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June 22, 2017

Cappuccino Rules! Early Summer in Tuscany & The Francigena

That Cappuccino !

The thorny issue of drinking a Cappuccino! When you arrive in Italy this is an issue to consider seriously. Firstly there are very few of your ‘favourite’ coffee haunts; you are unlikely to find the regular high street coffee bars found, for instance, in the UK. A bar in Italy is a community facility used by every Italian, so listen up and think about the ‘regulations’. Do not expect a Cappuccino with the extras of straws, cream, cocoa, chocolate chips, strawberries or whatever…..they do not exist.  A Cappuccino will only cost you 1.20 from the bar (most bars do not have waiter service and based and our experience from long ago taking a seat and waiting for one is fruitless); collect from the bar and take a seat.  In some tourist areas of Lucca and Florence they will charge you for taking a seat, but it is not usual anywhere else. Do as the Italians do if you wish and just drink it at the bar, take your pastry in a paper knapkin and dip it in the froth if you wish.  Remember a cappuccino is a breakfast drink here, so Italians do not take one after 11 am.  Indeed the drinking of milk in any form is considered bad for the digestion after lunchtime..uhm!  Other coffee varieties are simple and few, an espresso (anytime of the day), an americano (a large coffee with milk), a macchiato (an espresso with a small amount of steamed milk) taken up to lunch and that is about it, it is cheap, functional, simple and a pleasurable ritual….join in!


The Second Stage – Via Francigena – The Alps

Meanwhile the next stage of our Via Francigena walk continued in the spectacular Valle d’Aosta and the Italian Alps, from Great St.Bernard’s Pass to Ivrea.

This was an exacting stage of our walk to Rome but also one of great and varied scenery albeit that the back drop was always the snow topped mountains with the stunning and rugged alpine villages that we walked through on the way down to the Piedmonte valley near Turin.

Bourg St Rhemy

Scaling the final part of the mountain up to St. Bernard’s Pass (the road was still closed for the winter and we could not begin the walk from the top), we were met by an 8 metre wall of snow at the Pass in misty freezing temperatures 500 metres from the Italian border.

Road to Nowhere!

We then began our decent and spent the last few days climbing steep hillsides in 30 degree heat with a 10 kilo pack…what wonderful madness; exacting but rewarding. We walked through many of the steep terraced vineyards that line the Aosta valley as it descends from Aosta itself, fountains in small quiet squares ensured a plentiful supply of water for the thirsty journey.

Window boxes full of spring flowers added to the colour of the journey, goats and cows with bells around their necks providing the soundscape to our footsteps on this ancient road. The central point of the valley is the old Roman staging post of Aosta with a number of Roman remains still demonstrating the importance of the town at the point where three alpine passes descend into the valley. The town is often by-passed by travellers on the motorway down form Mont Blanc, but is definitely a town worth visiting. Along the valley there are also numerous romantic-looking castles and forts that guard and protect the entrance to the Italian peninsula.

Looking Towards Monte Bianco      )))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))


Pont St. Martin


























& in Vellano?

Meanwhile back in the Village in Tuscany and the lovely hills of the Pesciatina Svizzeria the weather is hotter and drier than usual for early summer but we have still enjoyed the perfumes of the plants at this time year, the jasmine and the lilies in particular.

The villages and hills already seem quieter and sleepier as the terraces change from green to light brown and the cutting, strimming of grass and vegetation begins to decrease.

Casa Verde –

The lovely nearby villages are wonderful for an early morning stroll in the incredible light of the rising day, among the olive groves and narrow streets before we pause and take in our pastry and cappuccino at the civilised hour of 10 am precisely.





All Hot & Dry at Casa Verde





Olives a concern as they may drop their olives if the dry weather continues!












The River Pescia Running Low!








