I’m excited about our next day, because my parents are joining us for a week! We’re going North into Tuscany proper, where we’ve found a place to stay near Siena. Departing from Pitigliano is bittersweet though because I’ve loved it so much, and I keep thinking it’s a shame we didn’t meet up with my parents here because they would’ve loved it!
We drive straight up to Sinalunga, our next destination, because I’ve got in my mind that I’ve told my parents we’d meet up for lunch. So we park up at half past midday, and I message the AirBnB guy who informs me we can check in any time after 4pm… Oh dear, never mind, we’ll have lunch with my parents and check in after! Except that my parents message to say they’ll see us at 5pm. So, we resolve to explore Sinalunga on foot – the old town in pretty in a generic Italian way, with a lively piazza on which stands a fountain where people come to fill up their water bottles literally all day long, a couple of cafes and a church, and some shops which are all closed for siesta time… As is the restaurant nearby, which is closed on Tuesdays. We venture down a very steep and long hill to the newer part of the village, where we find an open restaurant (yay!) which is surprisingly full of people, mostly on their lunch breaks from work or on business lunches it looks like. The menu is handwritten on an A3 sheet and looks full of local delights, the service is friendly, the restaurant room absolutely covered on all walls with photographs and artwork and promotional posters for food and drink. There’s even a photo of Professor Sprout (well, the actress who plays her in the Harry Potter movies, anyway) having dinner here – she looks exactly the same out of costume. I imagine Professor Sprout on a field trip to Tuscany to gather magical herbs and fungi. But, I digress, we choose a mega salad for me, a mega plate of Tuscan crostini (toasted bread with various spreads on), cheeses and cold meats for Heather.
Finally, after a (very) leisurely walk back up the hill, we are able to check in and discover that we’re staying in some sort of aristocratic townhouse, complete with marble flooring and painted ceilings! The view over the countryside is great from the window, too!
When my parents finally arrive, Eliza is suitably showered with affection, we stock up on food for the week and my mum unveils a collection of about a hundred new garments for Zaza, most of which are hand sewn with love!
Discussions about a plan for the next day quickly end in a slightly silly suggestion from me, which is to, well, go back to Pitigliano and show them the things we liked the most down there! It’s a two hour drive, but they gracefully accept and we set off back South through very small, very scenic roads. For me, the real highlight of Tuscany is the countryside – verdant rolling hills as far as the eye can see, crops swaying gently in the wind, peppered with red from millions of poppies or yellow from rapeseed flowers, or a deep maroon from what looks like red clover, or the slightly blueish tinge of olive groves. The road surfaces are appalling as seems to be universal in Italy, but we’re loving the ride nonetheless. As we approach the end of the journey, the terrain becomes steeper and a little wilder, and we pass castle-topped hills and impressive villages huddled on cliff sides. My parents are delighted, and as we turn a corner and discover the village of Sorano, we decide to stop there instead of Pitigliano, as it’ll be new for all of us.
Sorano is pretty sleepy at lunch time – after entering the village through its medieval gate, we wander the streets, marvelling at the views over the wild craggy hills below. A little sign indicating a restaurant catches our eye, but it’s down some steep stairs, so I’m sent ahead to scout and see if it’s open; I enjoy a good five minutes of treasure hunt-like searching, as the signs have stopped (another couple is also searching for the same restaurant, it feels like a competition to see who will find it first). I win! Calling out to both my family and the other searchers, I direct everyone to a small osteria tucked behind a chapel at the edge of the cliff. The food is delicious (pasta with a hare sauce for me), everyone is in high spirits! After a final wander up to the fortress, we head down the road to find the “vie cave”, the Etruscans’ roads dug into the rock which had so impressed Heather and I. We head to Pitigliano, and my parents are suitably awed by the views of it, while Zaza enjoys a much needed nap; in fact, Hev decides to indulge Eliza and let her nap in the car while she waits for us to go up the Etruscan road.
The vie cave are pretty cool – they were dug by hand through tuff rock by the Etruscans something like 2,500 years ago to link their settlements and necropolis, to repel invaders (would’ve been quite daunting for an invading army to walk single file between cliff faces twenty feet high to reach their target), to channel rain water, and to travel unseen. Today with my mum and dad, we’re walking up the San Giuseppe via cava, enjoying the green shadows thrown down from the trees at the top, and following the deeply rutted bottom trail until we reach a funny little fountain at the top with a carving of a face. Halfway up, there is a rock archway that’s been formed by a part of the cliff wall falling sideways against the other side, which isn’t the most reassuring thing ever… and a few minutes later we hear a massive sound of a boulder falling! After this, we are not quite so carefree wandering back down between the tuff cliffs, and we peer slightly uneasily at every overhanging rock above.
After this comes the moment I’ve been waiting for – I’ve been really looking forward to taking my parents to the Cascate del Mulino in Saturnia, the gorgeous natural hotsprings we visited only a couple of days back! I have this thing for taking people to places I love and watching them enjoy themselves where I’ve thought about them. So we set off down the road to Saturnia, and we arrive at the waterfall, it’s gorgeous all over again in the evening light, with its white step-like natural pools full of warm blue water where locals and tourists alike laze about with an expression of wonder and total relaxation. Eliza adores the water again, and spends a very enjoyable half hour kicking and splashing about in the pools between her mums and her grandparents.
My dad decides to enjoy a very rousing pounding “massage” by sitting directly underneath the waterfall – when I try it out with my mum just on the edge of it, we can barely talk over the racket and feel like we’re taking a right beating! Finally, Heather indulges in her dreams of swimming in the rushing blue river over the waterfall (and almost gets carried down it by the current, I have to go rescue her and we’re very close to both taking a tumble as the current is crazy strong and the rock very slippery!). While we get dressed, Hev decides to go make herself a beauty mask with the pale grey mud at the bottom of the lowest pool… only to stop abruptly as she notices all the small worms wriggling all over in the mud, that she was about to spread on her face! We finish this glorious time off with a beer to a soundtrack of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Lynyrd Skynyrd – Hev’s mum would approve!
The way back is very long, though, and as we approach Orvieto Zaza lets us know she’s done with the car now, could we stop, so we make a dinner stop in Orvieto, which looks a pretty spectacular city to visit to be honest, all perched on a red cliff and surrounded by city walls, with impressive piazzas and Renaissance buildings galore. Heather has read on a blog that Orvieto is a foodie destination, so she directs us to a small restaurant with a female chef who uses all local produce in unusual taste combinations – she feels a little bad when we get there as it’s a bit fancier (and pricier) than we may have otherwise picked… But my parents treat us to a delicious meal (I have wild boar ribs in a herb crust, Heather has pasta with rabbit and saffron and pistachio – but my mum’s dish of rare pigeon wins the show) finished with a huge cheese platter!