TARVEL: La Dolce Vita in the Hills; A Tuscan Adventure Awaited Jo Travis and Her Travelling Companions and They Were Far from Disappointed

Article excerpt

Byline: Jo Travis

When Sunny, Emma and I arrived at Pisa Airport we realised that we had packed for the wrong season.

We had expected Tuscany to have assumed a picturesque autumnal glow by October but it was still very much summer in Italy.

Having resigned ourselves to being overdressed all holiday, we collected up our VW Polo from Europcar and set off.

Despite a bit of flapping at the airport we found the correct Autostrada quite easily and it only took 45 minutes to drive from Pisa to the heart of the Tuscan countryside.

My early success with driving Italian-style lulled me into a false sense of security and once we ventured off the main drag things started to get more interesting.

First of all there was the Indiana Jones bridge, so called because of its relatively insubstantial nature, narrow carriageway and the huge chasm which separated the flimsy metal of our car from the foaming water below.

I swore all the way across it, my passengers prayed.

Next came the roads which led up to the village itself. Actually, when I say roads I mean goat tracks which had a disturbing tendency to suddenly fall away into sheer drops.

Between sharp intakes of breath, as I veered too close to the precipice, the girls assured me the scenery was spectacular.

I was tense and white-knuckled trying to dodge roadside shrines and oncoming drivers who did not appreciate my middle-of-theroad approach.

After several miles in second gear we swept into Artimino.

Now, to say Artimino is a typical Tuscan hillside village is not to do it justice.

The hamlet is a medieval fortified gem which oozes rural charm and it sits across a ridge from a fabulous Renaissance hunting villa built by the notorious Medici clan.

La Ferdinanda (it was built by Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany in the 16th century) is known as the villa of the hundred chimneys as the duke wanted every room to have its own fireplace.

It is now used for corporate entertaining and it houses the region's Museum of Antiquities, containing finds from the nearby Etruscan tombs.

And you will find its comely image emblazoned across every bottle of wine or olive oil for which the area is justly famous. The villa's (actually quite impressive) servants' quarters have been transformed into a hotel, Hotel Paggeria Medicea, and the Artimino Village apartments, where we stayed, are linked to the hotel so we could make use of its facilities.

The hamlet was under the jurisdiction of Pistoia for centuries but the Florentines spent most of the 13th century trying to wrest it from their grasp, due to its lofty strategic value.

Eventually they succeeded and the aggrieved villagers channelled all their energies into plotting against their new masters.

Eventually Florence get fed up of this and levied a huge fine on the 49 families who lived on the hill and, when they could not pay, tore their fortifications down.

There is one road which circumnavigates the hamlet and the apartments are tucked away inside the rebuilt thick stone walls.

Ours was a simple but luxurious converted villa made of ochre stone with shuttered windows, a patio and balcony.

It had an entire kitchen folded away into a cupboard, and a bathroom with the sort of view that should be signposted.

My friends shared the master bedroom while I bedded down on one of the two sofa beds in the living room.

There was a small swimming pool next thethe apartments if you could not be bothered to walk up to the hotel, but everything else you might need was within a five minute stroll. In Artimino there is a bar. Just the one.

It has no name, it is 'The Bar' and everything of interest that will happen in this village will probably happen here.

It is the corner shop, the community centre, the pub and the owners' living room. …