Thanks to a combination of free day today and late night last night, breakfast was a sparsely populated affair – at least by our group. Undaunted, though, we made it down in reasonable time as we had a plan for the day, and that plan involved ……. walking!
We had been pointed in the direction of Castelvecchio, a tumbledown fortified tower perched on a rocky promontory a couple of miles or so beyond San Donato that seemed to be an ideal objective for a modest hike. We set off up the lane at a steady pace, as it was already quite warm and sunny. If we were in any doubt, this fellow served as a reminder.
From San Donato we followed signs on to a dusty track climbing the low, wooded hillside. It turned out the whole area is a nature reserve and home to a wide range of flora and fauna, particularly birdlife. The vegetation cover was a combination of mixed oak woodland on the shallow slopes, with typical Mediterranean scrub on the rockier outcrops.
After a short stretch, the track entered the woods. At a fork we took the left branch, and dropped steeply down into a gully to cross a narrow river. Conditions underfoot had changed too – from the original dusty track to a loose, stony path (more like a packhorse route) that made for rougher going.
A short, steep climb brought us up onto the next ridge. In the woods to our left stood the ruins of Castelvecchio. Our Italian isn’t great (in fact little more than a bit of bastardised Latin helped by the odd Corsican word we have learned) but a sign at the junction seemed to be telling us to keep out. So we obliged, and instead followed an inviting track heading westwards through further woodland. Oddly enough it reminded me a little bit of Guiting Wood in the Cotswolds.
Sometime around noon, we found a shady bank and pulled over for a break. In contrast to the rest of the week, we had a fairly Spartan lunch – an apple, a cereal bar and some dried Apricots – washed down with rehydration salts.
Although this and other paths wound their way through the reserve, we decided to head back. It would have been great to carry on, but we had no map and no extra food. So we retraced our steps past the turn for the castle, down the ravine and back to the dusty track. On the way we met up with a young family who were also staying at the Voltrona, and exchanged a few pleasantries with them before they headed to the air-conditioned sanctuary of their car.
The final mile from San Donato was easily covered. It had been a good little walk – peaceful and great for shade, but because of the scrub and woodland somewhat restricted in terms of views. In the end I took few photographs, but it was an enjoyable trip (well suited to a hot day) and we reckoned the whole area of the nature reserve probably warranted more detailed exploration – which we might have done given more food, less heat and a map.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent reading by the pool, alternately mixed with the occasional swim and a nap.
Dinner this evening was at a super little restaurant by the walls of San Gimignano, with stunning views out over the Tuscan countryside. I had Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with a Truffle Sauce, Osso Bucco and a wicked Tiramisu – for me, the best meal of the week. Oh, and just for a change, an ice cold beer.