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June 27, 2010

To the seaside

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darren & Malcolm @ 12:18 pm

On the Beach, it is that time of year.

Viareggio is the Brighton of Tuscany.  Quite large, quite sophisticated and very popular.  Just 60km drive from Vellano.

It lies at the end of the Firenze-mare highway, built in the 1930’s to transport Florentines from the city in the heat of the summer to the cool of the seaside.  It is a very busy place but has a lovely marina where they build some very expensive and very stylish yachts.  I love looking round harbours at boats.  We are never particularly impressed by the large brash white boats that are larger than most peoples houses (and some), but we love the smaller elegant, probably older, wooden-hull boats that are painted in lovely blue or yellow or red colours.  I have never been in a sailing boat like these but it is very appealling.

Behind Viareggio are the Massa Carrara mountains.  It is from here where most of Italy’s famous marble comes from.  The peaks are sharp and dramatic, especially so close to the sea, and it looks like they are streaked in snow and ice.  However, this is June so we know that it is marble.  Just imagine this is where the shapely form of Michelangelo’s David began his life!

June 23, 2010

San Minato

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darren & Malcolm @ 3:28 pm

San Miniato is a lovely little town about 45 miles south of Vellano.

In Tuscany there are many hill towns and villages to be discovered, many off the beaten track.  All of these have unique historical treasures of their own.  Many do not feature in the glossy guidebooks that visitors bring with them but are a joy to the eye.  It does mean that you are best to hire a car in Tuscany if you want to see many of these out of the way places. 

People do get put off driving in Italy and Italian drivers have an unfair reputation for danger and risk.  However Italian roads are generally quiet, especially in the country, roads are good and well-signed posted, and Italian drivers are not generally aggressive.  OK car hire these days can be a little expensive but the joys of touring are many fold.

However there is an extensive network of trains and buses to get you out and about too.  Trains especially will connect you to all the major tourist spots.  They are inexpensive and generally on time.  However you decide to travel you are guaranteed spectacular sights.

June 14, 2010

Funicular Trip

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darren & Malcolm @ 7:42 am

At Monticatini (you will gather we like it there by now) there is the main spa town, the Terme.  Then up the hill,  perched above the Spa, there is Monticatini Alto.  The best way to travel up there is a, surprisingly steep and long, funicular railway.  The town at the top is a little tourist honey pot it is true but the views are spectacular and the houses and gardens on a warm sunny day are a colourful treat.

One partucular peculiarity is the nativity animatronics in the large church at the top of the village.  Cecil B DeMille it isn’t but it still worth the 10 minute show.

Here in Vellano the weather has been quite hot, if you think being in and around the 90’s is hot.  The most lovely sight in the hills at night are the sparkling lights of fireflies or lightening bugs, in the fields, in the bushes and among the terraces like dozens of flickering candles at a concert.  These firefly displays only last for 3 or 4 weeks in June and then disappear because apparently they are part of the firefly’s mating ritual.  The light comes from an internal chemical released to attract mates during the night.  When mating season finishes then the lights go out.  Meanwhile warm summer evenings here are illuminated by this twinkling display.

June 6, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Darren & Malcolm @ 8:48 am

Lucca is the big visitor draw in this area of Tuscany.  Imagine a complete medieval city enclosed by ancient walls.  Ah York or Chester perhaps!!! No Lucca a red brick gem in Northern Tuscany that draws millions of visitors every year.  So what is so beautiful about the city where Puccini was born and where his life is so avidly celebrated.

Well it is a walkable city, just park your car outside the city walls and wander the old streets at your leisure.  You can also arrive by train and the station is only a short walk from the walls. There are many beautiful churches to explore, the best known of which is San Michele where Puccini was a choir boy (he was born a few steps away).  There are many shops to tempt you around the town and many lovely cafes for lunch or coffee, though the ones around San Michele are very much for tourists it seems.

If you don’t want to walk you can cycle the 4 kms around the city walls, bring your own bike or hire one.  Just walking around the city walls give you a great view of the town, as does the view from the top of  Torre Guinigi, the one with the trees on top!

We went to Lucca on Wednesday and enjoyed a very fine lunch with some friends at one of the City’s restaurants,  It was raining very heavily (much needed rain as we have been dry here for quite a while now).  It was lovely wandering through the streets with our umbrellas in lovely fresh moist air with the scent of flowers and food filling the streets.  Crowds scattering into doorways and shops, their wanderings interrupted, especially the ones unprepared and uncovered.

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