Late Summer landscapes

23 August 2015
Ben Pentreath

I remember some friends of a friend coming back from a long holiday in Tuscany one August to announce that the time “had been characterised by rain and conversation”.

Which sounded like such an improbably made-up E. M. Forster type of remark, and not quite the sort of thing I wanted to come back saying (for a number of reasons), that I began to get seriously worried on day two of our stay with Val.  Thundery skies rolled in relentlessly… but they did, at least, make the remarkable view from Brolio Castle even more dramatic than usual.


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The view across to Siena never really seems to change. I love these timeless towers.
P1000784 P1000787 P1000800 The skies were angry but sunshine was never too far away.

The gardens are Brolio are not just about the view. There is a green leafiness to much of them that reminded both Charlie and me of the shady part of Rousham.
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We had our usual display of spectacular sunsets, it goes without saying.P1000852 P1000853 When suddenly there is that moment that the sky lights up like fire:
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Before a perfectly cooked dinner by Valentina. Flowers by Charlie.

Now that I am a married man, no more Palio blogs (but I suggest you search back for them if you don’t know what I am talking about….). Siena is, I think, the most beautiful Italian city.P1000908 P1000910 P1000919 P1000926 P1000931 P1000933 P1000936 P1000939 P1000940 P1000943 P1000954 P1000955

(Maisie, this one is for you:)P1000958

New discoveries:P1010008 P1010011

Old favourites:P1010028 P1010041 P1010049 P1010052 P1010053 P1010058 P1010100

I loved our evening walk back to the car through the dark streets… children kicking around their football in front of the facade of a great Baroque church… only in Italy.P1010101

Days had drifted by, and the following morning Charlie and I set off south, to Pienza. We called at Montalcino on the way, the roofs of the town forming a pattern like the fields and hills below.P1010152 P1010154 P1010172 P1010178 P1010180 P1010186

We arrived in Pienza to a fleeting rainstormP1010209

soon followed by a wide, strong rainbow.P1010239 And a perfect evening walk around town, quietening down from day visitors. This is one of the most beautiful small villages in Tuscany, famous for its realisation of the ‘Ideal City’, but all the more spectacular for its vast views over the Val d’Orcia.
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Finding little corners with Pomegranite trees in gardens, we made our way to a delicious supper, the best we’ve had in Italy, at Il Rossellino, although to read the reviews on tripadvisor you would think I was going mad. (I am really not sure I trust tripadvisor, do you?).P1010269

We work early on Saturday, to find the little town sparkling in a bright light and a gentle breeze.P1010279 P1010282 P1010283 P1010285 P1010286

The Palazzo Piccolomini is worth a visit. The tours are with those earphone wands, in a multitude of languages, which I found a bit strange, but the building is incredibly beautiful. Photographs are not allowed inside, I am afraid, and for once I obeyed the rules.  There was a blind lady in our group. Our tour guide took her hand and ran it over every surface, carved Renaissance fireplaces, scagliola table-tops, and wooden furniture.  A wonderful moment.P1010300 P1010320 P1010341 P1010351 P1010354

The cathedral has a beautiful ceiling.P1010356

Of course I adored the 1980s guide phones the most of all.P1010359

And this sign at the entrance.P1010376

We ate lunch in Monticchiello, with amazing views back to Pienza, and a beautiful, silent church.P1010383 P1010407 P1010410

And in the evening, we had an amazing drive south, to La Foce, the beautiful house and gardens  created by Iris Origo and her husband Antonio in the 1930s.  Our friend Maria had fixed a visit in the evening, with Iris’s daughter Benedetta. Amazing. It was an incredible moment.P1010438 P1010439 P1010445 P1010450 P1010460 P1010481 P1010485 P1010496 P1010490P1010501 P1010511 P1010512

Benedetta’s wonderful daughter delivering a box of freshly picked plums to their restaurant that they have opened next door to the gardens.P1010514 with this view…

I woke up incredibly early this morning, and as the sun rose I made a quiet walk around silent Pienza, chalky-grey in the early light.
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And then we made our way north, and collected our friend Catherine, and now we are driving to Lucca for Valentina’s birthday party tomorrow, and then…. as if all of a sudden, it’s time to go home.  Goodbye, late Summer in Tuscany. Hello, Autumn in England… we are looking forward to seeing you now.

20 comments on this post

Nick Heywoodsays:

No more Palio postings!?!?!? I used to like the addition of Charlie, but now I’m not so sure … lovely post, as always. Brings back the best of memories.


As always, a thing of beauty and a feast for the eyes….particularly loved your early morning in Pienza which brilliantly evokes that time of day. so glad you have both had such a lovely holiday, and been good enough to share it with your devoted blog readers


La Foce is open to common mortals, at least it was a few years ago. The times were a little eccentric, I imagine they have a website.


So great to have friends in high places! Thank you for sharing La Foce and all points Tuscan. Best from a grizzly (= grim and drizzly) East Devon. Nicola

i will never see all those places and such wondrous things ben.
but to be able to see them in such a personally shared way just makes me smile.
i feel it’s been my holiday too.
thank you!

Oh bloody hell Ben. Jealous and gobsmacked in equal (ish) measure… and Lucca too… I weep!

oh. memories of my two summers in Tuscany ….
cant decide which of these gorgeous photos to use for wallpaper… they are so gorgeous


You’re right about Tripadvisor.
There’s a fascism about the negative reviews and if the reviewers don’t go back then I’ll be eating in the restaurant they panned.
A restaurant improved by their absence


! Agreed…. 😉

Beautiful! It has been rainy and a little cooler here too-I am so looking forward to Fall. Thank you for a great start to my Monday morning.
xo, Lissy

Andrew Lagesays:

I plan on visiting Tuscany next winter. I’m fascinated by the history of the Anglo-American colony there. Long to visit La Foce. Is it open to the public. I ask because I rarely see any people in B. Pentreath’s photos.


Dear Andrew – yes it is open regularly… for all the details…

All best, Ben

Ben, I was rather looking forward to your round up of the dishy types watching the Palio! A very touching story of the blind lady on your tour.


Just looked at your Blog, and by coincidence I am halfway through “War in Val d’Orcia” by Iris Origo!!! When you are in Lucca, don’t miss the public garden in the far corner of the city, it is very easily missed.

Colin Graysays:

Once again thanks for sharing your stunning holiday photographs – on a dull Monday in Somerset I wish I was in Italy!

Amazing! You evoked the magic and mystery! So enjoyed this. Gave been thinking of those drawing you did in your student days in Syria. Thank you for sharing this grand adventure.

Charlotte Ksays:

I’m going to Tuscany in October. I cannot wait. Beautiful! These photos just whet my desire.


ps I was told that the weather always changes on August 15th, from being very hot to suddenly quite a bit cooler with rain. Lisa


A beautiful blog Ben, thank you. Stunning sun setting photographs, and how fortunate we are that we can see these incredible gardens through your eyes.
About two years ago you wrote a blog when you were in bed with ‘flu and thinking of buying a house instead of renting. I replied that I too was in bed with flu,thinking of selling and moving to Italy.( a different continent even) I rented an apartment in the centro storico of a small town, and I am so happy. A good move.
I fling the shutters open in the mornings and revel in the sounds; the language, the bells…everything. I expected to be thrilled by the buildings and the paintings and the fresh fruit and vegies in the market,and I am, but I am totally enthralled by the sky and the puffy soft clouds, and yes, the sunsets. I feel on permanent holiday and the good thing is that I am already home. Thanks Ben and Happy Birthday to Valentina. Lisa

You were shown around La Foce – you lucky man! Lovely post as always. It’s just started raining here.


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