The main impetus for a month of family visiting me from the Southern Hemisphere at this particular time was that my second-cousin (that is, my mother’s cousin’s daughter) Catherine and her fiancé Chris were getting married in Tuscany after a lot of planning. As well as the parents of the bride, & Mum and Adele, also along for the week in Chianti from our side of the family were two cousins, Trish (from most of my previous adventures in & around London) and Keith, and my aunt Valerie from Sydney (who’d I’d last seen on the our big west-USA roadtrip three years ago). Sorting out all the flights, accommodation, rental car etc. between such far-flung people was not particularly easy – but it all came together in the end, with different people sorting various things out.
Many of the wedding guests stayed in the same building, four separate apartments, for the week with others joining us later in the week staying closer to the castle. I was excited to be back in Italy yet again as I really enjoyed the week when my Kiwi cousin got married nearby six years ago and also since then I’ve learnt a little bit of Italian at work. Plus Tuscany is beautiful and the food and red wine excellent. At least this time, being six weeks earlier in the year, was more moderate in temperature – mid-twenties is much better than high-thirties.
With the wedding later in the week we had a few days to amuse ourselves. While I still had some enthusiasm for driving a large people-mover on windy & slow Tuscan roads we did a couple of day trips to Siena and San Gimignano. The weather wasn’t as good mid-week, but by then I was keen to explore the pretty hill-top villages that one could see from Castello di Meleto – Adele was happy to oblige and come along for some big walks exploring the local hills, tracks and restaurants.
Home for the week
Looking down to the castle
And out over the Chianti hills – much hillier and more wooded than around San Gimignano, where we stayed last time
Siena – while eating the most expensive, but not necessarily the best, gelato of the week
Siena Duomo again
Back looking at the towers in San Gimignano – where Mum, Adele & I somehow managed to bump into our fourth-cousin (we share the same great-great-great-great grandparents, I think) from NZ & her fiancé completely unexpectedly
The ground around where we were staying (that’s the villa at top-left) was so rocky only grapes or olives were any good for cultivating
I’d had my eye caught by the large walled village right across the other side of the valley – as it wasn’t on many maps, I was intrigued. To walk off lunch & the early wine-tasting Adele & I set off in that direction happy to explore small lanes. Perhaps the road we chose was steeper than we bargained for, but we were enjoying ourselves. We did get to the village and unlike the previous ones we’d been to, it was pretty much deserted with a church and single cafe seeming the only public buildings. A couple of lost bikepackers rode in, so that was encouraging (that there were bikepackers in the area, not that they were lost); we had more ice cream in the sun.
Buoyed by the success of Tuesday’s exploring we set Wednesday aside for a more ambitious route – thanks to the big map boards in Gaiole-in-Chianti central car park, we had plenty to choose from. These well defined routes went some way to explaining why there seemed to be so many people randomly walking and mountain-biking through the estate during our stay.
We’d reached our objective, Barbischio (another village we’d seen across the valley on the previous day’s walk), by lunchtime. Perhaps spurred on by the wine and the grappa/limoncello, it was decided it was a good idea to walk up another big hill to a small ruined keep that had been taunting me like a French knight. It was a good idea, but our chosen route took us to the top of the wrong hill – leaving the keep to “taunt us a second time”. Still, can’t complain about six hour walking around with great company in the sun spotting deer, wild boar, snakes and multitudes of lizards and admiring the landscape.
Half this tower had fallen down, so someone had built their house inside the shell
Like a few other complexes we’d seen around, these four or so new houses were all but finished, and completely deserted
The morning of the wedding (four o’clock service) I could stand the taunting of the keep no more, so Mum, Valerie, Adele & I drove up there (having worked out how to get there). It was pretty ruined, so we had fun pretending we were like the Famous Five, or some such, exploring it. The views back down to Gaiole & beyond were worth it too.
We popped into another small town, Radda-in-Chianti for a little wander, a quick bite and more gelato – I made the mistake, not to be repeated, of not getting lemon as one of the three scoops. With what was supposed to be plenty of time, we returned home to eat & prepare for the wedding; that is, until Adele found the first of her five flights home starting the next day had been cancelled due to strike action. So cue a couple of hours of stress trying to find a nearby flight that would get Adele to Heathrow after the wedding, but before her intercontinental journey was to start. Somehow we both managed to sort that out and still get to the wedding scrubbed up, all will be well when the travel insurance stumps up.
Earlier concerns over the weather for the outside service proved unfounded and it was good in such a beautiful setting. Now is when I find that I really did leave all photography of pretty much everything wedding-related to those with better cameras and ability – all I have is this pre-shot of the strings. Shocking. Still, I’ll have to go off my memory of a simple & elegant service, with some nice readings and a very beautiful happy couple (that was mostly Catherine, but Chris scrubbed up pretty well too).
So much food, again. Canapés & cocktails on the lawn while the photos were being taken; dinner and speeches in the castle; and finally cake-cutting out in the garden as the night drew in. Great night.
Adele managed to get all packed up the morning after the night before and we, Mum & Valerie too, were off to drop her at Pisa airport. It was supposed to be the relatively close Florence airport, but flight rearrangement meant a lot more driving – but we got to see the tower again. With goodbyes, lunch, final Italian gelati for a while & the sightseeing done we took a rather roundabout route home via Lucca as I forgot there was a difference between the autostrada and highway between Florence & Pisa. Nevermind, we got to see the huge thunderstorm pummelling Chianti as we drove towards it.
That was about the week really – a fantastic one spent with family in a stunning setting with plenty of top-notch food & red wine and just enough exercise to offset it and stop me going slightly more crazy.