Points of the Compass, Italian Style

By the time we headed towards Verrucole we had already been on the road for two weeks and, I must admit, I had a homesick moment and thought it might be nice to be heading home instead of climbing into the hills of Tuscany.  The weather didn’t change as we crossed the border from France into Italy, but, oh, the drivers did!  From a reasonably easy and courteous driving experience into the frenzied and chaotic pace that seems to be the earmark of the Italian driver – full out fast, or stopped; red or green and no in between.  Add to this too, that once off the autostrada, a Canadian might consider many of the narrow roads to be no more than paved bicycle paths.  We therefore stayed on the autostrada as long as we could before branching away from the coast and entering the hinterland that is Tuscany.

As we climbed and manoeuvred the switchback roads, we passed numerous small villages often perched precariously half way up the hillsides or on mountain tops. The valleys of Tuscany are very narrow – it is down the side of one tree-covered mountain and right up the side of another with villages built into the hillsides, often times perching one above the other.  Coming around yet another sharp bend in the road, I exclaimed, “Look at that village on the top of the mountain … down there.”  It was at this point that we began to realize how sharply we had climbed from sea level. We had been driving for about 7 hours, it was mid-October and we were heading into late afternoon – the sky was getting dimpsy.

Our destination was the village of Verrucole, with an “e”, not to be confused with Verrucola, with an “a” which is a different tiny Tuscan town.  I was glad we had figured that one out before arriving in these hills.

We had researched this trip on the internet, found our accommodations and booked them by email.   We had certain requirements: an apartment or house with an outdoor terrace, a washing machine, a dishwasher, linens provided (which, we had discovered, is not always the case), and  two bedrooms, being a party of four, travelling as we were with my sister and her husband.

Upon booking, our host had told us that we wouldn’t find the village of Verrucole on any map, it was too small.  Upon payment in full before departing from Canada she emailed us the directions, of which we didn’t understand the import until beginning our ascent into the Tuscan hills.

In Tuscany there are more than the four standard points of the compass of North, South, East and West.

Our directions had read:

Drive through Piazza al Serchio over the bridge (old steam train on RHS), turning right towards Lucca.

Bear right after the bridge and follow road passing San Donnino.

After passing San Donnino you will arrive at a ‘T junction’ of sorts – instead of following the bend around, you will need to turn left (ish) towards San Romano.

Now this is the significant part:

As you enter San Romano you will find a very sharp turn to the left going upwards towards Verrucole and the Fortezza of Verrucole.

The drive upwards from San Romano to Verrucole is about 2/3 minutes – you will see the fortress ahead of you about half way up. (This 2/3 minutes was probably as clocked by one of the locals at their usual frenzied and chaotic pace – for us it was about 10 minutes.)

So you see, in addition to North, South, East and West, there is also Up and Down.  It is indeed a graphic and useful way of describing how these villages cling to the mountainsides, one above the other.

The directions concluded with:

When entering Verrucole, turn left past the church, and the property is about 50 yards up the hill on the LHS.  You will recognize the house by the red gate, bamboo fencing to the garden, and the name plate of ‘Bella Vista’ on the wall. The key will be under a plant pot on the steps outside the front door.

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