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Circular walks in Chianti: Badia a Passignano

January 17, 2016 · 6 comments

 

Date walked: 29th September 2015

Distance: about 6 miles

Guide book used: “Walking and eating in Tuscany and Umbria” by James Lasdun and Pia Davis.  Edition published 2004. See website www.walkingandeating.com for comments and corrections.

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Tuscany (taking in the cities of Florence, Pisa and Siena and the countryside in between) has some of Italy’s finest gardens so I found the opportunity via Boxwood Tours to have a guided tour to many of those in Florence irresistible. The three-day tour was tailor-made for the European Boxwood and Topiary Society (I am a member of this excellent organisation) and was both delightful and exhausting.  But to fly back after just three days seemed to me almost obscene, so I had extended my stay by a week, giving myself three days to do some walking in Chianti and then carrying on garden visiting in the Siena area.

I was staying at Terre Di Baccio – a country hotel situated in a 50 acre estate of vineyards and olive groves just outside the village of Greve in Chianti.

Terre di baccio, Greve in Chianti, photographed by Charles Hawes

Lovely warm stone, so common in Tuscany

The hotel has seven self-catering apartments in the main villa and an adjoining building and four en-suite rooms on the ground floor of the villa, let on a Bed and Breakfast basis.

Terre di baccio, Greve in Cianti, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

View from the top of the drive

I was in one of these.  I couldn’t have been made more welcome by Ilaria Lensi – the daughter of the owners, whose English was excellent.

Terre di baccio, Greve in Cianti, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

View from the terrace

After breakfast on the terrace of fresh pastries (yum) I drove to the little village of Badia a Passignano; it was only 5 miles away, but they were slow miles – the minor roads in Tuscany twist and turn like a corkscrew and the approach to the village was stone surfaced and single track.

Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, Photographed by Charles Hawews

You wouldn’t think those trees were so dense when you get there

Badia was founded by Benedictines over 1,000 years ago; Galileo taught maths here in 1588.   The abbey’s crenellated  towers are surrounded by a thick plantation of pencil cypresses. I popped into the adjacent church of Saint Michael Archangel to admire the frescoes and to light a candle.

Saint Michael Archangel ,Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Lots of frescoes on the walls, too

I had no map of the area but the guide-book had a detailed description of the route; I had to hope that not too much had changed in the last 10 years.

Starting at the Osteria di Passignano (one of two restaurants in the village)….

Osteria di Passignano ,Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

The menu looked fab, if a bit pricey

…., a steep track passes behind the building, dropping down through a mixed deciduous wood of young  trees.

Track near Badia a Passignano, photographed by Charles Hawes

Tracks like these are what most country dwellers in Tuscany end up on before they get home

The mossy undergrowth was dotted with clumps of cyclamen  purpurescens and I spotted several euphorbia.

Cyclamen purpurescens in wood near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

There are one of my favourite garden flowers so to see them wild was really exciting

The sign may have said “No hunting”…….

Divieto di Caccia sign in woods near Badia a Pasignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

….. but at its base a spent cartridge from a shot-gun suggested that this edict was being ignored.

After crossing a small stream the track climbed as steeply as it had descended, the landscape opening up to rough meadow,  the woodland now adding Stone Pines to its varied species.

Meadow at edge of wood near Badia a Passignano, photographed by Charles Hawes

At the top of the track were two buildings, making up the hamlet of Casa Vignola. Boarded up at the time the guide was written, they were (surprisingly) still unused.

Casa Vignola near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Such pleasing openings in the walls

The door of the hooped entrance opened with a bit of a tug and I had an explore (mostly a shell with a lot of rubbish). I’d be amazed if these places had not been converted to holiday homes in another 10 years time.

Quite high up now, and overlooking olive groves, the view  back to Badia was splendid.

view to Badia a Passignano, photographed by Charles Hawes

At least, I think that’s Badia

The track stayed at this level for a while, the surface good enough for me to enjoy studying the clearly managed woodland. I passed a small coppice of tall hazel (I think) poles….

Coppice near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

I’m not so sure now about the species; it maybe a very young coppice

… but it was the under-storey that was most interesting. Ruscus aculaetus (Butchers Broom) were dotted about, sporting large bright red berries.

Ruscus aculaetus (Butchers Broom) photographed in woods near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, by Charles Hawes

I’ve got one of these that has sulked in my wood for 25 years and never berried

Also, quite thick clumps of black-berried shrub which looked like a cornus but I wasn’t sure.

 Cornus sanguinea in woods near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

I think it might be Cornus sanguinea

And everywhere were clumps of beautiful cyclamen, not thick enough to be described as a carpet but enough to tint the ground with its delicate purple.

Cyclamen purpurescens in wood near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Do we get cyclemen growing in woods in the UK?

The wood included Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree), already scattering its red fruits on the ground.

Arbutus unedo, in woods near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Again, I don’t recall seeing this outside of gardens in the UK

There was  sorbus, too, with the largest berries that I have ever seen on this species. I was loving all this species, spotting, but at the same time slightly annoyed with myself that I was not more knowledegable.

