Medieval Fish Hatchery and the Italian Eiffel Tower

We woke up in friggin’ Tuscany again.

We had such a great day the day before, that when we didn’t arrive home till 9 pm and dinner wasn’t ready till 10 pm, we happily embraced the culture of eating late in Italy and went with it. We had del vino and tiramisu, and kept talking till midnight. Pedro and I went to our room and talked about our day, our impression of Italy, and didn’t sleep till 2 am. About that time, the dogs in the neighborhood began barking. It sounded as though some bestia was in the area, because one, and then another, and another, of the dogs nearby (not our hosts’ dog!) was barking their dog brains out. We clearly did not sleep enough by morning – due much to our own carelessness of going to bed so late – that we struggled against sleep all day.

Luckily, Manja had another fabulous idea for us. She wanted to take us to the top of Monte Amiato. On the way is a small town called Santa Fiora, which Manja knew had a large water feature in the center of town, which is uncommon in small Italian cities, apparently.

After Manja taught me the day before to use Marco’s coffee maker, this morning I made our Italian coffee all by myself with confidence. When Pedro came out, I poured a tiny bit of rich black coffee into his tiny cup and a tiny bit into mine. I will not get used to this. I already miss my mug of black Sulawesi and the thermos ready to fill and refill my mug. Understand me: the coffee in Italy is delicious. I embrace each opportunity to order an espresso when I can. There’s just not enough of it to be satisfying. And yes, I could add water and make an Americano but I am stubborn about food and drink when I travel: I want to do it the way the locals do it, not try to re-create what I have at home. I’ll have to adjust my anticipation.

After coffee and fruit and a slice of salted bread, Pedro and I were invited to join Manja and her bestia on their routine morning walk around the condominiums. Then we were off on our next adventure.

Views along our route today were worth stopping for.
Forested hills add a lot of green to the summertime yellows and browns.
An interesting feature in a village along the way.

It was going to be an hour and a half drive, so we stopped for gas which was our first adventure. Manja pulled up and realized there was no way to pay at the pump. She tried to translate the handwritten sign, which said something about speed and paying inside, which we thought was not speedy at all. When she used the pump, it clicked off right away. We thought something had broken on the pump. But no, in only 90 seconds or so, it had filled the tank. Speedy indeed. I ran inside and paid.

In Santa Fiora it was not obvious where to go to find the water feature she knew only vaguely about. I love Manja’s spirit of adventure. She was not deterred longer than a moment, then on instinct, took the little car around a hairpin turn and down, down a steep narrow road. At an intersection while she tried to decide what turn to make next, I noticed a map on the wall next to us. It was a map of the water feature. It showed the general shape of it, and that it was surrounded by a wall. On our right, I saw a wall. “Maybe this is it!”

A map I saw while Manja was driving.
Pedro found the water pouring through a grate from the stone wall.
Fish – and possibly Poseidon’s trident – adorn the top of the wall.

We couldn’t see anything at first, then Pedro noticed a metal grate from which water was pouring through. Through the grate he could see there was a pond. That is all Manja needed, and we went around the corner and down the road till we found free parking. We walked back and tried to find a way to get to the water, or to at least see it! Pedro walked all the way to the opposite side and found a bench to stand on and look over the wall. “This is it!” He confirmed for us.

When I caught up with him, I noticed the bench was in front of a church. Manja and the dog caught up and we all stood on tiptoes to see the water, and tried to guess how to get to it. We noticed a green area on the other side of the water that looked liked a park. We were ready to continue circling the water in an attempt to enter the park, but before we did, I went into the church to investigate. It is the Church of the Madonna della Neve. The floor has glass panels that allowed us to look through the floor to the rocks and ferns below. Under the sections of glass, one can see the headwaters of the Fiora River flowing. On the wall was a note that said for a couple Euros we could turn on the lights, and we chose not to do it, which is a shame. I later discovered that the glass floor reveals archaeological remains of a medieval road, the foundations of a bridge, and some of the remaining hydraulic structures that were used for controlling the spring water.

Church of the Madonna della Neve, attached to a stone wall surrounding a pond.
Inside the church the most remarkable thing was the glass floor.
Through the floor we could see rocks, ferns, and running waters from the Fiora River.

Outside the church again, we walked up the steep road beside it. Sooner than expected, we found the entrance to the garden, which is through the back of the church. The cost was one Euro and payment was on an honor system. Manja dropped in three coins and we put on masks and walked through a stone room open on both sides, into the garden. It was large and lovely and there were so many beautiful views of the pond, which turned out to be a fish hatchery, a peschiera, that is filled by the Fiora River.

