Hoopoe

One morning at Montepozzo, Michael spied an unusual bird in the garden. No-one else saw it so, of course, we didn’t believe him. The next day, he was sure to capture it on film, although the elusive creature seemed to be camera shy.

1.Eurasian Hoopoe

Our hosts informed us it was a Eurasian hoopoe, formally known by the adorable title Upupa epops. On further investigation, I have discovered some extraordinary facts about this little bird. Not only does it have a long, tapered bill for probing the ground in search of such delicacies as insects and small reptiles, the strong muscles of the head allow it to open its bill while inside the soil. If that fails, they will dig out the prey with their feet and beat larger victims against the ground or a stone to kill them and remove indigestible body parts before consuming.

2.Eurasian Hoopoe

Hoopoes nest in the cavities of vertical surfaces such as trees, cliffs and walls and have developed an effective deterrent to predators. Incubating and brooding females convert the oil from their preening gland into a foul smelling concoction with the aroma of rotting meat. Rubbing it into her plumage and that of the nestlings apparently does the trick. However, should that tactic fail, the young ones can direct streams of faeces at intruders, hiss like a snake and strike with their bill or a wing. I still think they are cute.

3.Eurasian Hoopoe

Podere Montepozzo

Our journey from Pienza to Montepozzo took a little longer than anticipated. The route selected by the satnav came to an abrupt end with, what appeared to be, a missing bridge.

1.missing road

A quick re-programming found a suitable detour and we arrived at the farmhouse late afternoon. I have previously published a post on Podere Montepozzo but it is so beautiful, I am sharing it again. We received directions and information weeks before we left from host, Jacque, and had no trouble finding the gate. Although close to a town, the rural setting is very private and peaceful.

1.sign

Arriving at the property,

2.driveway arriving

we followed the instructions and drove around to the back of the house where we tooted the horn loudly.

3.exterior front4.exterior side5.exterior back6.exterior back7.exterior back

We were greeted by Molly the dog and host, John, who kindly helped us with our bags.

8.loggia arriving

After an introductory tour, we were left to unpack and wonder at the magnificent surroundings we were to enjoy for the next ten days. The living area was light and spacious, capturing the sun at every angle throughout the day.

9.sitting room

Just off the dining area, the well equipped kitchen was a pleasure to work in.

10.kitchen

The bedrooms were inviting, the main has an ensuite

11.main bedroom

and down the hallway

14.hallway

are two further bedrooms and a bathroom.

Once we had settled in, Jacque welcomed us with fresh flowers and a bottle of Prosecco, we wasted no time opening it to share. We really felt at home, surrounded by family treasures and beautiful furnishings.

The afternoon sun filled the loggia, the perfect venue to partake of aperitivo.

30.view from loggia

Come for a walk around the garden.

31.loggia steps

There was so much to explore, a cave with spectacular phosphorescent lichen, I admired from the outside.

44.cave

The shed was a work in progress, a fabulous project for the future perhaps,

45.shed

to complement the finishing touches on the exterior of the house.

46.exterior side

We didn’t get the opportunity to dine under the vines, perhaps next time?

55.vines

Let me introduce you to Molly, a delightful bundle of energy who was a very welcome addition to the package.

Thank you Jacque, John, Alex & Molly for the very special memories, we hope to meet again…..Salute!

59.wine time

Pienza

We took our time driving from Le Grazie to our next destination, Podere Montepozzo, in northern Lazio and stopped to explore Pienza. Established as the medieval village of Corsignano, Pope Pius II renamed and redesigned the place of his birth in the late 15th century. He enlisted the help of architect, Bernardo Rossellino, to create the ideal Renaissance town and it has remained unchanged since that time. We parked the car and made our way to the centre of town,

1.Pienza2.back of Pienza cathedral3.Pienza

the colours of spring brightened the pavements.

On the lookout for somewhere to lunch,

we found ourselves at the edge of the village

20.Pienza21.Pienza

stunned by the breathtaking vista across the Val d’Orcia to Mount Amiata beyond.

22.Val d'Orcia23.Val d'Orcia24.Val d'Orcia25.Val d'Orcia26.Val d'Orcia

Returning to the main square, we couldn’t resist a peek inside the walls of Relais Chiostro di Pienza, an exquisite hotel on the site of a 13th century Franciscan convent. The beautiful ancient cloister

27.cloister

led to the former garden of the friars and the perfect venue for lunch, La Terrazza del Chiostro.

28.La Terrazza del Chiostro

With storm clouds gathering on the horizon, we risked outdoor dining.

