A Summer Trip.

At the end of August we drove down to Italy. On the way down, we spent a few days at la Clusaz in the  French Alps. Our favourite walk in the Aravis mountains is up the La Tete du Danay  above St Jean de Sixt. It is a stiff climb but the views from the top are amazing and the wild flowers are fabulous.
IMG_0744This is the one place in the Alps where you always seem to see Swallowtail butterflies. This is the first time that I have managed to get a photo of one.
I can’t resist campanulas and I love the whiskery Campanula barbata.
I don”t know what Digitalis ambigua is doing in flower at the end of August. Perhaps it is having second flowering. The rose to the left of it looks just like Rosa rubrifolia but it is an Alpine rose: Rosa pendulina.
I have to include this lovely bug for Debra at UnderThePecanleaves blog. Debra takes wonderful pictures of the weirdest bugs. This is a  beautiful  day flying moth, the  Six-spot burnet: Zygaena filpendulae.

We were heading to Lucca because the Pianist had booked tickets for the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago  near Lucca.  Lucca is the birthplace of Puccini and the purpose built amphitheatre by the lake is a wonderful setting for a Puccini feast. We sat and had dinner by the lake and watched the sun go down as we waited for the performance of Madama Butterfly to start.

The way to explore Lucca is by bike. It is great fun cycling round the city wall. I enjoyed  just a glimpse of this garden but our holiday had been declared a garden- free zone because our holidays usually consist of  too much garden as far as the Pianist is concerned.

The next stop was Fiesole which is a wonderful place to stay if you want to enjoy Florence. It also is a wonderful place to visit some amazing gardens, but not on this occasion. The views of Florence in the valley are beautiful even on a misty day.

There is a regular bus service that takes you straight into the centre. I am not a city person but I love Florence, it is a magical place.

Cathedral and Brunelleschi's amazing dome.

Cathedral and Brunelleschi’s amazing dome.

Ponte vecchio

Ponte vecchio

The no -garden -restriction was relaxed when we went to the Boboli gardens. I was too exhausted by a day of sightseeing in the heat to enjoy it fully. This renaissance  garden created in 1550 behind the Pitti Palace home of the Medicis was the model for all the European courts and still influences how we view a formal garden today.

This dwarf , Morgante belonged to the Medici court. I wondered if he minded being depicted  as Bacchus, drunk and nude, riding on a turtle for the rest of time. Perhaps he didn’t have any say in the matter.

Our next stop was Umbria where we intended relaxing and basking in the sun. We were renting a lovely little house with its  own swimming pool. Bliss.
DSC_0091 DSC_0084Or it should have been if it hadn’ t poured with rain for most of the week. The temperature was a chilly 19 degrees for much of the time. Still we did have a few bright days. On one of them we climbed the hill behind our house and had a beautiful view down to our little house behind the olives.
There were still wild flowers to be found even though it was September by now. It was a delight to find wild Cyclamen hederifolium.
I have never seen colchicums growing wild before. The pattern on the petals looked like that on Colchicum agrippinum which I thought comes from Turkey. So I am not sure which one it is.

We did have one lovely, sunny day though and this was the day that we were invited to lunch with lovely Christina who has the myhesperidesgarden blog. I certainly got my garden fix here. Christina’ s garden is absolutely stunning. You can see plenty of photos of it on her blog.  We had a wonderful lunch in her garden listening to the calls of the bee -eaters. We enjoyed eating the produce from her garden. Here is the tomato salad created from a medley of her own tomatoes and her own olive oil.

After lunch she took us to see the nearby necropolis of Etruscan tombs which was fascinating. I can’ t wait to go to The British Museum and learn more about these mysterious people. Our day with Christina was one of the highlights of our holiday.

On our way home the last night of our holiday was spent in Vezelay, the hill top town in Burgundy.  It has spectacular views and a wonderful eleventh- century Romanesque Basilica. The second and third crusades started on their sprees of killing and pillaging from here.