We walked shaded paths through a blooming garden and admired all the birds in and near the water. We found a sign that explained details of fish farming, the steps required to collect and fertilize eggs, and to raise the baby fish. There is a canal section that pushes air into the water in an explosion of bubbles, to make sure the fish who live there have plenty. We circled through the small park and returned to the pond. It was cool, green and colorful, filled with wildlife, and twice as delightful because it was all a surprise to us.

Standing beside the peschiera and looking up the hill into the town of Santa Fiora.
Pedro and me at the peschiera. {photo by Manja Maksimovič}
Me photographing a bird in the park behind the peschiera. {photo by Manja Maksimovič}
Said bird.
Water always adds something to a scene. I can’t explain it, but find a place with water and include that in your photo, and somehow the photo becomes delightful.

The Peschiera Sforzcesca was built in the Middle Ages to address the village’s need for food during fasting periods, in which Catholics are not supposed to eat the meat of warm-blooded animals. The pond collects waters from the river, and the overspill continues on its way to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The garden has been around since at least the 16th century. In 1464, Pope Pius II visited this peschiera and admired the very large fish. Those very large fish are still here. Up close, we could see fish inside the pond. Huge fish! Pedro and I thought some were trout and some were carp. One ginormous one had a shark-shaped tail. Seems like sharks would eat the trout, though. Hmmm.

Trout large enough to impress a Pope.
A freshwater sharky fish large enough to impress two kids from the Columbia River.

Santa Fiora is on the slopes of Monte Amiata, but it would be another half an hour yet to reach the mountaintop. It was noon and we were all hungry. We decided to try and find food in Santa Fiora rather than leave ourselves at the mercy of whatever was available on top of the mountain. Manja did a quick search on her phone and chose the nearest place. Il Barilotto is now my favorite Italian restaurant.

Before I learned what makes my favorite Italian restaurant, we had to get there, and it seemed to be directly above us. We walked up a steep hill, and took two steep switchbacks, including what we really hoped would be a shortcut and not a dead end. After all that climbing in the sun, we arrived at a castle-type building with a condom dispensary mounted on a side wall that cracked up me and Pedro. Not sure how to get around the building, we decided to walk right through it, since the door was open.

Our views as we climbed the hill above the fish hatchery.
The peschiera below us.
An impressive castle-looking building, the Palazzo Sforza Cesarini.
Pedro and I were earnestly standing directly in front of this machine, trying to translate it and figure out what kind of treats were dispensed, when Manja approached and told us what it was. Ha!
I spotted a framed potted plant. {photo by Manja Maksimovič}
This is the photograph I was taking.
Inside the open room, with a view of a potted plant in the piazza on the other side.
One of the remaining medieval towers of Palazzo Sforza Cesarini.
Manja and the bestia head away from the piazza, in search of a restaurant.

On the other side of the stone entrance was a beautiful medieval stone piazza with some tables out in front of restaurants and a couple of shops, a church, and a mining museum. A medieval tower is prominent there. We left the piazza and entered a narrow stone street that tipped down the hill again.

We came almost immediately to a sign proclaiming “Il Barilotto Ristorante Storico Dal 1927.” Manja explained that it’s a historical restaurant that has occupied that location since 1927. Wonderful. We stopped a waiter in the outdoor seating area and asked if there was room for three and a half (the bestia) without a reservation. He showed us the only seat available, which was crammed into a corner against a wall, behind other diners. “I have room inside,” he said, and gestured for us to follow him down the street a little. We stepped down into a beautiful, cozy, and tasteful dining room next to a full bar with restaurant staff bustling back and forth. We sat and had to prove our vaccination status first thing. Soon we had menus and water and wine and bread.

The street that led us to my favourite Italian ristorante.
We ordered an appetizer that was the restaurant’s choice of a mix of stuff. It included sliced, hot pig fat on toasted bread, which Manja said is called lard. It’s a good thing I ate mine before she said that. {photo by Pedro Rivera}
Bestia’s hopeful nose sniffs out my chestnut tortellini.

Manja was kind enough to translate the menu for us. Pedro ordered the wild boar. I asked for chestnut tortellini (the pasta was made with nuts!) filled with porcini mushrooms. Manja had white ragù with pork and pici noodles. I asked for insalata verde. I’m finding I have to ask for my fresh veggies around here. The food was amazing. It was so delicious I can’t even describe how good it all was. We all tasted each others’ meals. All the while, the staff made us feel welcome and showed a genuine pride in their work and their product. We felt appreciated and taken care of. The longer we sat and ate and drank, the more the staff and our eclectic table talked with each other. Manja the Slovenian, did most of the talking in Italian. Pedro, American from Mexico, and me, white Cherokee American, both trying our best to use as many Italian words as we could with the staff. We were all enjoying each other by the time the waiter quickly and easily talked us into dessert. We shared two plates of goat ricotta topped with a chestnut chutney.

