Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 4, 2015

Saints by the sea

We stopped for a while on the way back from Spain to Italy at the pretty French seaside town of Les Saintes- Maries-de-la-Mer on the recommendation of our friend Maria, whose suggestions are always excellent.

Known as Villo de la Mar in the Middle Ages, it was on the site of a Roman fort that, according to legends, the Saints Mary Jacobe, Mary Salome, Martha, Mary Magdelene and their black servant Sarah, accompanied by Maximus, Lazarus and Sidonius, were shipwrecked on the wild shores of the Camargue.

Mary Salome, Mary Jacobe and Sarah remained after the other left to pursue different things. The spot where they were buried became an important site of worship and Christian pilgrimage.

The current church was built at the start of the 12th century, apparently on the ruins of a shrine. Then later it was fortified to provide the inhabitants with protection against the Corsairs.

Les Saintes-Maries

Saintes

Les Saintes-Maries

A well was dug within its precincts to provide water in time of siege. It is still in the church.

Les Saintes-Maries

The 2 Marys can be seen in their little boat.

Saintes

Les Saintes-Maries

Les Saintes-Maries

Sarah can be found in the crypt where she receives homage from pilgrims each year, especially gypsies who have adopted Sarah as their Patron Saint.

Les Saintes-Maries

We climbed the winding steps to the roof of the church for some great views of the town.

Les Saintes-Maries

The town is very popular in the warm months. There is a long, white sand beach and inviting blue water.

The town is very quaint and the main streets are lined with pretty shops, houses  and cafes.

On our way back to the car we came across an enthusiastic games of boules.

It is easy to see why so many people flock to the seaside and the Saintes Maries.

The Camargue area is full of rice paddies…I had no idea. We passed several on our way back to the highway.

Camargue is a beautiful and diverse area…don’t miss it if you come to the south of France.

Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 2, 2015

Cows and horses of the Camargue

While in Arles we took a little side trip to a national park in the Camargue. It was called Reserve Naturelle des Marais du Vigueirat.

While we waited for the tour to begin a local fox turned up and did a little trot around the picnic tables, no doubt looking for some tasty scraps to fall in his direction.

Camargue

Soon our vehicle arrived…a cart drawn by 2 beautiful horses.

Camargue

Camargue

…and we were off on our little adventure.

Camargue horses

Camargue horses

Camargue horses

The Camargue landscape is windswept and marshy.

Camargue landscspe

Camargue landscape

Camargue landscape

Camargue landscape

The marshlands are teeming with wildlife. We saw lots of birds…egrets, swans and in the distance, a pair of storks in their nest with babies. The photo is a bit fuzzy, but it was really windy and the trees in front kept blowing in front of the nest.

Camargue wildlife

Camargue wildlife

Camargue wildlife

Camargue wildlife

Camargue wildlife

The area is famous for its bull breeding and the lovely horses used by the farmers who work on the “Manades”.

The small Camargue horse is the cowherd’s companion and an indispensable means of transport in these marshy lands. The animal is very well adapted to the environment. It is not very tall, measuring only 13-14 hands. Its head is large with a straight forehead, the belly round and the legs sturdy with broad hooves.

Camargue horses

Camargue horses

We saw some beautiful babies with their protective mothers.

Camargue horses

Camargue horses

Camargue horses

Camargue horses

The horse is present at all the great folklore parades, mounted by riders dressed in traditional costume.

The Camargue cattle is also a small sturdy breed. From the 15th century this robust animal was used to pull the plough. In the 19th century the popularity of bull fighting led to the first cross breeding with pure bred Spanish Bulls.

Camargue bulls

Camargue bulls

Camargue bulls

The defenders of the pure breed raise their cattle for the Provencal bullfight, which has become very popular. The razeteurs, dressed all in white, must pluck a cockade held on the animal’s forehead by a string passed around the horns. This seems a lot less bloodthirsty than the other type of bullfighting.

We saw a different type of bull on the way out.

Camargue

Our guide didn’t speak English and our French is very poor, so we didn’t understand much of what was being said, but it was great fun anyway. I have always been very curious about the Camargue area and this was a delightful way to see it in its natural state.

