Two Weeks of Music in Tuscany

Sitting in a beautiful bay on the Island of Pasman in hot sunshine, quiet as most of the boats here last night have left, seems an excellent time to update the clarkesailing blog.

A trip to Umbria and back again

From Biograd on Tuesday 18th. July we made our way north to Istria again via a couple of islands where we anchored or took up moorings.  After a long days motoring we were back to Marina Veruda which is becoming somewhat of a second home and where we have now decided to leave the boat for the winter, out of the water, as we did last year.  We were off for a two week holiday from the boat in Tuscany and Umbria.

21/2 hour traffic jam before Croat/Slovenian border. We followed this semi for ages, then saw him again near Treviso after we’d stopped to change driver

The trip did not start auspiciously. Our car, a rather large Skoda, arrived promptly at the marina and we set off to drive to Bologna in northern Italy in high spirits.  This satisfaction was somewhat dashed by the queue of cars at the Slovenia border.  It took us two and a half hours in the heat of the day to crawl 5 kilometres to the checkpoint where the passport examination was cursory and took about thirty seconds.  Our satnav took us through tiny roads in Slovenia in order to avoid paying fifteen Euros for the road toll.  Once on to the fast autostrada in Trieste we were beset with heavy rain and thunderstorms.

We passed this one way corner 3 times before finding our hotel after 9 hours driving,  tempers were frayed

Arriving in Bologna we found our hotel was in the old town and down the narrowest streets which completely confused the satnav and us.  In desperation we parked the car and Julie walked to the hotel.  Even getting the car into the tiny garage was a mission.  So a journey that should have taken four hours took more than nine and we were well over it. Thankfully, the hotel was charming.

But it was worth it, our balcony overlooking the courtyard where an excellent breakfast was served at Porto san Mamolo

Bologna is such an elegant city


After a brief walk around Bologna we embarked on the two and a half hour drive to Siena.






The Clarkes are heading towards Florence, that must mean another storm

They’ve been praying for rain in most of Italy, only we could bring it










Reception, dining, kitchen. The chef prepared our eggs but had also cooked delicious cakes and pastries. They’d only been open for 3 weeks and were attentive beyond measure

We have had trouble in the past trying to find a park in Siena and Julie thought it would be possible to drop our bags at our “hotel” before leaving the car in its parking spot one and a half kilometres away but of course it was within the city walls so our satnav took us on impossibly tiny roads and the only way to find it was to ditch the car and walk.  Once we had done this we found ourselves in a quaint B & B, Casatorre dei Leoni Dimora Storica, in a converted palazzo run by two sisters-in-law, obviously doing it for fun rather than profit.

Most of the furniture in this elegant B&B are family heirlooms, father is a great collector

Beautiful Siena


We met our friend Deborah Humble in the main square where the Palio takes place and had an excellent meal in a basement restaurant off the tourist trail.






Villa Della Geggiano through our gate

After a morning provisioning in Siena we three left for Villa della Geggiano about five miles north east where we were staying for two nights.  This is a huge house, the summer residence of the Roman Bianchi Bandinelli family since 1547, however, the current Count made it his home in 1991. The family found it impossible to keep the villa unless they could make it a “going concern”. His father, a Communist, had given most of the families land and villas to their workmen after World War 11, so now they have to rent the land back from them for their farming!.

The heir apparent gave us a tour of the villa, not surprisingly, this is the Blue Room

And the Gold Room where Pope Pius Vl, slept when he fled from Napoleon. Came for 2 weeks and stayed 3 months



It is in remarkably good condition having survived a number of renovations and even an earthquake in 1811.  The 18th. century frescoes, painted for the wedding of his ancestor in 1724, still survive as the house is so thickly built that in summer it is cool and in winter not too cold, as the Count informed us, it is however, noticeable that the Countess now lives in Rome. For anyone who is in or visiting London they have a restaurant of the same name in Chiswick which we have booked in September.

The towers of Siena can be seen in centre beyond the kitchen garden

5 star accommodation nestled into the Villa’s garden wall


After negotiating the usual tiny, dusty tracks of Tuscany we were led by the owner to our accommodation, a newly built stone cottage on the side of a hill within the grounds which has all the modern appurtenances and is extremely comfortable.  Here we were joined by Bruce Caldwell who found it far more easily than we did in his taxi from Bologna.

