Fails and Victories

Pitigliano certainly is beautiful, even more so than I’d imagined, and I’m really pleased Marie picked it. The weather, however, is not particularly on our side and we wake to one of several days of rain. Having only paid for parking until 8:30am, I wake to Marie coming through the front door a little damp, a little stressed and with breakfast from a bakery. It turns out the free parking was not so easy to find and she’s had many adventures finding all the country roads leading out of the village before finally paying to park in the neighbouring piazza. She is a complete star for getting up early and going to sort it out though!

We get ready and head out as there’s not long on the parking and decide to be led by the weather. We’re now sat in the car, in the rain, tapping in various nearby locations on the weather forecast website to try to figure out if it’s raining there too; definitely raining by the lake, so that’s a no, but the little island in the opposite direction, full of ‘scenic routes’ according to our map, is claiming to be rain free, so we head off.

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Things start out pretty well, Eliza has a nice long morning nap so we make it all the way there and then get a little carried away, turning the sat nav off and just following whichever road looks prettiest- it is a small island after all and there’s pretty much one main road going round it with a few sides streets, or so it looks on our map…

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Things don’t end so well…we cover just the top quarter of the island….about 5 times…mostly around lunchtime trying to find a restaurant. It turns out most of the island is private condos with access to private beaches down private roads, so you find a restaurant and type it in and get thwarted every few turns by no entry signs. It’s very pretty though, so this keeps us in good spirits for a while…and then Eliza wakes up, just when we’re in the steepest dead end of the journey. This does mean that we stop at the only restaurant we’ve seen, which, in keeping with the private condo neighbourhood, is fancy and overpriced, but by this time it’s around 2:30pm and we’re pretty desperate and exasperated, so we stay anyway, ordering carefully from the menu. It turns out a winner on Marie’s part as her ravioli (4 ravioli for 16 euros that is!) is the best pasta we’ve ever tasted.

From here, we make a quick escape, or try to, while Eliza continues to sing the song of her people from the backseat, leading us to a desperate stop in Orbetello, a town surrounded by sea on a strip of land connecting the island we were just on (yes, it’s technically not an island) with the mainland. I’ve imagined this trip being wonderful, a beautiful fairly wild island with scenic drives and pretty little coastal villages followed by a stop in Orbetello, which surely has old, tall, colourful buildings along its two seafronts, narrow little streets to wander along, lots of piazzas full of cafes and restaurants….nope…imagine instead, chunky apartment blocks dotted along with the odd shop or café on the ground floor of the block. We do find free parking and a nice park with a resident cat making friends with the elderly ladies sat on their plastic chairs chatting the day away.

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It’s definitely a stop defined by Eliza’s needs and once she’s ready for a nap we head on back on the road…until….she wakes up again and tells us in no uncertain terms that this is far too much car time for one day….cue a stop at nearby Manciano. It’s a pretty hilltop village and we immediately head to a bar to soothe ourselves with some liquid after enduring the cries from the back (it’s truly awful having your baby cry like that and not really being able to do much to stop it) and then head round the village for an explore, until we’re ready to risk putting her back in the car. We hit a bit of a problem though, it’s a town full of tiny, windy streets and after a while we find ourselves out of the historic area, near some woods and some shops with no idea how to get back to our car and with no landmark near our car to ask people for directions. Fear not, we think, as we spot a map of the town and an elderly lady walking in our direction… turns out she thinks we’ve not picked a great day to visit the town, due to the weather, but they have a nice market, nice church etc…oh, but she has no idea where we currently are on a map. Not for the first time in this trip, we’re grateful for mobile internet and Google Maps saves the day.

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We head back to the beautiful Pitigliano with some much needed nappies and pretty high levels of exhaustion. This time we’re luckier on the parking front and manage to bag ourselves a free spot just outside the town, forcing us to pass a cooperative of local producers on the walk back up…oh dear, I do hate local produce shops… Marie’s a fan of the cooperative idea too so we get a nice long explore of it and make a few purchases before heading up into the historic centre. The day is somewhat saved by a delicious dinner though, definitely the best wild boar (local specialty) ragu I’ve had and the guy serving us was super friendly.

