When you think of the Italian culture, what do you think of? A society defined by tradition and their significant history? A collectivistic culture centered around family and the dinner table? Well, those are all things I thought of prior to my life in Florence. Though the Florentine culture does not particularly seem to be characterized by any of these ideas, the small villages and more southern regions of Italy certainly are.
The rural and more southern villages of Italy have not only a more corrupt government system than the North, the south also contains more poverty. However, in contrast to what one would expect, from my observations I noticed that the people in the south seemed to be more family oriented, open, welcoming, and happy. How did I discover this? By visiting seven villages throughout the regions of southern Tuscany and Umbria over the course of a two-day road trip!
During my time in living in Italy, I had always dreamed of going on a road trip through the Tuscan countryside and traveling from city to city just embracing the Italian culture first had. Myself and four of my dear friends decided to rent a car and embark on this adventure during one of our last travel weekends in Italy. We set out on a Friday morning and returned by Saturday evening, but we were able to stop at six cities including the most “perfect” Renaissance city, a city known for her healing waters, a city with my own name, Amelia, and we even stopped by Narnia as well (The Chronicles of Narnia are by far my favorite children’s novels).
The cities we stopped through were Montepulciano, Pienza, Amelia, Narni, Lago di Bolsena (Marta), Saturnia, and finally Pitigliano before we headed back to Florence. The drive through the Tuscan countryside was a dream, an incredible dream. And, the farther south we traveled the more smiles and “ciaos” we received and the more warmth and love we felt. These gorgeous cities were nestled amongst the rolling hills of Tuscany and Umbria and are stoned, Medieval villages, each with their own unique history. Montepulciano, the first city we stopped through was actually a city during the filming of Twilight Saga’s New Moon, little did we know. Walking through the city was incredible, seeing the gorgeous views of the campagna (countryside) and walking through the sweet streets was very special.
The next city we stopped through was Pienza. Pienza is known as the “ideal” Medieval city and it is known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire neighboring valley is also one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Landscapes as well. This city is characterized by the symmetries and architectural idealism of the Renaissance. The city was actually rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, as was commanded by Pope Pius II in 1459, since he desired his place of birth to be transformed into an ideal Renaissance city. Pope Pius II was successful in his wish and Pienza is visited by thousands of meager tourists every year. While visiting this gorgeous city we stopped for lunch at an adorable restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal.
After our time in Pienza, we headed towards the beautiful hillside city in Umbria called Amelia. We were able to catch a glimpse of a gorgeous pink sunset from the top of this city. While walking through the city that was seemingly empty, we met an incredible local woman whom was friendly and we talked with her for over 20 minutes. It’s moments like that that really reminded me the true essence and beauty of the Italian culture. Seeing Amelia was special to me since my father always ranted and raved about the beautiful Italian village that shares my name with me.
After visiting the sweet city, we slept in our parked car in the parking lot at the bottom of the city. Sleeping in the car was an adventure and it was convenient, I figured, why not make the car double as a hotel too? On Saturday morning we headed to Narni, which is a city about 20 minutes outside of Amelia. Narni is a magical small Umbrian village, fun fact: in Latin Narnia is the name for Narni, so my childhood dreams did finally come true! Narni was gorgeous, overlooks snow covered mountains, has a wonderful atmosphere and a gorgeous castle. After rummaging through a sweet open air market in Narni, we headed towards Saturnia to do as the Romans did and bathe in some natural healing waters.
On the way to Saturnia we passed a beautiful lake, which I insisted we stop at, and that we did. While there, I met the sweetest group of older men who were walking along the lake. They were kind, friendly and even hugged me! You can’t find that in Northern Italy! While looking out at the glistening waters, I was reminded that it’s the moments of pure bliss and joyful living that make all the dull, dreary moments bearable and livable. While standing in front of the vivacious lake, I took in the beauty and I embraced that present moment. I became fully present and alive while staring out at that lake. That moment made my past seem unimportant and my future unthinkable. It made me remember what living really feels like. You see, most of the time we just exist, we go through the motions, we press on, all without truly living. It’s the moments of life, it’s the moments where we are actually present. Those seconds, those vivid occurrences make all else seem okay. I have learned to carry those moments with me since they remind me of the peace that can be found within life’s constant beauty.
Ever since coming to Florence, I had hoped to travel to Saturnia and visit the thermal baths. One thing that did surprise me, on the way to Saturnia and actually throughout my entire Tuscan road trip, the countryside was filled with natural, thermal springs! On arriving to Saturnia I was pleased to find that the springs were crowded, but not with tourists, instead with locals. It felt like such a cultural experience, bathing in thermal baths with other Italians in this remote village.
The water was definitely natural and organic as there were little worms in the water. This didn’t phase me but some of my friends left when they noticed the little worm friends in the water! After the springs, we all definitely smelt of sulfur, but we didn’t let that stop us! We then headed to Pitigliano. This city was similar to the others we saw, but a bit more artsy. Walking through this city at dusk was epic. I was surprised to find that many of the shops were adorable vintage and resale stores. After some window shopping, we found a cute cafe where we sipped on hot chocolate and played cards. It was a wonderful night and a perfect finish to our adventurous weekend. My last week in Florence was pretty hectic but reminiscing on the peaceful moments from this trip pulled me through until the next weekend of fun.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.