(** This post and all that follow are synopses of the full blogs found on and linked to the Cultural Routes - Blogging Europe website. I hope you'll find your way there and enjoy my tales and photos from this amazing adventure in Tuscany!)
23 May - Afternoon:
The journey continues after our hike on the Via Francigena from Abbadia Isola to Monteriggioni (see June 11, 2014 post)
Winding things up in delightfully medieval Monteriggioni, our Cultural Routes - Blogging Europe entourage feasted on a fine array of the best of Tuscany at a wonderful local trattoria by the name of Il Ceppo. I won't go into great depth here as it's all laid out in my newest EICR blog post blog.culture-routes.net/the-splendors-of-siena-and-the-end-of-our-journey/"The Splendors of Siena - and the End of Our Journey" -- but suffice to say, it was INCREDIBLE!
The next segment of this final day as a team took us to the ancient north gate, the Porto Camollia, of the enchanted town adored by so many...Siena. The entry portal to untold numbers of pilgrims over the ages, we stepped through as modern day pilgrims, ready to discover so much about the history and influence of the Via Francigena in this magnificent Tuscan town.
Follow along as we retrace the steps of the pellegrini on this urban section of the Via Francigena, then conclude with a fitting rustic meal at Orta de' Pecci, not only a fine, rustic trattoria, but also a spot entangled in dark history, yet holding an incredible modern twist of renewal and redemption.
(Full story via link above)
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive,
and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. ~ Anaïs Nin
As with everything in our mortal walk, there is a beginning...and there is an ending. And the evening of our time in Siena marked the culmination of four and half incredible, insightful, enriching, memory-making, intriguing days to remember.
But maybe more importantly, it also marked the beginning of new friendships, that human element that is such the gift.
I ponder sometimes at the beautiful notion of the friends I have that I've just not yet met. And this bloggers tour was one of those instances, but multiplied by 9 or more! How blessed I am to have serendipitously encountered this fun, intelligent, soulful, and wonderful group that "lived together" for those 4.5 days.
My desire, of course, is that we will see each again somehow, some way. And that could well happen. But it might not. However, that doesn't diminish, in my opinion, the beauty of the friendship, no matter how brief or how long. The interaction shared forever changes and molds and betters. Yes, such a gift.
Left to right/top to bottom:
Marlys Schuermann, me, Raffaela Caria, Michael Schuermann, Eleonora Berti, Grazia Grimaldi, Luca Bruschi, favorite pilgrim
Favorite Knight, Valentina Meloni, Costanza Giovannini, Mario Mele
"It matters not what road we take but rather what we become on the journey."
~ Chinese Fortune Cookie
23 May - the journey from Abbadia Isola to Monteriggioni
And oh what an incredible journey it was! Newly posted on the EICR website, join us on my newest blog, "In the Footsteps of Pilgrims Along the Via Francigena" as we walk the age-old path from ancient Abbadia Isola to the fortified Medieval town of Monteriggioni, deep in the heart of beautiful Tuscany.
Meet the characters along the way who crossed our paths as we were taken 600 years back in time...
Enjoy the spectacular Tuscan day as we hiked through poppy covered countryside...
I hope you'll somehow "be there" alongside me on this most incredible experience of, if only for a short while, walking as a Pilgrim along the Via Francigena. Andiamo, y'all!
"Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found
not in finishing an activity, but in doing it."
~ Greg Anderson, Author
Just when I thought it couldn't get any better... throw in yet another incredible, breath-taking, amazing experience - by bike!
The second half of 23 May found our EICR bloggers' tour troupe saddling up (well, at least 5 of us!) for an almost 25 km ride on the Via Francigena from San Gimignano into Colle di Val'delsa. It was challenging, fun, exhausting, wonderful, and an experience I feel SO fortunate to have had! We also had two amazing guides, Manuel and Ingo, who kept us from killing ourselves, so we'll check that off as a "plus".
The full story is now up on the official EICR website.
You'll also read of our stay at an beautifully restored ospedale , or way station for pilgrims along the Via Francigena, that is now a top-knotch resort called Relais La Costa. Tucked peacefully into the Tuscan countryside, its charms are many!
So come along and enjoy the ride with me...andiamo, y'all!
**And now for the tease: Next post - follow me as we trek the Via Francigena from Abbia di Isola to Monteriggioni; and oh, the characters we'll meet!
