Second in the two-part series ‘Spring in Italy’.
“My head was down, focused on my churning bicycle pedals and the relentless climb up a twisting cobblestone road. What was I doing here? I’m not even fond of biking.”
The Most Serene Republic of San Marino is located smack dab in the middle of Italy. At 62 sq. km. it is one of the smallest nations in the world. Although only a few dozen kilometers from Italy’s Adriatic Coast, San Marino’s summit is almost 800 meters above sea level. And crowning this mountainous micro-state is the medieval Fortress of Guaita. My destination.
But I wasn’t looking up. My head was down, focused on my churning bicycle pedals and the relentless climb up a twisting cobblestone road. What was I doing here? I’m not even fond of biking.
I needed the exercise. We had been in Italy for almost two weeks and had yet to actually earn any of the fabulous meals we had devoured.
It was a tough three-hour slog to San Marino’s pinnacle – but an easy glide back down to the coastal town of Riccione, and the Belvedere Hotel where we were ensconced for four nights. The Belvedere is a “biker’s” hotel. Marina Pasquini, the proprietress, is a dynamic effervescent woman. Marina exudes the qualities of both caring mother and astute businesswoman. Her staff love her – and feed off her magnetism. This osmotic energy carries through to the guests – who are treated like family.
Marina is a wonderful cook. So after a gruelling 70-kilometre ride, I felt justified in accepting a second helping of her traditional Friday night paella. Marina is also an observant woman (I wouldn’t try stealing any silverware from the Belvedere). When we checked in she noted I was toting a ukulele:
“Would you like to play at lunch this afternoon? You’ll be biking up to a farmhouse and winery in the hills.”
“I can’t carry the ukulele on my bicycle,” I replied.
“Don’t worry, we can bring it up for you,” she said happily. “It will be wonderful.”
How could I say no?
“…I enjoyed driving in Italy. Despite their crazy reputation, I found Italian drivers really get it (unlike some folks piloting cars on Alberta’s highways)…”
On the ride up my wife Florence had bike problems. Her chain kept falling off. Our guide Dani-boy was nonchalant and pleasantly attended to each messy repair. When we arrived at the farmhouse his hands were black with grease.
During lunch I scoured my brain for an appropriate tune to entertain a group of bicycle aficionados in the Rimini hills of Italy. After a four-course meal, a sweet dolce and plenty of vino di casa, the group was rambunctious. I tentatively plinked the ukulele.
My truncated version of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” went over well.
Then I recounted Florence’s bike chain maladies by singing (with apologies to the Beatles):
“Chain, my baby’s got a tangled-up chain,
And it ain’t the kind, that you can cl-e-e-e-an,
But Dani-boy, fixed her chain for me. Yeah.”
The crowd went wild. Bike enthusiasts can be real nerds.
Dani-boy had a genuine tear in his eye. Despite their hot-blooded temperament, Italians can be surprisingly sentimental.
On our last Belvedere morning, as we checked out, the skies opened up. Disheartened cyclists, decked out in jerseys from around the world, sat and scanned the dreary sky. The ride was off for the day. Rain, steep narrow roads, zany Italian drivers and over-enthusiastic bicyclists do not mix well.
Marina was in the foyer to bid us arrivederci, offering a genuine hug – and a request that we soon return.
We were off to Tuscany, the final leg of our month-long stay in Italia. The GPS indicated that our AirBnb in Lucca was three hours away. But as per our usual modus operandi we took the road less travelled and turned what should have been a short jaunt into a seven-hour odyssey through the twisting narrow country roads and unsurpassable beauty of Tuscany.
I enjoyed driving in Italy. Despite their crazy reputation, I found Italian drivers really get it (unlike some folks piloting cars on Alberta’s highways). I survived a month driving in Italy without incident: no fender-benders on narrow cobblestone streets, no roundabout collisions – and not one Italian offered a gesticulation as to where I might go and procreate.
However… it will be a miracle if the post office doesn’t eventually deliver a slew of photo-radar tickets and one-way street infractions. It is not an understatement to suggest that compliance with Italian driving laws is impossible. And Italian roads require super-human navigating skills. Florence (and our GPS) performed admirably – we were lost fewer than a dozen times.
When we arrived in Lucca our hostess met us outside the town walls, helped us park and escorted us to her lovely apartment in the heart of the Old City. (Our AirBnb experience throughout Italy was amazing. Our hosts were uniformly friendly, helpful – and available. Many even stocked the fridge with Italian delights for our arrival.)
One fine afternoon we signed up for a wine-tasting tour in the famous Brunello region of Montalcino, near Sienna. En route we passed vineyard after vineyard, interrupted only by ancient olive groves. And it seemed every Tuscan hill was topped by an alluring fairytale-like village – with stone spires guarding the verdant fields of Italian spring.
“Mario loves making vino, his passion for sixty years. He has a certain – pardon my French – joie de vivre.”
