Hidden in the Woods: Abbey of Saint Peter in Palazzuolo

Do you have a navigation system in your car? Of course, every one has! Like every one has a smartphone. Well, I don’t have a smartphone. And I don’t have a navigation system in the car.

Most of the people believe they can’t arrive anywhere without a navi. But guess what…. 40, 30, 20 years ago people did arrive where they wanted to go without any. I read ordinary, ‘antique’ road maps to go where I want to go. OK, it takes me more time maybe, sometimes, but it gives me also the possibility to see actually where I am driving as I have to look for street signs, where is the right turn, and I have to use my brain to combine what I see if that is possibly correct. All things people normally don’t want: they want to arrive as fast as possible, no interest in the landscape on the way, and thinking is definitely also not on their list. But I don’t have a timetable when I go far away, and I enjoy much more the journey than the goal.

Thanks to my way of driving I have discovered places I never would have had otherwise, I have had talks to people I would never have thought of and I have learnt things I was never thinking of. One of these discoveries is the abbey of Saint Peter in Palazzuolo in Tuscany.

This ancient abbey is located in a very hidden place, were you have to walk for good bit but it is much more than worth of it. If I remember well, we walked something like half an hour until we finally arrived. If you have a good car for the dirt-road you can also drive to the abbey.

The abbey was founded in 754 AD by Walfred, the forefather of the later Gherardesca family which would rule for many centuries the area. He had a wife and children but decided one day to live a monastic life. He founded an abbey for men and another one for his wife and daughter and all wives and daughters of men becoming monks. The abbey was under the Benedictine order and for long periods one of the most important and richest abbeys in the Medieval Tuscany.

Originally it was built a little bit more south than the current location in a place where once was a Roman villa with the name ‘Palatiolum’ (little palace) which would be the Latin word for Palazzuolo.

From the very begining Walfred brought a lot of land and goods in the monastery, land from Populonia to Lucca and even the nearby island of Corsica. Its peak was in the 11th and 12th century and had full jurisdictional power.

Of course, it was always a target for incursions and so in the end of the 12th century the original abbey was moved to the hidden place of today. It is a hill, hidden in the woods, not easy to find and reach but easy to defend. Nonetheless in the middle of the following century a decline started and in 1252 the Pannocchieschi family killed all the monks in order to get all the wealth of the abbey. Legend says that only one monk escaped, Mariano, and he saved a wooden statue of the Holy Virgin, sculptured by Luke, the Apostle. He hid the statue under a tree and it was rediscovered only two centuries later. Today there is the Sanctuary of Madonna del Frassine.

The monastery after this massacre was repopulated by the Vallombrosian monks. The last monks left the monastery in 1561 and moved to the Monteverdi castle.

The monastery had a watch-tower, good defensive walls, a large cloister, a one nave church with one apse only.

The abbey you find in the Val di Cornia near to the village Monteverdi. We had a nice walk there (we had to park before, my car is not made for country-drives) and enjoyed the quiet place and the amazing view. You can walk around even though you just find only ruins.

In the village of Monteverdi previously a young woman in a bar where we had some refreshment told me about the monastery and that even people in the village didn’t know anything about it and only recently it was freed from vegetation in order to make it visitable.

We ended up in the village (and the monastery) by just driving around the direction where we thought would be a place we wanted to visit, Surveto. Unexpected discoveries are the best!

Abbey of Saint Peter in Palazzuolo, Tuscany/Italy:

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Bolgheri – Picturesque Castle Village in the Heart of Tuscany

At our stay in Castagneto Carducci we visited a little bit the surroundings. One of the places people recommended is the little hill village Bolgheri. It is located just 12 kilometers from the coast and Castagneto Carducci. We took the famous pine tree road.

The village has just 150 people living there but because of the tourists it seems much more. It lies at the foothills of the Colline Metallifere (metal-bearing hills) in the Maremma Livornese and the name has its roots in the fact that once here was a military camp of Lombards coming from Bulgaria. The place was first mentioned in 1075. The castle village was dominated by the Ghirardesca family and had the same history as Castagneto Carducci.

The Pine Tree Road (or cypress avenue) was very much recommended, and I was surprised that I wasn’t really was that impressed. Yes, the road is nice with all those pine trees aligned. But the road is famous thanks to Giosuè Carducci in his poem “Davanti San Guido” (In front of San Guido).