I've just posted my latest bloggers' tour post from 22 - 23 May featuring an ages-old Friars' village and San Gimignano!
As our European Institute of Cultural Routes/Council of Europe "Thermal Spa Towns and the Via Francigena" bloggers tour continued, we found ourselves on the road for the beloved Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano. Famous for its remaining 17 towers and strategically situated on the Via Francigena, this charming town is full of hidden gems awaiting your discovery!
As our tour focused more on the Via Francigena (see earlier post for some history on that), I had another dream-come-true experience staying overnight in an ancient borgo, or village, that was given to St. Augustine Friars in the 900's and served pilgrims and travelers along the Via Francigena! It was a hauntingly beautiful place.
Read the full blog on the official Cultural Routes webpage, but in the meantime enjoy a few more photos from the first part of this exciting day!
Most folks have a pretty solid "mind theatre" in place for the sights to behold in Tuscany: row after row of lush vineyards, silvery olive orchards clinging to hillsides, red clay rooftops covering antiquity, and so on.
All true, all lovely, all beloved. But I bet few have ever peeked under the soil of dear Toscana.
As part of the recent bloggers' tour organized and sponsored by The European Institute of Cultural Routes, we were fortunate to be welcomed guests of the Grotto Giusti, a renown above ground spa AND really awesome thermal cave where folks have gone since 1849 to find well-being and balance...and a lot of sweat.
The same day held other wonders, as well, such as a tour of the Montecatini Contemporary Art Museum, a fabulous lunch at Hotel Torretta, and a peek in the elegant old gal called Grand Hotel and La Pace Spa.
All the details can be found on my latest post right here on the EICR official website.
Happy virtual touring....and andiamo, y'all!
Oh, the wonders of taking the cure, and that cure is found in the mineral laden waters of the famous crown jewel of Montecatini Terme, the Terme Tettuccio.
Modeled in the style of an elaborate Roman bath, this early 20th century marvel stands watch over the most famous springs of Tuscany. For a mere 6 euro or so, you can step into its portico and be wisked back to the grand aura of days gone by. And if the spirit moves you (or the Italian doc has written a prescription for you), the waters can be ingested for whatever gastric, respiratory, or skin affliction ails you.
Just up the hill by either a healthy walk or a ride on the oldest funicular in operation lies the historic town of Montecatini Alto, the mother of Montecatini Terme.
An often fought over hilltop fortress, Montecatini Alto is now more a retired dame who looks over all the goings-on at her feet as a result of the healing waters -- waters that also brought life and purpose to what might have become another forgotten hilltop town in Tuscany.
I've just uploaded my recent full blog on Terme Tettuccio and Montecatini Alto on the European Institute of Cultural Routes website, our main sponsor for the recent Thermal Spa Towns and Via Francigena bloggers tour . I hope you'll take a look and enjoy a bit more on the history and affairs found in these two delightful gems of northern Tuscany.
Ever wondered what I Tuscan spa town experience would be like?
I was lucky enough to dab my toes in the waters of healing and relaxation in Montecatini Terme recently, thanks to an invitation to travel with the European Institute of Cultural Routes and a team of bloggers and photographers.
Crossing Routes – Blogging Europe is an initiative of the Council of Europe Cultural Routes Programme and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in the framework of the Council of Europe‐European Commission joint programme on European Cultural Routes (2013 2014). The initiative is carried out in co‐operation with the European Route of Historic Thermal Towns and the old pilgrimage route of the Via Francigena in partnership with Fondazione Sistema Toscana, regional tourism board of Tuscany and local and regional partners.
The groups of bloggers, photographers and videographers will explore the region of Tuscany in Italy from 21 to 25 May 2014, experiencing the atmosphere of the XIXth‐century thermal towns along the European Route of Historic Thermal Towns: Montecatini, Monsummano and walking along the ancient pilgrimage route of the Via Francigena – San Gimignano, Montereggioni, Colle Val d’Elsa and Siena. On their way, the bloggers will reveal the essence of Tuscany to visitors in a novel way.
The group of five bloggers have been asked to share their impressions and experiences along these routes, connecting the cultural, spiritual and historical heritage of Tuscany and its communities and landscapes, taking photos and diary notes, making videos and writing articles as they travel, to create lively, inspiring chronicles of their trips on the Crossing Routes – Blogging Europe platform:
taken from http://blog.culture‐routes.lu/
Everything's bigger in....Tuscany??