March 31, 2017

Pistoia Italian City of Culture 2017

The city is small but has a number of wonderful historical features.  In particular the splendid romanesque ‘duomo’, with attached to it one of the loveliest baptistries in Italy.  The grand piazza in which the cathedral stands in it’s unpretentious corner will be host to many as the summer events on offer this year.   This includes the annual Pistoia Blues Festival, with the band Jesus and Mary Chain, as well as opera and ballet.  Outdoor concerts include The Chorus of Maggio Musicale of Florence, The Royal Philaharmonic Orchestra and British singer Tom Odell. Here is a link to the many events on offer here through the year…

Pistoia City of Culture 2017 This year our provincial capital Pistoia is celebrating it’s status as Italian City of Culture 2017  This is a highly prestigious event  for our local city that sits in the shadow of it’s much more famous neighbours Florence and Pisa.  Pistoia is only a 40 minutes drive from Casa Verde, either by the beautiful mountain route across Svizzeria Pesciatina above Vellano; or otherwise down the valley to Pescia and a quick run along the Autostrada.

Pistoia has many good restaurants in the old city centre, a great place to wander and explore with some fine Gelaterie. In the summer along the many old side streets the dining tables outdoors create a special, friendly and intimate atmosphere to enjoy your evening passeggiata, followed by delicious local food.

The other highlights of the city also include the lovely Romanesque church of San Bartolomeo, with a splendid carved pulpit from 125o by Guido da Como.  The Ospedale del Ceppo with a famous tiled frieze above the colonnaded portico by Andrea della Robbia.  Close by the Ospedale marks the entrance to the Pistoia Sottoterreneo– these are the underground passages under the city.  These vaults and cellars existed for the purpose of protecting the city from flooding due to the large river beds on which it was built, so they provided storage, warehouse, workshops, a sewage system and perhaps escapes from invaders even.

Underground Pistoia

Underground Pistoia

They even hold concerts in the vaults from time to time!

The Fondazione Marino Marini celebrates the work of the local artist and contemporary sculptur Marino Marini, who has a museum in Florence but is a native of the city.  Pistoia is a city of flowers and plants and all to the south in the flat marshlands, there thousands of acres of plants nurseries selling plants to all over the world.  To the north of the City there are the lower and higher Appenines reaching all the way to walking paths and the ski resorts at Abetone.



The Apennines Pistoia

If you have been to Tuscany before and missed this quiet neighbour to the more famous places in the area then now is the time to go.


Pistoia City of Culture 2017: Click Here:

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December 28, 2016

2016 A Year of Walking

2016 A Year of Walking

Walking is a very special way to visit and discover the hidden parts of Tuscany, a way to explore the pine, chestnut and oak covered hills, otherwise by-passed by tourists.  It is a pleasure to wander through classic olive groves and vineyards, a long way from the main roads between the major Tuscan cities and towns. There are ever more popular walking paths, ‘sentieri’ that are being used by Italians and travellers from abroad, these are often centuries-old tracks or ‘strada bianca’, those wide tracks criss-crossing the landscapes so beloved by photographers. Thanks to the popular Via Francigena that we have written about before, walkers are discovering the many trails across the region.

The Arch of Monte Forato

The Arch of Monte Forato

We have been exploring these areas very much over the past year and also wish to encourage our visitors here as  Casa Verde to make the most of their stay in ‘Bel Paese’.  In the Alpi Apuani we have discovered the amazing and vertiginous rock arch on Monte Forato (1223m) with it’s spectacular view through the stone of the Versilia coast near to Viareggio.  These mountains are very steep and rocky but offer landscapes as dramatic as any in Tuscany.  On the other side of the Garfagnana valley, above Castelnuovo is the highest peak entirely in Tuscany, called Monte Prado (Meadow Mountain 2053m) metres).  It lives up to it’s name too Monte Prado because despite it’s height it is a quite gentle climb to the top and there is a large grassy mound from which you can view most of the three main ridges that make up the Appennine chain in this Northern area of the region. There on the top we met a number of different groups of walkers from all over the world, including a group who were walking some of the long distance mountain routes such as that which runs from near t0 Genoa to Umbria called the Grande Escursione Appenninica (GEA).  There is always a lovely camaraderie that surrounds the meeting of people at the top of a mountain.  You may never see another soul on the climb up or the saunter down the hill but there is always, it seems, someone else at the top, eating lunch, taking photographs and relaxing with the happy satisfaction that a stern challenge has been met.

