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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!

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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/

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

Altopascio

Altopascio

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

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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

 

 

 

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.

 

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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!!!.

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