What more can we possibly say about Tuscany that has not already been offered up by writers, poets, painters and the people who call it home?
We are unsure but as we cross the Valle d’Orcia and approach the fortress that sits high above it in the hill-top village of Castiglione D’Orcia, we feel a sense of wonder and anticipation. We feel fortunate to again have the opportunity to try.
The region has been painted, photographed and keenly observed for centuries by far more creative and inspiring minds. But this is not our first time in these hills, we’ve been here before and it doesn’t leave you untouched. We can paint our own unique mozaic, one that, if only for a moment, can conjure up a vibrant glimpse of this special place. The rest will be up to you, the reader, to find your way.
On any given day it simply defies description.
We begin to think about how time stands still here. We notice once again the rich earthen colors, plowed fields, rolling hills, shifting clouds and dramatic light laid down in strips. We breathe deeply the smell of the turned earth, the vineyards, and walled villages and cobblestone streets and vast Tuscan openness that swiftly coalesces into a perfect tableau of rural or even perhaps medieval Europe.
We’ve said before: “it is not just a place but a state of mind” and this time we note how it becomes less and less of cliché as the days pass for us here languidly, tranquilly, idley. We unwind and let go of the city and our lives back home.
Cappuccino’s at first light, crowing hens and the early calls of farm life give way to rolling mists in the valley. Overcast skies give way to the sunrise as it soon burns off the grey, revealing fresh colors and the day begins anew. Rain comes some days but it is soft, warm and gentle like the hills that surround you on all sides and soon passes.
I remember one one day, mounting clouds fronts threatened rain all day, but it never reached us. In the late afternoon, we stood quietly in sunshine and watched it falling in curtains upon a distant hill and the fortress. Though 20k away, it shone in the distance like a white sentinel. Imposing. Silent. Ever-present.
In the days ahead runners would soon be obsessing upon it in various ways… as a landmark, a benchmark, a distant goal, a beginning and an end. They would be taking bearings, marking their time and using it to measure their progress. Some considered it a beacon while others curse the way that time and space incomprehensibly seemed to expand before them in direct proportion to their efforts to reach it. The fortress didn’t care, it was just there. A cold, hard fact made of stone.
A tower, a beacon, a fortress, a mirage, a waymark, a salvation.
Like Tuscany itself, it would take added shape and dimension over the days ahead in the mind of the viewer, as it had in the words of the narrator of the tale.
In addition to the excitement surrounding the race of 400-500 runners in such a small community as Castiglione, the event coincided with the weekend of both the Primavera Festival (Spring Festival) and also of Liberation Day from German occupation. We were treated to a street festival in the main piazza with live music, children dancing and the smell and tastes of regional food being cooked in the open air.
There are many ways to see this region. It is vast and open but does not feel remote. Roads will lead you throughout its hills and into villages and towns that dot the landscape. But to run back roads and trails here is to experience the essence of the place.
The race sends us from Castiglione into the very heart of Valdorcia.
We made our way down and across the valley in a meandering circuit. The route lead to many other towns sitting on their own high hills and vantage points, where the aristocracy once looked out upon their fields and lands. Morning mist hung in the valley and dampened the heavy grass. A hazy orange glow resolved into an orb within the mist to the east and announced daybreak. Soft light burnt off the mist and the rest of the day was spent running toward fresh horizons under a Tuscan sun.
We were buoyed by people cheering us on in the villages and by aid stations with local volunteers offering us fruit, fresh-baked cookies, cheese, bread and olive oil and soup.
We ran by stone farmhouses, vineyards and countless rows of tall Italian Cypress trees that stood in quiet vigil across the land. We ran through villages, piazzas and castles and found our strides along lonely dirt paths cutting through hills of swaying grass and grain.
Some ran through the day and into the night and were able experience the stillness of last light in the valley. Headlamps could be seen in small clusters as runners made their way across the land and found their way home.
Although the Tuscany Crossing is a race and a personal challenge it is also a communal experience within a close knit community and somewhere among the cheers and knowing looks of people passed and people passing, the words of Ram Dass flashed across my mind. Or perhaps after 16 hours on the trail they are seen written across the cobalt evening sky. Either way they are there.
“We’re all just walking each other home.”
The day’s walk is done. Arrivederci Tuscany.
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Facebook invite – Tuscany Crossing – Lost Worlds Italy https://www.facebook.com/events/789688177766012/