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Posts tagged ‘Donoratico’

Another walk one early Tuscan morning: Corn fields and pine trees

I love walking, perhaps you’ve noticed. I trace the passion back to my 2008 accident and the two years of limited movement which resulted. When finally I lost my crutches, I realised for the first time the very simple joy of being able to walk. What a liberty to be able to walk wherever your feet may take you, one that most take for granted but which we all should cherish, especially when those legs take you somewhere as beautiful as the Tuscan countryside.

On the way to the pine tree forest


The last walk I described passed through the ravishing local vineyards whose striped embodiment of leafy lanes roll leisurely over the nearby hills. But turn the other way, and a landscape of equal enticement spreads out for the offering, one of corn fields and olive trees which back onto what in the coastal town of Donoratico is a locally iconic wood of pine trees running all the way long the sea. This dense collection of the umbrella pines which are an iconic element of the Tuscan landscape make for an incredible sight, not least from within where a glance upwards unveils a ceiling of semi-transparent pine needles punctuated with light. Meanwhile and endless collection of pine tree columns is like a cathedral of wood which apparently spreads forwards for an eternity.

Within the woods


There is something about a wood which is deeply, sensuously mysterious, drawing you in, albeit with some trepidation as to what lies within. We adored our time wandering through this lofty space, where we stumbled upon crazily shaped fallen trees and shards of light breaking through the pine tree canopy. But best of all things was the treat at the end, as the final archway of trees led directly onto a wide sandy beach and the turquoise sea beyond.

Breaking out 


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Tuscany Part III: Picture-perfect Populonia, and other hilltop idylls

If there’s one thing that Tuscany does well, it’s idyllic little hilltop towns, framed by castle walls, boasting sensational views of surrounding rolling countryside, and offering picture-postcard views of medieval stonework, cute tavernas aplenty, slowly decaying buildings adorned with cracking window shutters, pots overflowing with geraniums and more often than not, a cat sleeping in the sunshine. You know the scene – it’s postcard land after all, for who could resist these honeypot utopias, to which every tourist, artist and hedonist will flock in their thousands every year.

Yet what makes the towns so idyllic is the fact that far from pursuing a Disneyland level of commercial exposure, as is no doubt the temptation, life goes on in these little villages, just the same, irrespective of the camera-clicking tourists emerging at every corner. The best photos, for me, are the shots capturing locals gossiping in little piazzas, or old couples catching the evening breeze on stools out in the street. I adore the little grocery shops, which continue to sell fresh, vividly coloured produce to the locals, and whose offerings are yet to feel the effects of the supermarket spread. The haphazard park of a little bicycle or a retro-red scooter against an old cracking wall represents ordinary life to them – but to me it’s art dripping in decadence and charm in all its imperfect beauty.

Not far from Donoratico, where I was staying by the sea, a cluster of small towns, each one atop a hill and each, stunningly, idyllically beautiful, can be found amongst the vineyards and the pine forests. My favoruite, Castagneto Carducci, is a Tuscan Elysium, perched upon the hills above Donoratico, with views over the coast and vineyard-covered rolling hills to die for, while within the town, pastel pink walls, green painted shutters, and elegantly deteriorating plaster work, old lamps and ageing locals exude charm and decadent beauty.

Castagneto Carducci

Meanwhile, just ten minutes along the coast towards Pisa, the tiny town (we’re talking two streets only) of Bulgheri can be found at the end of a perfectly straight Roman road, continuously bordered with cypress trees, the result of which is a scene of such wonderful symmetry that it appears on at least 2 out of every 5 postcards sold across Tuscany. Meanwhile the town is another chocolate-box paradise – little restaurants with red-checked tablecloths, lit by lanterns at night and benefiting from the dappled shadows of nearby pine trees during the day, a minuscule central piazza adorned with flowers aplenty, and cute little shops selling art and crafts and fresh local produce.


But by far my favourite discovery of this Tuscan adventure was to be found in the region of another hilltop idyll, the town of Populonia, not because of the beautiful town itself (which, with devastating views of the port below, laundry hanging across the streets, and a single cafe set out beneath lush trees atop ancient castle walls, is a true contender for postcard-fame) but because of the truly awe-inspiring natural beauty subsisting beyond its forest surroundings. Taking a sharp turn left off the winding road heading up to the hilltop town, my Partner had a surprise for me. Walking through metres of densely packed pine-tree forest, I wondered where on earth we were going, that is, until we reached an opening in the thick coating of pines, and the most incredible view of a cove beach below came into sight.


What followed was a sharp descent down magnificently formed geologically stunning rock forms, almost like spiderman upon the vertical facade of a Manhattan skyscraper, but with each and every perilous step taking us a few inches closer to the paradise below. This slightly dangerous adventure (not least for my partner, attempting to traverse the cliff face in flip-flops) was well worth the effort – the cove beach was truly awe-inspiring, nature at its very best, and our afternoon spent swimming around in those  sometimes hostile but vigorously exciting and stunningly beautiful waters, pursuing further coves and prickling our hands and feet on every kind of mussel and sea urchin imaginable, was among the happiest afternoon of my year so far.

