The official designation for today’s walk would have been more than 30kms, which was challenging for us before Julie’s achilles began playing up, so we have split the day in two with a stay over in Colle di Val d’Elsa. Colle is also the home town of Manu, the wife of one of Julie’s cousins, so that gave us another good reason for stopping there. The forecast was for cloud all day and a moderate wind. In the event, we set out in full sunshine and the wind was rather lighter than we’ve had for several days. So, after breakfast at the cafe below our room – open again after Tuesday closing yesterday – we set off via the San Giovanni Gate.

Leaving San Gimignano by the San Giovanni Gate

Fortuitously our route took us past a bakery selling filled focaccia sandwiches and the Coop for a large navel orange for our lunch. We had a rather bizarre experience in the Coop as a party of about 20 Chinese visitors were being given a tour up and down the supermarket aisles by a tour guide! Was this a special cultural experience for them, or were they here to see Chinese made products on sale?

Initially we followed a tar road southwards, which fortunately wasn’t too busy and it had a good pavement footpath alongside it. There were good views back towards San Gimignano and its medieval towers, and far-reaching views out across the typically Tuscan countryside.

After a couple of kilometres the route to Rome – now regularly signposted as such – took us off onto a path winding through oak woods, olive groves and vineyards. The sun shone and the birds sang on this lovely morning, which put a joyful spring in our steps.

Our route detoured around several vineyards and holiday homes all locked up, gated and declaring video-surveillance. We chose to ignore one set of ‘proprieta privata’ signs displayed over a convenient table with benches for a brief stop to rub Voltarol on a sore achilles. It reminded us of Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods, but instead of the owner’s house being “in the village though” it was more likely hundreds of kilometres away. There is an awful lot of this ‘proprieta privata’ thing here in Tuscany but we suspect that most of it is connected with the second homes of absent city dwellers.

Later we had to negotiate two stream crossings. Julie was pleased to find that her new boots do seem to be waterproof, as claimed!

The easier of our two stream crossings today

After the second wider and deeper stream crossing we passed by what looked like abandoned chicken houses. We’ve been wondering where all the meat we’ve been eating has come from, as we’ve seen almost no mammals in the fields, whether domesticated or wild, except for horses and of course dogs. Even the wild boar on every restaurant menu are not in evidence in the woodlands we’ve walked through so far – there has been no sign of the dug-over ground you would expect to see.

Abandoned sheds probably once used for rearing chickens

Soon after passing the abandoned sheds the path split, the right-hand track going directly on to Monteriggioni, where we will be staying tomorrow night, and our track going left uphill towards Colle di Val d’Elsa. As there were a couple of benches beside the path at this point we decided to stop for an early lunch.

There were more signs of advancing spring today: the fine yellow flowers of a witchhazel, violets, hellebores hanging their heads and a weeping willow freshly in leaf. We found cherry trees about to burst into flower, and several more butterflies including a tortoiseshell and a blue, over and above the regular brimstones and large(?) whites. It won’t be many more weeks before things really start to green up.

Cherry tree about to burst into flower

Near Montecchio, just before we rounded the side of a hill, we had a last glimpse back towards San Gimignano on the horizon. It appeared surprisingly close given how long we’d been walking, but our path had been rather wiggly and up-down. Again, from this distance the medieval towers look remarkably like tower blocks, which of course they were in their day.

Last view back to San Gimignano standing proud on the horizon

Around the other side of the hill we walked past extensive olive groves where people were busy pruning. The trees already pruned had been weeded and mulched. It looks like a huge amount of work, although for the next several months, until the olives are ready to be harvested, all you have to do is watch them growing. Julie says that’s a much easier way of farming than milking cows twice a day 7/365!

By now the promised cloud cover had also blotted out the earlier sunshine, leaving a sky threatening rain to come. At least, that is what the locals are hoping for as the winter has been unseasonably dry so far. We won’t mind if the rain holds off a bit longer, or preferably arrives and finishes overnight!

Redder soils on the approach to Colle di Val d’Elsa

Colle di Val d’Elsa is another medieval walled town, with rows of impressive 15-16th century palazzos, and cobbled streets. It seems to be less of a tourist trap than San Gimgnano, which is a bit of a relief. There is evidently a downside to attaining UNESCO status, with busloads of tourists disgorging into San Gimignano every day.

Entering the old part of Colle di Val d’Elsa through the Porta Nuova

We found our overnight accommodation in the medieval part of the city, high above the Val d’Elsa, after a brief stop for a coffee at a pasticceria where the staff were untypically inattentive to the point of rudeness.

After a quick shower and change of clothes we headed out to explore the duomo along the road. The cathedral was built in the early 1600s on the foundations of a 13th century church. Unfortunately there was so little light – we couldn’t find a switch! – that it was difficult to appreciate the artistic treasures inside, including the Holy Nail for which this duomo is famous.

The campanile and duomo
The relatively plain main nave – elaborate decoration was limited to the side chapels
Chapel of the Holy Nail (with 100% increased exposure on the ipad!)

Back near our hotel we had a good view of the medieval town ramparts and surrounding countryside before retiring to our room to rest our weary limbs before supper.

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