Above the valley, I drink in the multi-layered rolling hills, vineyards with a sampling of fall color, cypress trees edging the horizon, and a serpentine dirt road that descends toward my rustic farmhouse. Surrounded by this Tuscan beauty, I’m challenged to keep my eyes and my vehicle on the road as I navigate downward. The hills of Castellina in Chianti greet me with a welcoming “Buon giorno”.
Later, walking into town takes my breath away-literally and in the scenic sense. I labor sharply uphill amidst the grapevines on an ancient trail. Immersed in the vineyards and view, my rest stops double as photo shoots as I try to capture every detail of this bucolic valley. The 600-meter, uphill trek is stretch for my lungs; I push myself onward as I admire the panoramic views.
Pizza and Chianti are next on the agenda. I stroll into my favorite pizzeria restaurant-a casual place of 12 or so tables, friendly staff and brick pizza oven. The chef selects from his palette of toppings as he designs my pizza and I am enthralled to watch this simple, beautiful work of art come to life. After I have devoured the entire pizza, the manager stops by with complimentary slices of prosciutto and frosty glass of limoncello. A perfect final course. Perhaps this is one of the rewards of solo dining but more likely it is simply a reflection of Tuscan hospitality. The table is mine for the evening and I am tempted to linger for a bit more Chianti and atmosphere, however the sun is setting and my inner photographer is restless.
Castellina sunsets involve so much more than words can express. The valley and the setting sun engulf me in their glory, in their spectacular blending of orange, fuchsia and yellow. Embraced by the softness and serenity of the evening, I know why I keep returning. The lights twinkle throughout the hillsides and the grapevines seem to engulf me. My farmhouse beckons as I savor the views and stroll downward, reluctant for the evening to reach its inevitable finale.
Morning greets me with wispy segments of clouds sandwiched between the layers of the valley. Their ethereal beauty triggers another photo session as I attempt to record their essence through my lens, to capture it. With each shot, I remind myself to also enjoy the view sans camera to store in my personal memory bank-mental images to recall at some future time to calm and please me. The clouds linger and shift in a slight breeze. Camera in hand, I anticipate my morning in the village and begin the upward trek.
Strolling the deserted main street, I window shop and reminisce; the gloves and scarf I once purchased from a ladies’ clothing shop whose owner hails from Chicago, savory cheesy puffs procured from the co-op grocery and the ‘must-have’ purple glasses my friend discovered at the optician’s. Further along is the photography shop-its owner insisted on inscribing each photo I had selected and translated for me as he wrote in his native Italian. I returned later, with friends, and was greeted with air kisses, wine, and biscotti. In the neighboring leather shop, I have discussed US and Italian politics. Also, I learned that US tourists might be tempted by purple handbags but Italians know that purple is reserved solely for the Pope.
Back on the main street, a delivery truck angles across the width of the passageway-its fresh side of beef causes a stir when hefted into the butcher shop. Shops and restaurants beckon as their proprietors begin the daily ritual of unfolding chairs and unfurling umbrellas. Above my head, shutters are cranked open to welcome the fresh morning air. The delivery truck hastens away-this street becomes ‘pedestrian only’ within the hour. Dogs are walked, residents stop for coffee and children head to school. The village slowly stirs to life.
At the end of town, the scant mist lingers over the valley despite the faint breeze. I wander its rim and consider my options. I could plan something-a drive to neighboring Greve or San Gimignano for shopping, sightseeing, wine, and lunch. But, with so many local options, I don’t need an agenda or a plan. I will let the day unfold at random. As I wander through town, I might indulge in a gelato and then a glass of wine. Perhaps chat with a shopkeeper or a fellow tourist. Then visit the co-operative grocer for some wine and snacks. When I tire, if I tire, I can settle into my idyllic valley with book, beverage and a lounge chair. And of course, my camera and my internal memory card.
About the Author: Michelle Mahoney: I am a devoted world traveler and this is my first attempt publication. Just sharing my memories of Castellina has been a joy.
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