What’s cooking with Capers

CapersCapers, I love them! I spent years pointing them out to my tour groups as the plant hung from every medieval wall we passed and most people never recognised the plant.

They are very much a part of the Mediterranean diet, although I have to admit I often forget to toss them into a dish or salad to give it that extra zest.

I was also surprised to discover them as I indulged in an aperitif and was served cheese and caper berries. I confused the berries for funny green olives as I was totally ignorant of their existence.Caper berries

So I thought some of you may like to learn more about them and see if you can spot the plant……that is if you have an ancient wall nearby as they thrive on the heat from the wall!Capers at Doria Castel Vernazza

 

 

Fortress capers

 

 

 

 

 

Florentine capers

 

 

Capers are the flower buds of a perennial bush that can reach up to 1-2 m and many caper bushes grow wild, in profusion in fact, on rocky grounds, in walls, and old ruins in hot Mediterranean countries. The stems carry thick glossy leaves, prickly in the wild variety; pretty white flowers on stalks are followed by pear shaped fruits.Caper flowers

The small caper buds are picked, dried, and then pickled in wine vinegar brine. Their white flowers, not unlike wild roses, have the shortest lifespan, as they open in the morning and are dead by noon.

Capers must be picked by hand, as the buds have to be picked every morning, just as they reach the proper size. I found this gentleman picking along the roadside wall near home.Caper pickerCaper, berry

 

 

 

 

The larger, coarser buds are also harvested; those are the ones that can be seen packed in salt where capers are abundant. They can taste good, but are often of an inferior quality and can turn rancid quickly. The flower bud of the caper plant has been used as food since ancient times, and even as a medicine or a cosmetic.

The Sicilian capers from the Island of Pantelleria (Southern side) are considered the best quality, both for their aroma and vitamin content. Together with those from the Island of SalinaSicily map (Northern side) these islands produce 95% of the entire Italian production.

How the caper is handled after being picked is critical in ensuring the high quality of the product. Once picked, it is carefully cleaned from leaves, earth, stalks, and divided according to the different sizes.

After picking there are two phases. The first is on the farm when the capers are placed in special brick containers and covered with coarse sea salt. The salt dissolves because of the water in the capers and so it forms a kind of pickle, in which it is immersed for 7 – 10 days. The capers are then drained from the pickled water and salted again. The process is repeated several times. The second phase is at the farmers’ co-operative, where the capers are divided according to sizes by special machines and then preserved under sea-salt.Capers

During the next 8-10 days the salted capers are transferred from one container to another; stirred every day for the first eight days and then stirred once a week for the next 3 weeks. After about a month the capers are ready to be packaged. As the harvesting is done by hand, most farms are small family businesses being involved in the entire production cycle of the plant from its cultivation, harvesting, to processing and preservation.

Capers at Bagno Vignoni

 

So check your jars and see where your capers come from since most Sicilian capers are exported to the USA and Australia.

 

 

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An unbelievable gem -Civita di Bagnoregio

On the walkway to Civita di BagnoregioJust over the border of Tuscany and close to Orvieto in the region of Lazio is the delightful gem of Civita di Bagnoregio. Sitting on a peak in the midst of a vast canyon connected  to the town of Bagnoregio by an alluring footbridge on concrete pylons. The old donkey path leading up to the village has eroded away and the ticket office entry already signifies an access into a timeless world.

Even though busloads of tourists have discovered this gem, there is a quiet awe as we make our way closer to the ancient arch entrance where millions have passed through over the centuriesEntrance to Civita di Bagnoregio.

Only 6 permanent residents enjoy their isolation all year long, keeping company with the tourists who come to stay over. Every corner, laneway, and footpath is a picture postcard. Capers ooze from the medieval walls, basking in the sun together with potted geraniums and creeping ivy that cover many abandoned buildings. Restaurants, deli’s and souvenir shops hide discreetly in every nook and cranny to not disturb the charm, and the locals are proud to talk about the heritage.