The picturesque castle owned by the Ghirardesca family has an interesting family coat of arms at the castle/village entrance. And staying with the nose in the air: look under the eaves, there are a lot of swallow nests!

We stayed over lunch-time in Bolgheri and enjoyed a nice little lunch in the piazza. The village has one road going in and out and it takes only a short walk to go through. What really takes time is to have a look into the nice little shops, enjoy the beautiful view over the surrounding lands and to have a nice meal. I recommend warmly to sit and have at least a coffee and ‘inhale’ the atmosphere. It is so relaxing, time seems to stand still here. BTW: the wine of Bolgheri is famous! The red Sassicaia for example.

Bolgheri, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
A little bit more about Bolgheri

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A Short Vacation in Castagneto Carducci at the Etruscan Coast

This summer our 4 days vacation was in Tuscany. I chose the little medieval village Castagneto Carducci. Only 10 kilometers from the coast, the village is located in the green hills of the Alta Maremma.

To me it was a surprise that the place is actually a pretty popular town at the Etruscan Coast. You still see very well that the town once has grown around a castle. There is nearly from every angle in the town an amazing view to the nearby coast, over the flat land and up to the green hills with dense forests.

A little bit about the history: The name refers to the chestnut tree forests (castagneto) and had once the additive of Marittima because the location which is in the Alta Maremma. But in 1907 they changed the name in Castagneto Carducci (to honor the Italian poet). Giosuè Carducci was one of the greatest poets, writers and literary critics of Italy in the 19th century, and he lived most of his childhood in Castagneto, though he was born near to Lucca.

During the medieval period the family of the Della Gherardesca was the ruler of this part, together with Bolgheri, Bibbona, Montescudaio and other places. Saint Wilfrido, a Gherardesca family member, in 754 became a monk, and founded the nearby monastery of San Pietro in Palazzuolo.

The family of Gherardesca until the unification was the ruler of the area and still has properties here.

Today the little village in the green hills of the province of Livorno is a holiday destination. It has a very small center with narrow streets, most of them car-free and only accessible by walking up and down. Little shops with typical food, souvenirs, wine and olive oil and much more are lined together with nice little restaurants. Especially in summer it is a real vacation-feeling when sitting at a small table in the street, having good Italian food and a great glass of wine while watching tourists of all nationalities walking by.

For us Castagneto Carducci was the perfect place as a base to explore the region and coming back in the evening, then just walk to the piazza and have a candle-light dinner with view.

In the village I would recommend the Carducci museum. Unfortunately it is only in Italian, but still it is very interesting to see old photos and more. The house and rooms are actually the place where he stayed with his father, who was a doctor in Castagneto Marittima (at that time). The castle and the church are interesting, too, though I didn’t see too much of the castle.

There are several restaurants, we tried a few, and they are all very nice and quiet. We liked in particular one at the corner of the main piazza for some unknown reason. The wine bars are perfect to have the ‘aperitivo’ before you go for dinner!

We arrived by car coming from Rome. It was a little more than two hours driving along the coast with wonderful views. We took the exit of San Vincenzo Nord, following the signs to Donoratico and on the Aurelia following the signs to Castagneto Carducci, which is a right turn in the center of Donoratico. But we saw also a train station in Donoratico from where you can take a bus to Castagneto Carducci. The bus station in Castagneto is right out of the center at the pharmacy from where you just walk into the center.

Castagneto Carducci, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
Maybe a little bit more about Castagneto Carducci

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Room with a View – 4 Days in Castagneto Carducci

A few days in Tuscany! It’s a beautiful region even though it is full of tourists and very commercial. But still you can find places that are authentic and more quiet. So I opt for Tuscany around the Piombino area and found a nice place called Castagneto Carducci where to stay.

The place is a little fortified mountain town of the Middle Ages in the back-hills of Tuscany, very near to the sea and dense forests.

The apartment has an amazing view over the flat land towards the sea and up to the green forests. We found a parking place nearby, so we just had to walk a few minutes to the apartment which is located in an old house right in the center of the little town. Second floor, a wooden door and behind a nice little apartment. The apartment consists of one room with kitchen corner and a bathroom. All you need for a relaxed vacation! A good Internet connection, fresh water from the fountain in the fridge and coffee for me in the morning. And a lot of books – mainly in German as the owner of the place is originally from Germany.

