After a long absence, this afternoon I wanted to go back to the countryside between the hills and sea in the lower province of Livorno, which even in this wintry season, looks extremely suggestive and that can give, to those passing through, a serenity that only places like this can transmit.
Taking the provincial road SP 16A from Bibbona towards Castagneto Carducci, the landscape offers rolling hills that slope down towards the sea with a succession of olive groves, vineyards and forests of holm-oak and oak trees. Here and there, there are ploughed fields, which in this period are a bright brown colour thanks to the light rainfall over the last few days, and vines stripped of their leaves, waiting to be pruned.
In the 5km that separate Bibbona and the Avenue of Cypresses at Bolgheri, you come across a number of agritourism farms and country houses and the entrance, at the 3km point along the provincial road SP16A, to the ‘Tenuta di Biserno’, an estate that produces excellent wines.
Continuing along this provincial road, you arrive at the Avenue of Cypresses, which connects San Guido to Bolgheri “in duplice filar” [“in double rows”], as the poet Giosuè Carducci recounts.
After a few minutes on this cypress-lined avenue going towards Bolgheri, you reach the beginning of the town, that today presented itself with the sun illuminating the castle facade, while in the background the sky didn’t look any too promising.
If, at the junction of the provincial road, rather than going to Bolgheri, you turn right towards the sea, after about 1 km there is the junction with the provincial road SP16B that, from the Avenue of Cypresses reaches Castagneto Carducci and where, along the way, you pass all the best Super Tuscan wineries. I look forward to telling you about these in one of my next articles.
My interest in mines led me to visit the Camporciano Mine at Montecatini Val di Cecina in the province of Pisa on 4th December, on the day that 170 years of the feast of St. Barbara, patron saint of miners, was celebrated.
The Camporciano Mine was the largest copper mine in Europe.
The ore was first mined in the period of the Etruscans (600 BC) when they came from Volterra to extract the precious mineral that was useful to them for utensils and furnishings, it was exploited through the centuries up to 1907, when the final closure was decreed.
The Alfredo Well, the hub of the mine from where the valuable copper was extracted, had a depth of over 300 metres.
In the early 2000’s, thanks to the Mayor Renzo Rossi, the town council followed with attention with the partial safety measures and restructuring of the principal structures of the mine, creating a very suggestive museum park of industrial archaeology. It is possible to visit and is located about half a mile from the town of Montecatini Val di Cecina, in the north of the metalliferous hills. Today there are guided tours of the mining complex and the Alfredo Well.
To spend a few days in Cornwall can be a pleasure for both lovers of nature, thanks to its striking landscapes, but also to lovers of history, as its past is so rich in facts and legends.
I took the Ryanair flight from Pisa to Bristol and after renting a car at the airport, I took the M5 to reach Plymouth in about 2 hours.
Plymouthis a town on the Devonshire coast positioned in a natural bay in which the port stands. It was completely destroyed in the Second World War as the Royal Navy base was situated there. Also of interest is a visit to the Plymouth Hoe Memorial, as it offers an fascinating view of the bay.
Leaving Plymouth to go to Cornwall, I stopped off at Polperro, a fishing village that was once an alcove for pirates being hidden away in a small bay.
Here time seems to stand still; under a rain shower I wander through the narrow streets set between little white house with slated roof and windmills and pass streams that flow under small wooden bridges; all the ingredients to make this a fairy-tale place.
I slept the night in a B & B in the only room left in the attic which was extremely clean and charming and I spent that evening in a bar offering live folk music, the singers had come specifically to Polperro for the music and art festival. An unforgettable evening.
The next morning I regrettably left Polperro in the direction of The Eden Project, an old kaolin quarry, where large greenhouses with transparent domes have been constructed and in which Mediterranean and tropical environments have been reproduced, perfectly controlled by a complex system of humidifiers and air conditioners. It is very impressive and educational for children but adults can also spend a very interesting two hours there.
In the evening, I arrived at Penzance, a town of 20,000 inhabitants situated on the beautiful bay of Mounts Bay. The British Rail train station terminal is also located here, being the most southern station in England. Being a weekend, it was tricky to find a B & B without having booked, but in the end I managed to find one near to the seafront, from where it was possible to admire St Michael’s Mounts in the distance, a former eleventh century Benedictine abbey that was transformed into a fortress and situated on an island that is accessible by foot at low tide, much like the Mont St. Michel in Normandy.
The next morning, after listening to Gaelic music and having seen the local market be enlivened by locals, I left for Land’s End, England’s most western resort set high up on a cliff, lashed by strong winds and massive waves.
From Land’s End I went to Tintagel Castle, where legend has it that King Arthur was born. The castle’s ruins rise up on a cliff overlooking the sea beneath which lies Merlin’s Cave, a natural cave that connects the two sides of the cliff. From the ruins of the castle, it is worth admiring the breath-taking view. The village of Tintagel still has the old post office and a myriad of souvenir shops and restaurants.