Inhabited since Etruscan times the porous rock on which it stands is home to ancient cellars, one now turned into a Museum and used as a bomb shelter during WW11. The main square boasts a lovely church with a simple façade and bell tower now strapped up after the earthquake of October 2016,  a place to sit and watch the flow of people traffic. A local confides that the pillars in front are from the ancient Roman temple and that I should come back for the  ‘wild donkey race’ which is a great laugh as the stubborn animals often baulk and resist and take their time to complete the piazza circuit.

Civita di BagnoregioA Renaissance palace at the entrance is deceiving and needs a second look,  as two thirds of the building remain intact while the rest has crumbled away leaving a window and door entrance into nowhere. Landslides remain a constant threat. Some ‘For Sale’ signs are visible while abandoned ruins have been tidied up and enclosed to not diminish the attractiveness of this quaint place. The yellowish brown tufo blocks of the buildings remind me of Pienza since it is made from the same material although it would be half the size of Pienza.  A cheeky play on words advertises a local B&B – ‘Libera Mente’ meaning Free your mind or at your own discretion,  and with rooms facing the valley that will be assured.

valley viewThe views of the surrounding clay filled gully seen are breathtaking, with olives, vineyards and Mediterranean bushland clinging to the dramatic slopes. Every corner a photographers dream, when able to ‘photoshop‘ the tourists out!

 

Still Civita di Bagnoregio feels well-fortified against change, described by a local poet as ‘an island bravely poised in the middle of the air, on the top of a truncated cone above the immense abyss”.    How true!View of Civita di Bagnoregio

 

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No bones about it – Florence exhibition

View of FlorenceThe Humans of 2015 are now just a skeleton this year in the ‘Ytalia’ Art Exhibition at Forte di Belvedere, Florence! No bones about it Florence never fails to surprise me!

As I wandered up to the Fort  I thought of the other exhibitions that had fired my passion or uninspired me, yet I always return to this fantastic location and never Spritual Guard jan Fabreget tired of the fabulous panorama.

Last year’s Jan Fabre Spiritual Guards’ had an overdose of beetles and crosses for my taste. Although I did like the gold turtle in the main square of Florence. While the Zhang Huan‘s exhibition of Buddhas ‘Soul and Matter’ had been a startling reopening to the fortress in 2013.

This year we are treated to polystyrene fiberglass bones covered in gypsum which precariously sway in the breeze and for safety and security reasons have to be tied down!

The Ytalia exhibition – presented 100 Contemporary Italian works of Art about Energy, Thoughts and Beauty to demonstrate, as the pamphlet blurb read: “how Italian Art has strongly influenced the international artistic community and has been a model to admire the perfect balance between classicism and anticlassicality, eclecticism and purism, invention and citation, immanence and transcendence.” 

Forte Belvedere entranceI have my doubts that the exhibition lived up to its promise but it was still well worth the visit.Art Exhibit Florence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of beautiful marble alongside rusty iron and the geometric nature of the exhibits  lures the eye into labyrinths and techno prints reflecting Fibonacci’s sequence.

A splash of colour inside the building seems totally unconnected….

and other weird to the absurd exhibits leave me pretty flat!

Skeleton Florence

 

I am constantly drawn back to the panorama of Brunelleschi’s dome seen between oscillating bleached ribs and lassoed toes, or about to be blow-dried…..

 

Art Exhibit Florence

 

And the typical Tuscan view of cypress trees, olive groves and a stray castle tower at the back of the fortress, while stumbling through marble blocks much to the disdain of the Fort custodian!

So just in case you are in Florence, there is still time to see the  ‘Ytalia’ exhibition as it remains open until the 1st Oct and there are more exhibits dotted about town – the Basilica of Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.  I would suggest Forte Belvedere any year you may be over for the view, the relaxing alfresco wine and café bar and the cheap entrance fee!