Full and happy, we called arrivederci to everyone and climbed the stone street up to the piazza again, then down another narrow stone street and down, down to the parked car again. Off we went to find the mountain.

A row of homes in Santa Fiora I particularly liked. I’m not sure why. We passed it twice and both times I took a photo.

The winding, narrow drive up to the mountaintop made its way through a beautiful forest. The outside temperature dropped and we pulled over to let the dog out and enjoy the shade. Pedro slept.

The drive up Monte Amiata.
This was our first time in an Italian forest. It is very lovely and reminded me a lot of a New England forest.

At the top of the drive we found free parking and headed toward the slope and what was clearly a ski path in wintertime. There was a fence blocking the stone path to the top of the mountain, and a sign pointing to the left, and a price of one Euro to use a weird-looking ramp. Manja said nuts to that, and turned right, looking for the alternate path. Many before us had done the same, and a path formed and wound through the trees and beneath the chair lift.

I did not know this till I looked at it from the top, but the “ramp” is actually a conveyor belt! Visitors stand on it and are carried to the top. It’s a little ridiculous that the conveyor belt is the only option. Why fence off the stone path when many people would choose to be carried anyway? In any case, our bestia would have flat refused to ride the contraption and we would have been forced to give up the climb if not for Manja who was determined to do it her way, and found a path through the forest.

Fence across the stone path, directing us to pay 1 Euro and go to the left where there is a weird ramp.
Looking back at the trail we had climbed, beneath the chair lifts.

It was quite a steep hill. We were not sure if it would truly take us to the top, as we couldn’t see. We sent Pedro on ahead, and he found some new construction on what looked like a cabin that might be private property. He wasn’t sure we should continue into the area and risk being where we shouldn’t be. We were close to the top then, and I decided that I refused to return to the bottom of the hill, and climbed past Pedro and the construction. The path we were on crossed right in front of the building under construction and finally reconnected to the top of the stone path that had been blocked at the bottom. We made it! And for zero Euros.

Manja had thoughtfully chosen to take us to a dormant volcano – 5,700 feet (1738 m) – the highest in southern Tuscany. She knows I have a love affair with volcanoes.

Right away we spotted the huge iron cross that we had been calling the Italian Eiffel Tower. You can see why.

The huge cross, or Italian Eiffel Tower, as we approached.
Bestia and Manja enjoy the view from the enormous iron cross at the top of Monte Amiata.

Beside the tower is a magnificent view of the countryside below. It is very beautiful here in Tuscany, even in the yellows and browns of September. I suppose that’s redundant. Yes? “It’s beautiful in Tuscany.”

View from the top of Monte Amiata.
I used my zoom lens to examine this castle in the valley a little more closely.

We left the mountain and headed for our next destination. On the way, we stopped a couple of times for more photos.

Another Tuscan landscape with….
…a stunning village on a hilltop.
Yet another beautiful village topping a hill. How does Italy make such consistently beautiful villages?
It has been fun comparing all these images from Manja’s camera showing me getting the shot, and then also showing the shot. Thanks, friend, for sharing all these with me. ❤ {photo by Manja Maksimovič}

Our next stop was Terme di Saturnia, a hot springs and mineral baths which I had seen on Manja’s blog before. It is a very popular tourist destination and there are signs for it all over the region. Pedro and I both had our suits with us, and climbed in. The water was cooler at the outer edges, and warmer as we got closer to the waterfall at the top of the hill. The mineral springs spills downhill forming many pools on its way. All the pools are wide and shallow, allowing very easy bathing and the place was packed with people. It is a beautiful spot, with the white mineral deposits and aqua waters and colourful people. We didn’t stay long as it was getting to be late in the day.

Pedro in the springs, with many pools and the waterfall at the top, behind him. The scratches on his chest are due to being asleep in the back seat of the car while bestia decided to climb him. Hazards of sleeping!
Me getting splashed. See how pretty the water is? {photo by Pedro Rivera}

We changed back into dry clothes in the parking lot, and then went back home to the grocery store and picked up some lunch items before our big journey the next day. Pedro and I mostly wandered around and marveled at pastas and beer displays. To our surprise, the dried pastas on the shelf are exactly the same brands that we find here at Safeway and Fred Meyer.

