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TUSCANY VISIT,    “An employee of Wild Olive Company takes her first trip to ...more...

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Posted on:   04-12-2010


“An employee of Wild Olive Company takes her first trip to Tuscany . .”

My flight landed at Florence Airport 15 minutes early, customs was cleared quickly and Aldo was waiting at the gate to meet me. Surely good omens for my first ever visit to Tuscany. The heat hit me as we left the airport building to head for the parking lot, it was a good 96 degrees which I was not expecting. Aldo took me to my hotel and left me to have a few hours rest and clean up before coming back with his wife to take me for an evening meal. In an excellent restaurant tucked away in a side street they outlined the arrangements for the next 8 days, starting next morning with a full day in Florence. We did the tourist route from the Domo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), past the replica of Michelangelo’s David on his plinth to the Uffizi Museum and on to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. By the end of the day, after another sumptuous meal I fell into bed to recharge the batteries for the following mornings’ short journey to Greve in the Chianti region.


Greve has to be one of the most beautiful towns I have ever seen, with quaint historic buildings, interesting sculptures and floral displays second to none. Famous for its wine there was a wine shop around every corner with several in the piazza (town square) where several more of Aldo’s family who work at the family ceramic studio and factory a few miles away, were waiting to meet and greet me, the new Wild Olive Company representative. What a lovely family, I look forward to meeting the rest of them.

My hotel was small and friendly and the owner spoke perfect English, a big plus, not that I would be spending much time there according to Aldo’s arrangements. The next 7 days would be a mixture of work and visits. Work days would start with a factory meeting (09,30am), lunch time meetings until 3,00pm (with wine) free time (a siesta needed some days!!) all followed by evenings spent with different members of the family in their homes or in their favorite restaurants. Great grandfather Luigi, 87 years young managed to include himself in all of these by insisting on being responsible for my transportation needs. How we got home in one piece some evenings I will never know! A truly lovely family, who kindly took me on visits to Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Livorno and San Gimignano.

After 7 days of outstanding hospitality; business concluded to the satisfaction of both sides, I was free to explore Tuscany on my own (having borrowed a car from Aldo’s brother). I had enjoyed San Gimignano, so I was off to find more hilltop towns.
I did not have to travel very far before I reached the town of Certaldo. This town is split into two parts, Certaldo being the name of the whole town with Certaldo Alto being the Medieval walled town on the hill/cliff top overlooking all the surrounding lowland.

I found that there is virtually no parking provision at the top so I had to return to the lower town to park. To get up to the top is easy as there is a cliff railway that takes only a few minutes. As soon as I started my walk through the town I loved it. Nowhere near as commercialized or as busy as San Gimignano I received smiles of acknowledgment from local people when I attempted to wish them a ‘Good morning ‘ or a ‘Good day’ in my poor Italian. Using an historic walk guide leaflet I set off to explore the town. Some of the buildings I came across dated back to the 13th century and many have been sensitively converted into shops, cafes and restaurants losing none of their old or timeless character. I stopped at one of these little cafes for a mid morning coffee – only three tables – 2 outside with 6 seats at each and 1 inside with 8 chairs. I took an empty chair outside on the cobbles to relax and watch the world go by. An older gentleman, obviously local judging by his banter with the café owner eventually sat near me, saw I was reading an English guide and in very good English asked me if I was enjoying my visit. As our conversation moved on he started to tell me the history of Certaldo and then offered to walk with me to show me some of the most interesting sights. He took over my visit and we spent the next 3 hours walking the ancient streets while I learned of the famous people and events from the town’s history. Certaldo is an unusual town in that many of the buildings are of red brick rather than stone. Sitting on the highest point of the town is the impressive Palazzo Pretorio. Built in the 13th century and modified in the 15th it was the home of the Florentine Governors each of whom had mounted their heraldic coats of arms on the outer wall above the entrance. These remain today as do the some of the frescos painted on the walls inside. After showing interest in the frescos Signore Sattori walked me to two other important buildings, the Palazzo Gionnozzi and the Church of Saint Jacopo where more frescos and medieval artifacts were on display. 


When it was time to part I asked my new friend to recommend a restaurant where I could return later to enjoy an evening meal of typical Tuscan food. Knowing he was a widower, I also invited him to join me, which he agreed to do. So, after going down to explore the ‘New Town’ and a nearby castle I returned to Certaldo Alto for 7pm.
The restaurant was one of the old houses with a covered garden filled with tables and perched on the edge of the of the cliff overlooking part of the lower town. We discussed the menu, settled on chicken and there followed a long conversation between Signore Sattori and the waiter after which we were brought a plate of cold meats, olives, bread and olive oil with of course local red wine.

As dusk crept in, we looked across the plain toward San Gimignano with its towers standing like tall, dark fingers against the last evening light and I felt so lucky to be here. The chicken arrived, whole! It was young cock slowly baked in a charcoal oven served with bread and some local vegetables on the side. What a meal! The meat was incredibly tender and tasty and the whole evening will remain with me for many years to come. (would management please note that my friend and guide suggested that next year I come in July to see and enjoy the town’s famous Renaissance Festival ! )

The next 2 days were more visits to castles and towns but only Monteriggioni stood out. It is another 13th century walled town that is still remarkably intact. The 10metre high wall has 14 square towers spaced evenly around its length and most of the buildings around the Piazza Roma date back to the Middle Ages. 


However, though fascinating, each in their own way, none equaled Certaldo and the pleasure I felt there so there was one last drive through the town on my way back to Greve.

There were many goodbyes to be said before I was headed for Florence and my trip home. My adopted Italian family embarrassed me with gifts and good wishes to take home and a clear instruction that I should return in 6 months to look at some new designs and colors. (Again, would management please note ! )

Management Response - "Sorry R.H. but your article reminded us so much of the enjoyment we get out of our visits to Tuscany, that we have decided that it will be us next time."