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No time to wither on the vine

Cinque Terre vineyardsOn the terraces of the Cinque Terre the grapes have matured after such a long dry Summer and harvest time is already over. While tourists still invaded the villages oblivious to the sweat and hard toil that was going on in the vineyards above. Yet it is these vineyards that represent the Cinque Terre and the spirit of sacrifice that locals have had to exercise in order to obtain fruit from this enchanting paradise yet harsh land.

As I have said before, many have given up this tough labour and left their terraces abandoned as farming is no longer a viable livelihood and tourism in particular offers new employment opportunities. Those that do remain are mostly elderly, sentimentally attached to their vineyards and sometimes assisted by the Save Vernazza project or students work experience.

Cinque Terre wineThe land is a fragile one as we all remember so well with the flood in 2011 and the continual landslides that occur, are often aggravated by the lack of maintenance of the terraces. Various initiatives to encourage locals to return to farming have been discussed and some young people are taking up the challenge. The local Farm Cooperative that coordinates the harvest and produces the wine offered to pay double the price for grapes this year! Great news!

It’s a pity however that the dry season has meant less quantity, although the predictions are for great quality wine.

 

Human genius has managed to overcome some of the difficulties associated with farming these terraces as fifty monorail stations are now in operation, meandering these steep slopes to simplify the transportation of grapes and equipment.

Sunset brought the predicted storm, the classic sign of an end to the Summer and what a spectacle! Nature’s theatre for us all to watch from the terrace; a chilled glass of white in hand and camera on the go. Curtains of rain at sea, so desperately needed on land slowly approached the shore, yet in vain……and we were left waiting for Godot!

Cinque Terre storm


 

 

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Hot as Hell, Devil’s country

When it’s as hot as Hell there is no better place than the natural Canyon of Orrido di Botri, in the mountains 40kms above Lucca.

The area, known as Garfagnana, part of the Province of Lucca, encompasses some of the most beautiful natural woods and mountains of Tuscany. Orrido di Botri is one such place, and only accessible during the Summer months as the hike entails wading in and out of the River Pelago, hugging the rock face till the end of the trail at the natural “swimming pool”

Home to the Devil and Devilish legends add to the already mystical air as we set off early to wind our way up the mountain to Ponte a Gaio (740mt) the meeting point and entrance to the National Park area.

Ponte della Maddalena or Devil's BridgeOn the way we have our first encounter with the Devil at the ancient Ponte della Maddalena commonly known as the ‘Devil’s Bridge’Legend has it that a master builder was commissioned to build the bridge but could not get it finished on time and asked the Devil to help him. The Devil made a pact with him that he would finish the bridge in one night and as recompense would take the soul of the first person who crossed the bridge. The builder agreed to the pact but later, filled with remorse confessed to a priest who advised him to send a pig over the bridge first. The Devil, infuriated at being made a fool of, and not knowing what to do with the pig, disappeared into the river Serchio leaving behind a cloud of sulphur.

On arrival at the Forest rangers office we need to be equipped with helmets and our hike shoes as we’ll be wading in areas up to our thighs, through the canyon with rock walls of up to 200m high. The hairnets under the helmets get a giggle and gives us a rather incongruous look as Cristina explains the logistics of the 4hr hike.- River temperature around 10 degrees, and the canyon only a few degrees warmer, with a warning that it’s easier to wade than risk slipping on the rocks. To avoid any rocks falling on our heads we should place our hands on the rock at the entrance in homage to ‘Botri’. Legend of Botri

Botri being the ugly crippled shepherd who found shelter in the canyon with his flock after being driven out by his compatriots for his terrible appearance. Famine struck and the same citizens pleaded with Botri to allow their flocks to feed in the Canyon but Botri offended and angered threw rocks at them to drive them away. Unfortunately during the fight he slipped and fell, breaking his neck in the Canyon, where his ghost still reigns! So we are only too happy to place both hands on the entrance rock so Botri won’t be offended.

