Autumn arrived in Italy.

South side of the Arno

Turning from warm summer breezes in the shade, to cool gray rains, the fall season clearly was approaching. Winter wouldn’t be far behind. We were grateful to be staying in a friend’s small unused apartment in Florence, just across the Arno river, with easy access to the historic center—a delightful 10 minute walk. We enjoyed being in a different part of the city, which offered us new perspectives.

We had stayed in many different places over the past four years as we waited for the long-delayed completion of our dream-studio in the nearby Florentine countryside. Our romantically naïve plan was to run off together to a peaceful place of inspiration, leaving behind the often hectic pace of the Silicon Valley. The Tuscan hills beckoned.

Awesome view

We imagined ourselves living a simple life in nature with just the bare necessities—a small stone one room studio with an awesome view, where we could write stories and music about our experiences of life in Italy. We planned to share heartfelt conversations in front of an old open Tuscan fireplace, while sipping on hot mugs of coffee—dreaming, creating, spinning story and song into contemporary fables and fairytales that could actually come true. Still very much in love after nearly 30 years together, we were up for the challenge of taking our relationship to the next level, whatever that meant—longing to find out.

We decided to recommit

The message of another delay in the project arrived on that cold rainy day, and we felt our patience fray. Frustrated and deeply saddened by the thought of yet another problem, we actually considered ending the project. Just call it quits. As we talked it over, though, the vision slowly started coming back into view. We reminisced about our feelings and desires that led to this dream in the first place. We found ourselves re-engaging, breathing new life into our intentions. Determination and commitment rallied to fill in the gaps as we took a collective deep breath. Looking into each other’s eyes, we both felt a shared resolve.The answer: the dream must continue. The strength of our partnership literally rose-up in that moment of need to protect our fragile possibilities.

As is our custom, we turned to music and story to sort out the jumble of feelings we were experiencing—the hope, love and appreciation for both the challenges and successes. We decided to write a song to commemorate that time as if we were getting married again—recommitting to our shared vision, the romantic dream, the Tuscan studio. It became a  ceremony of rebirth (Renaissance) in our little borrowed home in Florence.

Music can sort things out

Friends Patrizia and Virginio dropped by for an unexpected visit later that evening. We had just finished a rough version of the song, and decided to sing it for them. They quietly listened as we stumbled through our newly penned lyrics and still-settling melody. Little did we know, that song would became the touchstone for this journey of the heart. We were delighted to share that moment of celebration and hope with them as they unknowingly became silent partners in our autumn sojourn.

On that cold, damp fall night, we did exactly what our hearts desired, fulfilling the essence of our shared dream. We vowed an Uncommon Promise to one another, knowing that it would be strong enough to carry us through—whatever was to come!

Music

Uncommon Promise

Here’s the song we wrote nearly 20 years ago to commemorate that turning point—commitment no matter what! It remains a touchstone for our relationship to this day. The name is as you might expect, “Uncommon Promise.”

Note: This post became the first to be recreated into a podcast with additional commentary, also under the name of “Uncommon Promise.”

Pratomagno View

The Pratomagno mountains near Florence are full of wonderful moderate hiking trails. Many of them are anelli (rings) that are relatively easy half-day treks, perfect for a cool early-morning start that finishes before the summer day heats-up. The trails wander through the dense wooded hills, crossing small villages with charming farm houses, ruins, villas, country churches and castles. Everything is picturesque so there are photo-ops at every turn.

Ferrano Castle Tower

One especially interesting circular hike is called the Borselli-Ferrano anello, where you will find the beautiful Castello di Ferrano and Chiesa di Santa Maria (1574), along with interesting country farmhouses and knock-your-socks-off panoramas that are sure to slow you down for a prolonged gander. Following are some photos we took that will give you a feel for the historic buildings, terrain and scenery.

We have written two other related stories about similar hikes, in the same area that you might want to check out: the ruins of Lavacchio and the Nippozzano castle. Both hikes, guarantee a delightful morning in nature, with significant Tuscan scenery in which to contemplate. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore!

We love hiking the Tuscan “anelli” (rings).

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The Destination

We typically drive to a trail head, hike the route and return to our starting point. Each anello is unique. The one to Nipozzano Castle was exceptional! If you like castles, wine, beautiful Tuscan scenery, we suggest you visit the site called Sentieri di Toscana (Tuscan Trails). The Nipozzano is nothing short of magic. It is a hilltop hike which took us about 4 hours, including miscues, intentional wandering and many photo stops along the way. Have a look at the photo gallery we’ve included and the details to get you into a hiking frame of mind.

