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

Vernazza

The village of Vernazza was our first onshore experience of the Cinque Terre, arriving late morning with a plan for coffee and pastries.

1.Vernazza

Dating back to the early 11th century, the fortified military base defended the coast from Saracen pirates. In the middle ages, the water went right up to the buildings and the boats would tie up there, as they do in Venice.

2.Vernazza

These days, they remain on buoys in the harbour unless rough weather is forecast, then they can be found in the main piazza.

3.Piazza Guglielmo Marconi4.boats outside Albergo Barbara

Seated on a base of rocks at the entrance to the inlet, the parish church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia was built in 1318.

5.Chiesa di Santa Margherita d'Antiochia

The views would be spectacular from the tower, almost as rewarding as those from the cemetery on top of the hill where, rather than being buried in the ground, the coffin is slid into something like a drawer in a wall, known as a loculo.

6.Chiesa di Santa Margherita d'Antiochia

In October 2011, Vernazza was devastated when torrential rains, resulting in flooding and mudslides, buried her under four metres of mud and debris. For months the village was uninhabitable and years later, restoration work still continues. It is hard to imagine the peaceful harbour

7.harbour8.harbour

and beautiful pastel shades of Liguria under siege from nature.

9.Vernazza

We wandered up the main thoroughfare, Via Roma, my aversion to crowds and having people in my photographs meant my eye was drawn to the upper level of the streetscape.

10.Via Roma

Returning to the harbour, houses seemed to be suspended above a cave entrance

11.cliff houses

which, it turned out, led to another beach.

12.beach beyond

From this side of the harbour we could see the next town, Monterosso, in the distance.

13.view to Monterosso

The remains of Doria Castle and its lookout tower stand proudly on the rocky promontory

14.Doria Castle

while below, on the terraces of the medieval watchtower, Ristorante Belforte has been serving quintessential Ligurian cuisine for the past fifty years.

15.Doria Castle & restaurant16.Ristorante Belforte

We had time to admire the stunning rock formations

while waiting for the boat to take us to our next destination, Monterosso.

21.Monterosso

Cinque Terre

An overcast sky accompanied us on the morning of our Cinque Terre boat trip, with storms predicted for late afternoon. We passed Scoglio Ferale, the white cross on top is in memory of Luigi Garavaglio, a navy topographer who died when he fell from the rock while working in 1911.

1.Scoglio Ferale

The cliffs of Porto Venere and Palmaria Island faded in the sea mist as we moved further along the coast.

2.Scoglio Ferale

Farmhouses clung impossibly to cliffs

3.cliffside homes

threatening to crumble with the next deluge.

4.landslides

The first port of call was the village of Riomaggiore, we would come back here for aperitivo on the return journey (that’s another post).

5.Riomaggiore6.Riomaggiore

The five villages of the Cinque Terre are connected by a hiking trail, the 1km stretch between Riomaggiore and Manarola is known as Via dell’Amore or Lovers’ Lane. It dates back to the early 20th century when the railway was under construction and apparently was a place for lovers from the two villages to meet for romantic trysts. Unfortunately, this section has been closed since September 2012 when four women were injured in a rockslide and isn’t set to reopen until 2023.

7.Via dell'Amore

The stone walls and buildings of Manarola are fortress like, designed to deter pirates in ancient times.

8.Manarola

We had decided not to visit Manarola as time is limited on a one day cruise. Instead, we admired the village from the boat along with the stunning ‘zebra’ rocks as we left the harbour.

9.Manarola10.zebra rocks

It wasn’t long before another group of houses appeared in the distance.

11.Corniglia

Corniglia, the middle village of the Cinque Terre, is the only one without a port. Reliant on farming rather than fishing, the terraced hillsides certainly look challenging. Not to mention the 370 steps to the sea.

12.Corniglia13.Corniglia14.Corniglia

The residents of the next village, Vernazza, are no strangers to farming on the steep slopes, either.

15.Vernazza

It was time to replenish with coffee and cake, a perfect reason to explore this village….