The early departure means the capture of the mists rising amongst the hilltops around the valley creating a mythical landscape of mystery & legend.
The drive up past Milan to Como brings us to the grand Italian lake where elegance & romance mix in culture, buildings, landscape & people.
The town of Como has the usual old centre where the well- to-do while away their Saturday with long lunches amongst the towers & spires of the mediaeval buildings & piazzas.
Tourists wander the same streets & squares and then to cool down take a two ball gelato or queue for a ticket on the old steamers for a quick cruise on the water.
The locals find shade wandering through the trees of park. Who said romance was dead? Well, the guy in the van sold a can of coke for 6 Euros. Steep enough to kill any thought of romance don’t you think?
We leave Como, and, sadly, Italy, with a magnificent drive through alpine passes and the St Bernard pass & tunnel in particular. This route is thoroughly recommended for awesome, gob smacking glimpses & views of peaks & ranges & streams & glacial rivers & lakes & castles & churches & forts & farms. Awesome.
Only a conversation over dinner with a friendly waitress opens the delights of the small hamlet of Anghiari. It is not mentioned in the Rough Guide and so is almost deserted except for a few tourists. The hamlet is situated on a hill overlooking the Umbrian plains. A Roman road connects it to the town of Sansepolcro a few miles away. The old town nestles its narrow streets within the old walls that are no more than 100 metres across. It is like going back in time to wander the steps & narrow, dark alleys.
Stepping through the gates in the walls leads to the small piazza and the adjoining Roman road that links the peace & silence of Anghiari to the outside world.
In the distance you can see the town of Sansepolcro – a quiet town which holds a crossbow competition in a few weeks time, so continuing the mediaeval history theme that every town & village in the area seems to promote.
Frequently in Italy you come across a place, a town, a smell, a sight or a site, music or sounds that will hit all your senses and take your breathe away and it will be by pure chance. That is what happen in the city if Arezzo.
It started well walking up from the carpark down in the modern part of town through the stone streets up to the main piazza. Art installations have been hung across between the tall buildings & tourists and locals eat ice creams, drink coffee, studybuildings, visit churches and a few enter the very classy & rather expensive antique & jewellery shops.
The first sign that something special is going on are the flags that are hanging from the buildings all the way up and all the locals are wearing different scarves or have flags draped around their shoulders. At the top off the old town this guy is waiting down a narrow side street with a group of horses and the piazza can just be seen with a suggestion of something special taking place.
The full splendour of the event unfolds – practice for the annual jousting competition which takes place between different quartets of the city (hence the colours & flags).
Enjoy the images and feel the atmosphere.
Spectators support their teams, applauding each successful pass/hit of the target; the riders avoid the swinging wooden balls as in mediaeval times; others enjoy the bars while they wait for their practice session; shopkeepers wait for the action the be over to get a bit of trade; photographers capture the events for local media.
Finally, as the sun sets and plays chasing patterns with the clouds, the day is tapped off with wine & pasta.
Perugia is anothet hill-town with a mediaeval centre. Narrow, dark streets spread down the hill from the main piazzas with an almost Dickension feel as tall tenament terraces reach up to the shy and compete with each other & bell towers & spires for the available light.
The town hinges around a single wide street with the duomo at one end and a view over the valley at the other. At street level modern facades house a range of cosmopolitan shops, bars & cafes and 4/5 floors of offices & apartments & cultural exhibitions tower over them.
Locals go about their everyday business.
The local radio station houses some quirky images in an old wine cellar
On the way home we discover the delights of the Girasoli di Sant Andrea restaurant. They make their own wine, they press their own olive oil, rear their own beef & cure their own ham. This all makes for a magnificent meal topped off with dessert – ‘The Five Deadly Sins’.
Start in bottom left corner & work your way around clockwise. The last element is a cocoa covered profiterole with 72% chocolate. Heaven! Stuffed!!
Umbria – a beautiful region of rolling hills, woods, streams & valleys with classic hill towns each completely individual & crammed with artistic & architectural treasures. Our base to explore the region from is just outside Umbertide on the western edge of Umbria bordering Tuscany.
Some images of the house which has a definite medieval castle feel with thick stone walls, huge, dark rooms including two vast sitting areas with equally vast open fires.
The terrace is shaded by a rambling vine and overlooks the Umbrian hills & our own private view of the neighbouring castle. Mind you it is like a 2 km hill- climb over stoney tracks to get to the place.
And then, when those colossal lightening storms come over and the Etruscan gods start to shout at each other and pour their urns over the Umbrian hills, there is the opportunity to replay the 1966 table football world cup.