Six Ancient Walled Cities in six days

A friend asked me to send her the details of our early-March trip to Italy. I thought it might be interesting to others as well, since our son, Jesse, did such a great job of planning our itinerary. Rich, interesting, beautiful, and not too exhausting, even though I took the extensive wandering with the help of a cane.

Jesse and his wife, Linnea, were limited to a week with two weekends so we planned a trip that concentrated on a particular area of Southern Tuscany. The itinerary was perfect for that length of time. I won’t say much about these places; you can find lots of info on the web and since Jesse did the research I don’t have the URLs handy. And I’m lazy.

Saturday evening we met in Rome airport, rented a car, and drove to the Tiber Hotel 10 minutes away on the waterfront in Fiumicino.

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Sunday–We left at 9 am and took the whole day to drive to Montepulciano, where we had rented an Airbnb flat for the whole week. Driving directly would take 2+ hours but we made two stops at Ancient Walled Cities along the way. Italy is dotted with Ancient Walled Cities set atop hills, each a little different and worth a visit. First was Orvieto. Take the funicular from the train station of the newer city up to the AWC and stroll to the cathedral with its spectacular façade.

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Next AWC was Civita di Bagnoregio, which is accessible only on foot, 1/4 mile climb–again, you park in the newer city. I did not subject my knee to that hike but, instead, warmed my hands with a cappucino in a café while the others made the trek, had lunch, and returned in intermittent rain and pelting hail. We were a little rushed to get to Montepulciano by 5, as we’d told our host, but we made it.

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Monday–We walked all over Montepulciano, AWC#3 and our headquarters for the week. We made ourselves at home in the beautiful flat in a palazzo and began the eating marathon! Antipasti, primi, secundi, paninni, pesci, porchetta, cinghiale (wild boar), yada yada. My weirdest entrée was rabbit stewed in a little glass jar. My favorites were risotto with truffles and risotto with porcini mushrooms. Olive Garden this was not. The local flavor and quality were exquisite and prices reasonable. We drank  the local wine, glorious red Vino Nobile. We tried not to drink it more than once a day because if we did we spent too much time napping.

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View from our flat in Montepulciano

I didn’t take pictures of food. We dug in too quickly and I always forgot.

From Montepulciano we took day trips.

Tuesday–It was rainy so we spent the day exploring the huge Duomo complex in Siena (AWC #4). You buy a ticket to access everything, including the climb to the top of the cathedral. Art, culture, beauty, sacredness overload!

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Looking down on the nave of the Duomo in Siena

Wednesday–Montalcino (AWC #5) and the Abbey of St Antimo. According to the website, Benedictine monks were supposed to be chanting the Hours at the Abbey, and a sign in the beautiful Romanesque church said so, too, but neither was up to date. We waited in the cold church for an hour. No monks. We learned later that the monks had returned to France last November! It was cold and rainy and we were a little bummed but on a nice day, both the city and the abbey are worth a visit. Or maybe go to Assisi instead. We didn’t get there.

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Abbey of St. Antimo

Thursday–the outdoor, free hot springs of San Filippo. I don’t know how Jesse found the unmarked trail down to the pools but it was lovely! In tourist season the paying spas divert much of the water so the free spa may not be as well-supplied. The water was just warm enough for a long bath on a chilly March day.

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Friday–Pienza, AWC#6, the world’s first planned city, planned by Pius II, also the pecorino capital of the world. Unfortunately you can’t bring cheese back to the USA. We ate a lot of sheep cheese all week, many more varieties than the standard pecorino romano you can buy here.

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The museums and palazzos weren’t open yet pre-tourist-season but we had a glorious last day in Pienza wandering aimlessly in the sunshine. It was the only fully sunny day of our stay. However, the chill and the rain didn’t hold us back.

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Saturday–back to Rome. Jesse and Linnea had an afternoon flight but Vic and I went back to the Tiber and enjoyed the waterfront, left early Sunday morning. I finally remembered to take a food picture. Turbot with clams.

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I walked all over Southern Tuscany with the help of a cane and a nightly icepack. However, the knee has been bothering me a lot since I’m back. All that hill-walking and stair-climbing probably exacerbated incipient arthritis, which I didn’t really feel until after the long plane ride back. Even so, it was well worth it.

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Recovering in the flat

Tuscany is 100 percent beautiful!

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