View from our bedroom window this morning – the hotel is one of several former palazzos along the medieval city ramparts

We slept well after an excellent meal at a restaurant just along the road from the hotel, and woke to birds singing in the trees outside. The sun was shining despite yesterday’s forecast indicating rain for today. At breakfast we were served by a very friendly American woman who has lived here for 30 years and is friends with a former mayor of Test Valley. It’s a small world!

We started by walking down into the newer part of town to visit Manuela’s church and find her flat so we can send her photos. Sant’Agostino is a 14th century church, so it is older than the current iteration of the cathedral/duomo we visited yesterday. Unlike the duomo, this church is light and all the historic artworks are labelled in Italian and English to help the interested visitor understand what they’re looking at. We were very impressed by this and got so much more out of our visit.

Inside the Chiesa Sant’Agostino – beautifully simple, light and airy
Madonna and Child, Taddeo di Bartolo, tempura on wood, Siena, 1422

We had a bit of difficulty finding our way onto the right path out of town, but eventually found the riverbank and then walked upstream. What a beautiful river! There are lots of small rapids and pools which the hotel manager had told us are well used for bathing during the summer. Today there were just a few other walkers, a couple of cyclists, and several hopeful fishermen. We saw no sign of fish, nor aquatic invertebrates.

One of many bathing pools in the Flume d’Elsa

Further upstream our path crossed and re-crossed the river several times via stepping stones with rope handrails intended to stop people falling in. Fortunately the river was fairly low so the rocks weren’t very slippery, but getting across safely was still quite difficult with heavy packs on our backs messing with our balance. Signs warning us that crossing might be dangerous were of no help at all!

The first of several rope-bound stepping stone crossings

By late morning we had passed several industrial areas high up on the banks, and came to San Marziale where we climbed up from the river to walk through the town. On the way through we picked up filled rolls from a cafe/bar and an orange and tomato for lunch at a road-side stall.

View back downstream from the bridge into San Marziale

Once back into countryside, we were onto farm tracks again, winding our way across fields and through areas of woodland. The scenery here is quite different from further north in Tuscany. The landscape is more rolling and open rather than a jumble of closely packed hills. There seems to be more arable farming going on too, with wheat and beans being grown in fields between the ubiquitous olive groves and vineyards.

Just after lunch, eaten whilst sat on a bank in the sunshine, we walked up into the village of Strove which has an attractive little central piazza and a 14th century church which was firmly locked but sounded interesting from the board outside.

The piazza in Strove – note the laundry out drying in the sunny street

After Strove and its nearby castello, we plunged back into woodland for a while, before emerging once again into olive groves. Tom was delighted to see a fritillary and blackthorn just coming into leaf – both signs of advancing spring. We also saw a dead snake beside the path, but don’t know what sort it was.

Blackthorn just coming into leaf
Walking down through olive groves bounded by substantial limestone walls

At the bottom of the hill, as we were taking a short rest, a group of walkers we had seen in Manuela’s church in Colle and again in San Marziale caught up with us. They turned out to be Germans living in Siena who were spending a few days walking from San Miniato back to Siena. We wondered whether they had found a good restaurant for lunch as they had been walking ahead of us and, with their light day packs, were much faster than us.

Water fountain provided for pilgrims outside the ostello at Abbadia a Isola

In Abbadia a Isola we passed an 11th century ostello which still offers accommodation to pilgrims walking the Via Francigena, provided they can show their ‘credential’ proving that they’ve been making pilgrimage. Further on Tom got talking to a young man with a backpack walking in the opposite direction who turned out to be another Swiss Guard walking home to Lausanne. Boris was heading to the Ostello for the night. He recognised the photograph of his colleague whom we’d met in the Apennines back in November. He told us that 6-7 Swiss Guards a year walk home from Rome after completing their two-year tour of duty at the Vatican. That explains the memorial plaques to the Swiss Guard we had seen on the trail over recent days.

Just 300kms to Rome and today’s destination, the walled village of Montereggioni, now in sight on the hilltop
The last stretch through the fields with Montereggioni hidden behind the hill off left
Montereggioni castle atop the hill

The final climb up to Montereggioni was very steep, emphasising what an effective defensive position it is in. Once inside the castle walls there are magnificent views in all directions. The castle itself appears to be mainly a tourist attraction, with shops and restaurants much in evidence, and a very small local community. We will leave further exploration until tomorrow.

View of the hills beyond the castle walls from our room

Highlights of the day: the beautiful Sant’Agostino church, the lovely river valley of the Flume d’Elsa, the variety of scenery, and all topped off by one of the best meals we’ve had in Italy at one of the restaurants on the main square.

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