Ponte a Rigo to Acquapendente 24k Lazio at Lastio

Another bright sunny morning and we set off among rolling hills and fields of corn and maize. Mount Amiati dominates the view to our right and the tower of Radicofani that we climbed up to yesterday slowly disappears from view behind us.
At some point we cross into Lazio, the province of Rome and see the first cows of our trip.
It takes us most of the morning and a climb to reach Proceno, an Etruscan town, allegedly founded by their legendary king, Lara Porsenna. It is another long street of dark stone houses with a fortress on the top.
We sit in the main square and a man rides up on a horse, dismounts, downs the customary expresso and sets off again whilst consulting his phone.
We make it up a steep climb to Acquapendente in time to meet Ann and Jane off the bus. After a late lunch at a bar in the main square, we set off up a another hill to a pleasant cloistered Ostello and settle ourselves in.

Bagni San Filippo to Ponte a Rigo 23k The castle on the hill

We start out with blue skies and sunshine and begin the 400 metre ascent to Radicofani. The tower on the top looks more and more like a castle from a chess set as we approach the town.
The countryside is changing, becoming wilder and with occasional flocks of sheep.
Radicofani is another town consisting of one long street which we walk down admiring the dark stoned houses. A brisk climb brings us up to the massive castle tower with views in all directions.
We see no other pelegrinos all day although for an excited Italian cyclist doing the Via Francigena, who embraces Ray like a long lost cousin in the main square.
After a ham and cheese sandwich in a square named after a famous bandit who terrorised the pilgrims from the safety of the castle, we begin the long descent down a ridge with more splendid views in all directions.
Ponte a Rigo consists of a bridge, a bar and a church with an attached Ostello where we will stay tonight.

San Quirico D’Arbia to Bagni San Filippo 28k The Via Cassia

After an unsettled night in the Pallazzo di Pellegrini, we set off under cloudy skies along a dirt road lined with cypresses. A brisk up and a down brings us to Vignoni Alto, a tiny fortified village. We are in the UNESCO  world heritage site of the Val D’ Orca where every hill has a castle.
Coming down the hill we have stunning cypress clad views across to the hill top castle of Castiglione D’ Orca which we continue to look back at all day.
At the bottom of the hill is Bagno Vignoni with a large outdoor thermal pool, the piazza d’acgua. The adjoining cafe of the thermal hotel provides excellent coffee.
Cresting a hill we found Michael having a breather and walk with him for the next few kilometres.
We are clearly on a well preserved roman road, it is the Via Cassia. Confusingly the new road has been given this name, but we are on the real thing, an important road between Rome and across Tuscany to Florence and the north.
Leaving it’s excellent surface we flounder through muddy trails between wheat fields. The iconic volcanic cone of Radicofani, topped by a tower appears and disappears in the cloud, but we will not get there until tomorrow, instead we turn off and ascend to our B and B at another village with a thermal bath. Thoughtfully Betsy has booked one next to the bar.

Ponte D’Arbia to San Quirico D’Orcia 27k In which we dodge thunderstorms

We awake early to the sound of departing pilgrims and by 6.30 we realise we are alone, but we catch up with them all throughout the day.
Setting off up muddy tracks in the rain we are fearful of how the day will turn out but things start to improve.
Buonconvento, a small walled town is the site of our second breakfast. From there we ascend onto a pleasant ridge and meander past vineyards and olive trees with familiar Tuscan countryside on each side and we find Fred resting besides a castello.
The long lines of poplars remain irresistible to the photographic urge, despite having taken many such pictures already.
We proceed along a ridge with claps of thunder and heavy rain to either  side of us but somehow never on us.
The final ascent of several hundred metres brings us into San Quirico just as a downpour ensues. It is a pretty historical town with an ancient church and connections with Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, who stayed here but not, I imagine,crammed into a small room with six bunks and a load of wet pilgrim washing.

Link to where we are on Google Maps

Siena to Ponte d’Arbia 28k A muddy day down the Arbia valley

The weather forecast of heavy rain all day translated into just one heavy shower, unfortunately it occurred as we were descending a slippery track.
The recent rain has meant we have been exposed to many varieties of mud today, clingy, slippy, sloshy……….the list goes on.
We set off on tarmac through a giant city gateway and on through the industrial zones that surround most big cities until we reach countryside again.
We enjoy views back to Siena for most of the day, while the views forward are of rolling hills and dark skies as we walk.
The fortified farm buildings of Grancia di Cuna provide the only historical interest of the day, the huge  originally medieval structure is swathed in scaffolding, so there is little to see except the gatehouse we exit through.
As far as fauna goes, we see handsome roman ( edible ) snails, a distant glimpse of turtle doves and a at least 5 moorhen chicks squeeking and pecking away in a ditch beside the road under the watchful eye of their mother.
As for flora they are some flowers we are going to ask your help to identify. The hairy flower stalk had no leaves so we suppose they must be saprophytes although they were growing on the edge of one of the many fields of corn we pass today.
After the final few kilometres of muddy track beside the railway, we cross the brown waters of the River Arbia on a specially constructed pilgrim footbridge only 3 years old and find tonight’s hostel.

