from Novecentro Restaurant literally melted in my mouth, and tasted even better with a glass of wine.

This freshly made gnocchi from Novecentro Restaurant literally melted in my mouth, and tasted even better with a glass of wine.

I would have like to have had the highly recommended tiramisu for dessert, but I was very full. It took me 15 minutes to walk back to the house. My husband Edgar had messaged me earlier that he was driving to the accommodation from Florence airport, so he would be here soon.

Time passed and just as I was contemplating sleep, I started receiving desperate messages from Edgar that he was in the area but completely lost! He had been driving for hours and could not find the place. My phone had only 2% battery left and I had no charger, so it was a dreadful situation. I described the location of the house as best as I could, but as it had no distinguishable number or features it was in vain. The only thing left to do was for Edgar to wait on the main road and I would walk and fetch him. It was 1am in the morning. My phone had died, and outside was pitch black. There was no torch so I took a candlestick and began my journey. The candle did little to help guide my path and it kept blowing out. I could hear lots of curious noises like squeaking, clicking, twitching, yet I could not see a thing. Perhaps this was my saving grace as if I had seen the animals around me I may not have had the courage to continue. I kept walking straight soon my eyes began to adjust to the dark. I was feeling very frightened by the dark I began running and was relieved when I came to the main road and found a poor tired and lost Edgar.

It was a quick drive home and we had so much to talk about it, but it was getting late. We enjoyed a little nightcap and chat, and thought what adventures we would embark on the next day.

DAY 3 OF TUSCAN HOLIDAY: POSH SPA VERSUS FREE MUD BATH

The main purpose of our trip was recovery and re-energising. It had been a difficult past 6 months and I was in very poor health. The nearby area of Saturnia is well-known for its natural thermal activity that is believed to have special healing properties.

We began the day with a simple breakfast of warm Italian bread, provolone cheese, prosciutto, olive oil, and a pot of coffee. It was then a fifteen minute drive to Saturnia. We decided to indulge ourselves and checked in to the very posh Terme di Saturnia spa resort. It is very expensive, at approximately 60 Euros per person for the whole experience, but well worth it if you intend to spend the day here. We put our clothes into lockers provided, changed into our swimsuits, and donned the very luxurious and cosy dressing gowns that were provided to us. We then made our way to the outside area, where we had our pick of chairs to relax on. The resort consists of several pools and waterfalls of varying temperatures. In the centre is the main pool of medium warmth, which is half under the cover of inside and half outside. The outside section of the main pool has many small canals branching out from it, which the hot water flows through from its natural source. There are then many small spas that bubble with warm-hot water. They have a gentle waterfall in the middle, which lightly splashes you as you relax.  Then at the back of the complex there is one large strong waterfall that extends the entire length of the wall. The pressure of the hot water falling upon you feels like a massage. We felt spoilt as we lounged around in all the various pools. We shared a little strawberry and cream cake with two cappuccinos and nodded off in the warming sun.

After a lazy morning we went to check out the mud baths around the corner. As these were free natural baths, we were not expecting much however to our surprise the place was stunning. The baths were formed in a series of cup shapes, which cascaded down into a waterfall, with a greater swimming area below. The water was very warm and as the cups were various sizes, so it was easy to find a suitable nook to cosy into and enjoy the warm water constantly spilling over your body.  It was a little bit difficult to get to the greater pool at the bottom with bare feet, as there were quite a few rocks and pebbles. However it was worth the painful crawl down, as under the surface of the water there is a very thick, black thermal mud that has special health properties. You need to rub this mud all over your face and body and then let it dry in the sun. Afterwards, you wash it off in the warm water using circular motions with your fingers. The mud has deep cleansing, exfoliating and moisturising properties, and it is good to repeat the above steps several times for nice glowing skin. It is particularly effective for people with skin diseases such as cirrhosis or cellulite. We lathered ourselves in the mud like two little piglets. And we weren’t the only ones. The place was alive with Italians enjoying the summer sun.

People rubbed the thick mud on their skin.

People rubbed the thick mud on their skin.

In the afternoon we headed to Pitigliano, otherwise known as the Little Jerusalem. Pitigliano was home to the Jewish community in Italy from the late 15th century, and it was known as the liveliest Jewish community too. In the mid-19th century, prior to the emancipation of the Jews, more than one third of Pitigliano residents were Jewish. Many of them left for the big cities and by the mid-1900s there were none left. Today there remains a restored Synagogue from 1598, a kosher butchery and bakery, and a museum in the Jewish Quarter.

The village of Pitigliano is cut out of a cliff face.

