Pitigliano

After our relaxing lunch in Saturnia, we detoured on the way home to explore Pitigliano. You might think we’d seen enough gorgeous medieval hilltop towns perched on tufa rock but it’s not something I could ever tire of.

The town is also known as Piccola Gerusalemme or Little Jerusalem, as it became a haven for the Jews escaping from the ghettos of the cities in the 16th century. They lived happily here until 1622 when the residents were confined to the Jewish Quarter and remained so until the Jews were emancipated in the mid 19th century. Many of them moved to the cities and by World War II none were left. Houses seemed to emerge from the rock

as we made our way into town.

We didn’t get far before our attention was diverted by La Dispensa del Conte (The Count’s Pantry), a wonderland brimming with local produce.

With a few purchases in our bags, we wandered to the edge of town

and discovered a spectacular structure with two large arches and thirteen smaller ones incorporated into the walls of the town. The Medici aqueduct was built between 1636 and 1639 to bring running water to the village and the Lorraines added the series of small arches in the 18th century.

From there we had a great view of the road into town and the stunning arched bridge over which we would soon be driving.

Adjacent to the aqueduct, the 14th century Palazzo Orsini is now a museum. The twenty one rooms are filled with antique furniture, jewellery and wooden sculptures as well as sacred art and precious fabrics.

As we drove out of town, there seemed to be one gourmet paradise after another.

It would have been wonderful to spend more time in Pitigliano, there was so much more to see.

Saturnia

We had worked up an appetite lounging around in the healing waters of Cascate del Mulino and so, smelling slightly sulphurous, advanced to the nearby town of Saturnia. Despite dating back to the Etruscans in 800BC, there was a feeling of openness and modernity.

There is a reason for this. In 1300AD, it became the hideout of outlaws and was razed to the ground by the Sienese. Forgotten for hundreds of years, it was rediscovered in the late 19th century, the land around the spring was drained, the spa was built and the town breathed new life. While the boys relaxed with a coffee,

we girls wandered the streets, exploring shops

and local sights,

some of which were quite unexpected.

The Church of Santa Maria Maddalena dates back to 1188AD but the building we see now is due to a restoration in 1933. If only we had known the 15th century Madonna and Child frescoe by Benvenuto di Giovanni was inside.

We found a lovely alfresco dining area at Ristorante Il Melangolo, the perfect setting to savour a vino and delicious pizza.

We enjoyed friendly banter with our waiter, Alex and as we left, an ardent “good-bye” reached us from a smiling chef Marco in the top floor window.

We made our way back to the car and, with a last glimpse of the stunning panorama, farewelled Saturnia.

Cascate del Mulino

After a few hectic days, a soak in the healing waters of hot springs sounded like heaven. We made an early start to avoid the crowds at Terme di Saturnia, a group of thermal springs a few kilometres from the town of Saturnia.

According to medieval legend, during one of the many fights between the god Jupiter and his father Saturn, a lightning bolt thrown by Jupiter missed Saturn and hit the ground. The impact of the projectile formed a crater and its heat warms the water that continually fills the spring. The pool from the legend is actually enclosed in the 5-star Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort and from there, the water flows along a travertine channel, called Gorello, for just over a kilometre.

The gentle pace picks up as the water tumbles over rocks at a magnificent thermal waterfall.

Over thousands of years, the cascading water has created terraces and shimmering blue pools.

An old mill house lends its name to Cascate del Mulino (Mill Falls)

which used to consist of two waterfalls. The first is the one beside the mill house and the second one dropped from an elevated terrace (at the far end of this photo).

In October 2014, 140mm of rain and hail fell in two hours, floodwaters brought mud and debris and a landslide damaged the lower terracettes. It took six months to repair the damage and the second waterfall no longer exists. Fortunately, there is still much to enjoy.

The water is a constant 37.5°C, the scientific composition described as, “a sulphurous-carbonic, sulphate-bicarbonate-alkaline mineral water, and includes among its peculiarities the presence of two dissolved gases such as hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide”. We soon got used to the odour, it certainly wasn’t overpowering. We found our own private space in one of the tiered pools, it was impossible to not be relaxed.

There are no changing facilities on site but a huge towel preserved a modicum of decorum, although I did notice one curious observer.

The early start certainly paid off, another couple of hours and it would be standing room only.

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

Duomo di San Cristoforo

At the highest point in the medieval hilltop town of Barga, the Duomo di San Cristoforo is well worth the climb.

1.Duomo di San Cristoforo

Built in the year 998, the white marble edifice was enlarged during the 12th and 13th centuries and has been modified further over the years.

2.Duomo di San Cristoforo

The arch above the main entrance is carved with acanthus leaf motifs, the bas relief above the door depicts scenes of a grape harvest. The two lions at the top of the columns symbolise the strength of faith.

3.Duomo di San Cristoforo

The castle-like belltower houses three bells that are still played manually.

4.Belltower

The first thing I noticed about the interior was the absence of seating. The second thing was the ancient faded fresco of Santa Lucia above an elegant marble font.

The stunning wooden ceiling replaced the old one, in the same style, in 1862.

7.interior

The nave is divided into two parts by a large barrier made from red marble slabs framed with decorated white marble.

8.marble pluteus

The 13th century marble pulpit is a spectacular work of art. The front section has an intricately carved depiction of the Annunciation and the Birth of Christ, a Latin inscription explains the symbolism.

12.pulpit,The Annunciation and the Birth of Christ

The other side represents the Adoration of the Magi, the three kings bearing their gifts for baby Jesus. Partially blocking them is a group of figures portraying the four Evangelists; Mathew as the human, Mark as the lion, Luke as the ox and John as the eagle. The human figure on the left is thought to be Joseph.

13.pulpit, The Four Evangelists

Four columns support the pulpit, each with a unique carved capital at the top.

There are two lions at the base of the front columns symbolising the triumph of Christianity over evil and heresy. The left one has a serpent (evil) between its legs and the one on the right is standing over a man (heresy) who is stroking the lion with one hand while stabbing it with the other.

One of the rear columns rests on the back of a midget (the pagan world) and the fourth rests on the floor (the Christian world).

20.midget, pulpit

The long, narrow stained glass windows have many more stories to tell.

A 9th century wooden statue of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of Barga, stands within a niche behind the main altar.

23.St. Christopher

Leaving the church

24.view from door

we lingered a while to appreciate the breathtaking vista across the rooftops to the mountains beyond.

26.view from cathedral25.view from cathedral