On my last night I stayed in Newquay, a seaside town famous for surfing, full of entertainment bars animated by young surfers.
I arrived in Portsmouth from London having taken the train from Victoria Station, where in about 2 hours I reached the city, getting out at the station of Southsea. Coming out of the train station and going to the left is Guildhall Square, with its monument to Queen Victoria. Continuing along Guildhall Walk, one arrives at the Ibis Hotel in Winston Churchill Avenue, where one can stay with excellent value for money.
The city of Portsmouth in Hampshire has approximately 190,000 inhabitants, most of whom live in the city that is located on Portsea Island and where the Solent joins the English Channel.
The city boasts a great maritime tradition, with a vital past as the Royal Navy base and for which it suffered heavy bombing throughout the Second World War. Today the port, as well as still being the Royal Navy base, is of great importance for its goods and passenger docks.
Famous people who were born in Portsmouth include Admiral Nelson, hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, and the writer Charles Dickens, whose father was a payroll clerk in the British Navy; today it is possible to visit the writer’s birthplace.
Noteworthy places of interest for tourists include the Historical Dockyard near the harbour, where in a vast complex that is currently being restored, one can visit the Mary Rose Museum, the HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860 warships and the D-Day Museum.
The Mary Rose Museum opened in 2013, where the remains of the Mary Rose warship are exhibited, Henry VIII’s flagship raised from the seabed in 1982. One can relive aspects of life on board that have been perfectly reconstructed thanks to the numerous artefacts found, together with the evocative remains of the perfectly reassembled warship.
The architectural design of the museum combines contemporary architecture with a great respect for past history; indeed the museum is located exactly where the ship was constructed back in 1510.
Very close to the Museum is Spinnaker Tower, a 170-metre high tower that was inaugurated in 2005 to celebrate the city’s maritime tradition. It consists of two reinforced concrete pylons that join halfway up to form a single column to which steel sails are attached. From there, you can see the harbour, the city and on a good day, the Isle of Wight.
However, you cannot go to Portsmouth without paying a visit to Fratton Park, the Portsmouth football club’s stadium, especially if it’s a Saturday when the local team plays at home.
Fans of Portsmouth, also known as Pompey supporters, show strong affection for their team despite the fact that in the past 5 years it has gone through a crisis, being gradually relegated from the Premier League to League Two.
To think that in 2013, with a public subscription, the club passed into the hands of the fans, the “Pompey Supporters Trust” and who can now cheer on “their” team, in the true sense of the word, and bring it back to play in the championships where it deserves to be. I suggest you spend some time before the match in the local pubs, where you can understand the pride that the Portsmouth people feel for their city and team #pup.
In recent years, we have often heard people talk about Grand Cayman for reasons other than those that made me go and visit it. A pearl in the Caribbean located between Jamaica and Mexico that together with two other islands, Little Cayman and Bric Brac, makes up the Cayman Islands.
I arrived in the capital, George Town with the American Airlines scheduled flight from London Heathrow via Miami, the last flight from Miami to George Town took about an hour.
The small airport, characteristic of a Caribbean island, is distinctive for the photos you see in the arrivals hall of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, to remind us that we are on territory of Her Majesty, the Queen of England.
For the few days I was in George Town, I stayed at the Marriot situated on the incredible Seven Mile Beach. A fantastic hotel with all the comforts and impeccably organised, the unforgettable breakfast and restaurant with the marvellous chef, Pepin.
Seven Mile Beach is the main beach of Grand Cayman with very fine coralline sand, crowded around the hotels, but if you want more privacy it is possible to also find more private areas of the beach; don’t miss talking a walk in the evening to watch the spectacular sunset.
In the days that I was on the island I just had to do some diving, given that there are so many interesting dive sites and with inviting water temperatures of up to 28 degrees.
Without doubt, I was most fascinated by the dive inside the Kittiwake shipwreck that lies at a depth of about 20 metres and where you can go into the hyperbaric chamber of the ship in which there is an air bubble in the upper section. Many fish swim around the wreckage, reminding us that we are in the Caribbean.
Another very good dive was at theOro Verde Wall where once you’ve made the giant leap from the boat you go down into the 500-metre deep blue waters, changing direction you reach the tip of a large rock that emerges from these blue waters, with a depth of 25 metres and steep walls and from which it’s great to see all the big fish passing by and thousands of colourful fish on the reef.
Another experience, this time without oxygen, and obviously inside the lagoon where the sea isn’t more than five metres deep and with the protection of the reef itself, you can go by boat to the area Stingray City and see the stingrays up close and who wants to, can be caressed by the crystal clear waters.
After leaving Stingray City, again by boat, it is must to stop off at Rum Point for a tasty grilled fish on the beach.
For the evening after having returned to George Town, I can recommend the waterfront restaurant, ‘Da Toniwhere you can eat great fish dishes and there is an ample variety of international wines.
