My Italian blogs tend to focus on meetings with other people. This makes sense given the wonder of communicating in another language. But, in fact, my daily routines here typically involve walking in these hills, the foothills of the Apennines. And so here is a blog on my first walk on this visit.
The other day, after the newsagent, the panificio, the tutto shop and coffee in the caffé garibaldi, I headed off into the Sovara valley. The weather had turned very cold, hovering around zero, but rain was forecast for later in the day, so I packed lunch and a thermos and set forth. The Tiber valley is on one side of Anghiari, the Sovara, the other. This direction offers a beautiful walk, immediately out of town. And I can do a round walk.
First stop when I reach the valley: a fountain – these fountains and springs are to be found along the ancient paths that wind through these hills. Many of these were monks’ paths in the past and, in recent years, some have become part of an ‘official’ signposted cammino di San Fancesco. And so, yes, there are churches and monasteries throughout these hills. Not far from the fountain is an 11th century Romanesque church, one of the best surviving examples of these churches in this part of Tuscany. The interior is beautifully austerely vaulted, and, like all churches around here (there are at least 8 in and around Anghiari), it has a presepio (nativity), set in a Tuscan landscape. I sit for a while in this place. Like the bar and the piazza, churches in Italy offer a pause. They are usually open, and, unlike the bar, offer moments of stillness, often in the presence of some amazing art.
I am happy to find that the Sovara is flowing again. (On recent visits it has been quite a shock to find it dry, with the drought.) It is also a pleasure to hear and see so many little birds darting about in trees along the banks, for there often seems to be a sad absence of birds here. Winding my way back uphill, I walk through olive groves and vines, passing hens and roosters and geese, beehives, and kitchen gardens with artichokes, stems wrapped in newspapers to protect them against the frost. I forage for juniper berries – a very prickly task – for roasting pork, and bay leaves for soup. Apart from parsley, you won’t find herbs in shops around here, as they are everywhere, not only in people’s kitchen gardens, but in public spaces and growing wild. The other day, on the walls of Anghiari, I gathered rosemary, sage, thyme.
Lunch of pecorino, prosciutto and bread, with a view of endless hills of chestnut, oak, olive and cypress, and back up the hill to Anghiari.