The following day we went to visit the reason San Casciano has the name 'dei Bagni', the hot water springs, or baths, dating to the Roman Era. There
are two sets of springs, the first is part of a 4 star hotel about a mile from the town which hosts dignitaries from all over Europe. The hotel was
built onto a Medici palace that once occupied the grounds:
And also has spectacular views of the surrounding landscape filled with olive trees and Mediterranean Pines:
The second set of baths are nearly right below the town and are free. These still have the original Roman foundations and the temperature is a
Later in the week we took a ride with our friend and her brother to Pienza
, the nearest large city,
and visited the Palazzo Piccolomini
which is now a museum.
(Little Moons) were one of the most prominent families in Italy from the 13th
century onwards and their main claim to fame is having had two Popes, Pius II and III, come from the city.
The campanile of Pienza:
The Palace itself is quite an architectural masterpiece with both the interior and exterior. If you think the rear façade looks similar to the
Coliseum then you are correct since the marble and travertine were taken by Pius II to build the palace:
From the gardens you have an amazing vista of the Val d'Orcia and Mount Amiata:
Tuscan life is very laid back during the summer and particularly since we went during the Ferragosto or 'Augustan Festival' named for the first Roman
Emperor Augustus and a national holiday since then. Many Italians take off several weeks in August and spend that time enjoying the countryside much
the way we did; eating and drinking and staying up late.
A good portion of the week was spent visiting local vineyards and wineries which all use the local Sangiovese grapes in producing Chianti, Brunello di
Montalcino, Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morrellino di Scansano and blends called Super Tuscans. One of the wineries we visited was a
friend of our friend's and was nestled in the rolling Tuscan countryside:
On the way there we saw the local livestock, the famous Chianina cattle, the oldest breed of cattle in the world:
The are also the largest, although the guys in the photo are only calves, they grow to 3,500lbs and are prized throughout Tuscany. More on them later.
There was also a wine tasting on the mountain above San Casciano, called Fighne, which also has a castle, where many of the local vintners came to
allow people to sample their products. I am being kind when I call it a 'tasting' as it was more like a wine drinking since there were no buckets to
spit out the wine or dump your glass into.
You were expected to drink. Every. Last Drop. Sorry, no photos from this event as 10 glasses of Chianti, Brunello and Morrellino will impair your
photographic capabilities. I learned this in hindsight.
The following weekend we visited the next town over, Celle sul Rigo, for their Palio. First we climbed their newly restored campanile for a
unobstructed and phenomenal view of the scenery. In the first picture, if you look closely, you can see San Casciano in the distance. The castle is on
the right and the bell tower is on the left. Our villa was right between the two:
Another view of Mount Amiata:
And the Medieval Fortress of Castiglione d'Orcia which guarded the valley:
Unlike San Casciano, Celle had a single event for their Palio, however it may top them with its weirdness: cheese rolling. Yeah, their game is called
the Palio di Cacio or the Cheese Game and they take it very, very, very seriously. People practice year round as the course is the streets of the
town, with all their cobblestoned twists and turns.
Starting in the main square the four Contradas carefully select their cheese:
They will then grind the rind down on the stucco walls to make it flatter and roll their cheese down the streets:
Yup, that is a piece of cheese making its way down a 1,000 year old road. The crowd chases the rollers around like it were golf, positioning
themselves strategically at all the tough corners. In this photo one of the rollers is hooking his cheese around an uphill, right hand turn which
leads back up to the piazza:
Just after the Palio completed it started to sun shower so we made our way back to San Casciano to eat at the local pizzeria. On the way to town we
saw a rare double rainbow gracing the beautiful Tuscan hillsides:
At the end of the weekend we enjoyed one last home cooked meal with our friend and her brother and the next day departed for the second segment of our
journey. Everyone we met was welcoming and gracious and epitomized what it meant to be family and community. We missed them as soon as we stepped on
Up next: Firenze, the City of Art and the birthplace of the Renaissance.