The village of Pitigliano is cut out of a cliff face.

Pitigliano is cut out of a rock face, so it is an exquisite site from a distance and the image of it lit up during the evening makes for a poplar postcard. However inside the rock face is even more beautiful. At the entrance to the town is the Piazza della Republica in which you will see the wonderful Fontana delle Sette Cannelle, meaning Fountain of Seven Spouts, against a backdrop of Tuscan hills. The fountain was originally built in 1545 and is a great place to stop for a drink, as it has seven taps that flow constantly with cool clean water. Each tap is decorated with a beautiful sculpture of an animal head, each made at various different times in history. From here you enter into the main street on the right-hand side, where there are many shops and vendors selling a range of Italian delicacies and treats. We purchased several packets of dry pasta and a jar of porcini mushroom paste. However there many other wonderful things to buy including freshly slaughtered pork, smoked-prosciutto, all kinds of cheeses, olive oils, red and white wines, biscotti, nuts and sweets. There were also lots of artists selling original paintings and sculpture, high-quality creative jewellery and designer scarves and accessories.

Edgar found the cool water refreshing from the fountain.

Edgar found the cool water refreshing from the fountain.

At the sight of all these lovely things we felt like a small snack, so we went to a little wine bar near the Piazza della Republica. We ordered a small charcuterie and cheese board to share and two glasses of Prosecco, which was served with the most amazing bright green olives I have ever seen.

We enjoyed stopping for snacks because we love Italian food.

We enjoyed stopping for snacks because we love Italian food.

Following a quick refuel, we continued our exploration of this ancient city. We really enjoyed walking through the narrow, crooked and sloping streets of the town with its old-rock houses and very medieval atmosphere. In some brick-walls there are interesting stone carvings.

We came across a beautiful painting framed by tiny white flowers, which really captured our imagination with ideas of knights in shining armour rescuing damsels in distress. We were not sure if these were modern editions or ancient remnants of bygone years. We also visited the Church of Santa Maria and San Rocco, a Renaissance style building with the typical flat facade and two small alleys on either side.

We loved this little nook, but were unsure if the art was modern or ancient.

We loved this little nook, but were unsure if the art was modern or ancient.

By good chance, a big concert was being held in the centre of Pitigliano that night, and already the area was beginning to fill up with cars and people. A lively band with violins, guitars, tambourines and singers began to setup. We found a small homely Italian restaurant don’t a little alley-way nearby, for a quick plate of ravioli, and by the time we were finished the band were in full-swing. We spent the rest of the evening dancing away under the stars, joined by many others both young and elderly, and then drove back to our accommodation for a well-deserved night’s sleep.

This was the comical sign outside of the butcher shop in Pitigliano.

This was the comical sign outside of the butcher shop in Pitigliano.

DAY 4 OF TUSCAN HOLIDAY: THE LITTLE VILLAGES OF TUSCANY 

On our fourth day we wanted to visit all the small and wonderful villages of the area. Our first destination was Santa Fiora, a lovely small town and former medieval centre. We parked at the bottom of the hill by a small garden lake that was originally used for fishing by noble families. Fortunately there was a very modern lift to take us to the top of the hill and the heart of the area. It was Sunday morning and the streets were very quiet because everyone was in Church. We walked along the outskirts of town admiring the stunning mountainous views, and down the Via Carolina, a very narrow street which was once lined with craftsmen’s shops, until we came to the beautiful Church of the Suffragio from the 18th century. There are many old monuments inside, however we did not want to disrupt the mass. The church bells began to ring and slowly the town came to life with the people drifting out. At the main Piazza Garibaldi we saw the ruins of fortified structures and the Palace of Count Sforza (now converted to the Town Hall), and enjoyed a delicious Zuppa Inglese gelato.

The Zuppa di Inglese gelato in Santa Fiora was the best gelato we tried in Tuscany.

The Zuppa di Inglese gelato in Santa Fiora was the best gelato we tried in Tuscany.

We drove on to the nearby Monte Amiata, which is a popular ski resort in winter. The place is famous for the large iron cross that sits atop the volcano summit. It was quite a hike to walk up this, but the view at the top was well worth it and we could see the Tyrrhenian sea, Mount Argentario, Mount Uccellina, the mountains of Elba and Giglio Island. The cross was built in 1910 in honour of Pope Leone XIII, who wanted monumental crosses to be erected on the twenty highest tops of Italy. Monte Amiata was the ninth to be built, and stands 22 metres high on a 8×8 metre base. It would have cost about 30,000 lira at the time to build, and is the result of many generous benefactors. For me it looks a little silly and out of place, with its bell-shaped ends and wire-y-style among such rustic nature, however it remains a big draw-card for pilgrims to visit.

