Sunday, October 4, 2009


What a pleasant place Sorrento is. Had we known when we were making our plans, we might have scheduled a full day's stay here. It is said that the locals go out of their way to be as unlike their neighbors just to the west (the lively Neapolitans), as possible. It shows. Instead we will hit the road for the next 5 plus hours heading toward another little town that is highly recommended in all the tourists books: the beautiful and difficult to pronounce San Gimignano (San-gee to us); the 3rd century BC walled Etruscan village up in Siena province. With full bellies and a full tank of diesel (46.5 Euros or $72.60 worth if you're interested) we headed north.

Sunday - October 4, 2009 - San Donato, Italy

Nothing like a Sunday drive through the Italian countryside to put you in a great frame of mind. The roads are first class and there was very little traffic to contend with as we made our way up the western side of the boot. Our little Skoda is pretty comfortable and has all the amenities we need. We made excellent time on the road, and left the highway heading west about half way between Siena and Firenze. With any luck we would check into our hotel (Antica Dimora) in plenty of time to head up the hill to San-gee for some afternoon sightseeing and a nice dinner.

There were two problems with this plan. First, San Donato where our hotel is located is not part of San Gimignano as we had thought, and second, we had no idea where it was, as our Google map directions left a lot to be desired. We approached the rotary at the bottom of San-gee and wedded ourselves to it, passing the same signs over and over again on our little merry-go-round. There were only four roads off the rotary, and the first two headed up the hill, one on either side (we know this because we had become explorers). The third one headed south and didn't look promising, and the fourth one is the one we came in on. Down road number three we went and a split second before we were about to turn around and head back to our rotary Kat spotted a little sign on the left marked "San Donato 1 --->" pointing down a littler road. Sure enough we came upon a cluster of buildings, the prettiest of which bore a small "Antica Dimora" sign. We were home.

The place was charming. It was also deserted; locked up tight with no sign of life. Thankfully, right next door was a charming gentleman who spoke excellent English to save the day. We believe he is the proprietor of Fattoria San Donato, and noting the signs that offered rooms a direct competitor with Antica. He explained to us that our choice for the evening was owned by a family that was a tad bit dysfunctional at the moment. Without getting into too many details he told us about a family feud between brothers and sisters-in-law owners and that if we wished, he would call one of them to see if they would come out to check us in. We wished, he did, and fifteen minutes later a young lady on a moped pulled up and ushered us into a beautifully appointed country inn. She imprinted our credit card, gave us the keys to the whole place, asked us to lock the door and leave the keys in the kitchen when we left, and just like that, was gone like the wind. We felt like we had just become the proud owners of an Italian B&B. Weird, weird, weird experience.

It was mid-afternoon when we parked outside the wall of San Gimignano and trekked our way up and into the quintessential Tuscan hill town. It was crowded and filled with pretty and well dressed people(one picture I took could be a Conde Nast ad for Armani or Breitling), definitely not the type we would hang with. It is unique and it's easy to see why so many people are attracted to this little town. There are winding streets, cutesy shops, and 14 towers (out of the original 60 that were built) everywhere you look.

Meandering through the tiny streets we bumped into and along with our fellow travelers. The main square is called Piazza della Cisterna, named for the old well and cistern smack dab in the middle. For over a thousand years the townsfolk have gathered here for civic events and the weekly (Thursday unfortunately) farmers market. That is something we would liked to have seen.

We climbed the stairs to the Rocca e Parco (Rock and Park, we think), and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the San-gee skyline and surrounding countryside. This was the place we sought. It was quiet with olive trees all around. It made the trip up here worthwhile. As late afternoon turned to early evening the town began emptying out, so we headed over to the square by St. Agostino to grab an early dinner at the aptly named Locanda di Saint Agostino.

The food was excellent, the insalata Caprese was served with style, (I guess you would call it insalata Caprese alla San Gimignano in homage to the towers), and along with the views made our visit a success.

It was a piece of cake to find our B&B (and I hesitate to call it that since clearly given the family dynamic there was going to be no one there first thing in the morning to provide the second B), and were shocked to find another couple in our house. A very pleasant, young French couple were just exiting their room about to head off to dinner when we unlocked the front door. We chatted for a bit, wished them well and headed off to our room.

Monday - October 5, 2009 - Still in San Donato, Italy

Normally I'd start another page given the new day, but I have to comment on our surroundings before heading to France. This little medieval village is absolutely beautiful in the early morning light. When the bright Tuscan sun paints the buildings here they glow with all kinds of colors from the red/brown and blue/grey palettes. The church across the street is surrounded by flowering vines, and bushes (including the first ever for me: pomegranate).

Our room is filled with light. A lot of care has gone into the furnishing of this inn, and it shows in every detail. Normally I would find a large copy of Botticelli's seashell nymph over the bed a bit tacky, but it is pleasing here. (And, by the way, better looking than the original we had just seen in the Uffizi).

It all got me to wondering if maybe Kat and I could pick up this little gem for a song from the Montagues and Capulets and become the Eddie and Geraldine of San Donato. Quite the fantasy, but there is something so charming about this little collection of buildings, and so peaceful among the vineyards that crazy ideas run unchecked. And I guess that tells you that you're having a good trip.

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