Rain was forecast, surprisingly the only day in the entire Summer, as we set off into this majestic wild beauty of ferns and moss alongside crystal clear water. The Devil is considered a regular visitor to the Canyon and parents often frightened their children from venturing into the Canyon alone, describing an enormous winged monster that would swoop down and take them away in his claw – a large shiny orange mark imprinted high on the rocks is said to be the burn mark from his tail!? And there is a Devil’s garden and the Devil’s claw mark.

While amused by the various horrific tales we stick close to our two qualified guides, heeding their warnings along the way. As the thunder rolled in and it began to pour,  small stones bounced off two helmets and the atmosphere took on a more sinister feel. Cristina was quick to reassure that wild goats tend to wander along the edge of the cliffs above and the shrapnel is probably from them……not Botri?! Royal Eagles and falcons also nest in the area but are rarely sighted and the more timid animals like capriole ( bambi deer) are unlikely to venture out while we are around.

The thunder passed and the air cleared so we managed to complete the hike to the end, becoming quite used to wading in the river or clinging to ropes that line some of the rock face. In the swimming pool

The photos do not do it justice and are marred by my waterproof holder, but I hope to have enticed some of you into this treasure chest of uncontaminated Nature near Lucca.

 

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Master Gardeners, Italian style

Vegetable garden next doorIf you have ever lived next door to an Italian you will know how prolific they are in producing vegetables – front garden or back, it makes no difference.

My next door neighbour is constantly passing me generous bags of veggies, so despite my lack of a veggie garden, am munching my way through oodles of zucchini recipes as they sprout overnight and never cease! Or he leaves me home grown peaches and apples on my terrace at dawn, not to wake me up. Being a vegetarian makes him even more keen to be sure I have plenty…..meaning enough to feed an army of friends!

Nowadays all the talk is about, 0 kilometre produce, eco sustainability, the sharing economy, recycling, seasonal choices of vegetables when Italians have been well ahead of the times with this approach to life….if they have any square inch to cultivate.

The farmers have come a long way from the dangerous pesticides of the past and spraying sulphur till they came home looking like a green Martian! Now enclosed tractors and masks are the norm and many of the dangerous pesticides are no longer available in Italy or in Europe.Cinque terre vegetable garden

When hydroponics seemed fashionable for producing a lot in a small space without soil, Italians have been true Masters in producing quality and quantity in confined spaces for centuries and continue to do so.

The terraces at the Cinque Terre boast many a good veggie patch in the most confined spaces.

From master gardeners to farmers, this Italian Summer has been a real struggle with drought conditions and consistent heatwave temperatures of more than not 40+C  since the beginning of June.

Olive trees have lost their fruit and their leaves point skyward to lessen their heat exposure in an effort to stay alive, and while they are very resistant trees it is an extreme test for them. Grapevines also look haggard although for some it may be a top quality year, low on production but high on quality. Grape picking started early and up North in the Pinot Grigio area it has already finished. Bees are producing less honey, fig trees are losing their leaves and their fruit remains undeveloped and as the drought continues many crops are ruined.

Fires have broken out throughout Italy, creating enormous damage to farmers with loss of livestock and crops. National Parks have come under threat both from natural fires and dreadful pyromaniacs, with close to 89,000 hectares ( 220,000acres) of land burnt, an equivalent of ‘124,000 football stadiums’ as they said on the TV News!

City folk look at the news as they turn up their air conditioning or fan themselves under the shade, incredulous that the heat does not wane and sceptical of the possibility of water rationing, more expensive fruit and vegetables and no new Extra Virgin Olive Oil in November!

So it’s a tough old time this Italian Summer, one that is not unfamiliar to other countries as climatic change persists and we fail to find solutions.

