SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2009 – 129/16 – CANTALENA, ITALY
The day dawns bright, clear, and less cool than previous mornings. By 9:00AM, we are approaching ready to head out for our day’s explorations. Already, the drive in and out of here is getting a little old. It is 17KM to Camucia and relatively flat ground. We would not want to have to make this drive every day. Today’s plan includes exploring some of the small Tuscan hilltop villages and if time allows a drive down to Orvieto. With that plan, we are on the road by 9:30AM with another picnic lunch.
Our host had given us a list of some the villages they liked so we start with Montepulciano, a hilltop town famous for red wine about 45 KM west of Cantalena. It is Sunday so everyone is out riding their bikes or motorcycles on the narrow winding roads. The countryside is stunning with the vineyards, bright green fields and wildflowers of every color and description blooming along the roads.Montepuliciano flows uphill from the main city gate. No cars allowed, so we find a place to park at the gate and start walking uphill! It is really a steep climb.Surprisingly there are wine shops open for tastings on Sunday morning and there are many tourist taking advantage. We had hoped to get to the Piazza Grande and visit the Cathedral and Bell Tower, but the climb is too steep and too long for us. We give upand walk back down to the car stopping to shopat a couple of interesting shops.
The next stop is Pienza about 7KM away. We find a place that was once a picnic ground on the way and decide to have our lunch. We are finding there are very few places to pull off the road in Italy. Pienza is famous for its cheeses and is supposed to have many shops that have free tastings and are fun to visit. It is about noon when we get there and everyone must be doing the tasting thing for lunch! Again no cars inside the walls and this time there is no parking left outside the walls. After several tries, we give up. Fortunately, we can drive around the wall of this village so we get peeks of the village through the several gates along with wonderful views of the countryside from the hilltop.
OK, so it is on to the next stop…..Bagno Vignoni another 7 or so KM, south this time. It is not our day; the three parking lots are full so we decide we really do not want to see the Roman baths after all! As we are driving away on a different road, we can see a little of the site. I do not think we missed much.
We are only about an hour’s drive to Orvieto and the road is marked as scenic so we head south. It is a very nice drive. There is very little traffic now and one little walled village on a hilltop after another. We decide they are much prettier viewed from a distance than trying to walk through them. Italy’s medieval history is really brought home to us on this drive as many of these walled villages have an impressive castle or fortress on the top side of the wall and are placed so they overlook and guard the valleys for miles around. We do stop at one very small hilltop village to check out a most impressive castle that we see for miles before we actually get there. This is Torricella.The impressive castle is privately owned and looks like people live there.
Our first view of Orvieto is wonderful. It really is an impressive town. At this point Dick decides he wants to go back to Civita de Bagnoregio. It is the little hilltop town about 13KM to the south of Orvieto that you can only get to by walking across and UP a footbridge. We first were there when we visited Rome in 1999. The village is built on top of a peak of rock.It has always had only foot access and there are pictures on display of the way it looked before the natural access ridge collapsed in the early 1970’s. Actually, the whole peak is slowly dropping into the valley below. One can see many facades of houses that have fallen into the valley leaving only their fronts. It has become quite a tourist attraction and the remaining houses are supposed to belong to the wealthy of Rome.
After this visit, Carolyn decides she want to see the Cathedral in Orvieto again. Last time we were there, you could drive right to the main plaza, so Dick sets the GPS for the Piazza Doumo and off we go. We enter one of the gates in Orvieto’s wall and wind around the narrow alleyways until blocked by a “do not enter” symbol! The Piazza is now a pedestrian zone! Fortunately, there is a blue arrow to public parking, so we follow the signs to a small plaza that has spaces. We cannot read the parking rules except to know that there is a two-hour limit. There is no parking ticket dispenser either. Hoping for the best, we display the German parking timer, get out, lock the car and head to the Cathedral. We find the main plaza in short order and visit the Cathedral…the church in prison stripes. The exterior is most unusual. It is finished in two shades of grey marble in a striped pattern, like prison stripes! It is an impressive church especially with the large plaza in front of it. Many of the churches in Europe are hard to see from the outside, because there is no space around the outside of the church. The interior of this one is also very nice with its massive columns and simple decoration. It is nearly 6:00PM now. First, we look for a place to eat, but it is too early for the Italians, so we opt for some ice cream and head back to the car. No parking ticket, so that is good! Dick sets the GPS for the shortest time home and we twist and turn our way out of the walled town and boogey on the motorway! We are on our mountain top, drink in hand, watching the sun go down at 7:30PM!