The last few days in Lazio bring Italian life to the fore. Firstly dinner at Il Ponto restaurant overlooking the stranded village of Civita do Bagnoregio linked to the ‘mainland’ by the long pedestrian bridge.
The following day is spent enjoying the space that is Vittorio & Beatrice’s home- they live in the far side during the summer & leave their guests in privacy to enjoy the rest of the house & the pool.
They ask us to join them for the evening at Beatrice’s parents home across the valley. A group of young opera singers have joined their mentor to train their voices and family & friends are treated to a performance on the terrace under the stars. A bass sings four cantatas and then we all join in with a song sheet in Italian – not quite to Rock Choir standard! This is followed by a traditional meal for the 17 of us including lasagna, potato & beetroot & copious amounts of the local red wine. I am now a convert to cow mozzarella.
It is with sadness that we leave Vittorio & Beatrice the following day. We came as guests and left as friends.
We drive across the farmland of Lazio, the scenery becoming less wooded as we move north via the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore providing a haven of shade from the parched landscape of southern Tuscany-not that there were many monks in evidence; just the well heeled clientele at the exclusive restaurant.
It is then across the dry scraped landscape of Tuscany towards Umbria. Parched rolling farmland split only by lines of telephone wires, clusters of olive trees & vines, bubbles of mixed woodland, farm buildings ancient & modern and that quentissential feature of rural Italy – the lines & rows of cypress trees. But then on a hill in the distance appears the silhouette of a tower or a spire or fortifications with modern houses & flats huddled around its base. Around the next bend another similar settlement appears to continually reassure that life has gone on in this way for centuries.
The drive ends in Umbria where the scenery changes yet again with wooded hills leaving wide fertile river valleys in between and large fields of tobacco & corn.
Driving through the Lazio countryside we catch a glimpse of Montefiascone through the olive & fruit trees. The duomo rears up high, perched on the rim of an old volcano and dominates the skyline. The car seems to turn in that direction automatically.
Taking the lift up from the carpark (yes, lift) the small Etruscan old town is like going back in time. Up close the 17th century duomo is equally impressive as it is from a distance. This is yet another landmark on the pilgrim route that links Canterbury & Rome – the Via Francigena.
Everyday life of modern Italians is evident throughout the mediaeval streets that crowd around the duomo.
The surprise, having snaked a route through the shadows of these narrow alleys is arriving at the western gate to see the whole of Lake Bolzano & surrounding countryside spread out before you in the glorious colours of the setting sun which sets up shadows to give an extra dimension to the landscape & atmosphere.
As always, the town square is the hub of all the streets & alleys and of town life. The omnipresent fountain provides the focal point for whiling away time or chatting or just sitting to contemplate the day. I like this guy- people come to him!!
The old town of Viterbo is contained within tall walls & towers. Streets lead down from the gates, which take cars in single file, through dark, narrow streets fronted by tall terraced buildings to the ancient heart of piazzas, churches, town offices & the duomo.
The old mixes with the new – look closely at this one; which Tom is peeping?
The Piazza delle Erbe is a small square at the centre of the town with a fountain in the middle where five streets meet, including the main shopping stretch, and edged by cafes & gelateria. Locals of all ages pass & settle & gossip & chatter on their evening passeggiata dressed to kill in their classy glad rags and many with the indispensable accessory of a gelato.
After a day chilling out at the house (more another time) to get over the days of driving, a small journey is called for to the nearest place of any size which has supplies – Bagnoregio. This is an ordinary, busy place which hides a nugget at the far end. Tatty houses & simple shops line the main road and up from here stretches a cobbled street along a ridge with narrow streets branching off on either side. These play host to the houses intermixed with simple churches & piazzas and to the local population of all ages who hang about chatting in the shade as all Italians seem to do – the men together at the bar, the older ladies on benches in the piazzas, people hanging out of windows watching the world go by and families pushing prams & children riding around on bikes linking it all together.
“Well I’m going this way”
And then the nugget – the tiny village of Civita do Bagnoregio high above the surrounding canyons on a pillar of soft rocks that are being eroded away. The only way to reach the precariously balanced houses is by a 20 minute walk along a viaduct. More on this another day.
Driving down through France heading for the tunnels through the Alps, the first sign that the splendours of Italy await is the rear of Mt Blanc standing guard on the border. Once through its dim, subterranean dual carriage way the glories of the Italian Alps beckon you further in.
The first thing that has to be done once over the border is to find the prettiest of places & stop for lunch & explore.
Rabbit salad with a glass of ice cold rose on the shore of Lake Orta. This is one of the smallest of the Italian lakes, surrounded by mountains. It is as if Walt Disney has taken the place over to typify all that is Italian beauty. Picturesque old villages nestle around the shore cry out to be expored.
The pivotal sight is that of the island of San Giulio which can be seen from every spot on the shore. Only 275m x 140m it oozes a mixture of scruffy elegance & class & history & religion & the Italian way of doing things.
A day is not enough time to explore all the corners & streets & churches & museums in this fortified medieval city. The onslaught of the big cruise ships & the land based tourists makes for tedious congestion in the streets & on the walls. Nevertheless Dubrovnik has a sense of history, both ancient & recent with pockets of charm, shade, music & elegance. Sadly most is designed to rip off the tourist. Ignore that & enjoy the twisting alleys & steps & the glittering Adriatic is always a backdrop.
Someone has to clean the windows & polished the dome!!
Before lunch we purchase a ticket from this lovely lady for a cruise around the harbour & nearby island skippered by this not so lovely gentleman.
See, I do take piccies of younger people occasionally! On the rocks on the far side of the island the meerkats stand & play.
After a very classy lunch of sea bream with black truffle sauce I take in the views of the city from the surrounding walls.
Then we say a sad goodbye to Marko & Igor, our two Serbian drivers, and B our guide, as we settle down for our last night in Cavtat, just down the coast, before flying home in the morning.