I come from a region where the land is alternatively very flat – filled with rice paddies, corn fields and factories – or very mountainous. There’s really not much of an alternative; it’s either flat as a ruler or climbs to 2,000 meters in 5 km. So, whilst I appreciated the generic idea of rolling hills in Tuscany, crowned by cypresses and dotted with manors where the likes of Sting can wear red trousers and savour the fruit of his hectares of Sassicaia, it always felt a bit mythical to me, like finding an Audi driver that won’t tailgate on the motorway, or a solicitor that won’t overcharge you. You get the idea.
Then I found this.
Now, I will admit that this isn’t the most flattering of the photos – and how could it be, considered I did it whilst clocking a tad bit more than the 70 advertised on that funny round sign over there – but it was the first sighting that, yes, the Sting-manor-Sassicaia scenario could indeed be real. It’s an ugly photo, but bear with me, for it contains everything I was to admire for the following days. A sky dotted with clouds. Light playing around on the nude hill-sides. The soft contours of the land, making them almost alive, like the muscle of some sleeping beast. Empty roads. It only could get better.
Outside San Quirico d’Orcia lied a small chapel, Vitaleta. If you Google it, like we did, you’ll find a sequence of images as Tuscan as a half cigar, a glass of potent red or a swearword involving the Virgin Mary, poisonous snakes and some lady of ill repute (seriously). So one day, nice and early, that’s where we went. For a while it was only us, the bees, a tractor far away, some insects and a posse of swallows dive-bombing to feast on the flying bugs.
And there she was. In typical Are We There Yet? fashion we’d arrived from the wrong way, getting to see the back of the chapel rather than the more august front, but I’ve never been one for doing things properly, ever. The air was warm yet not oppressively so, the sky echoed with the shrills of the birds and a faint breeze brought some distant smell of vegetation. Far to the west massive clouds rolled around, bringing the large thunderstorms that were to hit us later in the evening. I wondered with apprehension at the erosion on the hills; I’d just discovered them and didn’t feel them to be turned into yet another copy of Vercelli province.
I shouldn’t have worried. The glorious Tuscan hills continued in all directions throughout Val d’Orcia, and perhaps even further. Some donned a thick shawl of bushes and trees, some stood bare-shouldered, some were half-and-half. A few had some lucky person’s house plucked on top, many a whole village and a couple a luxury resort where the likes of Sting could host their friends should they ever run out of visitors’ rooms. All of them were a beauty to behold and a joy to drive around.