Italian Countryside, Fresh Air, Flowers and Funghi

I live in a tiny village on top of a mountain. There are few people here and we are surrounded by nature. There is no sound except for the birds, or sometimes after rain we can hear the river at the bottom of our mountain when it’s full and flowing fast.

This part of Tuscany is dramatic with snow-topped mountains standing majestic against a deep blue springtime sky.They change colour throughout the year, green in spring and summer, with the grey tips bare and grand. In autumn the colour starts to change to a rich gold and purple as the leaves lose their fresh look and the mountain heather shows itself.

One of the most spectacular natural phenomena that I love about this part of Italy, is the wonderful perfume that floods the air in late May and early June. There is nothing like it, exotic, mysterious and intense. You know that you live in a special part of the world.

This area is particularly famous for farro, an ancient spelt which is wonderful as a salad in the summer and, for me anyway, even more appetising in the winter as a thick and warming soup made with vegetables and beans and served with a spot of garlic bread. It is also a great place to find porcini mushrooms, with mushroom hunters keeping their “patch” secret and if asked if they found a lot after a day in the woods, they usually answer, “I found just enough to eat,” meaning not really. I have seen locals exclaiming in delight at a huge porcino on display outside of a local green grocer’s. Picking it up and holding it high for all to see. People are known for their porcini finding prowess and it is quite an honour to be considered a good finder.

Walking and  hiking in Tuscany

We are also famous here for chestnuts. We are surrounded by chestnut woods and from late October on wards, the literally fall from above, as you drive or walk down the roads, they just drop from the trees. Chestnut flour is milled and can make a rich pasta, which is particularly good for those who can’t tolerate gluten. Goodies such as castagnaccio, a heavy flat cake type of dessert, made with pine nuts, rosemary and a hint of orange, or necci, a chestnut flour pancake usually served as a rolls, a bit like a cannelloni but stuffed with creamy ricotta. I love the castagnaccio, although it does look as though it is made from chocolate and so disappointed me with my first taste. The necci, I prefer without the ricotta, otherwise it’s too heavy.

This area is a spectacular one for walking and hiking. Everywhere you look there are unbelievable views. You can see for miles, even, on a clear day the island of Elba or as far as Sardinia. The best time to come walking is between April and June, then September to November. July and August are just too hot to be comfortable and the winter months mean that you can’t go up high due to the snow.

This is a truly stunning place to live, and I am grateful every morning when I wake up and look out of my window in the sky at those mere mortals below.

Walking in Tuscany

Art, Inspiration for the Soul

Living in la bella Toscana (beautiful Tuscany) I consider myself extremely lucky. There is so much culture here, it almost hurts.

In just over an hour by train I can be in Florence where the risk of being overwhelmed with beauty is very real. This place, whilst a busy city,  is filled with treasures and gorgeousness. Oh by the way, it’s also filled with tourists and a lot of traffic.

One of the first times I actually went to Florence was to celebrate a wedding anniversary (without kids and with my now ex. husband) when I was still living in England. I remember trying to find a good, small local restaurant to eat and coming across the aftermath of a scooter accident.

The “victim” who had been on the scooter was lying on the floor trying to get up whilst the predominantly Italian “audience” were shouting “stay where you are”, “don’t get up”. There was clearly nothing wrong with the person (still not sure if it was male or female) as they were doing their level best to get up but of course the ever cautious Italians were adamant that he or she should stay down, even holding them down to make sure. In the end, they succumbed to and lay flat out. The ambulance was after all on the way and those glorious Italian police women were on hand, or rather standing around looking glamorous, with their long wavy hair and two inch long nails. I wonder how they ever catch the criminals? Ah well, that will be another story.

Oops, got side tracked a bit there, anyhow,  the beauty and art here in Tuscany is just fabulous you overdose on it and still come back for more. You don’t have to look far to find exhibitions or “mostre di arte” in this wonderful part of Italy. The other famous towns and cities of Pisa, Sienna and Lucca are all here as well as Pietrasanta which is a permanent art exhibition in itself!

Back in Florence though, you can walk across the Piazza Della Signora surrounded by breathtakingly historical buildings and filled with statues, including the David. Walk along the Piazzale degli Uffizi, lined with statues of the great philosophers where you can have your portrait sketched by one of the roadside artists. You are steeped in art and beauty. Every time I visit, I find myself running for the return train home. I always run out of time, there is so much to see. So if you are not lucky enough to live nearby like me, book yourself a couple of nights and give yourself a chance to take it all in.

If you feel the urge to contribute to the art world yourself, you can enrol for classes. One great way of doing this is to book a week of intensive learning. You can combine it with a summer holiday so you can really focus and also relax and enjoy. There are quite a few companies offering painting holidays here in Tuscany. They usually offer days out too so it’s a great way of seeing the area with an artistic eye. Oh yes and you get to take your paintings home to remember your holiday by.

Painting holidays in Tuscany Florence art blog