Basil in a barrow

 

Still if you are coming over and would like to be an Italian gardener, do join us in the Cinque Terre on the Tourist in the Wild project – Save Vernazza as “Even paradise needs a Gardener”

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The Castle- Vernazza

Vernazza Cinque TerreThe Castle….no not the famous one in Tullamarine, for those who may remember the movie but the landmark of Vernazza, Cinque Terre. This ancient Doria Castle has featured in millions of tourist photos as an icon of Vernazza, although not everyone takes the steep steps up to explore it fully. Vernazza Castle

 

Making the most out of a cloudy morning I climbed the narrow alleyways or ‘caruggi’ as they are known in dialect, to enjoy the breathtaking view from the Castle.

Tucked in a corner on the way was Susie Barrow’s Art gallery, an English artist who has been living in the area for the past 9 years, doing jewellery and ‘splashnflow’ watercolours.

Pirate of the pastI had visions of swashbuckling pirates plundering their way through the labyrinth of alleyways in search of treasures, or more likely, seizing men and women to use as enforced labour or to sell off as slaves. In fact they say the ‘caruggi’ were specifically built so narrow so no one could be surrounded by a group of sword thrusting bandits!

Historical documents date the Castle and its Tower to the 13th Century although it may be even older than that. Little remains of the Castle apart from the Tower, and during the Summer there is often an Art exhibition in one of the rooms below.

It is highly likely the castle, with its imposing tower, was built as part of the Vernazza system of fortifications commissioned by the Genovese during the early Middle Ages to defend itself against the raids of Muslim pirates from Andalusia or the Basque bandits from Southern France.

 

On climbing the narrow spiral stairs it’s easy to appreciate its defence quality for the commanding view of the coastline and  complete coverage of the village below.

Even during the Second World War, it was used as a defence base against Nazi attacks.

Today it is a peaceful spot to admire the stunning view and inhale the beauty of the surroundings of Vernazza and the Cinque Terre.

Vernazza wine poemAt the exit there is a sweet poem:

You don’t leave the Castle       without drinking our wine,          that’s called ‘Schiacchetra’           and which brings happiness

 

 

 


 

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Poetry, exotic wine and Bolgheri castle

Continuing our wine research takes us to the area of Bolgheri, sometimes described as the  ‘snobby area’ of Tuscan wine production since it has imported grape varieties from Bordeaux, France – cabernet sauvignon, merlot. Quite a change from the other famous Tuscan wines produced from San Giovese grapes – Brunello, Chianti, Vino Nobile.Bolgheri avenue of cypress

 

 

 

It’s a great day as we drive along the Tuscan coastline and surprisingly through ‘La California’ , not quite the California I was expecting, but an indicator that the turn off for Bolgheri is close by. It cannot be missed as it is flanked by over 2500 cypress trees for the entire 5km that lead to the enchanting hamlet of the Castle of Bolgheri. Rendered famous in the poem of Giosuè Carducci.

Bolgheri castleThe origins of Bolgheri Castle date back to 1500. Since then, it has been the property of the Counts of Gherardesca family. In the second half of the 1700s, restoration work and improvements were made to the building, and the cellars were built. In 1895, the castle’s façade was modified, with the construction of the tower and merlons as we still see them today. Bolgheri Castle and its surrounding lands were transferred by hereditary succession to the current family of the Counts Zileri Dal Verme.”

The grounds of the Castle boast wine and handcraft shops and cute Enoteca’s for a light snack or restaurants tucked inside the cool ancient walls offering welcome relief from the heat of the day.

Every nook and cranny has been tastefully refurbished to accommodate the flow of tourists, yet retain the contours of the Castle buildings and cellars.

Wine is everywhere and we head off to explore some of the local wineries and learn about the local production. Our first two attempts to visit were greeted with a rather cool reception and polite refusal at the gate intercom, either because they no longer open for public visits or only by prior appointment. We persist and fortunately find some very welcoming family run wineries keen to explain the development of Bolgheri wines.

