Saturday, 21 September 2013

italy in september

We returned last night from a week spent exploring the Italian hills of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. This was the evening view from our farmhouse, which more or less straddled the borders of the three regions.

Breakfast (black coffee, locally cured meats and cheeses) on the terrace.

The weather was a little unpredictable. Sometimes hot, sometimes a little cloudy and cold. Most mornings began misty.

We were staying close to the medieval town of Orvieto - most probably my favourite of all the hilltop towns in the area. Walking into the centre from the outskirts, you catch little glimpses of the magnificent, glowing, golden Duomo between buildings and above rooftops; it looms silent over the narrow, winding streets.

The exterior really is something else - it's striped in white travertine and greenish-black basalt in narrow bands.



In Orvieto, I bought a bowl and a cup and saucer from one of the many shops specialising in majolica pottery. If I'd thought about this properly, I would have come armed with an empty suitcase and returned home laden with candlesticks, vases, jugs, plates and the rest. I love the colourful stuff so very much.

We ate in charming local trattorias and pizzerias but mostly we put together simple stuff for ourselves at home - fresh pasta in all shapes and sizes with lots of garlic, tomatoes and parmesan. Mozzarella and basil, Parma ham, salami and Pecorino. Flagons of local red wine, Aperol and Prosecco.

A bit of fruit. But mostly pasta.

Mysteriously, a pack of kittens (that's a clowder, don't you know?) seemed to come as part of the deal with our rented farmhouse - eight or nine of them appeared on our second day and refused to leave. We fed them milk and played with them almost non-stop for seven days.

The Lion King?

We woke one morning to find an even smaller kitten asleep on the terrace. A few weeks old maybe? We named him Marvolo. Christ, I miss him. I wanted to smuggle him home.

On Sunday we took our car out and went exploring, before long coming across an incredible but strange site indeed - a lone town, perched perilously on top of a hill, rising majestically from the red earth, out of a vast, windswept canyon. We navigated our way to the small town of Bagnoregio, where we crossed a long, steep bridge and ascended to Civita - the beautiful hilltop gem. Civita is home to only 14 year-round residents, so few that the town is often nicknamed 'the Dying City'. It's dying in another way too - the town suffers constant erosion of its volcanic rock into the deep valley below. The charms of Civita are subtle - there are no attractions as such, it's just Italy. Warm, glowing stone walls and quiet churches. Pure and perfect.

The view from the footbridge.

The colours of the stone buildings in these hilltop towns are always gorgeous. Deep ochre, cool grey, rusty orange, dusty pink, muddy peach...

On Wednesday we drove down the road to Lago di Bolsena - a giant crater lake (the fifth largest in Italy) of volcanic origin. We ambled along the shore (black sand, rocks) and ate linguine with lobster in a sweet little restaurant.

We liked the lake so much that we returned the next day and took a motorboat out onto the crystal clear waters, stopping off on the opposite side of the lake to eat lunch and dropping anchor here and there so that we could sunbathe and then jump out and swim to cool off. I'd never ridden in a motorboat before (let alone captained one) but gliding across the lake, wind in hair, sunlight bouncing in all directions was probably the highlight of the holiday. So much fun.

The lake is home to two small islands - Bisentina and Martana.

In traditional skylore, the Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the 2013 autumnal equinox will come tomorrow, September 22nd, so the full moon on Thursday 19th counted as the Harvest Moon. It shone brilliant, white and huge over the Tuscan hills.

We rose early on Friday with an idea. Seeing as we were going to be flying out of Rome later that evening, we decided to make the most of the day and the city by arriving there early and catching a few of the sights. I'd only been to Rome properly once, as a teenager. For some reason I missed out on the Pantheon before and so that was my first on my hit list. It didn't disappoint.

We came across a really incredible church with maybe the most impressive religious interior I've ever seen. The Chiesa del Gesù in the Piazza del Gesù. The lavish Baroque styling is astounding, over-the-top and opulent to the max - all clearly conceived to inspire awe at the magnificence of the Catholic Church.

The Fontana di Trevi. Christ knows what's going on with my camera here but I kind of like it. After a good bowl of gnocchi and a quick stop by Vatican City, we hopped on a horrible plane and flew home. Until next time, Italia.

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