Reserve Naturelle des Marais du Vigueirat

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 30, 2015

The biggest food market I have ever seen

When we were in Arles, in the south of France, a while ago we walked through the biggest street market I have ever seen.

The market went on for blocks. There were ceramics, clothing and household things, but it was the food that appealed to me.

Arles market

Arles market

The market is on every Saturday, and there is a smaller one on Wednesday. Wouldn’t it be great to have this as your local place to shop?

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 28, 2015

Bird parking

While out shopping the other day I spotted a curlew in the car park.

Curlew in Brisbane

He was a beautiful fellow, all by himself. He seemed unhurt, but was looking at his reflection in shiny cars and shop windows.

Curlew in Brisbane

He or she was a bush stone-curlew, quite common, apparently, in Brisbane, but I have never seen one up close before.  They seem able to make a home in the city.  They are ground dwelling birds, mainly nocturnal and hunt frogs, spiders, insects and lizards. They like to forage on moonlit nights.

Curlew in Brisbane

They look a bit ungainly with their long skinny legs, but they are sure footed and agile. They can fly, and do so mainly at night.

Curlew in Brisbane

I wonder what the car park bird was up to…perhaps looking for his mate, which might explain why he was looking at his reflection.

Curlew in Brisbane

Curlews make a loud wailing noise, but when distressed they emit a loud hiss, which is what this fellow was doing.

Curlew in Brisbane

 

Curlew in Brisbane

Curlew in Brisbane

The bird was in the car park most of the day, but has not been seen since. I hope he found what he was looking for.

Curlew in Brisbane

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 24, 2015

Cortona, under Tuscan clouds

Cortona was an important Etruscan town 2,500 years ago. It held a key position in a valley that was the granary of Etruria. It continued to prosper in Roman times but began to decay at the end of the Roman Empire with the barbarian invasions, depopulation, neglect and the progressive water logging of the valley.

It would take 8 centuries for Cortona to be born again. In this period new merchants, manufacturers and rural bourgeoisie took hold. Public buildings and private houses transformed the city as did the construction of parish churches and convents.

The city appears to have been born again after a book by Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun, was written about the area in 1996. The book was turned into a cliche ridden movie in 2003 and now swarms of tourists come here looking for a bit of magic.

We parked our car just outside one of the arched entrances to the town. Come for a walk through the lovely streets of Cortona. The weather wasn’t great so I can’t offer any Tuscan sun or blue sky.

Casa Debbio

Cortona

Cortona

Casa Debbio

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

We had lunch, and later, dinner, in a restaurant with the best position in town. The food was very good…as were the views over the piazza below.

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

On our wanderings we found a street lined with medieval houses.

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Just around the corner was a lovely garden.

There are some great shops in Cortona. It is well set up for tourists.

The hotel we stayed in was very good and offered some wonderful views of the town and surrounding countryside.

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

Cortona

We did get a bit of sun as we were about to leave.

Cortona

Under the Tuscan Sun is a blessing and a curse. On one hand it is great that it attracts visitors to the town. Jobs are created for locals and businesses flourish. On the other are the huge crowds that descend on the town and ruin its authenticity.

If you visit, try going out of season. We were there in May and it was already crowded, perhaps April or October would be a better option.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 22, 2015

Castiglion Fiorentino

There are thousands of wonderful old villages to visit in Italy. Some are in green valleys, some cling like limpets to hillsides and lots sit prettily on the tops of hills.

We called in to hilltop gem Castiglion Fiorentino  on our way from Arezzo to Cortona. The Etruscans appear to be the earliest inhabitants, and remains of a temple have been found beneath a 12th century church.

We parked just outside the town and walked through Porta Fiorentina in the city walls.

Castiglion Fiorentino

Castiglion Fiorentino

We found a lively main street lined with shops and cafes. It is great to see a thriving community in an old setting.

Castiglion Fiorentino

The town is well cared for and there are pretty narrow streets.

We came upon the Logge del Vasari, which is attributed to Vasari, but was actually built by master craftsmen Bernado del Ghirba and Filippo Bellinzona in 1513. Vasari restored it  between 1560 and 1570 when the Medici coat of arms was added and the walls plastered white with stone mouldings. The colourful chairs were part of an art installation.