Sassicaia winesIn the 1920s the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta dreamt of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine and for him, as for all the aristocracy of the time, the ideal was Bordeaux. His great grandfather had experimented with these grape varieties in the Piedmont area and seeing the similarity of terrain in the area of Bolgheri Mario planted cabernet sauvignon and merlot on his property –Tenuto di San Guido. In 1930 he married Clarice della Gherardesca consolidating his wealth and interest in top quality horse breeding. Initially critics were not enthusiastic about the wine, being more accustomed to the lighter local wines, and  the vineyard did not release any wine commercially until 1968 – Bolgheri Sassicaia. Now the Sassicaia is ‘The’ wine of Bolgheri together with Bolgheri DOC where the grape varieties are not mentioned on the labels as the Terroir: the grape-growing conditions of the area, are considered more important.

As described by local experts : ‘The wines from this area are incredibly compact, dark and ruby red in color, which suggests great ageing potential. The heady bouquets are reminiscent of ripe berries, with hints of Mediterranean maquis (the main vegetation along the Mediterranean coastline) and spicy oak. They are characterized by their powerful structure, elegant poise and smooth, rounded natures. A sweetness of fruit on the palate is backed by layers of velvety tannins, a lively, fresh acidity and a long, lingering finish.’Bogheri winery

The area has other villages of interest like Castagneto Carducci, as well as a great stretch of sandy beaches, so something for everyone.Bolgheri souvenir

 

We finished the day with a glass of wine back in the square at Bolgheri noting some  words of wisdom on a shopping bag:

” We are all mortal until our first kiss and second glass of wine”


 

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Shooting the rapids on the Arno – Florence

Rafting on the Arno riverA couple of hours late afternoon ‘soft’ Rafting the Arno River in Florence sounded super inviting with the heatwave we have been experiencing. Combined with the fact that it would be an historical tour of the old Mills and Wool factories that had thrived for centuries on its shores, made it even more enticing. The organisers were keen to reassure clients that it would be ‘soft’, nothing strenuous and little chance we would finish in the River, although a second pair of shoes could be handy! I had visions of shooting the rapids over the weir breaks and quite hoping for an adrenaline rush of ‘hard rafting’ and ready for the big splash.

T-Rafting organized the event and we were lucky to have both guides , Enrico and Sebastian – expert rafters, kayakers, and lifeguards with an impressive list of skills from rescue technicians to teachers of freshwater ecology and river restoration. So we were in for a real treat.

A brief explanation of what was in store and life jackets for us all as well as the waterproof bin for all our personal things so nothing could get wet. I was already getting excited….Down to the riverside and into the rubber dingy, paddles for everyone and we were ready. “Let’s try to synchronise paddles….go…go…go” was the instruction and while there were only 6 of us I could see we would not be winning any medals for our coordination. Fortunately Sebastian steered our way out of trouble as we may have gone round in circles and never left home base!?!

Rafting on footAs we drew closer to our first ‘rapid’  and old Mill I began to understand the meaning of  ‘soft‘, as in the current heatwave and drought, the level of the River is far too low to cruise across the weir breaks. “Everybody out!” My dream was crushed and my feet wet!

Still we could at least climb the steps up to the Old converted Mill, now a sweet Bed & Breakfast, and realise the importance of the Mills and later the Medieval Wool factories – Le Gualchiere, strategically placed along the Arno’s banks.

The Arno had been essential for transporting goods, like wood from Casentino to build the Cathedral and Palaces, with navigation possible, at least in the winter months, all the way to Pisa and Livorno. Enrico delighted in relating the old latin expression still used in Florence ‘a ufo’ meaning free/gratis as A.U.F.O ( ad usum Florentinae  Operae) was stamped onto the beams to be used in the Church as they were allowed through ‘duty free’!

I love these quaint tales and connections to historic details which over time get lost and no one really remembers the origins.

