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January 26, 2019

Some Things Change in a Timeless Landscape

Some Things Change in a Timeless Landscape

I suppose this, our 10th year at Casa Verde in Vellano, is a story about all the work we have completed on the land.  It is also a story about the whole of the local landscape here and the most obvious features that any guests and visitors will notice when they stay here.  Essentially this landscape is part of a very hilly past medieval world, fortified over the centuries to protect people from invasion and conquest (usually from armed local neighbours from Florence, Lucca or Pisa!).

Manero or ‘La Tosca’ with Casa Verde visible on the Hillside

They are also places of sanctuary from what was the dangers of flood, pestilence and starvation from the underdeveloped Arno flood plain below; with it’s dangers from malaria and typhoid. The Etruscans first drained the Valdinievole and then the Romans. Here in the mountains, water, woods, plants, rocks and trees provided food, shelter and heat in the winter. Our first winters here were a surprise and joy with it’s unexpected dry weather and bright sunshine, however it could also be incredibly cold with the sweeping Tramontana winds (northwind) but only for short periods of time.

 

Before

After!

Today

Restored 200 Year Old Terraces

On the lower slopes of the hills that is the Valleriana are covered in hand-made terraces.  These are south/southwest facing and benefit from the heat of the sun, and are sheltered from the wind.  Ideal for olive trees and oil production.  In the higher part of the hills traditionally, the chestnut and walnut trees provide an abundance of essential food. Chestnuts can be milled to make flour, which is sweet, great to crumble! As well as food from the forest, such as wild boar (cinghiale), deer, rabbits and wild fowl.  In January, as I write, the main activities of the valley are the hunting of wild boar and the cutting and felling of trees. 

These men built the Strada di State to Vellano & on to Abetone

These are activities that go back centuries, and mean that the local communities are very used to a sense of self sufficiency that is long gone in other parts of Italy and Western Europe.  Indeed many young people, frustrated through the lack of employment in towns and cities, are returning to more traditional rural activities.  Of course there are now modern methods of food production that are less physically demanding.  However, you may use electric machines to tease the olives from the trees, but there is still something elemental and pleasurable about using a long cane to tap, shake and stroke the precious  olives from the trees.  This agrarian traditional culture means that there is always something fresh and local on the menu at anytime of the year; artichokes in April, fresh asparagus in May, figs in July, and chestnuts in October.

Stone Works at Vellano

Local Skills on Display

 

 

 

 

 

Another element of the local landscape are the local quarries this produce one important local stone. This is known as Pietra Serena, a hard and durable stone from which many of the local houses have been constructed.  Casa Verde, like many others has in it’s grounds, it’s own small quarry, from which we assume that much of it’s stone came to build Casa Verde and our neighbours house. Neighbours remember stone being ‘sledged’ down the paths behind Casa Verde in the 1940’s. It is also a stone that is easy to carve and sculpt and there are a number of highly talented sculptors (scalpellini) who have produced a number of art works around the village.  In the summer they also hold an international exhibition of sculpting in the Nardini Quarry in Vellano.

Vellano Santi Martino & Sisto 1900?

In the 9 years we have been in Vellano at Casa Verde we have completed a lot of work restoring and improving the steep terraces.  Discovering and planting new olive trees. Clearing and cleaning the terraces that were covered in overgrown briars, ivy and out of control acacia trees.  We have cut down many of these to reveal long lost olive trees. There were a number of large fir trees that were planted, we think, during the Depression and also after the last war as a cash crop. Thesetrees are actually very unsuitable for these steep slopes with their shallow roots.  They were planted to provide a quick reforestation of the hills, but these are gradually being replaced and the wood used at power stations to make electricity. This is making way for more traditional plantations of chestnut and mediterranean oak trees.

New Olives at Casa Verde

New Olive Tree at Casa Verde

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we now have some 60 olive trees and another 20 to plant later this spring.  The views from the house have become, as a result of our tree felling, even more dramatic and extensive. We hope this will be a legacy for the property for ourselves and others for many years to come.

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We, as always, welcome visitors to Casa Verde in 2019, to explore this fabulous landscape.

