Enough of Tuscany? There’s always Umbria, where I went almost every day last week. I’ve been continuing my marathon training on this trip (marathon training while traveling in Europe is certainly interesting), and had two 4 mile runs, an 8 and a 12 to do last week. Cetona is on the border between Tuscany and Umbria and running across the valley from the farmhouse where we were staying to Umbria was my best option for a flat route. I’d walk down the steep, gravel road from the farm, then follow Via del Gore across the flat farm land of grape vines, corn and sunflowers until it ran into the bottom of the Umbrian hills we could see in the distance from the garden of the farmhouse.
On Friday David and I decided to explore a bit more of Umbria, especially the town we could clearly see as a long smudge of reddish buildings on the ridge directly across the valley from us — Citta della Pieve. A lovely town of old brick buildings, winding streets and cafes that had at least as many locals as tourists, we found it delightful. We’d visited some of the more popular Tuscan cities earlier in the week — Montepulciano, Pienza, Sienna — and found plenty to enjoy, but also bus loads of tourists.
As we walked around Citta della Pieve, I looked for gardens created in the stone streets and around the brick buildings.
We drove on to Panicale, and again I took note of the many gardens created from potted plants or in tiny pockets of green between or on top of buildings. I’d been enjoying potted gardens all week as we walked through many ancient hilltop villages, such a contrast from the large gardens and sprawling yard and pastures of the farmhouse where we were staying.
The most stunning gardens I saw were at the Monastery de San Francesco, a few kilometers up in the hills behind us at the farmhouse. Now a rehabilitation center for young men with substance abuse problems, the church and former monastery is beautifully landscaped with cypress trees and hedges of rosemary, flowering pots of plants strung along the side of the road, and large vegetable gardens terraced on the hillside below. We were given an enthusiastic tour of the church with frescoes that date from the 1400’s by a young Spanish man. I marveled at it all, especially the peaceful and beautifully created landscape.
Of all the cities and towns we explored during our week in Tuscany, we didn’t find any place we liked better than Cetona. It’s charming, authentic, surrounded by a beautiful countryside, and, for me, has some good flat running routes outside of town.
Now we’re in Rome, the hills and gardens of Tuscany and Umbria behind us as we immerse ourselves in three days of frenetic antiquity before heading home on Thursday.