The Ridge Way to Monte Libro Aperto

In winter the ski resorts of Abetone and Doganaccia have many visitors there for the white stuff and from Cutigliano there is a slightly scary funivia (cable care) that runs up to Doganaccia.  The resort lies just below the route ’00’ which is the ‘mainline’ footpath along the top of the Appenines.  The route is well above the tree line here, hovering between 1500 and 2000 metres and much of it is a distinctive ridge that separates the region of Tuscany from Emilia Romagna and the province of Modena.  The route from above Doganaccia along to Abetone is especially distinctive with a ridge of a few metres wide in places, and steep falls down either side into two very distinctive regions of Italy.  These regions have very different vegetation, trees, climate and landscapes.  The trick is not to fall down either side and explore the greenery too closely!  Always choose a summer day when the temperature below may be 35 degrees and the temperature above is a refreshing 21, and the air is still and clear with views over the roof top of Central Italy.  The view here along the ridge has it’s highest peak (seen in the top right of the picture at Monte Libro Aperto….Mount Open Book) so named because of it’s double peaked top.

On cooler days there are walks by the sea and by lakes, when the olive harvest is season and the shadows lengthen among the forest and the sun sparkles in your eyes. By Lago Massaciuccoli on the west stands the small Puccini town of Torre del Lago, and the other side stands the low hills of the Massarosa with splendid views over the lake as it rises to the East and of the coast beyond.  By the lake there are interesting ruins of a Roman Villa and of Roman baths with some pretty mosaic floors.  The woodland walks climb towards some beautiful villas with excellent views over the western landscape of flood plains, rocky escarpments and vineyards.  Lunch on the sunny November terraces complete the joy.                                                                                                                   Roman Villa by Lago Massaciuccoli

So many possibilities at all times of the year for walkers and those that want a bit of Tuscany all to themselves ….with a little effort and a packed lunch of course.


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June 13, 2016

Via Francigena: Towers and Castles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Darren Hackett @ 7:27 am

As we leave San Gimignano behind it’s towers keep coming back into view as we climb the undulating valley to the South East in bright sunshine.  We clamber up and down a couple of steep wooded valleys crossing some streams then climbing up through vineyards, the newly formed clutches of tiny grapes appearing on the vines. There are some significantly sized estates here and many of them provide attractive accommodation for visitors who wish to experience life on a working ‘farm’.  These are called Agriturismi  and we stopped at delightful one for a superb cappuccino with a friendly ginger cat.  Our next stop was the large town of Colle Val d’Elsa, the old part of town is a place missed by tourists on their way to San Gimignano and therefore is quiet and majestic, well worth a visit to feel the old atmosphere of a Tuscan town dedicated to wine and food. We stay the night here and then leave across cornfields before The Via Francigena then climbed up to a beautiful medieval village called Strove with it’s winding village streets and window boxes and then down to Abbazia di Isola, an ancient Abbey and rest stop for pilgrims so named as it is situated on an island in the poppy filled meadows.

Piazza del Campo, Siena

Piazza del Campo, Siena



Abbazia di Isola

Abbazia di Isola

It was then easy then to see ahead the white road towards the distinctive castellated crown of Monteriggioni, where we stayed the night near the Piazza in a delightfully spacious and luxurious B&B, with a fine breakfast.  This tiny but incredibly busy little place is tranquil in the evening when the tourists seep out of the southern gate to their hotels.



There was a crowd of ‘Pilgrims’ leaving the town in the morning. It felt as if we should all be wearing 15th century dress, so quiet in the morning, so perfect a place in it’s time and barely changed in it’s appearance for 600 years.

