The days between the hubbub of Christmas and the celebrations of the new year are perfect for a low-key day trip into the Tuscan countryside. I’m always a bit lazy during this time of year, so a drive, a walk around a pretty town, and a good lunch were all that was on the agenda, saving museums and other more in-depth explorations for a later visit.
Volterra is a place I’ve always wanted to explore but until now had never visited. So, when a couple of friends suggested a day trip, I jumped at the chance. On a crisp and foggy morning a few days after Christmas, we set out from Lucca and headed for Volterra, about an hour and a half away by car. Because Volterra is a little out of the way, without a train station or easy bus connections, it has fewer tourists than some of the other Tuscan hill towns (such as Arezzo or Cortona) and doesn’t seem to get the large tour groups that visit San Gimignano. And on this winter day it was almost free of tourists.
Volterra is a very old city, dating to Etruscan times. It is particularly known for two things - Etruscan artifacts and the creation of objects made of alabaster. We skipped the museum but did manage to do a little shopping for alabaster. It was fascinating to watch an artisan at work in her small shop (Gloria Giannelli Alabastri). Her work was gorgeous - delicate small carvings, bowls, vases, light fixtures. She was happy to talk about her work and the process of making alabaster pieces. She demonstrated how she began with raw alabaster and worked it to create objects made either from a solid alabaster block or as a mosaic from slabs of different colors of alabaster. Of course, I bought a small piece!
The town of Volterra is beautiful, with it’s old castello (castle), town wall and arches, beautiful stone buildings, little alleys, carved doors, and ornate iron windows.
The wide gently sloped streets are lined with homes, shops, and restaurants. And at this time of year it was made festive with Christmas lights and decorations all through town.
Our lunch stop, at Ristorante La Terra di Mezzo, was a treat. We chose several pasta dishes, all delicious. The chocolate soufflé dessert, recommended by our waiter, was fantastic.
After lunch and a bit more wandering around town, we headed home to Lucca, knowing that we’d have to return soon for more exploration and to visit the Etruscan Museum. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect late December day in Tuscany! -post by JMB