2015 European Adventure travel blog

Montereggiano with its 14 towers and 20 metre high walls.

The fortified villa with the unusual cylindrical tower.

Remains of our lunch.

On the path

A fortified villa with a cylindrical tower

Street art

More street art

Marching bands

Night view

Monteriggioni is an 8th century medieval village which has still it's original wall surrounding it. The wall is 500m around with 14 towers and is 20m high. This fortified village survived many wars and was a pivotal defence structure in the wars between Florence and Siena. When we arrived there were a group of people running a Slow Travel Festival setting up for the last day of their three-day festival. One item in particular that I noticed was a device which attaches a third wheel to the front of a wheelchair. This wheel has an electric motor and a battery and is used to enable wheelchair bound people to go touring in their chair.

We had arrived in Monteriggioni after a 30 minute drive from San Gimignano to begin our last walking day on the Via Francigena. We were going to walk the 20.5 km from this village to our hotel in Siena. This section of the walk is graded moderate whereas the day before was rated as strenuous. This it certainly was, especially with the rain. Today being Sunday, we noticed that there were many more people walking the Francigena Way. Some were like us, with minimal equipment, but others were carrying the full long-distance kit.

Initially the track was quite easy with a mixture of asphalt and then finely packed gravel. The gradient was down but relatively gentle so we hoped that this is what was meant by moderate. Soon enough though, we returned to the rough track with either loose stones or gluggy, sticky mud. After a while I reckon my shoes weighed twice as much as usual due to the accumulation of mud. Clearly the track had not dried out after yesterday's rain and I expected to see puddles at some stage. I was not disappointed. As we walked through a flattish area that used to be a lake and marsh before it was drained in the 18th century the track resembled an obstacle course full of muddy puddles. In one section we needed to bush bash to get around the monster puddle. I imagine that the Francigena Way is something like the Camino de Santiago may have been 20 years ago. Local farmers haven't yet got around to offering accomodation or food to passing pilgrims. Perhaps this will come with time.

Along the way we passed a couple of fortified villas which had somehow remained intact despite the various battles that had been fought in the area, including WW2. One of them had an unusual cylindrical tower where most others are rectangular. Soon after passing these Salvatore turned off the track to a small picnic area with four tables and attached benches. The usual array of cheeses, meats, pickles, tomatos and bread came out of his backpack and we are a hearty lunch. After lunch, on the final 2 hour stretch to Siena, we passed by the opening to a long underground channel through which the water that drained from the marshes made its way to Siena. It is said that this underground channel also served for flood mitigation for the lower parts of Siena. When we arrived at the hotel at about 4 pm we were too tired and footsore to walk into the old city, a further 25 minutes, so we checked in, had a shower and rested for a while. Strangely enough, just as in the previous hotel, we found that the internal corridors and passages had steps going down and up. This must surely be a feature of Tuscan hotels to get you used to walking outside.

Around about 6 pm Maree, refreshed and revitalised, and I made our way into town looking for the church where the relic head of St Catherine is said to be. On the way we passed by squre in which there was some street art on the theme of fat ladies. The ladies were all shown laughing and in most unusual poses. While we wandered through a local market we heard the sound of brass bands and saw three groups behind banners marching into the square and boarding buses. Whatever they had been doing was obviously over. Soon after we found the church and stepped in just as Mass was being completed. The chapel containing the head, called the 'Chapel of the Holy Head', was in darkness but we were able to admire the beautiful leadlight windows. As it was getting dark we set off to find the taverna that Salvatore had recommended. We discovered that Siena, unlike most other towns we had visited, is built on very undulating ground and there are steep streets many with steps going higgledy-piggledy all over the place. Eventually we found the right street but there was no obvious sign of La Taverna Di San Giuseppe. Eventually I thought to ask for help from a man walking his dog who informed me that this was the best restaurant in Siena but that it is closed on Sundays. He recommended the next best one, Il Corraccio, which was not far away. When we arrived it too was closed but the lights were on and, moments later, a guy arrived on a motor scooter and let us in. The place has a very cosy look and only seats about 35 people in pretty close proximity to each other. Most of the tables were reserved but they had a couple of spare spots and we were not going to stay long. Even so, while we were there, they had to turn away a number of people. We started with a delicious puff pastry stuffed with a number of cheeses and pears. Maree then had a vegetable lasagne while I had tagliatelle with a boar sauce. Both were delicious. We were out by 8.30 and returned to the hotel via a gelatteria (lovely chocolate gelato) by 9pm.

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