We are now on our final leg to Siena and as we left the gate at the other end of square from which we entered, we descended back into the valley, across a busy road on up the wooded hillside to a lovely small village, La Villa, with a castle…and a house that served it’s own coffee and biscuits to walkers as they passed by their property.  This was served in what looked like their lean-to garage but it was delightful and a sure sign of the welcome that people give to people all along this road.  The man and his elderly mother kept a record of the travellers that called at their little house over many years a line of walkers from the whole world down their small country lane on their journey to Rome. Another great reason to travel on foot!

The road to Monteriggioni

The Road to Monteriggioni

Through woods and marshland now for while until we climb up a tarmac road to a more suburban landscape and then, first heard by the roar of traffic and then looking out at the main Siena to Florence motorway…and beyond our goal:  the slender elegant high tower of Siena’s main square is visible to us all.  One more climb up to the main gate of the city and we are there!  Our friends were in the Piazza del Campo to greet us. We check into our hotel with prosecco on the terrace, eat well and then catch the bus home.  All this with a renewed determination to walk the whole stretch of the VF in Italy from San Bernadino to Rome in the next few years.  Watch this space and please share your thoughts and comments with us on this Blog.




May 30, 2016

Via Francigena – Haunts of Ancient Peace. San Minato to San Gimignano

A pilgrim signBeside the garden walls,We walk in haunts of ancient peace.
At night we rest and go to sleepAmong the Olive Groves and Flowers
In haunts of ancient peace.
The love and light we seek,
The words we do not need to speak,
Here in this wondrous way we keep
These haunts of ancient peace.

Lyrics by Van Morrison

We began Day 4 from San Miniato early on a beautiful morning.  Leaving behind the town (after coffee and pastries….necessary fuel) for our longest stage of the journey; a hefty 24 kilometres in very warm weather.  However, it is strange that the very best and most varied of the scenery between Lucca and Siena should be reserved for this most isolated of stretches to Gambassi Terme.  The ease of travel was due very much to the distractions of rolling meadows, glittering arcades of tree-lined woodland and the lengths of poppy-lined gravel track among shimmering grasses.  Here and there a glimpse back to the buildings of the town of San Miniato that we had just left.  Here and there a small cemetery or chapel to take water and food, to listen to the noises of birds, and to ease our hot feet.  I wish we had taken voice recordings as well as pictures on this trip, because what appeared to be quietness was in fact a fantastic range of sounds both natural and mechanical along the way, the low hum of a tractor mingled with the simple chorus of the birds.

Pieve, a country church

Pieve, a Country Church

Moving on to GambassiThere was  an ever changing scenery, mainly walking upon high ground until a last long climb up to Gambassi Terme which required a lot of ice-cream to sooth and cool the skin and body on a long but invigorating day.

Covent of Santa Maria daCellole

Covent of Santa Maria at Pancole

Small church now a sumptuous house

Small Church Now a Sumptuous House

On and up the following day after a splendid breakfast took us through farmland and on up to high ground where we passed an fabulous agriturismo property, then on past a small church converted into a highly desirable Tuscan residence and then to the imposing Santuario di Pancole and the Convent of Santa Maria, a white church and a shrine to a young girl cured of her deafness by the appearance of the Virgin Mary. These are the memories of this stretch of the Via Francigena, the images and sounds of peace, of ancient shrines and chapels, of convents and monasteries.  Such an old road where the Pope once walked to meet his gift from Switzerland of guards to protect his Palaces in 1506, a road of pilgrimage and pleasure.

Approaching San Gimignano

Approaching San Gimignano

As we approached San Gimignano we walked through a wonderful monastery, with a simple but gorgeous Romaneque church, the Pieve di Cellole, that echoed with reverent and soulful silence.  The atmosphere was accompanied by the slow, constant and rhythmic drip of water into the font.  It was a place that begged you not to leave and if you did that one day you will return and you soul healed by what was present, human and spiritual there.  This place was the Monastero di Bose, and led to the busy main road into San Gimignano and the throng of tourists and also gentle the splatter of rain.  Taking a beer and a sandwich on the road up the hill.

