This might sound cliché and trite, but why did we wait so long to visit Tuscany? Fifteen years living just up the road and we’d never made it? It’s just a hop down the road and beyond the big hills! If you like good food and wine, wandering around beautiful countryside, interesting cities, museums and historical sites, it’s got to be among the best places in Europe.
We arrived in Tuscany after a three-day drive from Hamburg. That was one of our many firsts for this trip. We’d taken our ol’ Swedish Tank on long road trips before, but this was the longest, and our first time driving in Italy. The drivers weren’t as bad as they’re reputed to be, but one caution: if you don’t like being squeezed onto narrow roads with some guy less than six feet behind you all the time no matter what your speed, don’t get behind the wheel there.
Our second night on the road – and first in Italy – was still far from our Tuscany tower, but if we could have stayed longer, we would have. Arriving late afternoon we managed to scrape out a room in Torno, a little town tucked into a nook on the shores of Lake Como way up north close to the border with Switzerland.
It’s just 20km or so up the road from the city of Como, which makes it sound close, but it was a narrow, twisting trail cut into the side of the mountain, and full of Sunday afternoon traffic, so the going was very slow. I thought we weren’t going to be able to squeeze our Swedish Tank through a couple of the tighter spots. Finding a parking spot for the beast was another trial, but we wedged into a space for the night up the hill and schlepped out gear down to the harbour once we found the room.
As we settled onto the terrace surrounded mostly by locals having an evening drink and meal in the fast-fading evening light looking out over the tiny harbour, the breeze from the placid lake like a warm bath, we felt lucky to be there, like we’d pointed a finger at the map and said: this is where it’ll be perfect, if only for one night.
Another first was the number in our party: Our red-haired girl is no longer little, and getting choosy about which trips she’s going to take with the rents, so it was also the first time in 15 years we’d been on a holiday as a couple for more than four days at a stretch. Just the two of us, nobody else.
That was OK with us, because we knew we’d booked a place to ourselves, and were looking forward to getting up the morning and not having to deal with anyone or anything but deciding on what to do that day.
Just how much space we’d have around us became apparent as we approached the tower, driving through rows and rows of grapevines past the last house and then further up a small incline to the top of a hill.
The booking.com reviews warned that it was small, and that there was no heating, but we thought: who cares? There’s a fireplace! And, as it turned out: a gas stove, a decent fridge, a wide, comfy bed upstairs along with bathroom and shower. Fully self-contained, and stocked with wine made from the thousands of vines stretching out from our doorstep. We just let them know at the end how much we’d drunk, and they added it to the bill.
On one of our first outings a few miles away we found some firewood stacked along the side of the road and thought, naw, we can’t take it, what the locals saw us loading up on it? German plates and all… We like to be good neighbours. But a few hours later we came across the same spot and said, screw it, let’s just take a few chunks, so we took a few armfuls and threw them in the back of the Tank. No regrets, because late into the evenings and on the cooler mornings that fire was the best thing about the place. We bought a couple of bags of good kindling in a store down the road so even though our logs weren’t quite dry, they fired up right away.
The only snag was during a bad thunderstorm the second week. We’d shut all the windows, but the driving rain seeped through the framing around them, the water running down the walls in thin rivulets onto the upper-floor tile. Luckily our host had come by the night before with fresh sheets and towels, so we used the old ones to mop up as the storm wore on. A good thing, too, that we’d decided to stay home that day, or we’d have come home to a real mess.
Small-game hunters were our only visitors, but we caught only glimpses of them as they lurked off in the bushes while their dogs sniffed their way around the vineyard. Their guns would go pop-pop-pop off in the distance, so we knew they were around, but they kept well away from the tower.
Tucked away as it was about half-way between Pisa and Florence, we did get around for a bit of exploring. More on that coming up in a while.