Chateau Tongariro

Having passed Chateau Tongariro as we arrived at Whakapapa village, we were eager for a peek inside. The neo-Georgian structure was completed in 1929, constructed of reinforced concrete but designed to resemble a traditional Georgian brick building. With the onset of the Depression, the anticipated tourism boom failed to arrive and in 1932, ownership was transferred to the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts which ran the hotel for the next 26 years. When the numbers of skiing tourists declined during World War II, the Chateau was commandeered as an asylum in 1942 until, three years later, Mount Ruapehu erupted and the patients were evacuated to Auckland. It then served as a rest and recuperation centre for returning Air Force personnel and eventually reopened to tourists in 1948.

The resort now has a nine hole golf course, fitness centre and spa as well as magnificent mountain views.

Despite extensive refurbishment over the years, the 1930’s style had been retained.

We settled into the comfortable chairs in the Ruapehu Lounge and ordered coffee, marvelling at the impeccable décor and wishing we were having cocktails instead.

Had we planned ahead, we could have indulged in High Tea in the adjoining  Ngauruhoe Room with another spectacular perspective of Mount Ngauruhoe.

Ponte Vecchio

A visit to Florence would not be complete without experiencing the Ponte Vecchio. We strolled a little further west to the Ponte Santa Trinita for a mid-river view of Ponte alla Carraia. Originally built from wood in 1218, the bridge was the second in Florence and was then called Ponte Nuovo, being renamed when it was widened to allow carts to pass. Succumbing to numerous floods over the centuries, the rebuilding has resulted in a few different versions, the current structure was completed in 1948 after the retreating German Army destroyed it in 1944.

Cafes and designer shops occupy the beautiful buildings along Lungarno Corsini on the north bank of the river.

To the east, the magnificent Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno at its narrowest point

and stunning apartments defy gravity at the water’s edge of the south bank.

The Ponte Vecchio dates back to 994AD but became another victim of floodwaters. The present bridge has endured since 1345 and was the only bridge spared bombing during the German retreat.

The Ponte Santa Trinita is best viewed from the Ponte Vecchio.

Similarly assailed by floods, the original wooden structure if 1252 was replaced seven years later with stone. This, too, was lost in 1333, rebuilt with five arches, destroyed by floods in 1557 and reconstructed with the three arches seen today. In 1608, statues of the four seasons were added to greet pedestrians at each end of the bridge. Another casualty of the retreating Germans, the bridge was rebuilt and opened in 1958 with original material salvaged from the river.

East of the Ponte Vecchio is Ponte alle Grazie, originally constructed in 1227 it suffered the same wartime fate in 1944. After the war, a competition was held to create a new design and the modern, reinforced concrete structure was completed in 1953.

In 1565, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned a secret passageway to connect his residence, the Palazzo Pitti on the south side of the river, with the seat of government, the Palazzo Vecchio on the north side. Designed by Giorgio Vasari, the one kilometre long Vasari Corridor (the square windows above the arches) follows the river to the Uffizi Gallery.

The Vasari Corridor crosses the river above the shops on the Ponte Vecchio.

Initially, butchers, fishmongers and tanners plied their wares along the bridge but the stench was so bad in the Corridor, in 1593 the Medici heir, Ferdinando I, decreed that only goldsmiths and jewellers be allowed to own these shops.

A bronze bust of 16th century goldsmith, sculptor and author, Benvenuto Cellini, has pride of place in the centre of the bridge. His most famous work, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria.

From the bridge, we noticed an enticing spot to partake of a riverside beverage.

On further investigation, we found ourselves with Prosecco in hand at Osteria del Ponte Vecchio from where we enjoyed a different perspective of the bridge.

Seggiano

Our drive to Seggiano took a little longer than anticipated with our satnav, Holly, determined to take us through back lanes before doing circuits of the same mountain village a few times. The scenery was spectacular but we did wonder if we would ever find our way out.

Finally ignoring her, we chose to follow the reliable road signs and soon had the medieval village in our sights.

We parked the car at the edge of town and lingered a while, absorbing the breathtaking vista across rolling Tuscan countryside.

Wandering up Viale Santa Caterina, we arrived at Piazza Umberto and spotted the perfect place for lunch.

Despite our convoluted journey, we were too early for meal service so we set off to explore the village.

