Last night’s supper was a little disappointing for a 4-star hotel’s restaurant, but we slept very well and woke to bright sunshine. Breakfast was back at the same restaurant, and was one of the best we have had in Italy, with fresh fruit and a boiled egg, cured meats and cheeses. And butter, which is so rarely offered it feels like a treat! Nutritionally we were well set, but Julie’s knee discomfort has not resolved so today she wore the compression bandage we bought from the pharmacy yesterday. Unfortunately they didn’t have an elasticated knee support in her size in stock.

Torre Camaldoli with the bushes outside – our room was on the second floor – giving a good view of pigeons tight-rope walking!
Heading along San Quirico’s main street towards the Porta Romana

We headed out along the main street, passing two more churches and several cafes beginning to open for the day. At the Porta Romana we had our first glimpse of the beautiful surrounding countryside. After yesterday’s rain the air was very clear, giving us far-reaching views in all directions. Outside the village we passed by extensive allotment gardens, overlooking the verdant Orcia valley beyond.

Extensive allotments outside San Quirico

The path then headed uphill, climbing steadily, until we reached the first village of Vignoni Alto. En route we were overtaken by three Italian women who are walking from Siena to Rome and asked Tom to take a group photo for them. On winding our way through the narrow cobbled streets of Vignoni Alto we came to a small church with the sound of music emanating from it. We wondered whether there might be a service going on, but in fact it was just recorded choral music, lending a contemplative ambience to this simple well-kept church.

Having left our rucksacks outside as they were too big to get through the narrow entry door, we came out to find a very pretty cat nosing around them, probably smelling the food inside. A second cat around the corner was trying to scrabble down a very high wall to get at birds nesting in a creeper. Oddly, we have seen very few cats in Italy – and far too many dogs!

Heading down into Bagno Vignoni with Castglione on the hill

The path then headed downhill to Bagno Vignoni, a larger village with thermal baths which are evidently a big tourist draw as it was busy and the cafes were doing a brisk trade even this early in the year. Here we had a long and very interesting conversation with a Swedish couple who spend spring and autumn in Italy.

The thermal baths at Bagno Vignoni

Immediately below Bagno Vignoni the path across the river was fenced off and a notice said there was a weight limit of 400kgs. As there had been no signed diversion earlier and the bridge looked viable we decided to climb over the fence and walk across it to avoid a long detour. We went one at a time as a precaution (Julie sent Tom over first!) but it felt safe enough. Once across we could see that the structure was warped, so maybe there was a good reason for it being fenced off.

A rugged footpath turned quickly uphill through woodland, until we eventually emerged into fields below Castiglione, the hilltop village we had seen from the other side of the valley. On the way up we encountered four Danish women walking in the opposite direction and, after exchanging news on our respective travels, again assisted with a photo opportunity.

Incredible light between sunshine and black clouds as we ascended through the woods towards Castiglione
Approaching Castiglione through olive orchards and vineyards

Although a visit to Castiglione is recommended in the guides, it is not on the Via Francigena. In view of Julie’s struggles with her knee today we decided against adding on any detours. The path instead contours around Castiglione lower on the hillside, but still provides stunning views up and down the valley d’Orcia.

Still below Castiglione we found a sunny spot amongst some olive trees to sit and have our lunch, looking out over the Orcia valley. By now a chilly east wind had got up but it was warm in the sun. A young German woman walking on her own from Siena to Rome caught up with us. In fact, we realised we’d seen her in the restaurant in San Quirico last night and at breakfast this morning. She comes from Hamburg and is working at a chocolate factory whilst studying tourism.

Soon after the lunchtime olive grove our path rejoined an unmade road which was surprisingly busy. We continue to be amazed by how fast Italians drive on these rough roads, but maybe Fiats are more robust than Land Rovers!

At our next resting place, sat on a bank beside the road, we were overtaken by an Italian woman from Venice who is walking from Siena to Rome with her lovely little dog. A little further up the road we witnessed her dog being set upon by a very big Alsation dog which had been left to run freely alongside its owner’s truck. Even when the Italian woman scooped the little dog into her arms the bigger dog kept trying to get at it, until its owner eventually got it under control. We were appalled though not surprised by this after our own experiences with out-of-control Italian dogs.

Looking back down the road after turning left towards Gallina

Soon after that incident we took a left turn to follow another dirt road along a spur giving wonderful views up and down the Orcia valley as the sun was getting lower in the sky. Yet again the Venetian woman’s little dog was set upon by a hound which escaped from its garden. This time we were better prepared and Tom was able to deter the culprit by shouting and waving his stick at it, sending it off homewards.

Heading out along a spur towards Gallina
Looking across towards Castiglione (left horizon) and San Quirico (middle far horizon)

We found our accommodation perched on the hillside a short distance above Gallina. Fortunately, after some initial linguistic confusion, our kind hostess offered to cook us supper as neither of us felt up to walking over half a kilometre down into Gallina for supper – even if its only restaurant was open, which was in doubt. From our bedsit we have wonderful views of the mountains to the west that we have been admiring all day.

Today has been one of stunning views of the Orcia valley, and meeting lots of people. We have met more pilgrims today than any other day of the whole trip so far. We also enjoyed hearing the larks singing over the fields, and more spring flowers coming into blossom. It has been a good day!

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