Siena for a day

Thursday last week we visited Siena. It was a week before the Palio and the clay track had been laid over the cobbles in the Campo and the tiered seating was in place around the edge of the Campo.

At 3pm, when we arrived, the businesses around the Campo were shut as the Palio track was being watered – a daily ritual in the week leading up to the Palio. This threw our plans of a quiet drink in the Campo into disarray.

So instead we visited Jean’s favourite clothes shop and helped boost the Siena economy – just as we had done in Rome a week before.

Shopping done, we returned to the Campo.  The track watering was complete and the bars and restaurants in the Campo had the “all clear” to lay out tables and chairs on the clay track. Normal transmission had resumed.

We wiled away the evening with drinks and a very good pasta dinner at Al Mangia bar before heading back to Diaccino.

 

 

Wait for it – a sunset shot

Painters love the light in Tuscany. It’s almost like looking at a watercolour painting in real life – with soft hues, pastel colours and gradients resembling a fine watercolour wash.

Last night as we ate dinner on the terrazzo at Il Diaccino, I grabbed a few shots after the sun went down and before the light faded. These shots have not been retouched – what you see is what we saw.

Enjoy.

Our place in Chianti

After a long day travelling from Rome north to Tuscany we arrived at Il Diaccino, our place in Chianti for the next week. The villa is beautiful, set among olive trees and vineyards and overlooking the valley. The towers of Siena can be seen on the horizon – just a reminder of where we are.

The terrace is an ideal place to sit and watch the changing view – from the blue haze of morning to the pink sunset of the evening. It is kept cool in the unseasonably warm weather we have experienced by the breeze coming up the valley.

The villa is so comfortable – like moving into someone’s home – and it’s a chance to unpack and settle for a week. Within 24 hours we had managed to catch too much sun by the pool so we will be sitting in the shade for the next day or so.

 

Italy calling

We are less than 12 hours away from starting our trip to Italy and there seems to be numerous things still to do and very little time to do them in. We have an early start tomorrow to make sure we catch the flight to Auckland and then on to Hong Kong and Rome.

It is amazing how the amount, size and weight of the technology we take has decreased over the years. The bulky and heavy laptop of 4 years ago is now a MacBook Air weighing next to nothing. The TomTom GPS is left at home as our phones do the same job, and apart from our phones, a bluetooth speaker, noise cancelling headphones for the plane trip and some cables, that’s it.

We have signed up for Vodafone New Zealand’s excellent $5 a day roaming product to avoid any shock roaming charges. Spark have still not matched this product and instead offer a confusion of call rates, text costs, data rates, caps and excess charges for various parts of the world – including Italy.

Our lightweight suitcases (full sized cases that weight barely 3Kgs each) are packed and well underweight. Passports are in order and tickets issued.

It’s a cold, rainy, miserable night in Wellington. Rome is sunny and hot – we are ready to go.

A terrace with a view

view-of-sienaAs our thoughts turn to Italy, a look through the photo album reminds us of time spent around Siena. This photo is taken from the front terrace of the cottage we called home for 6 months at Casavacanza Vesta and is looking towards Siena on a warm October evening.

When we arrived the view was almost completely obscured by trees but while we were away one weekend the kind owners thinned the trees – providing us with this fantastic sunset show each evening.

A view of Siena

siena-and-duomo-from-torre-wideI’m not sure if there is a best way to see Siena. Walking the narrow streets it looks great. Standing in the the middle of the Campo it looks great. But from the top of the Torre del Mangia it looks breathtaking – quite literally breathtaking – because of the 400 steps (exactly 400 steps) that need to be climbed to reach the top.

Here are some shots taken once I had caught my breath.

Advice for Italian travellers – Part 2

Having had a really good response to Part 1 of my Italian travel tips, here are a few more. These are tips about travelling to, and staying in, the places we know and love.

Our rental and the main roadDriving to Positano

As you drive south from Rome and into Naples you see Mt Vesuvius on the left and the Bay of Naples on the right. Ahead is the Amalfi Coast and the long and windy drive over the hill to Positano. But closer to the highway you’ll see the parts of Naples that don’t appear on the tourist maps. The south of Italy is poor and driving through the suburbs of Naples you can definitely see that, with low cost housing blocks scattered among allotments.

As you approach Sorrento, village living takes over with the houses pushed up against each other and the road narrowing to a single lane in places. After the turn off to Positano you climb up over the peninsular. There are some spectacular views back towards Naples but the best is yet to come. After cresting the hill the Amalfi Coast is laid out in front of you. Sparkling waters, steep cliffs and the string of villages that run towards Amalfi are all visible as you wind along the coast road.

 

Eat in or eat out?

The villa we stay at in Positano has a full kitchen, and whenever we stay there is the dilemma – eat in or eat out. Going out means picking from one of the multitude of restaurants or cafes in Positano and for a short stay the decision is relatively easy. But remember to make a trip to the Alimentary and stock up on the essentials – nibbles, fruit and veg and something to drink – to combat the heat. The good news is that pretty much every grocery store sells alcohol – beer, wine and spirits. Even the butcher sells wine – which adds a whole new dimension to food and wine matching.

 

Villa Greta from streetThat’s our place

We found that taking a photograph of the villa you are staying in on your phone is a great idea, particularly if you are planning to live like a local and get groceries and the like delivered. Walking up the hill from the village on a hot day carrying shopping bags can be a chore – but get them delivered and life become easy.

Villa Arienzo has it’s distinctive windows which all locals recognise so showing a picture of the villa is an easy way of explaining where you want things delivered.



The walkWalking to and from the villa – an adventure

The walk from Villa Arienzo to Positano is about 800 metres. But, as with many things in Italy, it’s an adventure. Why? Because the main road is narrow, cars and scooters are parked in every available spot and there are no pavements – literally none. So walkers have to watch out for cars and buses and trucks and scooters and other walkers.

At night use the torch on your phone to see your way – and be seen by others.

 

swimmingHotels can organise anything – trust them

One of the fantastic advantages of staying at Villa Arienzo over other villas is the “mother ship”. The Casola family own and operate both Hotel Eden Roc and Villa Arienzo. If there are any issues with the villa, or advice you need about anything, the hotel is a phone call away and a two minute vespa ride if assistance is needed. And if cooking is a bit of a chore, the hotel restaurant (with it’s magnificent view across the bay) is always available with service courtesy of our friend Carlo.

Tours of Pompeii? A trip to Sorrento? Or a boat trip along the coast to Capri? No problem – everything is organised for you by Lorenzo and the front desk staff.

And if the day is too hot for you, call into the hotel for a swim or some sunbath in the solarium, no problem – would you like a drink with that?

 

positano from boatDay trips

Our top four top day trips around Positano would be:

  1. A day sailing down the coast with Gennaro and Salvatore towards Amalfi with swimming long the way and lunch at a restaurant on the beach. Visit gennaroesalvatore.it to find out more.
  2. A day at Pompeii to view the ruins. Everyone we’ve gone there with has marvelled at how intact the ruins are. Get your hotel to arrange a private guide for the visit.
  3. A day trip to Capri with Gennaro and Salvatore to explore this beautiful island.
  4. A day in Sorrento shopping and wandering the narrow streets of this wonderful town. Remember to take time and have a drink and something to eat at Il Fauno Bar on the main square – it has been there since 1950 and is “the” meeting place for locals and tourists alike.

In a previous post we’ve covered our favourite day trips around Chianti and Siena – click here for details and enjoy.