Florence was never on my must do list. The way this trip gradually came together it made sense to take a few days and “do it”. Well there is the Boboli gardens to look at we thought. Driving through the city centre was ok until the sat nav tried to take us up a street that was blocked with road works. With the the “sat bitch” telling us to “make a u-turn” J did his best to navigate us out the other side and to our hotel which was on the outskirts of the city. The Hotel Mulino is on the river and it was nice to come back to after a day in the tourist packed city. Shuttle bused in, we walked towards the Ponte Vechio. “ooh it’s not that nice to look at is it?” we both thought. The glamour was to be found on the bridge not looking at it, as the bridge now houses jewellery shops. One after the other. J quickly walked me on with mutterings of “this is like the lanes in Brighton only worse”. We arrived at the Pitti Palace where the Boboli gardens are. Walking around we had a sense of disappointment, perhaps it was the rain dampening our mood? But we felt like we were somehow missing the good bit, maybe it’s round the next corner? It wasn’t. The highlight/central feature of the fountain on an ‘island’ surrounded by lemon trees in pots was even unsatisfying. There wasn’t any water flowing through the fountain! We walked on to see the Bardini gardens (included in the ticket price), which were small but gave more somehow. A beautiful rill of water flowing around the garden and 15th century steps with a stunning view down into Florence.
The pick up point for the shuttle bus was outside the sister hotel of where we were staying – they had a roof bar (and roof-top swimming pool!). So we decided to wait for the bus up there, with a glass of wine, of course!! Wow, what a view.
For us two full days in Florence was enough. As we didn’t want to queue for any of the main attractions like the Duomo, it was enough time for us to walk our feet off and soak up the vibe.
The hills were calling. Off to Tuscany. 12 years ago we went with my parents, how can it be that long ago? It makes me feel soooo old. We wanted to do a quick trip down memory lane, revisiting the highlights. Montepulciano, Montalcino and Pienza. All up hill, down hill, except one. It sure got the glutes working! We managed to do a few new things as well, including a natural hot springs, Bagni San Filippo, with stunning calcium formations and the pungent smell of sulphur!!
Sitting in the grey pools of warm water, I tried not to be too British as the soft yet oozy sensation of the mud beneath my bottom and hands made me feel slightly squeamish. It was pleasant and disgusting in equal measure. Hand washing our bathers in the hotel sink later was interesting! Eating dinner in Montalcino that evening we had the best meal/ pasta of the trip so far. It was a local pasta, pici, which is like a thick spaghetti, but hand rolled, served with a ragu sauce. The taste was immense and we are still talking about it almost a week later! Simple fresh ingredients, done well.
The weather was starting to turn and we were having to make sure we always had our umbrella with us. Leaving Tuscany heading further south beyond Rome we arrived in the region of Lazio. It rained constantly and heavily the whole day. Tired, over dinner at the agroturismo (B&B), we tried not to notice just how loud Italians can be when grouped together. Anything over 4 people and wow the volume goes up and up! When we went up to bed a group of children arrived for a party, it was gone 10pm! Earplugs is all I have to say.
Ever since we saw a programme that Monty Don did on Italian gardens we have wanted to see the gardens of Ninfa. The gardens are built on the ruins of the medieval town of Ninfa. Billed as ‘the most romantic garden ever’ it had a lot to live up to. It was stunning. Even with the tour in Italian (we missed the one english tour that morning) it was gorgeous. You can only visit with a guided tour but they make sure that you saw each notable vista in your small group. So it can still feel semi-private and you can get a good photo without crowds in the background.
Next on our list of gardens was Villa d’Este in Tivoli. However after re-reading Monty’s book we decided to visit Hadrian’s Villa first (Villa Adriana) as he comments ‘To understand any of the gardens of Italy made in the 16th century – you have to visit Hadrian’s Palace and the Canopus. This is where those gardens came from.‘
It was a shock to see how vast the 2nd century AD UNESCO world heritage site was. Roman ruins and olive trees on a scale never seen before. We walked and we walked. Almost 2 hours later we were ready to see the high renaissance gardens of Villa d’Este. Again guided by Monty we rushed through the villa and out into the garden and tried to make our way to the bottom of the gardens without looking at too much. As the garden was originally designed to be seen from the old road from Rome and make your way back up the steep hill. With over fifty different fountains in the garden the water is the repeating theme.
Some overwhelming in how loud it was, the Fountain of the Organ ,
some peaceful like the 3 rectangular fish ponds and some that you will never see repeated in another garden,
the 130 meters of the Hundred fountains. This is one garden that is definitely worth visiting if you can in your lifetime.