I leave this paradise with a hint of melancholy and I thank all my friends for the days spent together and the excellent hospitality.
I arrived in Itaunas (Espirito Santo) from Arrajal d’Ajuda via Euanopolis, where I took the connection for Santo André and from there to Conceicao da Barra to end my journey by taking the bus from Conceicao da Barra to my destination.
If I hadn’t had to wait for the connection for Conceicao da Barra from 3am to 12pm, it would have been an normal journey with 3 simple connections. To spend nine hours in the middle of the night in a bus station in an average Brazilian town is however, an adventure within an adventure.
Let me be clear, I am not talking about security, far from it, but the waiting around with nothing to do in a place that begins to slowly come alive at 3 in the morning, when it is possible to closely observe Brazil, the real one, with all its contradictions and its pluses.
Waiting at the Rodoviaria meant that I also met two globetrotting French people on their 6 month journey around South America who had the same destination as me and so we ended up being together for 2 days.
Finally by 4pm we reached Itaunas , with its typical streets of sand, that make the town look like a place from another era, almost unreal, perhaps also because of its geographical position that makes it difficult to reach from the main roads.
The carnival in February enlivens Itaunas, but even more people arrive in July for the Forro’ Festival,a typical dance of the north-eastern area and that is known of all over Brazil.
In the days when I was staying there, there must have been just fifty tourists, so it was easy and cheap to find a place to sleep or to eat in the few restaurants that were open and where you can enjoy the tasty Moqueqa dell’Espirito Santo, a vegetable and fish soup.
It is worth visiting the beach at Itaunas that can be reached from the Sand dunes that lie between the sea and today’s town but that covers the entire old town that was built between 1750-1800 after cutting down the forest that lay close to the beach. In 1930, thanks to the continual wind on the beach, little by little the old houses disappeared under the sand and the houses moved back to their current position.
The beach is part of the Estadual de Itaunas Park,a 3,674 hectare nature reserve which stretches for 25 km along the coast and has 20-30 metre high sand dunes. You will see many animals there, including monkeys, sloths, armadillos (tatú) and many others. The park is also one of the bases of the Projeto Tamar and in February I was able to witness, together with the biologists, the hatching of the eggs and the turtles entering the ocean to start their new life.
I would like to begin my blog with the story of a trek near my house – but not for this less interesting than other experiences in far-off countries – that is rich in natural and historical
interest in this lesser-known area of Tuscany.
We are in the Natural Reserve of Monterufoli – Caselli in the province of Pisa and I start walking early morning on a cold and sunny winter’s day, starting from the point where the
Ritasso torrent crosses the entrance to the Villetta di Monterufoli estate in the commune of
The path of the first section runs along a field, but soon arrives at the woods and with clear white/red signs, you can distinguish the site of the old railroad tracks coming from Casino di Terra that served the lignite mine from 1850 to 1929 and was then subsequently
Running parallel to the path, you can see still the brick barriers on the river bed that were used in the past to channel the water to an Old Mill still visible between the dense Mediterranean vegetation on the west bank of the torrent.
Continuing the trail, you arrive near the First Bridge which is possible to see from standing in the torrent, whilst it is worth crossing the torrent to reach the west bank, very interesting for the flora present in the vicinity of an old dwelling with many varieties of moss and lichens, that give you an idea of the undergrowth’s microclimate that would already have been present here before the great ice age.
Arriving near the Second Bridge, but certainly the first in order of size, you have to ade through the torrent below, following the majestic brick arch that has a single 30-metre span and is certainly more than 20 metres high. You climb out of the torrent on the opposite side to meet the railway tracks again and here there are rocky outcrops and mounds of debris colonised by unusual herbaceous flora that is typical of or exclusive to these rocks and that produces rare spring blooms, characterised by yellow clumps of Euphorbia Spinosa.
Upon reaching the Malentrata torrent, also known for the old magnesite mine and the presence of numerous minerals, it is important to remember that this area is part of the metalliferous hills.
At this point you go beyond the third railway bridge to come across a trench that was carved out of the serpentine rock by the hands who gave life to the railway. These spectacular “green rocks” – magmatic rocks – originated 180 million years ago on the ocean floor.
The path continues its descent along the Ritasso torrent and the trek continues up to where the landslide in September 1929 led to the abandonment of the railway. There, it is possible to cross the landslide that has now settled and follow the path to where the Ritasso torrent flows into the Sterza torrent to then return along the asphalted road.
I don’t know for how long it will be possible to admire these bridges that I have written about, clear cracks and signs of slough can be seen in all of them, as they now defy time
by at least 160 years and have been in a state of total abandonment for no less than 90 years.
If one day you would like to follow the trail, I would be happy to accompany you and recount the long history in memory of the many workers who took part in both the construction of the railway and in the hard work in the lignite mine tunnels, which I will be
describing soon in my blog.