This huge cross sits at the top of Monte Amiata

This huge cross sits at the top of Monte Amiata

It was a long walk to get to the top of the mount.

It was a long walk to get to the top of the mount.

Monte Amiata is also a great place for walking and hiking, and we enjoyed a rigorous journey among the rocks and bush beyond the cross. The trekking trails lead around to the base of l’Agnello della Montagana, and 15km on are the natural hot springs called Bagno San Filippo, very similar to Saturnia. The area is also famous for its Etruscan remains.

There are some great rocky hiking trails at Monte Amiata.

There are some great rocky hiking trails at Monte Amiata.

For a delicious seafood lunch, we visited the small fishing town of Castiglione della Pescaia. Today it is a very lively hub of boats, restaurants, cafes and shops that are mostly modern.

Castiglione della Pescaia is a lively hub of boats and restaurants today.

Castiglione della Pescaia is a lively hub of boats and restaurants today.

We found a popular restaurant a little away from the main marina (close to the car-park) that had many tables sprawling outside onto the walk path and enjoyed our most amazing meal yet! For starters we began with some warm Italian bread served with three small “tapas”: fresh anchovies with olive oil and rocket, seafood salad marinated in herbs and vinaigrette, and seafood tomato marinara that included a delicious chunk of fresh white fish. For second course we shared a large bowl of black squid ink spaghetti with large king prawns, mussels and tomato. To accompany the meal we had some local refreshingly light prossecco, which is Italian bubbly wine, followed by two small espresso coffees topped with just a spoonful of milk cream, otherwise known as “due machiatti”. We walked lunch off down the sun-drenched marina. Of all the areas we had been so far during our trip (except for Pisa), this was probably the busiest and with the most amount of tourists, who are mostly likely attracted by the good dining and drinking.

Black squid in spaghetti with seafood tomato sauce.

Black squid in spaghetti with seafood tomato sauce.

The extra king-sized fresh prawns were delicious.

The extra king-sized fresh prawns were delicious.

We hit the road again and as we were driving along we saw a small solitary park, with a sign indicating Etruscan remains. We stopped to have a look and found a not-very-well preserved tomb. It was a good chance for us to stretch our legs, and from the park stemmed a long walking trial leading up to the top of a tall and very solitary hill, where we enjoyed a small snooze.

We found some Etruscan remains.

We found some Etruscan remains.

We had a nice snooze at the top of this hill.

We had a nice snooze at the top of this hill.

The final village we wanted to see that day was Massa Maritima, which was as old as medieval and still paved with cobblestones. We struggled to find parking because the area was so large and not all of the parking is free. It is highly recommend to watch the Tuscan sunset here, which artists describe as like watching the sun caressing the mountains and monuments of the area. However when we arrived it was still early. The town was first built during the 12th century in pre-Romanesque style however the majority of building occurred in the later 14th century. Old medieval walls that remain almost completely intact still enclose the town. We began a rather steep descent down the central stairs that lead us to the main piazza, where there is the Cathedral of Saint Cerbonius. It’s facade reveals varying artistic influences from Pisan Romanesque to that of the Sienese. All around the church there is a very impressive set of stairs, which the locals seem to enjoy sitting and hanging about on, kind of like the Spanish Stairs in Rome. Inside the church are impressive stained-glass windows and a mixture of 13th all the way up to 17th century art. The most valuable item is the urn of Saint Cerbonius by artist Goro di Gregorio, dated 1324 and with panels illustrating the saint’s life and feats.

People like to sit on the steps of the Cathedral of Saint Cerbonius.

People like to sit on the steps of the Cathedral of Saint Cerbonius.

As you may have already guessed, Saint Cerbonius is the patron staint of Massa Maritima who was famed for his love of animals. He would feed milk to baby deers, tame wild bears, and walk with the geese. He was born in North Africa to Christian parents. From a young age he had a calling towards his faith and in early adulthood was ordained a Bishop. When Christians began to be persecuted by the evil ruler Vandals Aryan he fled on boat. After much time at sea, a dangerous storm began to brew that crashed his boat onto the shores of Tuscany, where he lived a hermits life. His most famous miracle was when he made the sign of the cross upon a herd of wild geese, who instantly became tame and rose up into the air to fly away.

The main portal to the Cathedral of Saint Cerbonius is flanked by lions.

The main portal to the Cathedral of Saint Cerbonius is flanked by lions.