Next Stage: San Gimignano to Monteridggione coming soon.

The Monastery at Bose

The Monastery of Bose

May 20, 2016

The Via Francigena

LogoViaFrancigenaBetween May the 7th and May the 15th, and in honour of lost friends, relatives and pets we made a spiritual journey on Europe’s most famous walking route after the Camino di Santiago; The Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome. (Please see previous post)  At least we tackled the 140 kilometer section from Lucca to Siena in the heart of the region of Tuscany.  It was a journey of friendship, of good health and of recognition of those that have died in the past year. It was also a profound connection of our feet on the earth of this most beautiful land, of castles, flowers and the people of Europe. So important in these most concerning of times, when we witness the profound miseries of conflict, displacement and migration.   The Via Francigena was all about travel across a continent in the name of meeting others in the world with the aim of companionship, exploration and spiritual/personal fulfillment.

Days One to Three – Lucca to San Miniato – Lanes, rivers and meadows

There is always a buzz about beginning an adventure like this one, especially when you leave a place as magnificent as Lucca on a Saturday morning with it’s buzz of people; weaving on bikes, walking around the market, seeing the tourist, maps and guides in hand losing themselves among the ancient narrow streets.  Today, in brilliant sunshine, it is fantastic walking along the road out of town and out of Porta Elisa headed for Siena in a week’s time.  We were wondering whether we would see another traveler along the way, but within a few meters of the fat red walls of Lucca we meet two French walkers on their way to Rome from their home in France in one continuous journey.  Still as full of joy and pleasure as we are even after traversing Switzerland and the Alps……we are just beginners I think!

Leaving Lucca

Leaving Lucca

Fellow travellers from France

Fellow travellers from France


The Timbro di Credenziali

The Timbro di Credenziali


Out through the suburbs of the city and across the plain to Altopascio.  Here the joy is that local people are tending their suburban gardens, already full of tomato plants, artichokes and salad.  The jasmine is in full perfume in the hedges, the people so friendly to passers by and wishing us a ‘Boun Viaggo’.  This is the slow way to grow food and the slow and fruitful way to make a journey.  The VF sign (Very Friendly)

These are the signs that keep us on track, the sign says to us ‘Very Friendly’, they are regular sentries on the footpath that tell us we are where we belong and where we need to be; on the road that will be a joy and a delight to us and will hopefully take us to special places.  Altopascio is the end of day one and has a very old church and hostel for pilgrims at it’s centre. It also has the most fantastic ‘Timbro’.  A Timbro is a stamp that says you have completed a stage of the Via Francigena successfully and you can put it into your ‘Credenziali’, your book detailing your journey from wherever you start to whenever you arrive in Rome.  If you complete this book with its stamps and you begin at least 100 kms from Rome you are officially a Pilgrim to Rome. The next day we continue our journey from Altopascio to Ponte a Cappiano, through meadows and along streams.  Here the VF is quiet and somehow a little lonely.  A small chapel here, and through quiet woods there. We spend a little time walking on a piece of road that is cobbled and is the original 13th century road to Rome. You can almost see and hear the carts and horses rattling along the stones, the ancestors in their medieval clothes, with their loads of merchandise for the next town, or their worldly goods as they travel to somewhere new, ancient refugees from a plague or another war perhaps.

The Ancient Road

The Ancient Road



Here too as we head to Ponte Cappiano the scenery changes.  Across the ‘spooky’ woods’ of a ancient heathland called ‘The Sammartina’ (the land of the lost).  For those without the VF signs on the route, you can imagine being lost among these small woods. We then trek down to the village surrounded by lovely villas. The town of Cappiano gets its name from the covered bridge that crosses a river here.  The walk from here the next day runs along side the watery meadow and swamp land of the plain below San Miniato.  We accompanied on our walk by the distinctive raucous bellows of the mating frogs in the little ditches below our feet.  We notice the fields of wheat and wild flowers as we climb up to Fuccechio for lunch in the square.  We then climb up to the familiar serpent length of San Miniato, by now we have walked 50 kilometres, and begin to look beyond to the famous Tuscan Hills of the Val d’Elsa and Chianti hills.

