Treasure on a Hilltop
Thursday, December 29, 2011
, part 2Radicofani & San Quirico, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: Visions of Venice
As we've spent time through the years in
our favorite part of Tuscany, the lush and picturesque Val d'Orcia, a Unesco World Heritage valley,we've often peered towards a unique fortress topped rocky spur far to the east.
When we were visiting the gardens of La Foce
a few years ago we asked the guide what that distinctive clump was - it's Radicofani.
Can you relate to the idea of a far-off viewed spot that intrigues and draws you?
That's what Radicofani has been for us, and we're as close as we've ever been, with time to explore, so here we go!
We squiggle up the spur and find a village more alpine than Tuscan, sturdy stone homes, and the scent of woodsmoke drifting through the lanes.
Radicofani's unassuming church is a treasure chest of Della Robbia delights....
not just one, but 4 beautiful works of this 16th century master of glazed terracotta grace the simple nave.
This Madonna and Child with Saints is a lovely exposition of the vivid blues and touches of yellow that add such interest to his works.
And the tiny chapel of Saint Agata holds another beauty - once again a Madonna and Child with saints and angels.
Take a peek at the charming Annunciation behind the manger on the lower border...
Tucked into the mountainside is La Grotta, and it looks like the whole town has stopped in for lunch - a table full of hunters beside us, a family or two at another table, and blue-smocked town workers across the aisle. Guissepina, the chef, rings a bell when the orders are ready, placing steaming plates of pasta on the pass-through. And when guests leave, they call out an Auguri
and reach in to shake her hand - Happy New Year!
As we walk to the car, our eyes are caught by columns of cloud shimmering in a ray of sun - what is that? we ask a local. Geo-thermal activity, of which there is an abundance around nearby Mount Amiata - such as the hot springs we've just enjoyed in Bagno Vignoni
There are so many can't- miss- this towns and sights in Tuscany that some lesser-knowns never get a visit. San Quirico d'Orcia is such a one, tucked inside its ancient walls.
It's a gentle climb to the central plaza, with a warming fire for the holidays.
Glance down the lanes as you stroll, for vistas of rolling hills to the horizo
Inviting a wander, the cobbled streets hide cozy homes and colorful boutiques.
Near the main portal is the Leonini Garden, where a late August music festival sounds quite interesting...
The Christmas lights twinkle on as we walk back to the car,
through the portal
and past a brilliant sunset. We certainly have enjoyed a day in this new- to- us part of Tuscany.
Labels: della Robbia, Italy cypresses, Radicofani, San Quirico
A Soak with a View in Tuscany
Thursday, December 29, 2011Bagno Vignoni, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: Visions of Venice
hese ancient steaming waters have soaked the Medicis and Saint Catherine of Siena and we have long wanted to experience them for ourselves. Bubbling up from the depths of the earth at around 100 degrees F, they're a fabulous place for a winter soak while gazing through the mist at the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
We spend a relaxing hour paddling in the warm pool, positioning ourselves a few minutes at a time under the cascade for a pummel of heat on our backs.
The original pool is no longer open for bathing, but is the center of the ancient village, with several interesting boutiques and eateries.
The hot springs bubble up at one end of the basin,
with a sheltering loggia, bearing a plaque with an ancient text dedicating the pool to nymphs of Roman mythology, at the opposite end.
The never-ending supply of water is good for more than just baths. At the edge of town are the ruins of multiple mills,
the stony ground webbed with millraces and dotted with crumbling stone walls.
Bagno Vignoni is a charming and relaxing experience - one we are eager to share with Music and Markets
guests on future tours.
Labels: Bagno Vignoni, thermal baths
Dueling Duomos of Tuscany
Wednesday, December 28, 2011from Florence to Siena, Italy Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: New Year's Jazz in Italy
The journey to Italy started Monday morning when we boarded our flight from Austin to Washington Dulles. On time, smooth and comfortable - can a flight be better than that?! A few hours at home to unpack and pack, and then back on the next flight - a late one to Frankfurt. Why did they change our seats, we wonder, and when we board we find out the reason. The aircraft was changed, and we're in the new configuration of United's 777, with lay-flat seats in business class thanks to our complimentary upgrades. Best sleep I've ever had over the wa
Not one, but two connections in Europe, and we're finally in Florence at 7 pm Tuesday night.
We wake to a gorgeous Tuscan morning, enjoyed some favorite Florence sights (here's the Duomo, magnificent against a bluer- than- blue sky) , then pick up a car and drive to Siena. Although we had 8 guests planning to come on our New Year's Jazz in Italy tour, one by one they had to cancel, so it's just the two of us and we're looking
rward to exploring some new places for future tours, as well as enjoying some old favorites.Hotel Villa Liberty
is just outside the ancient walls of Siena, an easy and quick walk to the Campo or Duomo in the cent
er of town, and the views are great as we head to the center for lunch.
