Friday, October 9, 2020

What is the magical allure and enchantment of Italian hilltop cities?

When Lucy and I considered where we’d like to live if or when we decided to move to Italy, one criterion always ended up in our list of priorities. It had to be a hilltop village.

Of course, there were also practical considerations: It had to be near a train station. It should not be too remote, requiring hours of driving on narrow roads. It should not be too touristy but should be near some attractive large cities that our guests would want to visit. But practicalities aside, we wanted to live in a small to medium sized hilltop village, something Italy has in abundance.

Montecarlo, our personal favorite! Our house is between the trees inside the city walls on the right.

Numerous books, photo essays and web pages have been dedicated to the best Italian hilltop cities. Some travel groups offer special tours that only go to hilltop villages. Lists of the top 10, 20 or 50 cities are published. What is about these locations that is so appealing, so mesmerizing?

Tour guru Rick Steves believes it has to do with a healthy and joyful lifestyle: “Built on hilltops for defensive purposes in ancient and medieval times, the lofty perches of Tuscany’s hill towns today seem to protect them only from the modern world. After the hustle and bustle of urban Italy, it can be a joy to downshift to a more peaceful pace. With a surprising diversity of scenic lanes, abbeys, and wineries, the Tuscan countryside is a fine place to abandon your itinerary and just slow down.”

Lucchio, which has great views from a crumbling castle just above the old town.

While I must say that hilltop villages in other regions are just as attractive as those in Tuscany, we did select a Tuscan hill town, Montecarlo, which is less than an hour from Lucca, Montecatini, Pisa, Firenze and the coastal city of Viareggio. It has been everything we hoped for and more.

I’m currently reading Stumbling Through Italy, by Niall Allsop, in which he describes his travels to various regions in bell’Italia over a period of years. He wrote a paragraph about arriving in the Sicilian village of Caltabellotta that struck a chord with me and is worthy of sharing:


“(The city) was a spectacular view in itself, but from the top there were amazing panoramas in every direction. And I suppose that’s why we visit these lofty towns, many of which, when you get there are basically the same—a castle, a cathedral, a few churches, small squares, big squares, blind alleyways, stepped alleyways, bars, a few shops. It’s for the view. Not just the view from the top but the many vistas that are part of the climb. And when you get there, the reward is not just looking down on the lesser hills or the distant sea—it’s recognizing where you’ve been, it’s marveling at the stilted road that brought you here, it’s catching a glimpse of where you’re staying, it’s wondering what’s in that field or beside that house, it’s pointing to where you’re going next, it’s knowing that, soon, you’ll be that speck down there.”

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