Tuscany is every picture of Italy, save the Roma (Rome) Coliseum, that you have seen, characterized by rising hills and verdant valleys, with narrow roads bounded by either tall sycamore with peeling bark or pencil thin cypress trees. Small villages with pastel or warm beige houses greet you around the turn, and then in the distance you see an ancient stone town on a hill with a castle and/or church in the center towering over the other buildings. Sometimes, the hill town has a medieval wall or stone towers. You think the scene is unique, and then soon again it is repeated a few kilometers down the narrow road. The hill town calls up to you to come and see; yet, you realize it would take many vacations to explore them all.
Along the way, the road turns upward toward a hill and switchbacks bring you higher and higher and then stretched out below are vineyards and sunflower fields and olive groves as far as the eye can see, a patchwork of beauty. Further in the distance, more hills rise up in undulating waves. And so the scene plays out over and over again. As we travel closer to vineyards, we see huge purple grape clusters hanging from the vines. Grape harvest and fresh wine production are soon to come.
We have chosen San Gimignano as our destination. An ancient hill town surrounded by a stone wall and beautiful church, it is noted for the 14 stone towers that dot the hill–emblems of wealthy medieval families who used them to showcase their wealth and remove them from the air below in the hope of keeping disease away, especially the plague. Narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with stone buildings, today housing businesses, especially colorful Italian pottery, and various eateries. Several piazzas beckon. It is a relaxing place, except in early afternoon when the tour buses arrive (they are gone by five). We are staying in a six-room agriturismo on an active farm/vineyard just outside the city walls, held by the family since the 1500s. An organic establishment, we have vegetarian breakfasts and the chatty owner regales us in story after story. An anthropologist who has come back home from work amongst unheard of tribes and research for National Geographic, she needed to rescue the family heritage after her grandfather’s stroke. She speaks five languages! We are thankful for this amazing experience. WEG – September 4 & 5, 2015