Castiglion Fiorentino

There are spectacular views of the Val di Chio from the stone arches.

Castiglion Fiorentino

Castiglion Fiorentino

On the other side of the road is the impressive Comune building which boasts a gorgeous staircase from 1560.

Castiglion Fiorentino

Castiglion Fiorentino

A walk up the steep street beside the building will take you up to the town’s fortress, the Cassero which was completed in 1367. In the 15th century the fortress was occupied by the nuns of San Girolama. By the 19th century much of the fortress had been destroyed and some of the remaining structure was used as a prison.

Castiglion Fiorentino

There were some impressive views from this side of town too.

Castiglion Fiorentino

Torre del Cassero still stands. It was rebuilt around 1350 under Perugian rule. The tower stands on a former base.

Castiglion Fiorentino

Castiglion Fiorentino

Castiglion Fiorentino

There is a lovely park at the entrance to the town, a great place for the locals to gather.

Castiglion Fiorentino

Castiglion Fiorentino is home to many festivals, including the Palio dei Rioni, which is a horse race around Piazza Garribaldi with flag waving and others marvels. It dates back to the 13th century. It is held on the 3rd Sunday of June…we must return.

It seems there was a problem with notice of the previous post and many of you might have missed it. That is a pity as it has photos of handsome flag throwers. You might like to step back and take a look. There is a line and a little arrow on the bottom left of the page.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 19, 2015

Can I have flags with that?

We chose a restaurant in Arezzo in the lovely Palazzo delle Logge del Vasari, right on the beautiful Piazza Grande. It was a gorgeous evening and the tables were set invitingly.

Arezzo

 

Arezzo

Arezzo

We waited until the sun began to set and the lights came on.

Arezzo

Our meal was excellent…take a look.

Arezzo

Arezzo

Arezzo

Arezzo

Arezzo

Half way through dinner a troop of flag throwers and their musicians appeared and put on a spectacular show for us. I wasn’t really for us, but a group of visiting dignitaries, but we got to watch anyway.

Arezzo

Arezzo

Arezzo

I absolutely love sbandieratori. I love their costumes, their amazing skill and the exciting spectacle of the performance. We were very lucky to be in the piazza at just the right time.

The restaurant looked even better as the night wore on.

Arezzo

Piazza Grande put on a pretty good show too.

image

There is a lot to like about Arezzo.

We stayed at a great hotel right on the corner of the Piazza Grande…La Corte del Re (The King’s Court). This is the foyer.

La Corte del Re Arezzo

Our room had a tiny kitchen. Next time I will stay for a couple of nights and put it to use.

http://www.lacortedelre.eu

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 16, 2015

Arresting Arezzo

Arezzo is a delightful Tuscan town that doesn’t attract as many tourists as it probably should. This is actually good news because you get to see a gorgeous place without fighting for space.

Piazza Grande is the heart of Arezzo. The sloping piazza is surrounded by magnificent buildings, including the Apse of the Chiesa Santa Maria della Pieve and the Palazzo del Tribunale, with its semicircular staircase.

Arezzo

Arezzo

Arezzo

Arezzo

The Renaissance masterpiece, Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici, has a bell gable and clock dated 1552. The wonderful clock made by Felice da Fissato is still the original timepiece and marks not only the hours, but also the days, the phases of the moon and movement of the sun.

Arezzo

The Palazzo delle Logge del Vasari was begun in 1572 and finished in 1595. It is an excellent place to sit, have coffee or a delicious meal and admire one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy.

Arezzo

Arezzo

Basilica of San Francesco is one of Arezzo’s most important churches. It is famous for its art…the Legend of the True Cross, by Piero della Francesca (1418-1492). The frescoes are incredibly beautiful.

Arezzo

Arezzo

Arezzo

The Chiesa Santa Maria della Pieve dates from 1008, rebuilt in 12th century and the interior in 13th century. The bell tower was built in 1330.