Mario Ciacci is the octogenarian who founded and still oversees Abbadia Ardenga winery – although these days Mario’s role seems limited to entertaining customers, dancing with the lady guests – and sipping a little of his own beautifully-aged Brunello. He proudly walked us through the vintner’s process – and his priceless cellar – before serving us a simple lunch coupled with a multitude of his Abbadia vintages.
Mario loves making vino, his passion for sixty years. He has a certain – pardon my French – joie de vivre. Mario is also a seasoned salesman; in addition to my traffic tickets, any day now we’re expecting an overseas shipment of Brunello wine.
After three nights in Lucca and four in Sienna we moved on to Orvieto for our final few Italian nights. In each of these towns the itinerary was simple: explore the narrow, confusing streets of the city core for a day, then hop in the car and tour the surrounding countryside for a couple of days.
“The gold-gilded façade of the Duomo is spectacular at sunset.”
All of these walled cities have their unique character but Orvieto is perhaps the most charming – and interesting. Built atop a flat butte of volcanic tuff, the town has remained impregnable for millennia. Its high walls provide a natural defense that could not be breached. The city was also immune to enemy siege. Water was drawn from the ingeniously designed well of San Patrizio and food literally flew in through the windows: the people farmed pigeons. Thus both food and water were readily available without leaving the protection of the fortress.
Orvieto is home to one of Italy’s most striking Gothic cathedrals. The gold-gilded façade of the Duomo is spectacular at sunset. And beneath the streets an ancient labyrinth of tunnels was carved into the tuff, designed for quick escape. (Perhaps flight from this siege-proof city would have been necessary had Orvieto been infiltrated by stool pigeons?)
We’ve been home for some time now and the traffic tickets have yet to arrive – but I take solace in the fact that when they do there will be a hearty glass of Brunello at hand to ease the pain.
If you go: The Belvedere Hotel specializes in hosting bike enthusiasts from around the world.
Gerry Feehan QC practised law in Red Deer for 27 years before starting his second life as a freelance travel writer and photographer. He says that, while being a lawyer is more remunerative than travel writing, it isn’t nearly as much fun. When not on the road, Gerry and his wife Florence live in Red Deer and Kimberley, BC. Todayville is proud to work with Gerry to re-publish some of his most compelling stories from his vast catalogue developed over more than a decade of travel.
THANKS to these great partners for making this series possible.
Enjoy an excellent adventure in Texas. Click below.
Environmental Master Plan steers Red Deer’s sustainable future
From The City of Red Deer
City Council adopted an updated version of the Environmental Master Plan, a document which will guide Red Deer’s environmental strategy now and into the future.
The Environmental Master Plan (EMP) was originally released in 2011 and serves as a guide to improve environmental sustainability in Red Deer by setting goals and providing short-, medium- and long-term strategies. The EMP is designed to provide The City and the people of Red Deer with a road map to improved environmental performance. The updated plan outlines clear goals and measurable targets, as well as suggested actions for The City to undertake during implementation.
“The EMP refresh is a higher-level document that was designed to provide a foundation for strategic decision making in the future. We focused on six areas: air, ecology, energy, waste, water and community design, which combined transportation and built environment from the previous plan,” said Nancy Hackett, Environmental Initiatives Supervisor, “Each of the sixareas have specific targets and metrics, but we refined the plan to 20 actions that providebroader direction.”
A variety of public engagement sessions provided key community insight that was used to assess current conditions and determine future focuses and goals for the plan. In addition to sessions with targeted community groups, a Community Engagement Group took part in monthly, in-depth sessions to discuss Red Deer’s focus areas, targets and actions for the future.
Now that the plan has been adopted, City Staff will begin implementation to ensure Red Deercontinues on its’ path of reducing its environmental footprint.
A full version of the EMP is available on the City’s website at reddeer.ca/EMP.
Central Alberta Humane Society looking for the cutest animal in the area
From The Central Alberta Humane Society
|Hey, I’m Bear, last year’s photo contest WINNER! I had so much fun
taking pictures for the CAHumane calendar with Kimberly from
Chic & Grace Studios! Just look at me, her pictures are sooo beautiful!
But that’s not even the best part, by entering me in the
Calendar Photo Contest & voting, I helped raised money for shelter
animals who aren’t as lucky as me to have a loving home, but I know
they will get one soon with your help!
Your pet could be this year’s calendar cover star but first you have to
They could earn one of 12 spots (6 voted, 6 selected by judges) in the
|Reserve a Calendar Day is back this year!|
|Once again, for a $10 donation, we offer you the chance at an
automatic spot in the calendar! cChoose a day that is special to you, it
could be a birthday, anniversary, holiday, day you brought your pet
home, whatever you want & commemorate it with a photo & caption ofyour choosing! Dates are first come, first serve so pick yours before it’s taken!
Reserve a Calendar Day is not an entry into the contest itself, we invite & encourage you to enter both, all funds will go to the important care
of shelter animals.
|Reserve a Calendar Day HERE|
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