Near Ponte di Cappiano

San Miniato

San Miniato

April 5, 2016

Springing into Life and the Road to the Via Francigena

Spring up Via Francigena. April 2016 013

Spring Blossom at Casa Verde

Waking up to Spring, that is the theme for the season here at Casa Verde, and it is also time for us to prepare for our walk along the local part of the Via Francigena from Lucca to Siena soon.  The Via Francigena is the pilgrim’s footpath all the way from Canterbury to St.Peter’s Church in Rome.  In AD 990 The Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric collected his cloak of office by walking with his band to and from Rome! (And he wrote about it).  Whether it is the notion of Pilgrimage with it’s spiritual intent, the challenge of the road for days on end and the sense of achievement when you arrive at your destination, or just long days in the ‘wilderness’ attempting discover something more of yourself, then the long walk has great appeal to many thousands of travelers.

The Hills Near Vellano


The Via Francigena through Italy begins at the San Bernadino Pass and goes down the Aosta Valley below Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) towards Ivrea, the Po plains, Pavia and Piacenza.  Then over the Appenines to the coast at Luni, down to Lucca, through San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Siena; crossing Chianti, then Lazio into Rome. It has become an increasing popular walking route but much less well used than the Way of St. James in Northern Spain.  There has been recent publicity to promote the Via Francigena through advertising and celebrations.  Also by improving signage; and providing good safe walking through maintaining tracks and by-ways.  It is a problem that some of the original route had become busy main roads, and the route has had to be diverted in parts to make it safer to walk.  Still there are significant sections on side roads and busy roads in some towns and cities; however the route does have a romantic and ancient history and one which we all hope to enjoy and promote to tourists and keen walkers.  Please watch this space in the coming months for pictures and reports of our adventure.

Spring up Via Francigena. April 2016

San Michelle Vellano Tuscany Italy







Spring up Via Francigena. April 2016 005

Agrumi at Casa Verde


It is easy to love Tuscany at this time of the year, when suddenly the temperatures escalate from 12 to 22 degrees centigrade.  Within a few days every plant in the garden and in the many folds of the valley comes to life with fresh green leaves, blossoms and flowers.   It is as if a magician has swept a wand over the earth and changed it’s colours, it’s smells and it’s air into fans of warm breezes and raised up the volume of the singing birds.  In Britain spring can be beautiful too but it never seems to happens so quickly and with such a force that you feel so transformed by it’s energy.  It is the perfect time to explore the hills and valleys of this landscape and we cannot speak too much of the opportunities for walking and for any explorers of life, nature and culture in this part of the world.

Winter in The Padule near Vellano & Lucca Tuscany Italy -

The Padule near Vellano & Lucca Tuscany Italy

Written and Published by Malcolm Coward –




January 2, 2016

Happy New Year 2016 – The Feast of Epifania

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Darren Hackett @ 2:31 pm
Bifania old woman who, in Italy delivers presents at Epiphany

Befania old woman who, in Italy delivers presents at Epiphany


In Italy Christmas does not start in October and end on New Years Eve. It really seems to begin on the public holiday of the Immacolata Concezione on the 8th of December and ends one month later on the feast of Epifania or Epiphany (Twelfth Night) an the 6th of January. This is also the feast of La Befania; one of Italy’s many public holidays. La Befania is an old woman, who looks like the classic version of a witch. She is, by legend a woman whom the Three Wise Men passed; on their way to Bethlehem to visit the new-born baby Jesus. She was sweeping her house when they asked her to join them. She told them she was busy with her sweeping. When she had finished her sweeping she looked for them but they were gone. Every Epifania Eve she takes to her broom flying about he skies of Italy leaving gifts for all the children; who have left their stockings for her. The gifts are usually sweets but she also leaves coal or garlic to indicate all the times they have been naughty as well.