Seggiano is renowned for its extra-virgin olive oil, produced with the native olive cultivar grown in the region, Olivastra Seggianese. It would have been fascinating to visit the olive oil museum but it was closed. Instead, we followed Via Indipendenza,

passing Chiesa di San Bartolomeo. Built in 1216, the church has been remodelled several times and little of the original remains.

At the end of the road, we retraced our steps

and returned to Piazza Umberto.

The 18th century Chiesa di San Bernardino da Siena is also known as the Church of the Company of Corpus Domini, dedicated to the Body of Christ. The interior is rather unassuming as far as Italian churches go but there are some beautiful paintings, a 14th century Madonna and Child and a reliquary that belonged to St Bernardino himself.

Still too early for lunch, we ordered coffee and a biscuit at Antico Borgo to await the magic hour of mezzogiorno e mezzo (that’s 12.30pm).

The restaurant was amazing, entirely carved out of stone and the meals were delicious but I will tell you about that another time. We returned to the car and one last look at the magnificent panorama

before continuing our adventure at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. From there, we could appreciate the magnitude of the town and realised we had covered a very small section.

Myilly Point

Darwin has long been an important strategic outpost from a military perspective. In the early 20th century, the need to attract senior public servants to the town led to the construction of four significant houses between 1936 and 1939, now known as the Myilly Point Heritage Precinct. Architect Beni Burnett was recruited from Malaysia, where he grew up with Scottish missionary parents, and was appointed the task of producing housing appropriate to the climate. The influence of his early years is shown in the tropical elements of the architecture of the three houses he designed. One was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, another was damaged and remained vacant and boarded up to prevent access from itinerants until it was restored in 1988. A year later, it became the headquarters of the National Trust and known as Burnett House.

The only two-story house on the precinct and the only surviving example of B.C.G. Burnett’s Type ‘K’ design, Burnett House survived the bombing of Darwin during World War II with two bullet holes in the front fence. The Australian Women’s Army services were based here during the war and it was also as a rest area for nurses. Nowadays, the National Trust hosts afternoon teas once a month in the beautiful gardens, a lovely setting to while away a couple of hours on a balmy Sunday.

We were invited to wander through the house before leaving, an offer too good to refuse. What would have been the original living areas downstairs are now occupied by National Trust administration spaces, we made our way upstairs where the bathroom greeted us at the top. The upper floor bedrooms are spacious with three-quarter height partitions between rooms, information panels and photographs tell the history of the house.

Presented as living areas, I could quite imagine enjoying a gin & tonic under the whirring ceiling fan with the scent of a tropical garden wafting through the louvres.

The bedroom exuded a peaceful ambience and has a spacious dressing area.

Outside, colourful tropical flowers abound in the immaculate garden.

Adjacent to Burnett House, Audit House was designed by the Commonwealth Government and is an example of a large-scale housing form used in Darwin during 1920-1940.

Built for the Commonwealth Auditor in 1938, this house was also used during the war as part of a rest home for nurses. After the war, the Auditor no longer used the residence and there was a succession of occupants from various Government Departments. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see inside but it looked very inviting, surrounded by a well-established tropical garden.

Basilica di Santa Margherita

Remembering our first visit to Cortona and the strenuous postprandial walk to the top of the town, we opted to drive this time to explore the magnificent Basilica di Santa Margherita.

A church was built on the site by the Camaldolese monks in the 11th century, dedicated to St. Basil, but was damaged during the sack of Cortona in 1258. Efforts led by Margherita di Cortona resulted in the church and adjacent convent being rebuilt in 1288. The interior is spectacular.

There have been many alterations over the centuries, the large rose window of the façade is one of the few remaining original features.

A marble depiction of Saint Margaret and a chapel commemorating the Cortonese war dead are to the side of the main aisle.

The most impressive display is above, with vibrant ceiling frescoes and stained glass windows presenting impossible angles.

Margaret lived the last years of her life in a small room at the back of the church until her death in 1297. She was buried in a wall of the chapel of St. Basil and her remains were transferred when a larger church was constructed in 1330. Her body is now displayed in a silver casket at the main altar.

Canonized in 1728, Saint Margaret didn’t have an enviable portfolio, being the patron saint of the falsely accused, homeless, insane, orphaned, mentally ill, midwives, penitents, single mothers, reformed prostitutes, stepchildren and tramps.

Beyond the rooftop of the neighbouring convent,

the vista across Lake Trasimeno and the Val di Chiana once again took our breath away.