Sorbus in woods near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Then again it could have been a species I am not so familiar with

The woods were extremely quiet, so that it was possible to regularly hear the pattering feet of startled lizards; the occasional warning squawks of  the jay population sounded more like expressions of panic.

I passed a new little hut on the edge of an olive grove…..

Olive grove at edge of wood near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

— and then took a left turn as directed, passing Casa San Brizzi, its gate posts adorned with the Italian Flag and a blue one that I could not  make out.

Casa San Brizzi agriturismo, near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Do let me know if you stay there

This place is an agriturismo, also announced on the gate post. The bank of its drive had the most wonderful display of the crocus -like Sternbergia lutea.

Sternbergia lutea in woods near Badia a Passignano, photographed by Charles Hawes

A naturalised colony or planted?

I had seen several areas of this cheerful native bulb by the road in the last couple of days. Just along the track from here, the density of the cyclamen increased quite dramatically so that now, “carpet” did not seem too fanciful a description.

Cyclamen purpurescens in wood near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Gorgeous!

So far the directions in the book had been accurate and easy to follow.  “A sign with a green No. 4” on a tree where I was to turn left had become a rather more prominent black and white one on a metal post.

Sign for Sentiero 4 near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

I think we would call that a public bridleway

The woodland floor continued to be decorated with cyclamen and then the path came out into open countryside once more,  bordering an olive grove, with a vineyard beyond.

Olive grove and vineyard near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes-33

The track climbed gently up to the hamlet of Poggio al Vento; the guide said that there were some beautiful buildings here so I stayed on the path for a nosey round.

Poggio al Vento near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

I’ve no idea about dates for these building

It was well worth the minor deviation.

Poggio al Vento near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

There’s that lovely arch again

A weighbridge now stands at the turning I needed to take, that was not mentioned in my directions…..

Weighbridge at Poggio al Vento near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

….. and just below it was a wood yard with neatly bundled lengths of timber stacked up by the side of the track, ready to be transported.

Woodyard at Poggio al Vento near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Or for a kiln?

These looked to me like they might be used in some kind of furnace.

Opposite these was an enviable pile of domestic firewood logs.

Firewood at Poggio al Vento near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Seriously jealous

Ahead and below me, on the edge of the same olive grove and vineyard that I had passed on the approach to Poggio al Vento, was Casa Pietto.

Casa Pieto below Poggio al Vento near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, Photographed by Charles Hawes

I don’t know what those white buildings are in the distance; probably a static caravan park

After passing the house and returned once again to walking through the cyclamen strewn wood….

Cyclamen purpurescens in wood near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Picture fail: it seemed so much clearer than this in reality

…. the track became quite rough and rutted.

Farm track near Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Glad I wasn’t in the hire car

The run-off from the rain must have caused this deterioration of the surface and would make for an uncomfortable and challenging drive for anything but the most robust farm vehicles.

Periodically in the middle of the track was a clump of some large-leaved stalky plant that I could not identify.

Any suggestions?

The bottom of the track faced a rather functional little stone bridge; the stream running underneath it, completely dry.

Bridge outside Badia a Passignano, photographed by Charles Hawes

Yes, this is positively unattractive!

This bridge carried the stone-surfaced road that I had approached the village on, so it was good to take a slower look at the surroundings.

First time round I hadn’t seen the little wooden cross that was by the side of the road and which is so common in predominantly catholic countries.

Wooden Cross by road outside Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

I better not make any dodgy remark or I might get torched

I’d missed the little shrine, too.

Shrine by road at Badia a Passignano, photographed by Charles Hawes

The view back over the vineyard was rather lovely, the orderly lines of vines contrasting with the rather looser tapestry of the woods behind.

Vineyard near Badia a Passiginano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

The village remained very quiet. It was lunchtime and although the guide describes the Ristoro L’antica Scuderia as the less posh of the two restaurants in the village, it looked to me that it had gone up-market.

Ristoro L'antica Scuderia Badia a Passignano, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

In my dusty and somewhat sweaty state I did not feel brave enough to find out if I would be welcomed.  Such are the privations of the solitary traveller. But, hey, it had been a great little walk. I had been to Italy many times before but this was the first time that I felt that I was noticing and appreciating the detail of the landscape.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ian Thorpe January 17, 2016 at 8:20 am

Am deeply envious. Beautiful light, landscape and architecture.

Reply

Charles January 17, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Thanks Ian. It was good to explore a bit of the country on foot. More to come.

Reply

Paul Steer January 17, 2016 at 12:23 pm

What beautiful light. It’s good to be journeying with you again.

Reply

Charles January 17, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Yes, a lovely early Autumn day. There’s two more posts to come from Italy – with a garden in the last one!

Reply

Julia January 17, 2016 at 2:58 pm

are they poplar seedlings?

Reply

Charles January 17, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Well, They looked more fleshy than woody….

Reply

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Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)