Malcolm & Darren

See Casa Verde Here: www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com

The Bell of San Michele Vellano

January 6, 2019

Casa Verde Holiday Apartment 2019. Our 10th Year!

Casa Verde – Our 10th Year! – 2019

Welcome to 2019 and this our 10th Season providing holiday accommodation in our Tuscan Apartment.

Casa Verde

The Walls are Coming Down

Decoration – Winter 2009

Without doubt over the years we have had fantastic guests from all over the world and with the internet this has meant that we are now accessible to more and more new places.  In 2018 we have had visitors from South America, Russia, Mexico and Indonesia, new international boundaries in the life of our house in Vellano.  650 people from 23 different country’s have stayed at Casa Verde ranging from Peru to Portugal.  Yet the village remains the same timeless, peaceful and sunny escape from the troubles of the world.

On the Move 2010

Florence

At Casa Verde we have developed our own special features for those who choose a destination, which while not being at all distant from the main Northern Tuscan attractions of Florence, Pisa and Lucca, also seems to attract those that wish to explore and relax in the peace and history of rural Tuscany.  Spectacular and beautiful at any time of the year.

What have we achieved in these last nine years? Well we have been rated as No 1 by Trip Advisor for most of these years for the Pescia region in the category in which we feature.  We have rented our Apartment for 160 weeks for those years.  We estimate that this means more than 800 people have laid their heads at Casa Verde, and probably having the most peaceful sleep possible in the mountain air of Vellano.

Vellano from Casa Verde

Ponte Vecchio

We are both very keen walkers who have explored and learnt a lot about the trails and tracks of both our local area in the Valleriana, the hills above us, but also those in the higher Appenines and the other areas of  Tuscany.

So many fantastic ways to discover the history and classic scenery of this part of the world.  Also many visitors come just to sit read and relax on the terraces with it’s wonderful outstanding views down the valley towards the Pisan Hills. Listening to the sounds of the birds, the swifts dipping and diving from roof to roof, the falcons and buzzards gliding serenely on the warm air currents above the villages of the valley, this is far away from the urban noise.  This is a place to be still as well as explore Renaissance wonders.

Luca Della Robbia

Lucca

We have, we hope, also become a trusted destination for visitors.  The way in which travellers book their journeys across the world has changed; many now use well known, booking and travel sites, as they feel their booking and money is more secure. We hope that you will visit us and celebrate our 10th year. Try our site at www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com you can pay safely via credit card with PayPal. Its the cheapest way to book with us.

We look forward to meeting you, or meeting with you again!

Here’s hoping you have a very Happy New Year in 2019.

Malcolm & Darren

Casa Verde

Vellano

1st January 2019

 

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!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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& 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 – www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com

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….www.pistoia17.it/en/.

Pistoia City of Culture 2017 This year our provincial capital Pistoia is celebrating it’s status as Italian City of Culture 2017 www.pistoia17.it.  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.

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Pistoia City of Culture 2017: Click Here: www.pistoia17.it

Open Week’s great video: Click Here: Open Week

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.

 

 

 

 

www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com HNY

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 - www.tuscanyholidays-casaverde.com

Restful in the Shade

 

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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February 3, 2013

The Forgotten Village

Florence & Walk 042

Here in the Valleriana, it is late winter and it especially quiet during a season that has been wetter than normal.  Many people are away in other parts of the world, there are some happy visitors, but we are ready for the Spring and the new season.  This is the time of the year to climb up the hills and mountains (see previous post) and recently we visited the abandoned village of Lignana, high up the mountain of the same name.  Monte Lignana is visible from the west side of Vellano, a sharp wooded peak that from a distance does not show it’s secret past, it’s ruined mountain village hidden in the trees.  In the 14th century, during wars between Florence, Lucca and Pisa, so the fable goes, the women of the village fed-up with being left with all the work to do, poverty and being left alone by the men going to war, decided to leave the village and burnt it to the ground and moved down the hill to the village of Sorana.  The area of the village they moved to was named ‘Paradiso’ by the locals because of the beauty of the women of Lignana.

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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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