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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.

 

See Our Website @ www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com

Other Links:

doganaccia2000.it

http://www.abetone.it/

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 - www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com

The Padule near Vellano & Lucca Tuscany Italy

Written and Published by Malcolm Coward – www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com

 

 

 

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 - www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com

Restful in the Shade

 

December 23, 2014

The Shortest Days & Christmas Presepi

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Darren Hackett @ 5:17 pm

We at Casa Verde would like to wish all our readers, friends, visitors and customers a very Happy Christmas and New Year.
Presepe of Bread San Miniato

There is in Italy, at this time of year, the great tradition of building presepi or nativity scenes in many religious and public spaces. Here in the photograph opposite, a bakery has made this one with their own bread. In San Miniato, coincidentally, twinned with Bethlehem, there is a whole festival dedicated this week to artistic versions of the presepi made with all sorts of materials including old garden tools, sweets, metalwork etc.

The quiet town of San Miniato in the province of Empoli is the Northern-most town in the Chianti region. It is strung out along a low narrow ridge overlooking the Arno valley for more than a mile.  It’s main street is part of the Via Francigena, the road from Canterbury through France to Rome. San Miniato was fought over fiercely in July 1944 between the German and American troops, leaving the town very badly damaged, it is hard to believe that it has ever changed for over eight centuries.

The town is home to the November truffle festival and famous for it’s white truffles.  One of these sold in the US recently for around 50,000 dollars!!!!

Precepe San Miniato

Precepe San Miniato

Everything is gentle and slow, time to sit in the Cathedral square watching the mist billow in and out of the towers.  The church tower in typical red-brick splendor, it’s gothic clock beautifully; but oddly placed to one side of it’s square construction.  The giant medieval watch-tower on top of the hill placed as if in solitude in a pretty, well-kept park.

We visited San Miniato on the shortest day,  the 21st of December. One of those glorious winter days when the warm, strong sun creates such a soft light among the mists that rise from the river valley below.  There is little of the Christmas bustle and business that seems to be happening elsewhere.

 

Ipad  Photos 2014 097

San Miniato

 

In the main square stands a beautifully curved edifice known as the Palazzo del Seminario. It’s facade painted and decorated elaborately and distinctively.  On the ground floor there a many doors with steps that look as if they could have been shops and stalls.  This is the main market square for San Miniato; on various days full of food stalls or antiques.

Market Square at San Miniato

The architecture always reminds us that such is the glory and quality of Tuscan architecture that every comune or local council, has had to somehow find a way to create distinctive style or look that is unique to it’s buildings.  After wandering around more of the presepi we enjoyed our favourite winter treat at one of our local cafes……a delicious hot chocolate topped with whipped fresh cream.  Boun Natale a tutti!!!.

December 29, 2013

Casa Verde: Artist’s Impressions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Darren Hackett @ 2:59 pm

Casa Verde Tuscany Italy

Above is an artist’s portrait of Casa Verde.  It has been painted by a Anne-Flore, a German artist who has lived in Vellano for many years.  She has actually completed three paintings of the house  but this one is the image that captures most the specific setting of the house, among the trees of the hill-side in it’s prominent position.  The colours she has used reflect perfectly the predominant green shades that are memorable to any view of the house, and which give the house it’s name.

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July 7, 2013

Cinque Terre in July – Try Vertigo!

Cinque Terre 021

So on the final Sunday of June we drove to the Italian Naval port of La Spezia, with its lovely esplanade gardens and pretty harbour.  From here we parked in the underground station car park (1 euro per hour) and took the train to Vernazza.  This was a gorgeous summer Sunday and the very frequent trains were full of people going to the beach, however, the journey is short and for the first 5 minutes are underground from the town before emerging transformatively into the coastal town of Riomaggio with the azure blue sea fermenting and foaming refreshingly below the train’s windows.

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May 9, 2013

Bella Bologna!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Darren Hackett @ 2:07 pm

Bologna 013

It is spring so a visit to Bologna was on the cards.  Bologna is not in Tuscany it is over the Appenines in the Emilia-Romagna region.  However, it is only 70 miles from Casa Verde and well worth the trip.  Florence may be the star attraction and must-see hereabouts and, of course, we must all go and see the art and sights of that great city.  For me Bologna is a more beautiful city overall and bustling, not with thousands of tourists, but with local Bolognese and thousands of students…it is the Oxford of Italy.

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December 18, 2012

Christmas: A most ‘wander-full’ time of the year.

Vellano Snow 2012 www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com - Holidays Accommodation & B&B Vellano near Pisa, Lucca & FlorenceWe wish you a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year from Casa Verde, especially all our visiting guests and friends this year to our house in the hills above Pescia in Tuscany.  We have had our first snow a few weeks ago, as pictured here.  Hopefully, we are now set for some dry, crisp and brilliantly sunny winter days.  These are the days to venture out on one of our favorite activities….walking around these spectacular mountains and valleys.  OK we may not be as adventurous as some of our guests, who really tramped around for miles in the heat of the summer (Yes! I mean you Peter, Yoshiko and your family).  For us it is in the winter when the days still linger long past 5 o’clock in the afternoon and the clarity of the air means that from any vantage point you can see so far, and every line and crevice in the mountains and in the valley bottom is sharply defined.  A day out with a tasty picnic and a hot drink, a camera and a bar of chocolate is the perfect way to spend a day here.  Then to return back to Casa Verde, light the wood-burning  ‘stufa’ and settle down by the fire. (Yes we are open for business in the Winter and there is now a new wood-burner & new double glazing in the apartment!!)

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October 15, 2012

Cycling Mania In Tuscany

The UCI World Cycling Championships 2013 in Tuscany!

These run from September 22nd to September 29th 2013, with race starts in Lucca and Montecatini Terme

Here is the happy Canadian Fred McGuire, who stayed at Casa Verde this summer.  (Fred is that a bottle of Chianti on the bike frame?) He is happy for us to report about his cycling adventures here in the hillside and mountains that are a training ground for the world’s best cyclists.  Mark Cavendish is a local resident in the Pistoia area!  Every weekend there are hundreds of aspiring Bradley Wiggins in their multi-coloured tight-fitting lycra ascending the steep hills and bends up and around the Valeriana.

Fred hired his bicycle from ChronoBikes (www.chronobikes.com…….an excellent web-site by the way) in Lucca at what he described as a very reasonable rate (25 Euros per day) in the peak of the summer weather….brave guy.  I would probably manage about 100 metres up these mountain roads but to healthy enthusiasts these hills are perfect for a Tuscany cycling holiday.

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December 23, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas from Tuscany

We cannot believe that another wonderful year has gone by and nearly two years since we first moved to Casa Verde.  Here in the hills it is sunny again after a very fierce storm with high gusty winds last week, unlike last Christmas we currently have no snow.  This is just a little ironic as many of the regions of Tuscany have just introduced a new law that says all automobiles must carry snow chains or have snow tyres fitted between the middle of November and the middle of April.

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