Ooooh, I forgot to mention, today is the day we discover the amazing view of Pitigliano, here it is:

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The next day is our sunny day of the stay, so we’re all set to explore the surrounding countryside with a walk Marie is very excited about, and then to reward ourselves with a trip to a nearby natural hot spring and waterfall (which I’ve talked about at every opportunity since we arrived…what do you fancy doing this afternoon/ this evening/ tomorrow ‘oh, shall we go to the waterfall?).

We’re both excited about parts of the day and very happy for a bit of sunshine. After a morning breakfast from the bakery, courtesy of Marie, I take Eliza out for a walk and pick up some picnic items…well, I get a local deli to make us some rolls and buy some tomatoes to go with it…this is actually a bit of a mission as the shopkeeper and all her elderly customers are beside themselves with happiness at Eliza’s well practiced ‘adoring crowd’ performance, which is repeated each time a new person walks into the shop, at which everyone else in the shop refocuses their attention on her and begin again with the ‘belissimas!’- I sound like I’m complaining here, but secretly I completely love all the attention that’s being showered on our daughter and how genuinely happy her presence seems to make everyone.

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Soon we’re ready to set off and we head down to the car to drop off some bits for the hot springs later, thinking the paths start from around there…they do, but that part is closed off for repairs so we have to go back across to the other side of the village to begin our descent. We’re heading down into the deep green valleys beside the village in search of Etruscan pathways, carved through the rocks that typically lead to some sort of religious temple or monument. It’s steep, lush and smells fresh and green. We pass people’s gardens or allotments and find ourselves walking beside the rock with garages and storage units dug out from the rocks. A little further on, we’ve got the rock on both sides of us so figure we’re probably in the right place…then find ourselves face to face with a car winding down the super narrow gap. A little further on we take a wrong turn and find ourselves back on the road, but near the river so we head over for a look and find a nice little picnic area for our lunch, joined by a cat who is very grateful for Marie’s gifts of ham fat from her roll.

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From here we spot some more signs and find ourselves crossing the river on stepping stones to reach what turns out to be the highlight of the walk- a path cut deep through the rock, with moss growing on it and the sky deep grey and atmospheric above us, it’s really quite an experience. Eliza crowns it with a giant poo-nami and some spots of rain decide to join us too, so we make a hasty retreat back up the hill to the car, debating whether or not to go to the hot springs, given the weather.

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Fortunately the weather has cleared up a bit and we decide to give it a try. Marie thinks she’s found free hot springs and waterfall just near to a posh thermal resort and spa that only locals know about. I’m a little doubtful, it sounds too good to be true to me and I’m worried we’re going to find ourselves on a three mile hike to find it, getting thoroughly lost in the woods on the way. Turns out I’m completely wrong (yay) and as we turn a corner and look down, it’s splayed out in perfect view in front of us; a small waterfall with loads of pools cascading down beneath it, a splattering of people lounging across them and a stream running off from the bottom- utter bliss.

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It’s as amazing when we arrive, with the strong smell of sulphur in the air that reminds us of our time in Iceland, surrounded by people in swimwear and dressing gowns having a lovely time. We get changed on the side and get Eliza into a swimming nappy. I send Marie in with the baby bath thermometer to allay my fears that it’ll be too hot or too cold- it’s the perfect temperature according to our colour coded guide, so we head in with her. She loves it! Now, until now, baths haven’t been so great and she tolerated baby swimming but it was a bit touch and go at times and it’s been a long time since she’s been in a pool now, so this is quite the result. She’s smiling away, kicking her legs about and delighting in watching the water cascading down from the pool above and making bubbles in the pool as it lands. She is of course also delighting the other bathers, and enjoying the attention thoroughly, as by far the youngest visitor.

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We don’t venture as far as the waterfall, with its powerful spray, but vow to come back with Marie’s parents for a longer go, as we don’t want to leave Zaza in the water too long as evening approaches. We top off our visit with a drink in the early evening sun, after Marie has envy of someone sitting nearby with a cold beer and tortilla chips and leave completely happy with our perfect day.

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