Tuscany: the sights, the aromas, the flavors!

Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca. © Carl Amoth

On our drive from Santa Margherita to Gaiole in Chianti we stopped in Lucca, as several had recommended. The weather had changed some and we encountered a little bit of rain on the drive, as well as a mild sprinkling during our visit to Lucca. Our navigation was spot on even though there were a fair number of traffic circles to navigate. These can indeed be quite confusing, but we persevered nonetheless. Lucca has a walled city center with two magnificent towers. It was Sunday, and as such, there were far fewer tourists, but also many of the shops were closed.

We found a nice small café with outdoor seating and had an amazing “vegetable soup with bread.” Really hit the spot on a cloudy, somewhat rainy day. I was actually hoping to do a little shopping, but that wasn’t to be. We didn’t want to spend a lot of time in Lucca as we were eager to get to Chianti and settle into a quieter location. Just as we were heading out of town Carl asked if we were going to climb the tower for some pictures (we had passed one of the towers on the way into the city). He then commented that he wasn’t sure we could find it again. At that very moment I looked to the left to identify the street we were on and saw the entrance to the other tower! Very fortuitous, particularly since this was the taller of the two towers.

We paid admission and started climbing. And climbing, and climbing… with heavy backpacks. We were both gasping for air by the time we reached the top, but the 360 degree views were absolutely worth it. After Carl secured his photographs we headed down and continued on our way to Gaoile in Chianti. Our lodging is at Castello Di Spaltenna in Gaiole, and is ideally located for us to take day trips to nearby cities including Radda, San Gigiminano, and Volterra.

Tower view in Lucca. © Carl Amoth

The iPhone GPS has been an absolute blessing in helping us navigate these country backroads and “traffic circles”—goodness knows where we would have ended up without it!

Castello Di Spaltenna, Gaiole in Chianti. © Carl Amoth

Castello Di Spaltenna is an ancient feudal hamlet consisting of the parish Church with tower-bell dating back to year 1000, as well as the adjacent fortified monastery and a small group of country houses. The castle and the church date back to the year 1030. When we arrived we learned that we had been upgraded to a Junior Suite at no additional charge. Love that! The room is spacious and quiet with wooden shutters that open into the room. A beautiful hillside view from our room really brings the country to life.

When in Italy...

By this time we have been traveling for 5 days and it is time to do some laundry. I found the hotel laundry check list only to be horrified to discover that it costs 3 Euros for each pair of men’s underwear and each t-shirt. Shirts and pants are 6 Euro each! That is $4 and $8.20 each! We figured out it would have cost us $80 just to wash underwear and t-shirts. Let alone pants and regular shirts. I decided that until we could find a self serve laundry, we were doing as others have done for years—wash them in the sink. I did the t-shirts in the tub and one sink was loaded with socks and the other with underwear. Thank goodness they provided many bottles of bath wash and shampoo. Fortunately, there is a heated towel rack that doubled as a drying station. I had wet clothing hanging all over our room, it was quite a site. It may seem odd to many of you, but there was no way either of us could stomach paying almost as much to wash our clothes as what  they cost brand new. Just couldn’t do it. I know Ronald, you may not get it, but it had to be done.

Our temporary residence: Castello Di Spaltenna, Gaiole in Chianti. © Carl Amoth

Happy, but hungry!

As  it was our first night at Spaltenna (and after a long drive and day) we elected to have dinner onsite. It was sublime to be able to stay for three nights in the same place and settle in. This locale is amazing, and it really feels as if you have been transported back in time a millennium. It is so amazingly quiet and peaceful, I swear the walls must be 14 inches thick! Then, on top of that, to hear the melodious italiano language all around truly enriches the experience. For those of you that have read Ken Follet’s “Pillars of the Earth,” you can relate to our experience here in Toscana.

San Gimignano, Tuscany. © Carl Amoth

Our next day is to set out for San Gimignano and Volterra, and it is largely focused on scoping out photo opportunities for Carl. We have spent many days of “full on” photographic journeys, and we both decided it would make sense to go see all of the sights together and then let Carl decide what might be worthy of a return photographic adventure. That allowed us the freedom to be able to enjoy a location together while simultaneously identifying future opportunities.

San Gimignano, Tuscany. © Carl Amoth

It was really great to be back in San Gimignano, as I had spent four days there in 2006 during my sabbatical. It all came back to me as if it were yesterday. We had a pleasant lunch in the Piazza and then Carl went off to look at photo sites as I wandered the streets much as I had done 4 ½ years ago. It was indeed bittersweet because on that trip my life changed direction in a “never to be the same” way again, and hence, allowed me to find Carl.

