ITALY SPECIAL

Hills of Tuscany: Vines and views

Mary Novakovich is given a warm welcome as she takes a ramble through the Tuscan hills

At first I thought we had walked into a family gathering. About 20 people were seated at a long table under a shady, vine-covered pergola, gossiping loudly in Italian over grappa and coffee. Cheerful, noisy, arms flying everywhere – a typical Italian family at Sunday lunch. Only it was Tuesday and it wasn't a family; they were the guests at Franco and Umberta Lazzari's Agriturismo Orgiaglia in the Tuscan hills – and they were doing what comes naturally when you've had three courses of Franco's delicious cooking, plus large quantities of Chianti and grappa.

The Lazzaris' daughter Silvia spotted the two dusty and rather exhausted new arrivals. "We've been expecting you. Sit down over there, away from the noise. My mother will bring you a cold drink." Within minutes Umberta was plying us with sparkling water and speaking excitedly, the odd German or French word punctuating her Italian. She seemed genuinely thrilled to see us, and we soon discovered that we had collapsed into the most convivial and yet relaxing agriturismo in Italy.

At last we could peel off our walking gear and jump in the huge pool. We needed it after our walk from Volterra. It was only about 15km long, but the Tuscan hills – exquisite though they are – require some effort to navigate in 30C heat. That's the trade-off on a walking holiday in Tuscany: much of the time you walk on the easy terrain of the strade bianchi – the once-white and now grey farm tracks that link these ancient villages and towns – but more often than not you're exposed to the strong sun.

The landscape in this part of the Chianti region had been beautifully stark that day, the rolling hills brown and sparsely covered. When a row of cypress trees did appear, it had a dramatic effect against the vivid blue sky. Eventually we'd reached the coolness of the heavily forested Berignone nature reserve, where we'd eaten the little packed lunch provided by the Park Hotel Le Fonti in Volterra where we stayed the night before. It wasn't quite enough to sustain us for the last kilometre, which was uphill through rough forest tracks to the sanctuary of Agriturismo Orgiaglia.

Much later, after a refreshing swim, we noticed the other guests settling in for a lazy late afternoon: some ensconced in the swing seats with a book, others on sun loungers. We were content to sit at one of the many tables dotted about, drinking the beer offered by Franco. "Would you like some pecorino I made?" he asked. "And I've just picked these plums from my garden. Have some." Soon the sun was dropping behind the green hills covering the furthest reaches of this vast property, while I bagged one of the swing seats to lull myself into a state of bliss.

Promptly at 8.30pm, Umberta rang the huge bell outside the door and we all trooped into the dining room. We were seated according to language groups, which allowed conversation to flow unimpeded over the next few hours. The mouth-watering food – all locally produced – just kept coming. Bruschetta, prosciutto, fennel-flavoured salami, a wild mushroom risotto, grilled pork and wild boar. An English couple were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, which gave Umberta a great excuse to bring out a cake and Prosecco. Sitting outside in the moonlight afterwards, drinking wine, no one seemed in a hurry to go to bed.

We had great intentions the following day to do a long walk through the grounds. Unfortunately, our lack of a decent map caused us to walk around in circles for about an hour until we gave in and wandered over to the stables where Silvia was teaching two children to ride. "Come and feed the horses," she said. (Being Italian horses, they were fed bruschetta.)

Our next gargantuan feeding time was also approaching. Duck pasta this time, and more wild boar. Coffee on the terrace before the night got too cool. At this point I was wondering if the Lazzaris could adopt me.

It was with much regret that we trudged up the lane the next morning. We made our way uphill through the nature reserve until eventually we reached the pretty hilltop village of Casole d'Elsa, where Maria in the alimentari was happy to make us some sandwiches for our lunch on the way to Colle di Val d'Elsa, a larger hilltop town which was that day's destination. That night we stayed at the beautiful Relais della Rovere, its buildings dating from the 14th century.

Next, we had another 15km to wander through en route to the hamlet of San Donato and that evening's hotel: Le Terre Rosse. Here the landscape felt almost intimate, with farms, more olive groves, and more houses with large kitchen gardens and orchards. The vineyards were bright purple, the vines heavily laden with juicy grapes that were just days away from being harvested. There were more woods here too, with lovely cooling shade. Now and then I would catch a glimpse of the medieval towers of San Gimignano in the dusty ochre haze of the upturned earth.

For such a small and touristy place, San Gimignano is remarkably spacious. It is also breathtakingly beautiful. Fourteen of the town's original 76 medieval towers remain, and the superb views from the tallest of these, imaginatively called Torre Grossa, were worth the rather tortuous climb. Down below was the delightful 13th-century Piazza della Cisterna, named after its medieval well where tourists now stoop along with the pigeons.

Far too quickly, it was time for our final walk, back to Volterra. A downpour the day before made it tough going on the rocky terrain through the forest of Castelvecchio. Occasionally we would come across an attractive but derelict farmhouse, ripe for property development. Then, once out of the forest, the landscape again became open and dramatic.

We spent our final night in Volterra, which was celebrating its annual festival, held on the third Monday in September, which marks the return of children to school. People thronged the main piazza, their children munching on treats bought from the many sweet stalls. It didn't seem quite enough consolation for having to go back to school. I could sympathise with school children's sense of interrupted pleasure. I certainly didn't want to leave this place.

Traveller's Guide

Getting there

The writer travelled with Headwater (01606 720033; www.headwater.com). A nine-day Chianti: Volterra to San Gimignano Walk from 1 May to 14 October, costs from £999 to £1,089 per person, based on two sharing. It includes hotel, breakfast and evening meals, flights, transfers and luggage transport. Cheaper self-drive options are also available.

Staying there

Park Hotel Le Fonti, Via Fontecorrenti 5, Volterra (00 39 058 88 52 19; www.parkhotellefonti.com).

Agriturismo Orgiaglia, Localita Ponsano, Volterra (00 39 058 83 50 29; www.orgiaglia.it).

Relais della Rovere, Via Piemonte 10, Colle di Val d'Elsa (00 39 057 79 24 696).

Hotel Casolare Le Terre Rosse, Localita San Donato, San Gimignano (00 39 0577 9021; www.hotelterrerosse.com).

More information

Italian State Tourist Board (020-7408 1254; www.italiantouristboard.co.uk); Tuscany tourist board (www.turismo.toscana.it).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas