Ah, La Bella Italia!

Well, I have to say that if anything would persuade me to return to Italy, (I’ve been saying “never again”) it would be to stay in Lucca, in Castellina in Chianti, & to travel slowly around the Chianti region, sampling it’s beautiful food and wine … and the scenery. What would persuade me not to come back would be the mad, irresponsible Italian drivers! Tooooo many near misses!  Only David’s expert driving averted calamity!

Lucca, that beautiful walled city. We stayed in an apartment with guests for a week, just inside the wall, with private parking (whew!) & a view of the wall with it’s evening strollers, joggers and cyclists. There was an excellent market twice a week just under our balcony. A short stroll brought us to a lovely piazza with 4 restaurants – yes, we sampled each one! One night there was a tribute concert in the piazza, and a small craft market as well. We loved one traditional restaurant so much that we booked lunch for our next group two weeks hence!  So easy to walk around the old centre as well, and some had a horse and carriage ride through the city while others cycled on the wall.



And then on to Castellina in Chianti, a town David & I remembered from a few years ago. How lucky we were to have a fabulous villa just outside the town, in Rocca di Castellina. Martina Viti and her mother Giuliana were so helpful and welcoming … they brought us up a homemade limoncello cake and a bottle of vin santo, another spicy cake and various meats and bruschetta were provided for a wine tasting, and Martina’s help in finding a solution to a travel problem at the end of the stay was invaluable.  The villa was stunning, with 4 ensuite bedrooms – some even suites -, great bathrooms, spacious kitchen, diningroom and livingroom … and a gigantic terrace with various sitting areas and views to the town on the hill, the beautiful Tuscan countryside, and the family’s 3 hectares of grapes (including for Chianti Classico wines) and olive trees. We spent a lot of time in the local town of Castellina (well, it did have the most famouus gelateria in Tuscany!), and the various locals were so friendly.

We did of course make other excursions, as well as booking a guided tour for a few hours to San Gimignano, followed by a winetasting in another village – we decided that “our” vineyard’s wines were far superior … and cheaper!  We spent time in the nearby walled town of Monteriggioni, went to the crystal making town of Colle di Val d’Elsa, took a drive through the Chianti countryside to the walled hilltop village of San Gusme, and had a great day in Siena, with lunch in the Piazza del Campo, where the Palio is held. A pre-lunch visit to the Duomo where, thanks to Donald’s foresight in bringing his disabled card we managed to persuade the police to let us park right next to the prefecture and across from the Duomo! After lunch we visited the Palazzo Museum on the Piazza del Campo to see the most amazing paintings and frescos. Then home to our lovely villa.

A very special treat on our first night at the Villa was to have a chef arrive to cook us a most delicious traditional meal.  What luxury to be able to unpack, have a glass or two of champagne, and not even worry about cleaning up afterwards!  Thank you so much Andrea from Il Fagioli!

But all good things come to an end … and this time there was a little stress.  We were to take 4 guests to their hotel by the airport in Florence … but the roads were closed! The World Cycling Championships were beingheld and the city was in lock down! However problem sloved when Martina called a cab company in Florence and they agreed to come and pick up the guests … if they could be ready by 6.00 a.m.!  In that way they could be at their hotel, if not in their rooms, before the roads were closed. So up at 5.00 a.m., breakfasted & ready for farewells at 6.00 a.m. Arrivederci Jo & Donald, Brenda & John.

And then a farewell to our hosts at Capanna Leopoldina at Agriturismo Rocca and off on the 4 hour trip to Stresa on Lago Maggiore, to leave our last guests. We did make a lunch stop at Busseto, the lovely galleried home town of Verdi, where David and I had overnighted 3 weeks earlier. It was as lovely the second time around!

After dropping our last 2 guests the next morning at their hotel in Baveno, ready to start their next tour, we said farewell to Pam and Ross and headed off – through torrential rain – to visit a friend in a mountain town above Annecy. En route to leave the van in Paris – after nearly 100 days with the van it will seem so strange not to be driving for a few days!

New Zealand, here we come!  Adieu France – until next year

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