After a warm night when no one got much sleep, we convened on the terrace for breakfast around 8.00am. The plan for today was to walk to San Gimignano via a mix of paths, tracks and roads, have lunch, spend some time looking round the town, then walk back by a different route.
It was already quite hot as we set off through the vineyards towards the hilltop hamlet of Montauto, but rather that than the indifferent weather we have been experiencing at home, and it was good to be out with our boots on and the earth beneath our feet.
The vines themselves are very carefully tended, as yield is not only important but controlled, with too much per hectare being just as unacceptable as too little. These are ripening nicely in the sun, and should be ready for harvesting in a couple of month’s time.
Vine cultivation makes for an interesting landscape geometry, with the sinuous curve of hillside and valley superimposed with the mathematical precision of the crop.
And, as wine buffs will know, the precise position of the vines in relation to the sun along with the microclimate of each valley will affect the quality of the grape and hence the wine produced.
Montauto, a tiny hamlet set in a stunning position on a small summit, with beautiful architecture, peace and quiet, and amazing 360° views, is almost quintessentially Tuscan and instantly recognisable from all round.
The next stage of our walked followed a small section of the Via Francigena, an ancient route of some 1700 kilometres between Canterbury and Rome and the major pilgrimage route to Rome from the north. First recorded as far back as 725AD, the route is still travelled by pilgrims today, although not in the same number as the Way of St. James. More recently, the way was designated a European Cultural Route, and the path is undergoing recovery and an upgrade including signage.
Pretty soon, the towers of San Gimignano rose close on the skyline. The history of the city and the Via Francigena are closely linked, with pilgrim and trade traffic bringing increasing prosperity from the C10th onwards. Although stricken by the Black Death in the mid C14th, the city continued to flourish through its beauty, historical importance, cultural significance and links to Renaissance Florence.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the dominant architectural feature is the multiple towers. Dating from the C11th to C13th, many towers were originally built – mainly, it is thought, by individual families as a symbol of the power and wealth. Now only 14 remain.
Italian laws on tour guiding are quite strict, and unlicensed guides can be heavily fined if caught. So we stopped at a café for a cooling drink, and had a quick briefing before passing through the city walls.
Although undoubtedly worthy, we found the city very busy – even on a Monday. We made our way through the crowds to a restaurant in a quiet square somewhere near the church of San Pietro. Lunch here, by common consent, was the best of the week – fresh, tasty and beautifully served.
Afterwards, we all went our separate ways for a couple of hours to explore the town. We went to see if it were possible to walk on the city walls. It wasn’t, but we bumped into this fellow.
For the avoidance of confusion, it is an Anthony Gormley statue – part of an installation across the city called ‘Vessel’.
Further exploration led us back through narrow streets to the main piazza. By now it was pretty hot – I’d guess around 35°C in the sun – so we bought ice creams and found a shady seat on which to sit and eat them, just watching the world go by for a while.
A little later we reconvened and set off on the walk back to Fattoria Voltrona, this time by a shorter route.
It was around 5.30pm by the time we got back and, although quite tired from the heat and having been on our feet for much of the day, we couldn’t resist the lure of the pool. Dinner was again taken at Voltrona, and another quantity of Chianti was consumed.