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Journeys : Feb March 2010
My walk begins in Volterra, a walled tow n that's reached by a combination of train and bus from Pisa. In the war m afternoon I study maps and walking notes, planning the route ahead. I spend the first day taking a bus to the nearby village of Pignano, then retracing the route on foot, enjoying views of the vertical parapets of Volter ra encircling its hill-crest. It's a medieval scene that hints at castle-keeps and gloomy dungeon s -- and oddly enough, one of the historic buildings does house a modern-day prison. Day two sees me on the road towards San Gimignano, a walled village that sprouts an impossible set of spindly towers, making an impressive and unmistakable landmark that beckons me on. Through the muggy afternoon, cumulus clouds are heaped on the horizon and the sun has a kick, but it's a fine day for walking and there's no better way to enjoy the Tuscan scenery. The route guide leads me dow n country roads bordering ploughed fields furrowed with clods of café latte- coloured earth; through nar row lanes shaded by green tunnels of oaks, alders and chestnuts; along the fence- lines of villas with terracotta tiles, creamy stucco, clucking poultry and yapping dogs; and beside stands of the slender cypresses that are such a characteristic feature of r ural Tuscany. I just can't imagine how a painter could look at a line of these trees without mar velling at the contrast of their dark silhouettes against fields of yellow stubble; without seeing how perfectly they give perspective to the landscape; and without feeling a surge of creative inspiration and simply thinking ... ‘yes!’ I have trouble painting a wall, but Tuscan cypresses make me smell linseed oil and itch to wield a size-6 sable br ush loaded with oily colour. After these lunchtime musings over a vineyard picnic, I consult the map and climb to the r uined citadel of Castelvecchio, then begin the descent through oak woods to San Donato. It's mid-after noon when I reach the village, draw n in with no reluctance at all by the signboard of a winemaker, a shady terrace beneath a canopy of vines and the prospect of tasting some of the local vintages. The regional wine of Tuscany is chianti, made from sangiovese grapes. This wonderful name means ‘blood of Jupiter’ and it's a variety that's not widely grow n in Australia. The few local sangioveses I've tried here have been rich, dark and hot with alcohol -- you might picture an Australian Jove lolling in the sun on a beach, spilled wine running into the fat- rolls of his belly. But the ruby-gar net sangiovese from San Donato is another thing altogether -- the Italian Jupiter is all sinew and full-bodied muscle, with a sturdy backbone. A bottle stowed in my daypack for a sundow ner, I tackle the last climb up to the gates of San Gimignano, find my hotel and enjoy the perfect finish to a day's walking -- a shower, clean clothes and boots swapped for sandals. Settled deeply in San Gimignano's most comfortable seat -- a leather armchair in the cool, quiet and all-but-empty lounge of the Hotel Cister na -- I sip the blood of Jupiter and wonder why hundreds of people are roasting away in the blazing sunshine of the square outside. San Gimign ano is a popular tourist destination and many of the visitors have Destinations February / March 10 18
Dec Jan 2010
April May 2010