Frescobaldi Vineyards

On a slightly overcast mid-November day, we set out in search of the castle. Summer would surely have found the small town buzzing with activity, but we prefer feeling like we’re the only ones to ever discover a place, so an off-season, unplanned visit is perfect for us. However, with a little planning during the high-season, you will likely find a few tours available, and possibly discover a wine tasting reward at the end of your trek. Nipozzano is home to the famous Frescobaldi brand, one of the ancient Italian names synonymous with fine wine. The vineyards completely surround the castle.

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1000 Year Old Castle

Here’s some background about the castle-town Nipozzano. The castle dates back to the year 1000, and is nestled in the heart of Tuscany just a bit north-east of Florence. Situated on a picturesque hilltop in the Appenine mountain range, it was originally built as a fortress for the protection of Florence, which is tucked into the Arno River valley below. Local lore has it that in centuries past, the word nipozzano, meant “without well.” Since the entire region can be somewhat arid and rocky, you can imagine how the location is considered perfect for vineyards. Early records indicate that during the Renaissance, famous artists/sculptors such as Donatello would visit the castle to buy wine. This was also the “neighborhood” where author/poet Dante Alighieri wandered the romantic hillsides in the 1300s. He surely would have been familiar with the famous castle, vineyards and olive groves.

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Albereta Beyond

The hike begins and ends in the small town of Albereta just outside the larger river-town of Pontassieve, which is situated east of Florence. A description of the trail and a Google-earth map are the only links you need to find your way up the quasi-gradual slopes toward the castle above. The marked trail meanders along the surrounding hillsides making the climb fairly moderate. So as not to fatigue trekkers, you’ll find yourselves zigzagging, always upward. As you circle higher toward the castle, you will enjoy the ever-changing, absolutely beautiful distant views. Soon, among the manicured olive groves and earthy stone walls, you will arrive at the destination. Wow! What vistas of the expansive vineyards, villas and farms below! After enjoying the magical panoramas from atop the castle, the return route descends more steeply down the hillside toward the Arno and Albereta.

We hope you enjoy the following photo gallery, and plan to visit Tuscany for a hike or two on the thousands of gorgeous trails—each one a picture-postcard photo at every turn.

High in the Appenine mountains of Tuscany, in the middle of a dense forest of fir and beech trees, rests the majestic  Benedictine Monastery of Vallombrosa, founded in 1038. It is a magical tribute to the power of spirit to move mankind. After many changes over the centuries, it remains to this day as a model of fifteenth century grandeur—for all to enjoy. The peaceful setting has been an inspiration to countless visitors over the years. (more…)

To say that things move slowly in Tuscany would be a colossal understatement. However, thanks to that nearly imperceivable plodding pace, Toscana remains true to her simple beauty—year after year after year. However, beneath the timeless and serenely rolling landscape, change does in fact arrive in its own way—piano, piano (slowly, slowly)—Tuscan style. (more…)

There’s nothing like a Tuscan scavenger hunt. Saturday’s goal was to unearth some of the relics of the ancient Florentine past, buried in the middle of the bustling 21st century life. We headed northwest from Florence into the challenging sea of modern development. Calenzano was our destination, and we were in search of her historic heart. We found it! (more…)

Oh, the monastic life!

Italy is filled with monasteries. Some are still functioning, some are museums and some are experiencing “adaptive reuse.” But no matter what the religious order, the dedicated souls that makes up each community seem to have a common purpose. Oh, sure. There’s the spiritual purpose, of course. But beyond that, they usually come up with a unique secondary goal: the blending and perfecting of spirits. We mean the drinking kind. (more…)

So here’s the situation: In our Italian neck of the woods, there is a law that permits only a certain number of windows per room. Yes, that’s right. Apparently, the practice started years ago when farmers didn’t want so many windows due to their inefficiency—you know, drafty winters, vulnerability, etc. So, over the centuries, they just made the practice into an architectural common law of sorts. Why not? You can do that kind of thing here  . . . it’s Italy! (more…)

After all . . . it was just my favorite hat!

Once in a while, I run across something that really suits me. My blue baseball cap is one of those unique treasures—cool green stitching around the bill, a quirky off-centered design that was a bit tricky to figure out, and, of course, it was broken in just right with sure signs of wear—obviously a fave. (more…)

Imagine a hiking trail 100 miles long with no particular destination. Sound strange? What if you could actually see the focus of your wanderings, yet never arrive there? What if the trail encircled the most magnificent symbol of the Italian Renaissance—the Duomo, Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore—the main cathedral in the heart of Florence? Now, this is really getting interesting. Well, there is such a trail—where the real destination is a deepening of the magic and mystery of that special place known as Firenze—the heart of Tuscany—an experience like no other! (more…)