Link to where we are on Google Maps

Rest Day Siena

We head off to the Campo, the central piazza where the Palio is held.
The famous horse race runs twice yearly around the perimeter of the centre which is packed with people.
The previous evening the square had been packed  for the choice of which city districts got to compete in the next event, but this morning there was just us, delivery vans, some police fining some Aussie cyclists and Miquel, the ultimate traveller.
How cycling in the piazza could be unsafe but a horse race in which the winner can be the horse because the rider has fallen off, amused us.
Onto the Duomo, a sumptuous creation of marble outside and complete with inlaid marble pavements inside.
We also get up to the top of an incompletely constructed nave via a tight spiral staircase for a view over the city.
After lunch the heavens open so we head back to our lodgings, cultured out.

Link to where we are on Google Maps

Abbadia A Isola to Siena 26k Burnt Siena

It is a wet day and the paths are muddy and in places clog up our  shoes. Monteriggioni appears as a hill crowned with walls and towers but when we finally make it up the steep ascent we find only a few buildings inside.
Luckily one is a bar which supplies us with breakfast and lunchtime sandwiches of pecorino cheese and crudo ham, mmm.
We leave as the tour buses arrive and walk through oak woods without seeing either many farms or many people.
Chiocciola Castle is a handsome building and just beyond it we stop at a Donativo garden for second breakfast.
In the middle of nowhere we come upon an obelisk  commentating the draining of the marshes, which took several attempts before succeeding in removing the “ dangerous miasma” of the Plan de Lago malarial swamp.
We find the entrance to the underground drainage canal that runs for a couple of kilometres, and briefly consider entering it before sense prevails.
We head on into Siena over paths of bright orange/brown earth, can this be the Burnt Siena of paintbox paint tubes?
We finish up a nasty hill with our french chums, Yves and Mari-Antoinette and head for our lodgings in the centre, where the sounds of the crowds outside our window remind us we are in a big city now.

Link to where we are on Google Maps

San Gimignano to Abbadia A Isola 26k All quiet on the Italian Front

We turn off the tarmac after a few minutes walking and are soon in countryside, but it is not the manicured landscape we have become  accustomed to, it is altogether rougher. We go gently up and down through woods and ford small streams, occasionally there are fields of green wheat rather than vines.           
The gentle sound of birds and frogs is interrupted by the man made noise of power tools and cars. Distant bee eaters are spotted.
We stop for oranges at Badia A Coneo beside a medieval church with so little inside it is unlocked.
On through the increasing heat we wander through the countryside, stopping only for cheese and tomato sandwiches in a park and a bar later on just before reaching journey’s end.
Tonight we are on the first floor of a building next to the abbey and overlooking a courtyard where a bonsai tree exhibition is being held.

Gambassi Terme to San Gimignano 20k A walk through Chiantishire

Most of the day is spent ambling up and down through the Tuscan Hills with gently rolling green fields and woods to delight the eye.
There are many estates with vines and olive trees neatly kept, which are set up for tastings and direct sales or agrotourisms offering places to stay.
The buildings are mellow brick colour and often feature a tower.
We manage a coffee in comfortable chairs on the terrace of one such establishment, it would seem to be a pleasant way to spend a few days drifting from place to place in lotus land.
We hear rather than see hoopoes but instead see bee eaters sitting on the wires and catch an occasional glimpse of their coloured plumage, while swallows are busy catching food for their nestlings.
The garish religious tat of Santuario di Panacole, commemorating an apparition of the Madonna to a mute shepherdess who miraculously gained the power of speech, is over run with mountain bikers when we pass by.
Eventually the towers of San Gimignano came into sight. There are 15 remaining of the original 70, tall square and unadorned they vie with each other to impress. Despite the tourist crowds the town is a charming maze of old houses.
We have a gelato from a shop that claims it is the best in the world, well it’s pretty good anyway.
The hostel is full so we walk onto a campsite where we get a cabin for the night at half price on account of being pilgrims.

Link to where we are on Google Maps