Storm clouds cleared for a perfect concert outdoors

A thunderstorm in the afternoon threatened the Linari Concert but by evening the skies cleared and the chamber concert given by the Nash Ensemble, based at Wigmore Hall, could be held on the garden stage at the villa.  The audience of about 100 sat on the lawn with their backs to the house.  It could hardly have been a more perfect venue to listen to Mozart, Schubert and Dvorak under a full moon.

Alfresco dining set up under the beauty of the Villa

Nash Ensemble, the flamboyant cellist is Adrian Brendel, Alfred’s son, delightfully charming.








The garden stage from the villa, farmers are suffering from the terrible drought

Lunch at our Hotel Vannucci



From Geggiano we drove into northern Umbria where we stayed for nine days in Citta della Pieve, one of the multitude of walled hilltop towns so common in Tuscany and Umbria.



Hotel Vannucci

Delights of Citta della Pieve on the border of Tuscany and Umbria







The tiniest street, known as the kissing street.







All the building in Citta della Pieve are built with the same brick

and have ancient motifs next to the front door denoting who had lived there










A narrow, steep dirt track led up to Castelluccio, La Foce. The first concert of the 29th Incontri in Terra di Siena


From here, together with Debbie and Bruce, we attended the Incontri di Siena chamber music festival, driving to five different locations in houses, castles and churches to hear a variety of ensembles from two pianos, string quartets, a solo mezzosoprano and the highlight, the Mendelssohn Octet played in a castle courtyard. That week all of southern Europe experienced severe temperatures, we sympathized with the performers in 40 degree heat.


Husband and wife pianists, Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung played Mozart, Piazzolla, Lutoslawski and Rachmaninov in the castle courtyard

The drive to Pienza was spectacular



The only downside was that our accommodation was nearly an hour away from most of the venues which meant too much driving on narrow, winding roads at night.

Pienza is very beautiful, however rather over-run by tourists

Chiesa Del Triano in Montefollonico the venue for the third concert





The Escher String Quartet and Alessio Bax

View from Montefollonico







The last 2 concerts were held at the courtyard of Fattoria La Foce. The owner, Benedetta Origo, showed us the magnificent garden followed by dinner around the pool

Her parents bought the derelict villa in 1924, bringing work, education and medical assistance to this poor region.







The original villa was extended over the years

The garden is still a labour of love







Joshua Bell was a guest artist playing Mozart, Kraggerud and Mendelssohn

The tiny Chiesa San Sebastian in Penicale, Umbria


On a rest day we drove to Panicale, another charming walled hilltop town overlooking Lake Trasimeno. This town has been smartened up and hosts some lovely little apartments with spectacular views.




San Sebstian by Perrugino

Perugino was actually born in Citta della Pieve in 1450 but changed his name for Vannucci to Perugino when we went to study in Perugia.

Perugino 1450 – 1523









It all happened here

Sadly, also while trying to find the exact spot of Hannibal’s victory over the Romans at Lake Trasimene in 217 BC, the car backed into a tree badly scratching the plastic bumper and denting a light.  Interestingly we had just read in the Daily Telegraph about hire car firms ripping off people who had accidents so we were prepared for an argument with the hire company, however, they were very reasonable and what they charged us for the damage seemed fair enough.

Terry was keen to visit the sit of the Hannibal’s defeat of the Roams on our day touring Lake Trasimeno

Lots of details at the site, but was it worth it!








The Castle


Our return drive, with a night’s stop in the charming hilltop town of Asolo in northern Italy was quite smooth and we only had a five minute wait at the border.



View of Asolo from Queen Cornaro’s Castle, dating from 10th century, Caterina, Queen of Cyprus and took up residence in 1489

Rooftops of Asolo….the Clarkes have brought another storm







Storm brewing over Asolo from our balcony at Barone d’Asolo B&B

and after the storm







Cathedral of Sant Maria Assunta

Dating from the 5th-6th century







Known as the “city of a hundred horizons”

Closed on Monday….we have a habit if visiting towns on Mondays, you’d think we would learn.



While we had been away the excellent team at Veruda had treated the decks for us with the special nano preparation we use so that Exotica now looks in perfect condition for another voyage into the islands of the Adriatic.

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