Remains of Mary Magdalene were brought here and it became a centre of pilgrimage. Mary Magdalene’ s bones pop up all over the place. You would think it  inconvenient when the same bones are said to be in Provence and Italy too. But in Vezelay this problem was overcome by having Pope Stephen IX coming along  in 1058 and declaring them genuine. Vezelay was a starting point for pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims brought wealth to the town so it was important to keep them coming. Having holy relics was always a big draw. The Catholic church seemed to be obsessed with the body parts of dead saints.  I love the stories of medieval monks going on raids to steal each others’ relics. As Jesus was supposed to have been taken up into Heaven, body and all, you would think that  there would be none of his body pieces around to fight over.  Wrong!  At one point there were 18 churches which claimed to have the Holy Foreskin. In fact right up to the 1980′ s the Italian town of Calcata had an annual celebration, The Feast of the Foreskin, on 1st January where the Holy Foreskin would be brought out in its jewelled casket and paraded round the town. The Pope then removed the date from the Catholic calendar, presumably because he was fed up with everyone chortling about it. Anyway I digress, the Holy Foreskin has nothing to do with Vezelay. It is Mary Magdalenes’ bones that are revered here.

The Romanesque stone sculptures depicting Bible stories, myths and legends are wonderful and sometimes unintentionally funny. I love the expressions on the faces of the damned on the tympanum on the front facade. 

Finally we arrived home to enjoy the beautiful sunny weather that we had hoped to find in Italy.

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58 Responses to A Summer Trip.

  1. Alison says:

    What a bummer that the weather was bad for you in Italy, but it looks like you still managed to see some great sights. I would love to go to Italy some day. Christina’s tomatoes look luscious! Thanks for sharing your vacation photos.

  2. Robbie says:

    I LOVE your tours…am I starting to sound like a broken record, here again…I do sometimes when I admire someones ability to do it so well-bravo! I love the swallowtail pic and might I add “perfect” one you caught! to me a place with swallowtails floating around would be heaven!
    Italy-my dream vacation-where I want to go some day…I envy your vacation…country on the top of my list to visit.
    “The Feast of the Foreskin, on 1st January where the Holy Foreskin would be brought out in its jewelled casket and paraded round the town” I NEVER knew that— how crazy. We do watch a lot of history channel and never head of this feast…broken bones of mary…really interesting all the stuff and photos,too…great tour again,Chloris!
    Those tomatoes from your garden friend are amazing looking-your trip looks memorable and good you had your camera to share all the amazing photos!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Robbie, you say the kindest things. The swallowtail butterflies were gorgeous, I was so glad to get a shot of one. You would have loved it. I enjoyed your lovely monarchs in your latest post.

  3. Julie says:

    Great post Chloris, love all of the detail you share. I would like to walk in the French Alps, it looks spectacular. Cycling in Lucca really does sound like fun too. We went to Italy two years ago and it rained so much that they turned the fountains off at Tivoli. The previous year it was a wilting hot 40 degrees when we arrived in Florence. We shall go again and again though as Italy is so beautiful. Christina is exceptionally lucky. 🙂

    • Chloris says:

      I love Italy. This year they have had a terrible summer apparently. I think we were particularly unlucky the week we were in Umbria as it was quite cold as well as wet. Never mind, it is still beautiful even in the rain.

  4. AnnetteM says:

    I really enjoyed the stories and photos from your Italian holiday – well most of the photos anyway!
    How lovely, too, that you were able to call in on Christina and enjoy her delicious tomatoes.
    The Traveller and I had a real laugh about the relics of Jesus – incredible. He would, however, like to know how The Pianist managed to declare some of your holiday ‘a garden-free, but I, of course, would rather you didn’t tell him!
    What a beautiful butterfly – I have never seen one. I also love the campanula barbata – not noticed that before either.
    What a shame about your weather, but it sounds as if you packed so much in regardless.

    • Chloris says:

      Well, actually it was a mutual decision about the no- gardens. He is always very good natured about being dragged round gardens, but it is so boring for him and it was his holiday too.
      The Campanula barbata I have seen before have always been blue. I was surprised to see this white one.

      • AnnetteM says:

        My problem is that I am not too keen on cities and so will always prefer to find the gardens instead. Actually my husband usually enjoys them too, thankfully. Of course we would both rather be out in the country if possible and preferably in the Alps.

  5. rusty duck says:

    Dubious body parts aside, it sounds like a marvellous holiday, especially walking in the mountains and sitting out by the lake before Puccini. I love Lucca too, although I could have spent a fortune in the shops there. Mike was very keen to move on for some reason.

    • Chloris says:

      It was a wonderful holiday.
      Funny you should mention the shops in Lucca. I am not usually interested in shops (unless they sell plants) but I bought a beautiful bag in Lucca. We were sitting having coffee and I saw it in a shop window and realised that my life would not be complete without it.