The Three Wise Men asked Befania if she wanted to go with them but she was busy seeping!

The Three Wise Men asked Bifania if she wanted to go with them; but she was busy sweeping!


At Casa Verde we have enjoyed a very fine, warm and dry November and December with little sign of cold or snowy weather to come.  This has been headline news here as there have been smog warnings in Milan and the Emilia-Romagna. Linked to this an alarming lack of snow on the Alps and higher Apennines so that thousands of enthusiastic skiers are having to dry grass ski on the slopes of the mountains!  The trees have been reluctant to shed their leaves, grass is growing in bright green swathes across the hillsides and the Camelia shrubs and Mimosa trees are budding seven weeks early. However you can be sure that winter will have it’s say sometime in the next few weeks and sprinkle some white frosting in the Valleriana where Vellano sits.

Snow on Snow but not this year, as yet!

Snow on Snow but not this year, as yet!


At Casa Verde we look forward to whole new set of interesting guests from around the world in 2016 as well as some old friends too.  Many things change in the world but here the world changes, thankfully, very slowly.


Wishing you, your family and friends a very Happy New Year 2016.

Malcolm & Darren

July 12, 2015

Walking in Sunshine

Pian del Grande

Pian del Grande


At the beginning of June we hosted a group of Staffordshire walkers for the first time here at Casa Verde and elsewhere in Vellano.  It is becoming an important feature of our time here in the Valleriana near Pescia, that we are walking more  as we have other friends who are equally enthusiastic about exploring the hills on foot.  I think we are gaining more confidence in finding our way about the valley and if we are not then we have discovered some great guides who know their way around.  There are some fantastic places to explore here.


Resting at the Refugio

Resting at the Refugio

The walkers completed a series of excursions, all varying in length and environment.  We went twice around the local area, among the hills.  A beautiful picnic atop the Castello at Lucchio and an historical and environmental exploration to the lost village of Lignagna (both of these places have featured previously in the Casa Verde blog).  Throughout the steep trail up to the lost village, our guide Andrea spoke of the many botanical features of the hillside; the rock roses, other unique plants, the different birds, lizards etc that thrive in these hills.  He also gave us a picture of how the valley had changed over the centuries in the type of plants and trees that have been cultivated here.  From the chestnut trees, to the vast amounts of imported pine trees, to the encouragement of the smaller Mediterranean Oak.

We had an excellent guide, Donatella, who took us high up to the Alpi Apuane, above the coast near Viareggio.  It was a fabulous treck around the Pian del Grande, one of the highest peaks in the area at nearly 2000 meters (over 6500 ft!).  After a trail along a quarry road with great views out over the chain of mountains running North West, where many of the peaks have been dramatically despoiled by the rich quarrying of the marble industry.  We entered lovely beech and oak woodland before suddenly emerging in a splendid, colourful and dramatic valley where the meadow was still filled with forget-me-nots and poppies.  A stunning scene of delicate and delightful beauty.  Standing over us here was the

Top of the World

Top of the World

huge bulk of the Pian del Grande itself; a rocky beast with a double peak connected by a razor sharp edge (or so it seems) by the name of ‘Omo morto’ (deadman).  This name is also a warning, as many climbers and adventurers have died on this precipice. In the midst of the valley is one of the many ‘rifugi’ that you find in any of the mountain tracks in Italy.  It is a vital resource for mountain walkers and fulfill three main needs of the ramblers; sleep, food and shelter.  Here our group dined at a long table on pasta, veal and wine….what a dream it was to recover and rest in fantastic late spring sunshine under the shadow of the mountains!

Our wonderful group then finished their week around the little wine town of Montecarlo; walking through its vineyards and olive groves, this was very different experience for the group.  In the shimmering heat among the Jasmine and roses, we all had  a taste of Tuscan life familiar to readers of the tourist brochures.  A cappuccino in the cafe. An Italian wedding, the bride and groom posing exotically on the town walls. And to round it all off wine tasting at a local winery, where several wines where gulped, and several where purchased, making ‘La Signora’ , our wine hostess very contented.