Personal experience:

I got a message with the exact description where exactly the apartment is located, where to find the key and how to open the door. Not many can really give indications, she did a very good job! In the apartment we found also a page with more information about the village, our stay and how to reach Eva, our host, in case of need. She lives somewhere nearby but out of the village.

I contacted her to tell her that we found all and later we fixed a date when to meet for a coffee. We met her at the bar at the corner the next day for a morning coffee and had a great talk about many different topics.

When we left we just closed the door and let the key where we found it.

I recommend:

Castagneto Carducci is a perfect place to explore many places in Tuscany. It is even not far away from Siena, San Gimignano, Piombino or Grosseto, San Galgano, Volterra and many natural springs like the Terme Petriolo. About 2 hours drive to Florence and one hour to Pisa is more far but still possible in a day-trip.

The whole coast is a huge beach. Most of the places are lidos (beaches with facilities), but there are also many natural beaches. Marina di Castagneto Carducci and San Vincenzo is the nearest touristic places.

Are you a history freak? We visited Populonia, an Etruscan archaeological site. It’s a little more than half an hour far driving along the coast southwards. The Etruscan people lived in the peninsula before the Romans became the major culture.

Bolgheri is another nice little mountain village, very touristy but a great place where to have lunch.

As being in the Alta Maremma the nature is really amazing. Very dense forests, mountains with hidden little villages, amazing views and really authentic Italian culture.

Studio with a View, Castagneto Carducci, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
About Castagneto Carducci

Studio with a View (on Airbnb)
Salita San Lorenzo, 2

57022 Castagneto Carducci

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Farmstay Near to Fiumicino, the Airport of Rome

My sweetheart last time landed in Rome and I went to pick him up. But the thing was that he landed in the evening time, so I thought it would be a good idea not to stress him too much and sleep near to the airport. The next day we would have a few hours ahead to drive to southern Tuscany where we were booked in an apartment in a little village. So I chose an airbnb just 20 minutes outside of Fiumicino: Al Vecchio Fontanile at Cerveteri.

I already checked-in a few hours earlier. It is a nice house with a huge garden/yard around. A little hidden as I couldn’t find it (no, I don’t have GPS, I still use old-fashioned street maps). I called the owner, and she was so nice to come and pick me up where I was waiting – actually a 2 minutes drive from the house and I nearly passed it before.

First thing: I was ‘greeted’ by the house dog… sorry: mini house hog. ‘Oink oink’ running against us, sooo sweet. There would be also a big dog and another very small one plus a nice cat, but I have known them only the day after.

The room has a separated entrance where actually are two rooms en suite. Ours was wonderfully painted in red, nearly Pompeian red, and nicely decorated. The bathroom was small but sufficient. The shower was the best! I got the key for the room and the entrance door(s) as well for the electric gate.

The owner Sabrina explained how to go to the airport and that it will take about 20 minutes, depends on the traffic. The Via Aurelia just passes near to the airbnb. So a couple of hours I drove to the airport which took me at 7 pm around 40 minutes due to the traffic, but was very easy to find.

Personal experience:

The owners were very friendly and helpful. We had good talks about what to do around the place, how to go to and to come out to pick me up was really very nice!

The morning after we had breakfast in the little conservatory. It was super rich with all kinds of breakfast food. As I don’t eat flour, dairy and sugar they prepared for me an extra portion of prosciutto, tomatoes and more. We could squeeze our own fresh orange juice, my sweetie had tea and I had wonderful wake-up espresso. It was so nice to sit in the cozy room, looking out in the garden, we didn’t want to go at all.

We left two hours later to drive to south Tuscany.

I recommend:

The place is a beautiful home outside the super busy area of Fiumicino, though just a few minutes drive from the airport, Rome and Ostia Antica. If you arrive in Rome and like a more calm place outside the Italian chaos: this is the right place!

You can find easily your way to the GRA which is the surrounding highway around Rome and where from you enter the city.

I warmly recommend Ostia Antica and the excavations of the old town. We have been there last year and enjoyed it a lot. I must-see for all history-lovers

You love beaches? OK, all the coast is a beach, you practically can find access everywhere. But very often they are more Lidos than free beaches.

Al Vecchio Fontanile, Cerveteri, Lazio/Italy:

For further information:
Al Vecchio Fontanile (on Airbnb)
Via de Ceri, 31

00052 Cerveteri/RM

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