Google image of Santa Maria della Pieve Arezzo

Arezzo

Above the central portal look for the Medieval polychrome sculptures. They depict the 12 months of the year.

Arezzo

The portal on the right shows Christ being baptised by John.

Arezzo

The interior is quite lovely and don’t miss the crypt.

Arezzo

The Arezzo Cathedral, Ss Donato e Pietro, was built between 1278 and 1511, but the facade is relatively new…1901 – 1914.

Arezzo

Arezzo

There is a beautiful park at the top of the town…a great place to wander in the late afternoon.

Arezzo

There are some excellent shops in Arezzo.

Here are a few random delights we spotted on our wanderings.

There is a fabulous antique market held once a month in the Piazza Grande. We bought a table for our living room here years ago…must go back one day.

The movie, Life is Beautiful, was filmed in Arezzo, so some places look a bit familiar.

We had some excellent things to eat in Arezzo…I’ll tell you about that next time.

Arezzo

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 13, 2015

Pop into Poppi

The drive through Tuscany to Poppi is delightful, especially in spring when everything is fresh and newly green.

around Poppi

around Poppi

around Poppi

 

Poppi

We parked at the bottom of the hill, near a temple, and walked up to the town.

poppi

 

Poppi

Poppi

Poppi looks out over the Castentino Valley through a turreted palazzo architecturally similar to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The Castello dei Conti Guidi is magnificently preserved and a delight to wander through.

Poppi castle

The castle was built by Count Guidi, a family that dates back to the 10th century in the Tuscan area. Historians attribute the construction, or possible reconstruction to Conte di Battifolle in 1274.

The large tower, which was renovated in 1817, dominates the building. Towards the top of the tower there still remains traces of another structure which is thought to have originally supported the bells, which date from 1423 and 1722.

Poppi

Once you enter the large door there is an open courtyard.

Poppi

Poppi

Poppi

Poppi

The castle opens into a large space with a long staircase from the 15th century leading to the upper floors.

Poppi

Poppi

 

Poppi

Poppi

On the second floor are frescoed walls and a beautifully decorated ceiling.

Poppi

The views from the tower are most impressive, even through the netting.

Poppi

Poppi

Poppi

Stern faced Dante makes a appearance in the grounds of the castle.

Poppi

He had a few friends gathered around the day we were there.

Poppi

Poppi

The centre of Poppi is lovely, but practically deserted. The main street has some interesting houses, mostly shut up. I spoke to the woman in the newsagent, one of the very few open shops, and she told me most houses have been inherited and the owners live far away and only return for a week each year…what a waste!

Poppi

Poppi

We had lunch in a little deli in the main piazza…cheerfully prepared by the couple who owned it. We did see a couple of cafes open as we drove  out, but there was not a lot of activity in Poppi.

Poppi

Poppi is definitely worth a visit. The castle alone makes it interesting, but there would not be much to do in an overnight stay…we went on to Arezzo, which is fascinating…more on that later.

Poppi

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 10, 2015

Barcelona food

I have never been a fan of tapas. I thought it was an excuse to serve scraps…that was until our recent trip to Barcelona. I have completely changed my mind. I can’t get enough pimientos de Padron,  those incredibly delicious little peppers thrown on a grill with olive oil and salt…and other things.

Pimiento de Padron Barcelona

Come for a food walk with me through Barcelona, one of the most vibrant, alive and exciting cities in the world.

The Boqueria Market on La Rambla is the perfect place to start a food tour. The produce here is incredible, and the eateries are some of the very best places to eat in the city. Be prepared to brave the crowds, it is always busy.

Boqueria market Barcelona

 

I love the long, high tables where you perch on a stool, choose the food you want, watch it being tossed on a grill and served up piping hot and scrumptious. There is also a huge selection of jamon, just waiting to be sliced thinly and presented on a platter.

 

Here are a few more delights we enjoyed after hours of walking through the wonderful Barcelona streets.

Barcelona food

Barcelona food

We had a couple of disappointing meals in restaurants, so I won’t show you those. Next time I go to Barcelona I may just install myself at the market and not leave.  I have been trying to find the little peppers here in Brisbane with no success…I may have to return to Barcelona quite soon.

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