Lunch at the Refugio

Lunch at the Refugio

Pondering Each Others Thoughts

Pondering Each Others Thoughts

Restful in the Shade -

Restful in the Shade


March 7, 2015

The Way of St.Francis

St.Francis, one of the patron saints of Italy (St.Catherine di Siena is the other), was a rebel. He rebelled at the wealth and extravagance of the Church, he divested himself of his clothing in a city square as symbolic of all his worldly possessions. He founded an order of poverty and devotion in his home town of Assisi.  We have visited Assisi several times, now packed with visitors of course, but you can imagine the place, strung out on a hillside above the Tiber valley as a place of wealth and peace in the middle of the 12th Century, a quiet market town with wool merchants and farmers at the heart of it’s activity.  St.Francis was born in 1182, the youngest son of a wealthy family, as Giovanni.  He was renamed Francesco (the Frenchman) because his mother was from Provence and he was taught to speak French.  After his wild boyhood and his time fighting in local battles he denounced and denied his family wealth and moved outside the walls of the town to San Damiano and founded his own group of religious followers devoted to a life of poverty; risking as he did the anger of his family, friends and more seriously the ire of the Roman Catholic church. The popularity of St.Francis (he was canonized in 1228, two years after his death) grew gradually though the succeeding centuries and many images of the saint appeared.Face of St Francis

St Francis

St Francis

Reputedly one of the oldest images of the Saint resides in Pescia, Casa Verde’s local town which the Saint visited in 1211.  Painted in 1235 by Bonaventura Berlinghieri, from a famous Lucchese painting family, the altar piece is thought to give us a pretty accurate likeness of Francis as it was painted only nine years after his death.  It also tells the story of his life in six painted side panels.  The life cycle of Francis has been depicted frequently, most famously by Giotto in the Cathedral of St.Francis at Assisi and explains to generations of devotees the importance of his religious experience.  The Giotto frescoes there portray wonderfully St.Francis’s love and view of nature, the fantastic colours of trees and flowers in shades vivid and vibrant so true of much of the Umbrian & Tuscan countryside.  It is this beauty in the natural world that most residents of these hills truly appreciate whatever else may be happening in the world, and which is portrayed so truly by Tuscan artists.

The icon is in the lovely church of San Francesco at Pescia and can been seen there every day.  This church is of a simple Romanesque style with a few more ‘modern’ baroque features though the  have  building remains essentially unchanged in atmosphere from it’s original feel. The lovely wooden roof beams are beautifully carved; the archways above the main body of the church are frescoed in the most fabulous natural colours, their lucidity owes much to the intricacies of the original design and also that they were only recently restored at the end of the last century.  It is genuinely a place of peace and must give great comfort to visitors across the road at the town’s main hospital. It is also an important treasure for Pescia, a city not so well known compared to San Gimignano, Volterra and other famous Tuscan cities nearby, but a town that has has it’s own medieval heritage, and it’s own charm and beauty nestling as it does under the Appennine Hills.

Chiesa di San Francesco, Pescia

San Francesco Pescia

To all those who booked for Casa Verde this season we look forward to meeting you.  To those who haven’t, take a look at what we have to offer in the land of the way’s of St.Francis.

As churches ready themselves for the busy Easter season, we at Casa Verde ready ourselves for the new holiday season and the spring growing season.  Olive trees are being pruned, ground made ready in the Orto for the vegetables, land being cleared for strimming.  Also the first warm sunny days have appeared as the fresh green grass sparkles framing the first spring flowers that appear on the terraces.  The vivid blue of Italian crocuses and the lovely violet of bluebells that a previous owner has planted at Casa Verde are a find.

Photo 1 courtesy of Suckale, Weniger, der Gotik & Verlag

Photo 2/3 courtesy of Sailko

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