  6. bittster says:

    Now that’s a trip! It sounds like a fantastic experience and the scenery is amazing. Thanks for giving such an entertaining commentary and the tomatoes look delicious 🙂

    • Chloris says:

      It was a great experience.
      If you want the very best tomato salad then you have to try Christina’ s. Not only a wonderful selection of her own tomatoes but her own olive oil too. She grows wonderful peppers and aubergines and we sampled those too.

    • Chloris says:

      You are a Colchicum expert Frank, can you identify the Italian Colchicum I photographed growing wild in Umbria?

      • bittster says:

        I am in no way a colchicum expert! I can barely tell my own apart even with the labels next to the blooms 🙂
        Maybe your photo is of c. autumnale or c. bivonae? I think they both might be possible for that area, but I’m not sure what distinguishes the two.

  7. snowbird says:

    Well what a simply delightful holiday! The climb up the La Tete du Danay may have been stiff but ….wow, the views are to die for and that swallow tail is simply stunning, lucky you! How lovely to see the foxgloves, what a lovely pic of them against the mountain.
    I love Puccini and couldn’t imagine a more beautiful build-up than eating by that lake.
    Poor Morgante, he needs to beware the snapping teeth of the turtle, or he could come a cropper!!!
    How good to visit a blogfriend abroad, and those toms certainly look the business to me and those tombs are amazing, I’d love to see those.xxx

    • Chloris says:

      It was a wonderful holiday. We were very lucky to enjoy such treats.
      Indeed, poor Morgante, I really don’ t know why they made him take all his clothes off and sit on a turtle. Most undignified.
      It was lovely to visit Christina, her garden is fantastic and she grows amazing veg too.

  8. Anna says:

    Oh what a fabulous holiday Chloris and how lovely that you were able to meet up with Christina. Her tomato salad looks just the business. I spotted my first swallowtail in France a few years ago but the poor creature had suffered some wing damage. I think that the faces of the dammed are the stuff of nightmares. Ironic that you came back home to better weather.

  9. Chloris says:

    It was fabulous and a great treat to have lunch with Christina in her lovely garden.
    I always think that swallowtail butterflies look like exotic, tropical ones. They are exquisite.
    I think that I must have a weird sense of humour because the expressions on the faces of the dammed amused me.

  10. Kris P says:

    What a wonderful holiday! You got great pictures despite the garden-free rule, which sounds a lot like the rules that get established in my household. Marriage does require its compromises…

    • Chloris says:

      Yes we all have to make compromises, the Pianist is endlessly kind and generous in looking at gardens with me but I wanted him to enjoy his holiday too and not just do what I like doing. It is bad enough going for a walk with me; he complains that I stop and look at every flower.

  11. Life’s like that, eh? You have to come back home to find what you went abroad for.
    But your photos and stories are great. sorry about the rain and the cold, though. Maybe you’ll have better weather next time.

  12. Benjamin says:

    Wow! Absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing your amazing journey. I could almost taste that tomato salad 😉 Cheer, Ben

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Ben, it was a great trip.
      I wish I could make a tomato salad like that but first you need to grow all those varieties of tomatoes, then you need to have your own olive oil. Christina also grows several varieties of Basil.

  13. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful trip! The French Alps are stunning based on your photos. I’ve never been there, but I can see I need to add that location to my bucket list. I have been to Lucca and Florence, however, and I agree that Florence is a magical place–even for people who aren’t crazy about cities. Wonderful post!

  14. Cathy says:

    You got some beautiful photos of the flowers and that butterfly, and the lake looks so peaceful. 🙂 Great you met up with Christina – that tomato salad looks mouth-watering!

  15. pbmgarden says:

    Beautiful swallowtail and moth, fascinating scenery and history. Christina’s beautifully styled tomato plate has set my mouth watering.

  16. A wonderful post, Chloris – so full of interesting and amusing facts! It looks like you had a great holiday, despite the weather. Torre del Lago looks magical. Florence, too, is a magnificent city, which we have been lucky enough to visit on a very hot, sunny day (sorry!). Your photos certainly showed up the skills of the sculptors. I wonder, if it was all done from imagination! So glad you managed to sneak in a garden visit – the Pianist was very obliging! It must have been lovely visiting Christina! Have you visited her before?