Around the corner from the church we saw a building with the most interesting artwork on it: a large sprawling tree with suggestive yellow fruit, under which birds flew and people went about their daily life. We really enjoyed the scene but couldn’t understand what the picture was about.

We saw this interesting picture at Massa Maritima.

We saw this interesting picture at Massa Maritima.

There were lots of shops and interesting monuments to see, but it was starting to get late and we wanted to find the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset. We found a small pizzeria on the outskirts of town, that was built into the hillside and from which we could see a large sprawling landscape. Our timing was impeccable, and we saw a very bring round sun still high above the hilltops. We ordered a small carafe of house white wine and a bianco pizza to share, which was a pizza base cooked without any tomato sauce, just mozzarella and porcini mushrooms, and topped with prosciutto, rocket and a drizzle of balsamic cream. As we munched away we watch that orange blob sink so quickly into the romantic hillside and it became dark so suddenly.

We snacked on pizza whilst watching the sunset.

We snacked on pizza whilst watching the sunset.

This village is quite lively at night, and back in the main square lots of people filled the square. There were some charming little shops where we bought some trinkets to take back home, and we could not escape the lure of the gelateria’s, where we sampled coffee, hazelnut and lemon sorbet flavours. We slowly made our way back to the car, weary from all the walking. Altogether it had been a very enjoyable day of our Tuscan holiday.

Massa Maritima is very lively at night time.

Massa Maritima is very lively at night time.

We couldn’t say no to gelato.

We couldn’t say no to gelato.

DAY 5 OF TUSCAN HOLIDAY: ETRUSCAN HISTORY

It was our last day in Tuscany, and we had to be in Pisa by 9pm for our flight back to London. With so little time and still so much to see, we decided to focus on the rich Etruscan history of the area. The Etruscan’s were an ancient Italian civilization that lived in the Tuscan region around 700BC. They had a unique language and culture but architecture was influenced by their Greek neighbours, they in turn influenced Roman art and construction. Overtime they lost significant territory to Celtic and Roman tribes, and by the 3rd century BC they were conquered by Rome.

There is evidence of Etruscan settlements dotted around lots of Tuscany, but one of the best places to see explore this history is at the Parco Archeologico “Citta del Tufo” in Sovana. It is the most important Etruscan necropolis to the north of the Calesine stream, which sits amid natural woodland and offers are very shaded and pleasant walk as well. Here we saw many old pillared tombs. These were not for individuals but housed interred aristocratic families. My favourite was the tomb of the “Demoni Alati” which was discovered in 2004 and had very impressive artwork etched into the stone depicting two female winged demons, and a remaining sculpture of a lion. The level of creativity and artwork from so long ago was really remarkable.

The Demoni Alati Etruscan tomb.

The Demoni Alati Etruscan tomb.

The most well-known and largest tomb is Hildebrand Tomb from the 3rd century BC, which was discovered in 1924. Two stone staircases lead to a high podium, burial chamber and rooms connected by corridors, decorated with a cofferred ceiling. Visitors are able to walk up close among the ruins and climb the stairs as well.

Hildebrand Tomb is the most famous and one of the largest discovered Etruscan tombs from 3rd century BC.

Hildebrand Tomb is the most famous and one of the largest discovered Etruscan tombs from 3rd century BC.

The Cavone was the highlight of the archaeological park, an impressive narrow corridor between two very tall cliff faces, that connects various Etruscan settlements. It is still not understood whether the passage was man-made or whether it was a natural wonder that the Etruscan chose to build around. The sight is an incredible wonder for many tourists, and I stumbled onto another travel blog about it here, that tries to find the answer to this curious question.

At the Parco Archeologico “Citta del Tufo” we saw this wonderful narrow passage used by the Etruscans.

At the Parco Archeologico “Citta del Tufo” we saw this wonderful narrow passage used by the Etruscans.

Nearby is the ancient village of Sorano, which like so many other Tuscany centres is carved out of a tuft of rock upon a hill and it literally hangs of the Lente river. We parked at the top and journeyed downwards along narrow walkways, steep cobblestone steps and amid lots of interesting history. It is believed this was originally an Etruscan city from the 3rd century BC. Many of the structures from this era are still intact. After the fall of this civilization, it disappeared from historic records for some time, until being founded again by Emperor Louis II, under the domain of the Aldobrandeschi family. Overtime, the city was greatly developed by the Osini counts.

Sorano village has a lot of history and is a beautiful place to visit.

Sorano village has a lot of history and is a beautiful place to visit.

