The train ride from Venice to Florence offered an opportunity to relax. Nowhere to go but short swaying trips to the food counter a few cars away for something to munch on between naps, then later a glass of wine. Other than the town names printed in large letters above the ticket stands, the station stops along the way did not look much different than the stations back in the states, including lots of graffiti at the more urban stations. The graffiti was interesting; opinions on love and politics, and occasionally a poem, all presented in six foot high scrolls of vivid colors.
That day we were only passing through Florence on our way to the villa, and there wasn't much of the city to see from the train station. We waited outside for our van to arrive and take us to a small stop about an hour's drive away where our rental cars waited. I was struck by the presence of armed military personnel standing on guard outside the Florence train station, not far from where we were standing. Young men in camouflage uniforms and army boots, assault rifles slung over their shoulders, purposefully eyeing travelers as they passed by. I had seen that type of military presence while traveling in Israel, but seeing it in Florence surprised me.
The transition from the van to the rental cars happened relatively quickly, then we were on our way to cover the final 50 miles of the trip from Venice to Tuscany. We headed toward our villa on the outskirts of Monterchi, which is located near the border between Tuscany and Umbria. The scenery began to look more and more like the Tuscany I imagned. Miles of hilly fields outlined by tall cypress trees, an occasional small village, populated by centuries old houses, fruit stands and a pub or two. A travel companion who had been in the area many times before told the story of her and a few female friends stopping at a pub and being ushered out ... men only.
As we drove through Monterchi, fields of sunflowers that had bloomed a month before and were now being harvested for their seeds passed by the car windows. Occasonally, a tall yellow face would beam at us in the now browning sunflower fields, the last of the late bloomers. We passed tobacco fields, and olive trees before taking a left turn over a small country bridge, then the cars climbed a hill on an extremely narrow road that slowly passed old stone homes and a small stone church that serviced the 80 or so people who lived nearby. What I thought must certainly be a one lane road turned into two lanes when a friendly driver came down the hill right at us. Turns out it was the owner of the villa, who we chatted with for a few minutes before he was on his way.
A few more feet up the hill and we pulled into a small grassy parking area on the left. In front of us was an old stone wall entwined with bright green ivy and to our right, an old, but not quite as old as the stone wall, wood building that looked like a garage. Turning around we saw our villa across the narrow road. The late afternoon sun still warmed the air and washed over the villa, brightening the red flowers in terra cotta pots and outlining the stunning stone building. It was as we imagned, a quintessential Tuscany villa made of large brown and biege stones and mortar, a heavy wood front door off the stone landing. The villa was built on the hillside and once inside the beamed ceiling rooms, the views from the windows offered miles and miles of postcard perfect images of the Tuscan countryside. (See photo below)
Settling into my upstairs room, I pushed open the windows that overlooked wide stone steps that led up to a flat landing where an inground pool was surrounded on three sides by shrubs and plantings and a panoramic view of Tuscany on the fourth side. The beamed ceiling parlor and dining room were large and welcoming and the kitchen was modern and well equipped, a window above the sink looked out onto the road and our parked cars.
After unpacking and settling in, we realized we were all hungry and because we were told Monterchi's Polenta Festival was that evening we hopped in the cars and drove the few miles to Monterchi's town center, an ancient town first mentioned in the history books in 1095, and built on a hillside approximately 1200 feet above sea level. What a beautiful night it was.
To be continued ...
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