Castello di Spaltenna, Chianti

From San Gimignano we headed to Volterra which is little known, but highly recommended by those that have been there. We arrived quite late in the evening, but oddly enough  we found our first opportunity to go shopping! Yes! I found an amazing cutting board made out of olive tree wood—divine—and then a quite functional and beautiful cheese grater over a hardwood box. Hard to describe, but fabulous in the kitchen (Pam, you would love it). Carl helped me pick out a great silk scarf (see picture of me in window at Spaltenna) —I am SO tired of my clothing…

Luscious grapes of Chianti. © Carl Amoth

We continued wandering in Volterra and located a great little clothing shop (I’m still on a quest for new clothing, in particular a skirt) and the owner was remarkably pleasant and helpful. I found a lovely skirt and Carl, true to his nature, engaged her in conversation in an attempt to locate an idyllic spot overlooking the town and surrounding country side. In addition to directing him to the locale, she quickly noticed his expansive photography gear and suggested multiple locations to secure panoramic shots. She further pointed out one of the structural stone pillars in her shop that was crafted over 2100 years ago. Her shop is part of a building that has been in existence for over 3000 years! We just can’t fathom that in the US. Lastly, come to find out, her name is Carla! What a hoot when she found out Carl’s name. Again, these moments make our trip a journey and not a vacation.

Castello di Brolio, Chianti. © Carl Amoth

We had dinner in town, and our server (Antonio) shared a story of historical significance experienced by his grandfather. During World War II, the Nazis tried to invade and take Volterra as a stronghold, but because of the sharpshooters positioned around the ancient city walls of the town, they were able to keep them at bay until the allies arrived, thereby saving the town and the structures. Yet again my husband’s gift for engaging strangers gives us a gift in return.

View from our window at Spaltenna. © Carl Amoth

Our drive back to Gaiole was not so pleasant as the drive out. It was dark and had started to rain quite heavily, and the wipers on our rental car were a mess. Additionally, the roads are massively windy with exceptionally tight curves. Carl did an amazing job and I valiantly tried to managed the iPhone for navigation. We made it back safely and had already discussed our next day. Carl was going to go back to San Gimignano for early photography and I would manage my own day with some blogging, local sight seeing, wine tasting, etc. Carl is an amazing photographer, but only a photographer in his own moment can appreciate (and tolerate) the hours of endless planning, patience, physical exertion, and careful setup required for the photo making process. I wanted him to have the chance to enjoy all of that at his pace, and likewise, he wanted me enjoy a day doing whatever I wanted to do. Bravo to both of us!

We shared breakfast and Carl headed out. I then checked out my options locally (quite limited without a car) and learned that there is a winery about 3 km away (with the last 2 km being straight uphill) called Cappannelle. I was up for a hike and a wine tasting, and decided this would be my day’s journey. It was indeed a strenuous hike up to the winery, but I was treated to a fascinating tour and tasting, at the end of which I bought two bottles of wine. We were running out of toothpaste and constantly out of bottled water so I stopped in town on my way back to purchase both. Oddly enough, Carl came home with the same two purchases.

By time I had lunch at the hotel and went back to the room, Carl had already returned. I discovered his day was just as amazing as mine. Even though the day (and all last night) was incredibly stormy with heavy rain, he found an unmarked dirt road that took him to the perimeter of San Gimignano, and with it some amazing vantage points for spectacular pictures. We were both thrilled with our independent adventures.

Dinner in Radda (fabu pasta and dessert) capped off our day, and tomorrow we are headed to Cortona!


San Gimignano, Tuscany. © Carl Amoth


  1. Pam Halter
    Posted October 7, 2010 at 4:32 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow, thanks for taking me to Tuscany. I enjoyed reading your blog. Fabulous photos. Can’t wait for the next update. Keep shopping sista!

    • Posted October 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks my sista from another mother! So glad to know you are following along with our journey, we will keep the posts coming. Carl is an amazing photographer – no doubt. Cheers!

  2. Beverly Chase
    Posted October 7, 2010 at 7:55 am | Permalink | Reply

    Oh, I so wish I was there and could be enjoying the sites, sounds, shopping and the food. I remember the heated towel racks from England and they are wonderful. We also used them for drying laundry, they work great. From what I am seeing Carl is getting wonderful pictures and you are having fun shopping. Enjoy:)

    • Posted October 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Mom! yes, it is good on all fronts and Carl is his usual talented self, capturing the absolute beauty of all that is around us!

      Look forward to talking to you when we get back to the states. Luv you.

  3. Amber
    Posted October 7, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink | Reply

    What fun to read about your adventures! The photo of the castle at San Gimignano is breathtaking.

    We’ll toast to you at a Survivor dinner at the Bachofners’ fabulous new kitchen/dining area tomorrow evening.

    • Posted October 13, 2010 at 9:51 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Amber! Can’t wait to see their new kitchen in person. Much Tivo to catch up on, including Survivor. So pleased that you guys have continued the tradition 6 years later….

  4. Posted October 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

    If possible, go to Sorento, Italy along the Amalfi Coast. Nearby is my favorite place, Positano. We did the Amalfi Coast, Sorento, Positano in one day; not nearly long enough to enjoy all it.
    We also went to Barcelona, Spain, South of France, Monaco, France, Florence, Rome, Sorento, Italy, Santorini, Athens, Greece and Ephasus, Turkey. This was done during a two week cruise of the Mediteranean. I did not see the places you have seen but have enjoyed them tremendously.
    Have a wonderful trip; I cannot wait to go over there again! Nancy

    • Posted October 13, 2010 at 6:45 am | Permalink | Reply

      Nancy, we stayed in Positano for the last days of our trip. Such a beautiful place–even a favorite among locals of the other Amalfi coastal towns. Hope you get to return there soon! Carl

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