Wow, do I have a bunch of blogging to do! I have been keeping so busy, it’s almost impossible to keep my blog updated with all my adventures, but nevertheless I will try. Last weekend was my last weekend in Italy! I decided to spend it in the countryside in Tuscany. On Friday after work, I caught a train from Pisa to Empoli and changed lines to arrive in Certaldo. Once in Certaldo, I took the funicular up to Certaldo Alto to get a feel for the city. Everything was closing because it was 7pm, but I was able to get some info from the tourist office. Not much is written about Certaldo in any guidebook, but I had decided to go to that town first to stay at Fattoria Bassetto, an old farm house converted into a hostel right in the middle of the Tuscan hillside. I headed to Fattoria Bassetto after taking a few more pictures from Certaldo Alto and planning my return for the next day. The farmhouse is about a 25 minute walk outside of town, but quite cute.
I arrived close to 8 and found several other travelers my age lounging by the pool and in the hammocks. I dropped off my things and helped to prepare dinner for everyone; gnocchi and salad. An Australian on holiday loved the hostel so much, she decided to stay and work there. She and I talked while she made the meal and then all 15 of us staying at the hostel that night gathered around a huge table for our pasta and salad with wine, of course. It was very interesting to hear about other travelers from all over the world; Brazil, Australia, Spain, the United States, the Netherlands, England, and Denmark were all represented by the people in that room. After dinner, we all headed outside to enjoy the cooler air. I stayed up drinking wine and limoncello until 2 in the morning, debating frivolous things and exchanging travel stories. I slept in a room with 2 other girls which was very warm since there was only a small window and a fan. Oh well, that’s the hostel experience I guess.
The main reason why I choose to stay a night at Fattoria Basseto was to borrow a mountain bike the next day. For only 25 euros, I was able to eat dinner, drink wine, spend the night, and rent a bike… what a bargain! I picked out my mountain bike and began a 3 hour ride in the countryside past vineyards and olive groves, up and down hills, and past small farmhouses. I was so deep into Tuscany that I didn’t see but one or two hotels and one or two restaurants during my entire ride. Instead, I caught glimpses of the tall towers of San Gimignano in the distance and heard only my own breath and bicycle amidst the silence of the natural surroundings. 3 hours on the bike just about killed me due to the heat. I was drinking water, but was starting to feel the effects of heat exhaustion because in Tuscany in summer there is just no way to cool down. I made my way back to Certaldo Alto to have lunch at the Chibollo Café. Chibollo is Italian for onion; Certaldo is famous for its flavorful onions all over Italy. I downed some cold water and some white Vernaccia wine from the region along with some pasta with truffle sauce (another regional specialty) and chickpeas with boars meat. I ate so much because I was absolutely starving from my ride.
After lunch, I went up the tallest tower in the town for a beautiful panorama of the countryside below, then paid a visit to the old castle. Certaldo Alto is tiny, but quite charming and almost entirely preserved as it was during Medieval times. It is well worth a stop during a visit to Tuscany if one enjoys castles and amazing panoramas in a place surprisingly devoid of tourists. There is a beautiful hotel at the top of the funicular with blooming gardens looking out over Certaldo Basso, the city below. Many towns in Tuscany have an “alto” and a “basso”; the “alto” being the high part on the hill which was defendable during the Middle Ages, and the “basso” being the more recent additions to the ancient cities. Still battling with the heat, I collected my things at Fattoria Bassetto, said goodbye to the people and the two adorable dogs, and headed to the train station. I caught a train to Poggibonsi, where I caught a bus to San Gimiginao. Both the train and the bus were packed because there is a limited number of each per day. By the time I arrived in San Gimiginao it was around 4pm and I was feeling delirious and queasy from heat exhaustion. I fought it off and managed to check in to my hotel, make it to my room, and crank the AC to try to bring my body temperature down. Sometimes being a bit of an athletic traveler as well as a budget travelers gets me into a bind, but its worth it for the experiences along the way.