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.

What a great time to fly

tuscan-sunset-crete

Tuscany in October 2011

If you are thinking of heading overseas next year – check out the early bird airfare deals that are available at the moment. We’ve just booked our flights to Italy next August and it cost $600 less than exactly the same flights in 2015.

We’ve also booked Villa Arienzo for two weeks over Positano festival time and plan to spend a week in Tuscany when we will catch up with friends.

The fourth week? We are thinking of heading to the heel of Italy to explore Apulia as we’ve never been to this part of Italy before.

 

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.

 

San Gimignano – quintessentially Toscana

 

San GimignanoWhen we were living in Tuscany having visitors arrive was always a treat. The opportunity to show people around “our neck of the woods” was always something we looked forward too. And as an experience of the essential Tuscany, San Gimignano was always a winner.

You may have heard of this village and it’s many towers. Originally it is said that there were up to 40 towers but now only 7 or 8 remain. But even with only a few towers it is still one of the most recognisable villages in the region.

Initially we thought that San Gimignano might be “too touristy” for our friends, but everyone we took there loved it. The walk up the hill from the Porta San Giovanni to the Piazza della Cisterna was always a great introduction, with the multitude of small shops that line the street adding to the feeling that this was the quintessential hilltop village. A drink or lunch in the main piazza was a must with a leisurely stroll down to the Porta San Matteo to follow.

We always seemed to leave with something – linen for the table or fresh pasta or a simple gelato from the award winning store Gelateria di Piazza located in Piazza della Cisterna.

 

 

Some randomness

Gallery

This gallery contains 8 photos.

I have had a collection of random photos building up on my desktop for a while. Shots that I liked but which had no real story attached to them – other than they might be useful for a blog sometime in the future. Today … Continue reading

To retouch or not to retouch

A few years ago we found ourselves in the hiiltop town of Monteriggioni about 20 minutes north of Siena. It was late in the afternoon and there was a view through the Eastern gate looking out across the Tuscan countryside that just had to be photographed.

When I saw the shots on screen I was disappointed. In some shots the gate surround was almost black and the shot lacked colour and contrast. In others, when the exposure was long enough to show the gate surround the countryside beyond was over exposed. The obvious thing was to load the shots into Photoshop and do some work. Which is what happened.

One of the great things about digital cameras is that they store a huge amount of the detail lurking in dark areas of a shot. The area may look black but with a little coaxing the detail can be brought out. Usually without affecting the exposure in the rest of the shot. This is what I did along with increasing the contract and saturation in the shot.

I guess the test of the finished shot is whether it represents the scene as I remembered it at the time? And yes it does.