The Osini castle is of great historical importance and the best example of Renaissance military architecture. It includes a large cenral keep, and the two angled bastions of San Marco and San Pietro, which are connected by fortified walls and a series of underground passages, that you can still explore today. There is a museum in the centre of the castle. The architecture of the town is just stunning. The Masso Leopoidino is a foritified, panoramic terrace, which offers the best view. It is a relatively modern edition in comparison, commissioned by Duke Leopold of Lorraine during the 18th century, to strengthen the cities defences. The point was to enable guards to watch-over the entire city in case of attack. There is a military style clock tower here. Just don’t get too close to the edge, as it is a very long drop down. Of everything here, I loved the Porta dei Merli walkway the most. It is on a winding road leading down, which has the face of medusa looking upon all who pass underneath.

The Porta dei Merli has the image of medusa looking down upon people

The Porta dei Merli has the image of medusa looking down upon people

There was one main church of the village. It was empty, however we still showed respect by entering via the left, genuflecting at the image of Christ, and I also covered my hair with a scarf. One sculpture here that really caught my attention was of a shepherd or peasant man, who appeared to have a large bruise on his thigh, which he was pointing to. I thought back to my religious education and all the bible stories I knew, but I couldn’t figure out what the statue meant.

For those really interested in a Tuscan holiday and Etruscan history I would recommend visiting this sight about Maremma Tuscany. If we had more time, we would also have visited other nearby towns of San Rocco and San Quirico to see more of this ancient civilization.

It was midday, the sun was shining brightly and we were getting very hot. We wanted to relax one last time in a natural warm spring. We were heading in a northward direction, and wanted to stop at the Bagno di Vignoni. Here they have a very expensive and luxurious Spa Resort, however we only wanted a quick dip in the natural spring for free, but this was very difficult to find. We pulled up at the main car park nearby which there is a very old irrigation system that was created by the Romans, and which still facilitates the movement of the warm water. We watched people soaking their feet here, and walking towards the cliffs edge we saw a small waterfall that was steaming with the hot temperature. After much confused and puzzled walking around the area, we finally stumbled across a very rough staircase leading down to the base of the waterfall. Here we discovered a very secluded pool. The water was a perfect warm temperature and the base was thick with pale coloured mud that we layered onto our skin. The setting was very romantic, set in a rock-face with a fantastic view ahead of us. Because it was so difficult to find, there were not many people here and we were so chilled out and relaxed we started to snooze.

At the Bagno di Vignoni we enjoyed a relaxing mud bath for free.

At the Bagno di Vignoni we enjoyed a relaxing mud bath for free.

This natural spa is well hidden at the bottom of a cliff, underneath a small waterfall.

This natural spa is well hidden at the bottom of a cliff, underneath a small waterfall.

We had just enough time to stop for an early dinner before our flight. The food in Tuscany had been amazing so far, and we wanted our last meal to be something very special. We headed to San Gimignano, which had been recommended to us by a friend. The legend goes that the town was founded in 63 BC  by two brothers, Muzio and Silvio, who were fleeing Rome after implicated in a conspiracy. They built the Castle of Mucchio and the Castle of Silvia, which developed into present-day San Gimignano. During the fourteenth century, the town was under the influence of Florence. Wealth families built towers to show their economic power, and of the original 72 there are still 13 that remain. Today the place is a very vibrant and bustling place. There were many tour buses and visitors (both local and international) although the place felt more lively than crowded. There were lots of interesting shops, from old-fashioned style butcheries with fantastic displays, to stores selling Italian Venetian masks and other necessary carnivale accessories. There was lots to see and do here, and should we have had more time we could have spent hours browsing the museums, shops and sights within these cities walls. We found a very nice restaurant a couple of blocks away from the main piazza, which had beautiful crisp white table cloths and friendly attentive waiters that could speak some English. I ordered a small carafe of table wine. The wine from this region, known as the Super Tuscans, is free from many preservatives and is very easy to drink. There are many large and boutique wineries that you can visit, however most require prior-booking. For food we ordered one of our favourite classics, tomato bruschetta, and for mains I had four cheese filled Ravioli, served with a very light cream sauce, whilst Edgar ate steak in a rich mushroom sauce. Next to our table was a small open window, looking out onto the golden landscape that was slowly becoming dark. We reflected upon all the nice food and beautiful sights we had enjoyed over the last five days, and realised that a few more days here would have been nice.

Our final meal in Tuscany.

Our final meal during our Tuscan holiday.

Delicious tomato bruschetta at San Gimignano.

Delicious tomato bruschetta at San Gimignano.

We thoroughly enjoyed our Tuscan holiday and look forward to the next one!

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