Now as y'all know, it's a certainty that Texas owns all braggin' rights to "bigger & better". After all, our founding renegades didn't design that flag with One. Big. Star. for no good reason. However, after today's impromptu back road adventure, I think a small portion of Tuscany is vying for a little recognition in the size department.
So we're all in agreement that Tuscany is drop-dead gorgeous...a land that entices and entangles all who dare to set foot within her seductive boundaries. But what they forgot to tell you is that Tuscany is more like Sybil from that cheesy 70's movie than she is the coy Mona Lisa. This portion of central Italy is divided into == regions, which are then subdivided into unique territories, each pushing and pulling and parading with utter decadence of delights to convince you it is, indeed, the best.
Except, in my opinion, the Crete Sinese -- that land south of Siena whose name is derived from the aged, sun baked clay that sustains and supports the voluptuous rolling hills and sparse forests resting here. Sister to the Chianti region and her famous vineyard laced hillsides flanked by countless silvery olive grooves and charming tiny villages that make her the rock starlet of central Italy, the Crete presents as the older, maybe even brooding, one; full of beauty, yet reserved and almost unwilling to give up her secrets. She is a land that is an artist's collection of seasonal hues...deep late spring green expanses of new wheat sprinkled with confetti of orange-red poppies that melds into early summer glistening gold ready for harvest; high summer and she bursts in an explosion of brilliant sunflower fields that tumble across the ancient landscape, dancing to appease the demanding sun. Hilltops are prickled with silent marching regiments of proud cypress, many leading the way to yet another aged brick farmhouse or villa that stand like oases in this ever-changing land-locked ocean. She seems to have no need to brandish her wares, but is quietly, even mysteriously, willing to allow the travelers to explore as she decides to give up...or not..her secrets to the curious.
I was lucky enough on this brilliant blue sky day literally exploding in glorious spring frenzy to find myself in a car transversing the Crete towards my destination of the Abby/Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore. It's a minor miracle that I made it there and back in one piece -- one cannot look right/left/ahead/behind without having full-sense assault of indescribable beauty, never static in the changing light and winding bends, being thrown constantly in the 180 realm of vision. It was stunning to behold; almost too much for my head to wrap around. I wondered aloud if those exposed to this gloriousness daily maintained the deserved awe commanded by the Crete?
The walk up to the abbey leads one through a beautiful forested trail canopied by the gentle overhung branches of pine, oak, and cypress. Age-weary brick paving provides a steady path, and one can't help but wonder what souls, both figurative and literally, have connected to this same terra.
I was also able to take in the beautifully adorned main chapel remodeled in the 18th century to Baroque standards, the somewhat stoic library -- albeit the richly frescoed hallway outside the library and the carved wooden doors leading in were most impressive -- and the refectory, or "mess hall" in colloquial terms, that glowed in a juxtaposition of ancient and modern as the low afternoon sun cast an ageless aura on rough hewn tables and chairs set with modern utensils and plates readied for an evening meal whose pleasant aroma wafted out to those stopping to view.
A quick perusal of the interesting gift shop offering a brood of all-too-typical souvenir type items interspersed with chant CD's, informative books, an impressive array of therapeutic oils and balms, honey, and other handiworks crafted by the monks, as well as the aforementioned "tonic" was my last adventure before departing Monte Oliveto Maggiore for the return through the Crete to Castellina in Chianti. ( there's a fascinating story of the connection to Monte Oliveto and our "home away from home", Casamonti ... to be continued!)
And the return was as rapturous as the journey there. The late day light draped a honey-coated warmth over the evolving wheat fields, and somehow the same vistas of undulating landscape I'd enjoyed a few hours prior had changed clothes and were now sporting an elegance that the high sun had not uncovered. Daring to divert my attention from the jealous road, I was plied with a beauty determined to yank me whole-heartedly into a dangerous gaze. More than once it required I give in and pull off the road to stare, to absorb, to try to assimilate the 360 degree theatre of God's glory that was an overwhelming realization of any and all photos, paintings, or reproductions ever produced of this classic land. And I did it willingly, thankfully, happily.
Paula A. Reynolds
Traveler or Tourist?