    • Chloris says:

      Florence is beautiful isn’ t it? It was very hot while we were there, the bad weather started when we got to Umbria. Everyone was saying that they had never had such an awful summer.
      The sculptures in the Basilica in Vezelay are absolutely amazing, And when you think that they are centuries old, even more so.
      It was lovely to see Christina, it was the first time that I have visited her in Italy but she visited me here in Suffolk in the summer.

  17. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable post and wonderful pictures, especially the one of the Swallowtail butterfly.
    It’s a shame that the weather couldn’t have been better. xx

  18. Oh, you are so lucky, Italy is still on my list of places to visit, I just haven’t seemed to manage it… yet! Wonderful scenery photos and I’m glad you had a good time and got to meet up with a blog friend.

  19. Cathy says:

    Garden- free holiday? Like Annette with her Traveller, I suppose I am lucky that the Golfer is happy(ish?) to visit whatever garden I suggest! You have visited some fascinating places – but how lovely for you to meet Christina and see her garden for real!

    • Chloris says:

      It was a lovely trip and it was great to see Christina but it is lovely to be home again. We’ve decided to go on shorter trips in future. 3 weeks is too long to be away. I’ m still trying to get the garden back under control.

      • Cathy says:

        5 days is about my comfortable maximum, but preferably less than that – and we shall restrict our gallivanting to the UK as there are still so many places to see

  20. jenhumm116 says:

    Such an evocative, informative post. I love the wild flowers and butterflies/moths! Thanks Chloris

  21. Chloris says:

    I was particularly excited to get a shot of a swallowtail. They don’t usually sit still long enough.

  22. Almost perfect trip I think Chloris, mind you, I’d be forgiving the weather for the little upset.
    Loved hearing all about it and of course I’m much more educated now I know all about the Feast of the Foreskin.

  23. Chloris says:

    Actually it is called a Holy Prepuce and the only reason that the annual parade of the jewelled casket containing the Holy Prepuce in Calcata came to an end in 1983 was because someone stole it. Rumour has it that the Vatican was behind the robbery. It had become an embarrassment to them.

  24. Annette says:

    Sounds like you’ve had the most enjoyable time, Chloris. Food, weather, nature, wildflowers, music…the best of everyting. Don’t know how high up you found digitalis & co. but flowers are a lot later in the Alps. My digitalis used to flower in high summer too and confused my visitors.

  25. Debra says:

    Oh, wow. What a trip! So much to see and enjoy — even that statue with Bacchus riding the turtle 😉 hahahaha

  26. You make me want to pack my bags and head to Italy right now. I think I would do it just for that tomato salad. The countryside and Florence do indeed look magical.

  27. Patrick says:

    Oh I so enjoyed this travelogue pairing such grand structures with the simplest of wildflowers. Must admit when I think of the Alps I think of the lonely goat herd of the musical. So glad to see where colchicum come from as I am a big fan. Nice work.

  28. Alain says:

    What a lovely holiday. Lucca with its brick wall from which you glimpse at gardens is so interesting. I would very much have liked to hear the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago. Did you enjoy it?

  29. Tina says:

    A beautiful post, Chloris. It sounds like a fabulous trip. I have to echo others: those tomatoes–they make my mouth water.

  30. Christina says:

    Hi Chloris, for some reason I am still not getting notification of your posts so I have only just found this. I’m glad you enjoyed your day with me, it was my pleasure to share my garden with you. The swallowtail is perfect, they so often have pieces missing from their wings. there have been lots here during September. BTW Morgante is on the tortoise in reference to the Medici motto, Festina Lente – Hasten Slowly (usually it is a sail atop the tortoise). He was originally placed at the entrance to the garden (sadly now he is virtually the last thing you see) and his message is “slow down, enjoy the garden”. The rest of your holiday sounds wonderful, although I’m sorry the weather here in Italy was a let-down, it was better further south when we went to Amalfi. Love the story about body parts! In Viterbo you can see the whole body of Santa Rosa because her body didn’t corrupt, scientists have even seen the colour of her eyes; next time maybe?!

  31. Chloris says:

    Thank you for explaining the significance of poor, naked Morgante in the Boboli Gardens..
    And thanks again for a wonderful day.
    I have to say that I find the Catholic church’ s fascination with dead saints and their body parts really weird.
    BTW, I am sending you a little Aeonium Schwarzkopf, it is winging its way to you as we speak.

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