Happy birthday D.x
Castillo di Potentino
The Monte Amiata region of Tuscany nestles in it’s rolling hills an abundance of autumnal produce: plump, honey-sweet figs literally fall from their trees, as if eagerly clamouring to be eaten; chestnut trees similarly unload their fruits, littering the ground with vibrant, prickly orbs; the silvery sea of olive trees are ready to be harvested, and vineyards swing into action.
Nearing the end of my stay in Castel del Piano, my host kindly invited me along to a local wine tasting. Thrilled at the opportunity, I immediately accepted. The landscapes in this area are dominated by the hunch-backed and twisted forms of olive trees, punctuated with soaring cypress and chestnuts, so simply looking around, one might not see many vineyards in the immediate area. However, a fifteen minute drive brought us to Castillo di Potentino, a humble, family-owned, award-winning vineyard in a majestic setting.
Castillo di Potentino is a wondrous amalgam of history and architecture, family and passion. Currently owned by the placid and welcoming Greene family, Potentino has a long and varied history. While foundations of the original structure are believed to date back to the Etruscans who settled Tuscany approximately 2800 years ago, the castle first appeared in written record in 1042. During the conflict-stricken era during the Medieval period and Italian Renaissance, Potentino was likely host to celebrities such as the artist-turned-criminal Caravaggio and Catherine of Siena, one of two patron saints of Italy; throughout this time, the estate also passed through the hands of many noble Tuscan families. The latest of these families was the Bourbon del Monte Santa Maria, who sold the estate to a Swiss gentleman in 1906. Little is known of it’s life during the 20th Century, other than the castle was used as a refuge during World War II. When the Greene family discovered Potentino in 1999, it was in ruins. With a vision and great perseverance, they acquired the estate from 22 various owners and began to resurrect the castle.
On arriving at Potentino, I walked up a path of jumbled cobble stones, passed under a fairytale archway, and entered into the tranquil arms of a courtyard, where our tour began. Charlotte gave us a brief overview of the castle’s expansive history, and pointed out some impressive architectural details, like the Medieval frontal wall suitable for keeping attackers at bay, the Classical Renaissance details of the inner courtyard, the family crest of Bourbon del Monte, and a statuesque 10th Century well. Inside, we saw Medieval arches at the base of which were carved symbols of the Knight’s Templar, another testament to Potentino’s varied history.
Situated at the base of an extinct volcano and in a valley which connects to the sea, the conditions are ideal for wine production. Etruscan wine-making stones have been found in the valley, suggesting that it’s rich soil has produced grapes for millennia. Certainly the wine was delicious; ‘gorgeous’ and ‘luscious’ where some of the adjectives which also popped up during the tasting. Occupying only four hectares, tiny by vineyard standards, Potentino produces four varieties of wine. Charlotte’s passion for wine was unstuffy and apparent; this manner was mirrored in the rest of her family, who participated relaxedly in the tour and tasting. The entire evening certainly magical.
The exciting news:
It has been a while between written posts for this space; continuing to share my obsession with street art and quotes is rather simple, and I must confess I have been too caught up in Tuscany to bother with anything more involved. Now, however, things are changing. Here’s what I’ve been up to…
I explored Florence en route to a work exchange I organised in southern Tuscany (more on this later). When my passion for literature began to evolve, my mum suggested I read E M Forester’s 19th Century novel A Room with a View, which is set in this small Tuscan city. Ever since, I have wanted to visit Florence; I associated the city with empowerment, transition, and the disillusionment with perfection embodied in the text.
Though there wasn’t enough time (there hardly ever is), I was blown away by what I saw. More than the city itself, which is lovely, I was awestruck by the simple realisation that I was in the homeland of some of history’s great minds. Strolling down quaint cobbled alleys, which ended in piazzas dominated by larger-than-life marble monuments to artists from ages past, certainly gave me my daily dose of wonder, gratitude, and happiness.
Castel del Piano:
Curiously diverse and yet quintessentially Italian, the rural Tuscan town of Castel del Piano became my home for a few short weeks this September. I stayed with an English expat family in a placement through workaway.com. Similar to WWOOF, Workaway offers a veritable ocean of opportunities for volunteering abroad, and if you are interested in such work you should check it out.
My favourite part of the arrangement is the immersion it offers into local life. Castel del Piano is an out-of-the-way rural metropolis, home people from Italy and a small community of expats from around the world, yet not many tourists. This gave me unobstructed access to traditional Italian life and culture. From smiling and nodding dumbly to the enthusiastic Italian chatter of a local woman inviting me stop by her fabric shop to speak English with her (even though she didn’t speak English), to witnessing the festivities of the Palio, a traditional horse race between the four quarters of Castel del Piano, my stay in this town was perfect.