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Published: June 23rd 2019
Moving on from Lucca we stopped somewhere with pool in Borgo a Mozzano. It took us a while to find anyone but we eventually did and after showing us to our room she promptly advised us she is always around to help and we would find her in reception - not totally convinced!
However it was a lovely place and just what we needed to relax for an evening before heading into Siena.
Siena is a fabulous place to visit, the Duomo in particular is spectacular. Inside they have statues by Donatello and Michelangelo and I am looking forward to finding the rest of the ninja turtles as we go round!
We went to the Piazzo Campo and managed to find a balcony for a drink overlooking the piazza before wandering the streets and hitting the sites using a self guided walking tour I had found.
There is so much history and splendour here it is hard to list everything so I won’t!
We liked it so much in fact we were back a few days later (only to get Sue’s camera sensors cleaned though) before heading South.
In the meantime we explored a little
more of Tuscany and stayed in Quirico D’Orcia . Next morning we started at sunrise (ouch)and went to Belvedere farm, Pienza, Montepulciano and Monticchiello looking for photo opportunities. We also visited a farm where there was known to be a circle of trees, however when we got there inside the circle was a broken down part of farming machinery and mounds of earth - not exactly photogenic.
Then a night in Orvieto in Umbria, another hill top town dominated by a huge Cathedral - well worth a visit if you are in the area.
We then cleverly thought we would follow the east coast south toward Matera in Puglia where we were staying the following couple of nights. Along the way we thought we would find some idyllic Italian resort on the way and book something there. Wrong.
We visited a number of towns and villages along the coast but were not impressed so ended up driving c 6 hours down and eventually booked a place in Corata which turned out to be great. The bnb was in the middle of the old town and the host and her daughter tried really hard with their English to get
us to understand everything and were incredibly welcoming.
Literally 20 metres from our door we were in the main piazza which had a great buzz about it without being over loud. We had certainly dropped lucky.
We ate in the piazza looking across at a huge mural of the first mainstream politician, Filippo Turati, killed by fascists in 1921, by Giuseppe Di Vagno.
That night and the following morning we walked round the town and medieval old centre with its palazzos and murals before checking out and going to the nearby Castel del Monte. I knew a man from Del Monte once!
The castle itself is different and is based on the number 8 repeating. It’s built in an octagonal shape, with each of the eight corners sporting an octagonal tower. Which is unique for that time and is one of the best preserved medieval castles in Southern Italy.
Then off to Matera. Not somewhere I knew anything about but it had a uniquely preserved set of cave houses and universal water sharing system which is part of the reason it is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The buildings seemed to climb up and
down the hillside with houses piled on top of each other and the curved roofs of some acting as streets for those above.
The houses were carved out of the rock and the original cave homes were often extended into the rock to create space for the animals who were both part of their wealth and also their droppings a great source of heat in the cave - clearly a choice of heat over smell in those days. The stone from the internal excavations was then used to normalise the outside entrances.
The walking tour ‘Discovering Matera as a group’ where we learnt this and more was exceptional. Definitely worth doing to get an understanding of the history and the importance of the area including the fact that Mel Gibson shot many of the scenes from his film The Passion of the Christ was in Sassi.
We also stumbled upon a stage set up with Il Volo in large letters and 3 guys clearly testing the equipment. We found out they were a famous Italian trio similar to Il divo in the UK and were performing in in a couple of days for a small VIP audience
- it was a spectacular setting.
Given we were staying less than 100 metres away we divided we needed to check them out in concert if we could and managed to find a very nice restaurant overlooking the stage on the night of the concert. Great combination of some great food and being serenaded by the group. Not a style of music I would perhaps buy, but to listen to great artists live in such a setting was thoroughly enjoyable.
The following days we after wandering the town for most of the day we stumbled across an exhibition of Sienese art, wine and food in the square near the cathedral. At a good time too as we were hungry and the food and wine were free and as an added bonus we spent time talking with a photographer and a painter who were collaborating- very interesting.
Matera was going to take some beating but we tried by heading off to Alberobello to see the Tulli houses - small conical roofed houses in the countryside but in Alberobello itself there were over a thousand. Certainly different!
As we then wound our way towards Monopoli we stopped off
in Loco Rotondo. Lovely town with white houses, small alleys, beautiful flowers and plants. We invited an older couple to join us at our table as there were no other tables available nearby and found out they were from Bromham but had a daughter living in Olney. Small world eh.
Then Monolopi where were were to relax and spend 3 nights without driving the car - result. Again a great place to visit with the old town, harbour, great restaurants and as many churches as you wanted to visit. We even managed to go swimming in the sea two days running.
Unfortunately Sue had left a charger and camera battery in Matera so we had to arrange to go back and pick it up. Other than driving 90 mins each way it was no real hardship as we spent a little more time there. On the way back we found a private beach where we had to pay to visit. Annoying paying but good spot. That’s Italy for you!
As an aside the food was excellent in Monopoli and I would recommend ‘Il ghiottone’ and ‘Trattoria san Domenico’.
Next day we were heading off to Bari
to leave Italy for Montenegro but stopped in Polignano a Mare. After wandering for a while we entered a church which was open and looked interesting only to find a body in an open casket with the family looking at us. Needless to say we didn’t stay long!
And then off to Bari to catch the ferry to Montenegro - more of which another day
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