First view of the cove emerges from the cliff-top forest

The stunning cove below

Those incredible cliffs

Which just goes to show, while historical towns provide steadfast charm and a consistent source of timeless beauty, it is the transient, often less-accessible beauty of nature that still has the edge, and whose discovery is all the more thrilling as a result.

(Disclaimer: if you too decide to head down to this very beautiful cove (and, looking at the photos, why wouldn’t you) you go at your own risk – don’t blame me if you prick your hands, feet or any other part of your body on a bed of mussels or some other vicious sea life, or if you trip, slip, get squashed by a falling rock or otherwise and unsuitably manage to kill yourself. It’s not my fault).

All photos are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2012 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 

Tuscany Part I: Sea, Sand and plenty of Sunflowers

While the Norms have been up and down the great boot of Italy, I have been indulging in a more relaxing affair – I’m just back from a sumptuous and sensation-tickling trip to Tuscany and the electric city of Bologna, and as a result I have so much to share that I barely even know where to begin. With sights, sounds and flavour sensations as ripe and abounding as the offerings of Italy in the hot months of the summer, I am felicitous with fresh inspiration, enlivened by my experience, and freshly fulfilled by a holiday of multisensoral pleasure.

Perfectly aligned parasols and loungers

I begin my tale in the balmy fresh light of a lazy Saturday morning. I had jetted out to Pisa after work, and arriving close to midnight, the only impression I had thus far gauged of my seaside Tuscan location was the lucid clarity of the fresh sea air (a marked-comparison with central London) and the enticing smell of the pine forests that loll lazily down to the sea edge. In the morning, it was my eyes which gorged ravenously upon the visual sensations all around. From our hotel window, an expanse of golden soft sand, tidily raked every morning, was broken only by the perfect alignment of a hundred blue parasols sat atop neatly arranged loungers. In the distance, green hills were faded into a pale turquoise because of their distance, while further yet still, an almost translucent outline of the island of Elba rose mysteriously above the horizon. While my eyes took in the scene, accompanied by a pure light warmed by the yellow lustre of an early Mediterranean sun, my ears pricked up to the gentle swish of an intermittent wave sliding, rather than crashing, upon the sandy shore. No angry traffic here, no rush of suited Londoners running to squeeze their way onto a delayed, crowded tube. Rather, the only people were those beach workers, silently preparing the space for the later arrival of tourists and locals alike, while nearby, the steamer of a large coffee machine pumped into action for a day full of making creamy cappuccinos and rich espressos.

It was straight to the said coffee bar that we headed, a moment to which I had been looking forward ever since booking my flights some months ago. Nothing surpasses the cappuccinos in Italy, whose coffee is creamy, not bitter, and whose foam is indulgent and thick. Gone is the Cafe Nero takeaway and the sprint to the office – here we had all the time in the world to indulge on the beach’s edge, before the sun warmed to its midday ferocity, and the crowds descended.

True italian cappuccino

The crowds descend with coloured parasols aplenty

When that moment came, we were already gone. My partner took me to see a sight which was bound to get my camera clicking and my artist juices running – a nearby field of sunflowers bursting from the dry soil in a sea of vivid yellow, contrasting sensationally with the deep blue sky all around. Standing in that field, surrounded by flowers equalling me in height was truly incredibly. It was no wonder that these flowers had inspired Van Gogh so. My favourites were the older, dying flowers, with the large human-sized faces, loaded with an incredibly intricate pattern of seed pods, the petals now wilting and drying up, but the flower, in the last stages of its life, still desperately faced towards the sun, turned to its master in relishing the last days of its existence. In Italian, sunflowers are called girasoli, which literally translates as it turns sun – and true to form, it was remarkable to note how these amazing flowers were all turned in one direction, a carpet of yellow faced towards the sun, and a wall of green when seen from behind.

A carpet of yellow

And another of green

I could have stayed amongst the sunflowers all day, but alas, my photographic adventure did constitute some form of trespass onto this farmland, albeit in the name of art. We returned thereafter to safer pastures – to the incredibly vineyard views of a vineyard known to my partner’s brother, and a nearby field with large bails of hay perfect to inspired Monet himself.

Hay for Monet

What Milan exudes in fashion and Bologna offers in food, Tuscany has in countryside views which stun and inspire in equal measure – I’m giving a whole post over to these lavish landscapes tomorrow. But the great benefit of where I was staying (Donoratico) was that having had my fill of inland views under a progressively searing sun, the coast with its relieving sea breezes was never far away, and it was to the soft sandy beach of Donoratico that I returned that afternoon, wiling away the hours splashing around in soft silky seawater with light pale-ocre sand squishing softly beneath my toes, until the sun retained its former morning pallor, before retreating back under the horizon in hues of orange, then pink and then a devastating crimson red. Until tomorrow…

Sunset over the Alta Maremma coast