Recognize this homey spot? Our favorite lunch place in Siena, Il Trombicche
, fills us up with warming Tuscan soups and chianti from the barrel.
The Campo, Siena's shell- shaped main piazza, is rather quiet today. I'm sure it'll be raucous on New Year's Eve, but for now we don't have to dodge the crowds as we do on summer visits.
The sun's hitting the Duomo just right, and we catch a beautiful view of the colorful triptych high above.
I love these trumpeting angels....
A new place for dinner this evening - L'Osteria, which we've often passed as we walk into town on via Rossi from our usual parking area. Beppe leads us to a cozy spot in the rear under the vaulted brick arches and our mouths start to water as we read the menu:
Pear and Pecorino Bruschetta? Yes!! Wow - it's as lovely as it is delicious.
And Tagliatelle with black truffles? I'll have that too!
Oh - a unique preparation of cinghiale
(boar) - with chocolate, nuts, and raisins. Have to try that!
Our first day in Siena leaves us with a delicious taste in our mouth - can't wait for more!
Labels: Florence Italy, Siena Hotel, Siena Restaurant
Gaudi and Goodbye
Saturday, November 25, 2011Barcelona, Spain Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: New Year's Jazz in Italy
Our last day in Barcelona, and we'll fill it with Modernista sights of Gaudi et al. On our way to view a lesser-known early Gaudi commission, we're once again drawn in by a market, along with the entire neighborhood, it seems. There's a holiday charity event going on, as locals bring in donations for those in need, and a youth
jazz band entertains the shoppers.
Displays of fresh vegetables decked with strings of dried peppers and intriguing shellfish - such as percebes
, a type of barnacle that's harvested by brave rock scramblers as the surf crashes around them, and those razor clams we enjoyed a few nights ago.
We metro to the Gracia district and ascend to streetlevel, where we're greeted with an impressive Modernista building with artful dragonfly grilles on the sinuous windows.
Gaudi's Moorish- influenced wonder, a private home, is very different from his later works - more straight lines here, a surprise from the man who declared that God makes curved lines, straight lines are man's idea.
It's fascinating to note how every detail is an essential part of the whole - from the bougainvillea - laden balconies to the fence design to the tilework.
Fanciful Park Guell is a few minutes walk uphill, with its Hansel and Gretel inspired houses at the entrance
and the fabulous terrace lined with curving benches strewn with intricate designs of broken tiles (a Gaudi technique - trencadis
- he instructed his workers to pick up every stray piece of broken ceramic they could find wherever they walked).
We laugh to see a Coca-Cola vending machine in trencadis
- creative and pinpointed marketing for sure!
Next stop, Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia. One day we'll see it without construction cranes, but for now work continues, as it has for over a century. The goal of completion is the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death, 2026.
Time to pack for our early flight home tomorrow, and then one more seaside dinner and a stroll along the beach, where the W gleams across the surf... Hasta la vista, Barcelona!
Labels: Barcelona, Gaudi, Modernista, Park guell, Sagrada Familia
Up in the Air Again!
Friday, November 24, 2011
, part 2Barcelona, SpainInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!Next on the itinerary: New Year's Jazz in Italy
We return from Montserrat to Barcelona for a quick jaunt up another mountain, the museum- topped Montjuic. The funicular chugs up from Paral-lel, and a few steps away is the reason we're in Barcelona, the Fundació Joan Miró. Our May tour, Barcelona Discoveries
, is inspired by the exhibition, Joan Miró and The Ladder of Escape
, currently here in Barcelona, which will debut in May at the National Gallery of Art in DC.
We'll have the opportunity to lei
surely peruse the exhibition in DC. Today we're packing in the sights and experiences, all to include in a more relaxed manner in May. So we're soon up in the air once again, swooping over the port on our way to Barceloneta, one of Barcelona's beachside neighborhoods. Barcelona's a highly popular cruise departure port, and why not, with the ease of access from ship to city and beach?
That's Columbus over there, high on a pedestal gazing towards the New World (with the cucumber in the smoggy background).
The exhilarating tightrope across the water ends just steps from the beach.
And there's where we came from - Montjuic. My least favorite part of the ride was when we approached and departed from the "pole in the middle of the clothesline".
From here it's a quick elevator ride down to earth,
and we're on our way to a beachside lunch at Can Majo
The food is terrific, the staff smiling and welcoming, the fresh sea air inspiring... one of our best Barcelona meals. A pan of Fideua, Barcelona's answer to Paella, is delicious... and the relaxed atmosphere could keep us here all afternoon.
Eventually we force ourselves to leave, and enjoy a walk down the boardwalk - Gehry's huge coppery PEIX
(fish), placed on the waterfront for the 1992 Olympics, stalwart ahead of us.
Labels: Barcelona restaurant, Joan Miró, Montjuic, Montserrat