Pugnaloni

I was quite excited when I realised we would be in Acquapendente for the Festa dei Pugnaloni. The origin of the festival dates back to 1166AD when two farmers witnessed the blossoming of a dry cherry tree. This miracle was considered a good omen by the villagers who had been repressed under the reign of Emperor Federico I Barbarossa. Armed with prods and work tools, they destroyed the castle, drove out the tyrant and regained their freedom. The anniversary is celebrated on the third Sunday in May with a procession through the streets and much feasting. In ancient times, the peasants carried goads, implements used for prodding oxen, adorned with flowers to represent the weapons of battle and the cherry blossom.

The pugnaloni have evolved over the centuries and are now superb works of art, created by different groups in the community. Large panels, 2.6 metres wide and 3.6 metres high, are covered with intricate mosaics of leaves and flower petals to create images inspired by the theme of peace and freedom. The week before the main event, we discovered some smaller versions exhibited in the loggia of the town hall.

1.mini Pugnaloni2.mini Pugnaloni3.mini Pugnaloni4.mini Pugnaloni

The Mini Pugnaloni gives the Aquesian children the opportunity to take part in this wonderful celebration.

5.mini Pugnaloni6.mini Pugnaloni7.mini Pugnaloni

We decided not to attend the festival after being advised by some locals that there would be a lot of inebriated people, they obviously thought we were crazy to even contemplate it. We revisited the town a couple of days later but could only find one on display at the town hall, the entry by a group named Via Francigena.

I think patience and a steady hand would be essential attributes for anyone undertaking this art, the results are spectacular.

12.Via Francigena

We later found out the remainder were exhibited in the Duomo and they take turns being centre stage at the town hall.

Acquapendente

The nearest town to Montepozzo was a pleasant 4km drive away. Acquapendente, in northern Lazio, sits right at the borders of Tuscany to the west and Umbria to the east. First settled by the Etruscans, then Romans, it was established in the Middle Ages as a village and monastery by the Benedictine order. The name means “falling water” because of its vicinity to numerous small waterfalls flowing into the river Paglia. Our exploration of the town started at the Cathedral of San Sepolcro.  As far as Italian cathedrals go, it wasn’t particularly impressive from the outside. Built between 890 and 968, it was originally the church of a former Benedictine monastery, became a Romanesque church in the 12th century and eventually made it to cathedral status in 1649. Apparently, the crypt contains a blood-stained stone from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

1.Cattedrale del Santo Sepolcro

We crossed the road for a look in the tourist information centre and found a range of local products and interesting artefacts.

We continued down Via Roma

10.Via Roma

past the City Museum

11.Museo della Città

and ventured into the Church of Saints Anthony and Catherine. The 19th century façade was easy to miss but the detail inside was lovely.

12.Chiesa dei Santi Antonio e Caterina

There was no shortage of colour in the streets

16.houses

as we made our way to the Church of Saint Agostino. Yet another unassuming façade belied a fascinating interior. Founded in 1290 by the Augustinian convent, it was rebuilt in 1747 after being completely destroyed by fire a year earlier.

We passed the 19th century Boni Theatre

30.Teatro Boni

and around the corner, arrived at a beautiful piazza. The waters of Fonte del Rigombo flow from a natural spring, providing refreshment for both traveller and mount on their journey in medieval times. The fountain also became known as Mascheroni in the 19th century when the waters were framed architecturally with pilasters, cornices and grotesque masks around the water spouts.

31.Fonte del Rigombo

Cobblestoned side streets beckoned

36.Acquapendente

but we were on a mission as we reached Piazza Girolamo Fabrizio and the magnificent Town Hall.

37.Town Hall

Time for coffee & pastries,

38.pastries

the perfect setting to relax and watch the world go by.

Suitably replenished, we ambled further, enjoying the sights, sounds and sunshine.

66.strolling

Throughout our rambling, we had noticed huge portrait paintings that appeared randomly on walls where least expected. They are entries in the Street Art section of The Urban Vision Festival, a two day festival each July that began in 2015.

82.Urban Vision

Just past the hospital,

at the end of the town, we were rewarded with a spectacular vista across verdant countryside.

86.view87.view

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