If you’re not a close relative of mine, or in a particular one of the many social circles I skirt the fringes of, then you’ve probably never heard of this place. To be fair, why would you? It’s just a small town half way up a hill in the middle of the countryside, with no world-famous landmarks or tourist attractions. You can’t even drive through most of it unless your car is the size of a shoe, and the only supermarket there is closed for umpteen hours during the middle of the day while everyone goes for a nap.
On the face of it, it’s not really worth the ~3 hour drive from Florence. However, if you enjoy wandering around a sleepy town that for 11.5 months of the year is largely untouched by swathes of tourists, getting lost in tiny, historic back alleys before being greeted by spectacular views of Italian mountains, then Santa Fiora is right up your, err, tiny back alley.
This is not a place for activity seekers and adrenaline junkies, but it is a place that houses pretty bridges, churches with rivers flowing through them, countryside views that will take your breath away, and, if you’re me, a very friendly, very welcoming, very Italian lady who’s been your life-long friend and is happy to give you a bed to sleep in and enough pasta to fill a reasonably-sized Colosseum.
If all that isn’t enough for you, then hopping in a car and driving (which you need to do around here, don’t rely on public transport) in pretty much any direction will see you navigating your way up and down mountains and through similarly beautiful, similarly historic villages. Just keep your eye out for potholes, the Italians have a very…Italian attitude towards mountain road maintenance.
Possible summer activities include driving to the top of a mountain and taking photos of an abandoned ski resort.
I recommend visiting Pitigliano, which appears to pre-date the invention of time itself, whilst perching dramatically and somewhat precariously on the edge of a cliff. It also has some very lovely wine and cheese shops, if you fancy having a picnic on the top of said cliff.
The theme of my five-night pit stop in this utterly gorgeous part of the world, was quiet. After spending the last month hurtling around in trains and cars, immersing myself in both hustle and bustle, and gawping at what Western Europe could offer me, it was nice to take a step back, chill out, and embrace the calm.
Have a think about this for a minute – how often do you experience total silence? Probably less than you think, for there’s usually a background noise or three courtesy of cars on a distant road, birds tweeting in the nearby trees, or if you’re in London, the tutting of angry businessmen whose journey you have the audacity to slow down by more than a nanosecond. As a matter of fact, you get to experience complete silence so rarely that when it does happen, its power and presence is so noticeable that it seems like the loudest thing in the world.
In Santa Fiora, I was able to experience this feeling whilst sitting in the Chiesa di Santa Chiara. I’m not a religious man, but I do appreciate religious architecture, both big and small, and this establishment certainly fits the latter. Barely large enough to hold a family dinner (which admittedly is usually a big occasion in this part of the world), this is the place where I sat, closed my eyes, and forgot all about the rest of the world.
That is, until the Italian fighter jets started doing their practice runs through the nearby valleys.
I feel I should point out at this stage that if you’re seeking peace and quiet, don’t come here in the middle of August. The “Ferragosto”, a public holiday observed on the 15th, sees pretty much the entirety of Tuscany descend upon this small town for markets, fairs and other generally noisy festival-based activities. So if you want a good night’s sleep, avoid coming here at this time.
This town is not for everyone, maybe that’s why it’s not very well known, but for me, it served as a perfectly quiet interlude in the middle of my constantly noisy journey, and all whilst being hosted by the lady who gives the best hugs in the world. Thanks Rose.