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.
This 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.
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.
Or 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.