The service was impeccable, from the leather bound menu to the handbag holder (hastily produced when I placed my bag on the floor), the unique cutlery

and that spectacular view.

36.Val d'Orcia37.Val d'Orcia38.Val d'Orcia

The meals were delicious, starting with a colourful palate cleanser and a selection of breads.

The pigeon was a work of art with breast, leg and a wing lollipop coated in hazelnut & mushroom powder and the local pork fillet with wild fennel carbonara sauce and seasonal vegetables was mouthwatering.

We finished our meal just in time before the heavens opened and wandered through the opulent interior of the hotel

before braving the weather the short distance to Pienza Cathedral. Built in 1459 on the ruins of an ancient Romanesque church, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

49.Pienza Cathedral

The gothic interior is quite spectacular

with elaborate altars

53.altar

and intricately designed labyrinthine ceilings.

The baptismal font seemed simple in comparison.

I think someone was contemplating a quick confession before we left.

Returning to the car, we found divine inspiration to remind us of our objective.

65.Aperitivo Van

Riomaggiore

Although every town in the Cinque Terre has its own charm, for me Riomaggiore was the most magical. Approaching from the water, the village nestled in a valley between two steep hills

1.Riomaggiore

and the colourful buildings beckoned.

2.Riomaggiore

Alighting from the boat, we climbed a series of stone steps, rewarded with a spectacular view along the coastline we has just travelled.

3.Riomaggiore

The small harbour of this 13th century village is beautiful. Despite tourist numbers, there was a feeling of tranquility as the fishing boats lazed upon the water

4.Riomaggiore5.Riomaggiore6.Riomaggiore

or patiently awaited their next outing.

7.Riomaggiore8.Riomaggiore9.Riomaggiore

We wandered up the main thoroughfare, Via Colombo, lined with colourful dwellings, fascinating shops, restaurants and bars.

10.Via Colombo

13.Via Colombo14.Via Colombo

Retracing our steps, we digressed for beer and bruschetta at Il Maggiore

19.Via Colombo20.Via Colombo21.Il Maggiore

while others attended to the mundane chores of life.

A storm was threatening by the time we returned to the harbour,

25.storm brewing

wondering if we would arrive in Porto Venere before the heavens opened.

26.return boat

Back in Le Grazie, a gentle rain accompanied our walk to La Marinara for a pizza dinner and reflection on our wonderful day in Cinque Terre.

Monterosso

A short boat trip along the coast from Vernazza brought us to the next village of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso.

1.Monterosso

Dating back to Roman times, the oldest and most populated of the Cinque Terre villages is divided into two parts. The old, medieval village

2.Monterosso Vecchio

and the new, modern area known as Fegina

3.Fegina

are separated by San Cristoforo hill.

4.San Cristoforo hill

A strong defence system was built on the hill in the 16th century with only three of the thirteen towers still standing. One of those is the Aurora Tower, with pride of place on the promontory it is now a private residence.

5.Torre Aurora

Ancient lookout turrets and fortress walls adorn the hillside.

Dominating the headland, the Convent of the Capuchin Friars has had a turbulent history since construction in 1619. Closed for the Napoleonic laws in 1816 and again for the Savoy laws in 1867, it has been used as a hospital and warehouse and eventually returned to the friars in 2006.

8.Convento Frati Cappuccini

Across the bay on the other side of the old town, the Hotel Porto Roca clings to the rocky foundations of Punta Corone.

9.Hotel Porto Roca

In 1960, Giacinto Jacazzi, a fashion creator from Milan, fell in love with the village and bought the land. Rather than a family home, he decided to build a hotel so more people could enjoy it. Workers had to construct roads to the isolated site and fearless excavator drivers manoeuvred their machines on the edge of sheer cliffs.

10.Hotel Porto Roca

Three years later, the dream came true. I will definitely be staying here if we are lucky enough to return one day.

11.Hotel Porto Roca

The boat tied up in the harbour of Monterosso Vecchio,

12.Monterosso vecchio

we climbed some stairs and walked along the path to the new part of town. Fegina Beach is the biggest sand covered beach in the Cinque Terre and is a popular destination for tourists.

15.Fegina Beach14.Fegina Beach13.Fegina Beach

We enjoyed a seafood lunch overlooking the bay and then, armed with gelati, wandered along Via Fegina where majestic hotels and apartments afforded uninterrupted views of the coastline.

16.Via Fegina

Returning to the boat, we farewelled Monterosso for a sedate cruise back to Riomaggiore in time for aperitivo.

17.Monterosso Vecchio