Trusty Guides working hard

Our trusty guides worked hard hauling the dinghy across the various weirs and then it was back to rowing, one.. two…three…. each to our own beat but at least we went forward! We passed more mills and wool factories now converted to hotels or divided into apartments or more unfortunately abandoned.

 

Wool was traded from all over Europe to be ‘worked‘ in Florence in the medieval factories harnessing the hydraulic energy of the river. The most prized being English wool for its long fibres that were cleaned and combed, entwined and then pressed with the enormous wooden hammers powered by the river, belting this woollen fabric to make it tough, waterproof  and sought after by the wealthy far and wide. A tough smelly job, the continual noisy banging, and damp and dirty amid lime and urine used for cleaning and vegetal products for colouring.

I was so fascinated by the Wool fabrication that on hearing there was to be a theatrical performance at one of the largest Wool factories, ‘Le Gualchiere di Remole’ my name was first on the list for a ticket. A video in Italian here gives an idea of the process.

Medieval Wool factoryBuilt in the 14th century, now unfortunately abandoned and in ruins after centuries of production of these fabulous ‘blanket-style’ mantels. The ghosts of the Gualchiere recounted their lives, their loves, their hopes and dreams, and their sufferings as  workers in the factory. The terrible floods – 1333, 1547, 1740…..Ghost of the wool factory

My vision of the Arno River and Rafting in Florence had certainly changed after these experiences, while my appetite for ‘real rapids’ remain and Enrico and Sebastian have left me with an open invite for one of their many rafting experiences on www.t-rafting.com. 

Check them out: White water Red wine rafting, Sieve Bridges and Tortelli Rafting, Florence Ponte Vecchio Rafting with an aperitif at sunset,….. to name just a few!

 

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A knight’s legend – San Galgano

Vineyards and Olive Groves in MaremmaOn a return trip from the wineries in the Southern area of Tuscany realized we would be passing by a place of legends – San Galgano. It has been years since I had been here and it conjured up images of the Kingdom of Camelot: King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Why?

…..Because San Galgano houses the sword in the rock!

Reaching the Abbey at sundown only to see the heavy wooden doors close on a private wedding party inside, and no positive response to our pleas of “We came all the way from Australia to see this! was disappointing. Although the custodian did suggest we hurry as we would still be in time to see the sword in the stone at the hermitage above.

Still the Abbey, built between 1218 and 1288 by Cistercian monks, is impressive from the outside, sitting proudly in the middle of nowhere. And a sneak peek through the side bars gave just a glimpse of its ancient grandeur. Cypress trees line the entrance and despite it being without a roof, it looks in great condition and not surprising a bride would like to celebrate in its evocative ambience.San Galgano Abbey

The Monks abandoned the Abbey in the 15th century, retiring to Siena after years of famine and plague and it has since been deconsecrated.

 

Hermiatge of Montesiepi

On the hill nearby is the Hermitage of Montesiepi, with a small circular chapel which houses the sword in the stone of San Galgano. As the legend goes he was a young knight from Siena born in 1147 who had a vision whereby the Archangel Michael convinced him to give up his life of war and violence and pursue the divine wish of God. Sometime after the vision riding through the woods his horse stopped and refused to proceed and Galgano recognized the hill of Montesiepi to be that of his vision. At that point he drove his sword deeply into the stone, gave up all his earthly possessions and spent the rest of his life living as a hermit at Montesiepi. He died a year later at the age of 33 and was made a Saint 4 years later in 1185.

Carbon-dating by the University of Padua in 2001, has revealed the sword to be from that period and confirmed that the two mummified hands in the same chapel were also from the 12th century. Legend has it that anyone who tried to remove the sword had their arms ripped out!

Perhaps Italy is still waiting for a wise ruler, like King Arthur, to pull the sword from the rock at San Galgano …or our current unwise rulers to try anyway and get their just dessert?!Map of San Galgano


 

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