We had become fans of this beer from Sardinia. Manja picked up a case of it for her sister and uncle back in Slovenia. We would be delivering it the next day.

As we left the store, the sky was turning colours in the sunset. Manja told us which direction to hurry and spot the sunset over the water. Pedro and I scurried across the parking lot, crossed a road, burrowed through tall weeds, and emerged on the water. I was so happy to see the lagoon that is featured often in Manja’s blog. The scene was familiar to me.

The road next to the grocery store had tall weeds that I saw everywhere in Tuscany that reminded me very much of the sugar cane in Egypt. Manja said she believed it was a type of sugar cane, or at least related. It must be. Do you know?
Sunset over the lagoon.
Sunset through the weeds and bushes.
One last shot from Manja.

That night, Marco fed us chicken, which was predictably delicious. We were so tired from our lack of sleep the previous night that this night we left the table early and packed up for our long trip the next day and managed to get to sleep at a decent time.

8 thoughts on “Medieval Fish Hatchery and the Italian Eiffel Tower

  1. It certainly sounds like you had a great time in Italy.
    I remember some places in Vietnam where the sugar cane grew right next to the road like that, which always scared us because it was a typical place for an ambush.

    1. Our time in Italy was particularly wonderful, especially at the end of a year and a half of staying home for safety reasons. Yes, I can see that the thick sugar cane would be worrisome while fighting in Vietnam. It’s a perfect cover for an ambush. yikes.

  2. I loved the first sentence already – “We woke up in friggin’ Tuscany again.” – and then everything else even more and more, reliving our last day in Tuscany through your most detailed account. Thank you for this, we shall never forget. I love it how you combine our photos! And now I’m sorry that we didn’t pay for turning on the lights too, but not sorry that we didn’t use that contraption to climb the mountain! 😀 The scenery looks amazing in your photos. I laughed when you call our car “little car” because it’s actually quite large in comparison with some others. But I know – yours are huge! And I laughed even more when I saw the vending machine. 😀 😀 Just try to imagine how many more days like this we could have… And I could have them daily but it’s not same without you.

    1. ha haha, yes, I noticed what I was writing while I wrote it: “little car,” and almost changed it. But no, I like my first impression which does show that I come from America, and the land of way-too-large cars. I drive one of them myself! Isn’t it fun to look at your photos and mine from the same moment? We shall never forget this trip, any of us.

  3. Another beautifully photographed and described tour. I am pleased you discovered such history, but sorry you missed out by not turning on the lights. I share your attitude about food and drink when travelling.

    1. I am glad you share my attitude about embracing a new culture. It just makes sense to me: if my point of travel is new experiences, then food and drink is certainly a big part of that. I might develop a taste for something I never tried before, and I don’t want to miss that opportunity. Thank you for appreciating my photographs and descriptions. I was having fun with this one.

  4. I’m a little slow getting here and your trip just exhausted me. There would be no way I could have kept up your pace. Great photos of beautiful places and lots of fun. Unlike you, coffee is the one thing I can’t change. When I did the Germany trip with my sister, she loved the rich, black coffee. I got a cup of water and splashed a tiny bit of coffee into it. I can’t order coffee out here without an added pot of hot water. I get the shakes so bad that mine is half decaf and half reg watered down…a lot. It smells like coffee though. I wasn’t sure how you felt about Tuscany from your first sentence. Very happy that Bestia was welcomed into the restaurant.

    1. That first sentence could be read multiple ways, you are right. ha ha ha! But I meant it as: Holy cow! We’re in Tuscany! This is amazing! Pace yourself for the next posts, then, because this is barely getting started. We did so much and it’s taking me a lot of time to remember and recount it all. This is a task for me, though. My journal, so I don’t forget. Because I will. Yes, the coffee was an issue, for the opposite reason as yours, I think. We wanted more of it. Italy is quite dog-friendly. Dogs were everywhere: in all the parks, the archaeological exhibits, in all the markets and squares, and in every outdoor restaurant, and some indoor restaurants. At the first place we ate, on our first day, the waiter brought a water dish for Fonzie (the bestia) without being asked.

      I thought of you so often on this trip. First of all, Manja was constantly reminding me of you, in some of her ways that seemed European to me. I think her Slovenian influences and your German influences must seem similar to me. And THEN! The food when we went to Slovenia made me think of you often. I am sure you would have loved every meal we had, with barley stews with carrots and potatoes and the most amazing sauerkraut and lots of sausages and bread and beer.

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