Peanut’s alarm clock beeped it’s repetitive and relentless sound at 6.30. We showered and dressed and drove away exactly an hour later. Not military fast but we don’t do that these days and we were pleased with the getaway. The sat nav said 13.30 for Siena so we pushed on. There is a long road from Ste Maxime to the A7 motorway and halfway along we got stuck behind two circus trucks both pulling three trailers. 10 minutes were lost straight away.
We had no hold ups though passing Cannes, Nice and Monaco so that was good as was the weather so no hard rain to slow us either. After Monaco though it is a long road of relentless tunnels and bridges that can be quite intense. It amused us though to realise we have driven this road more times than we have crossed the Severn Bridge. Then just as we crossed into Italy our car SilverBeast developed a nasty hesitation and began running rough. I suspected dodgy petrol when we filled even though it was Total excellium. I decided to stop at the next services, throw a petrol additive in the fuel and quickly check the engine for loose pipes.
I threw the additive in the fuel and got Peanut to open the bonnet. Straight away I saw the problem. The air intake just behind the radiator had worked loose where it connects to er… well something? Turbo perhaps? I asked Peanut to run back to the petrol station, give the man her most irresistible smile and return with a screwdriver. 1 minute and 42 seconds later and I was tightening the loose pipe. A personal best for Peanut methinks!
We hit the road, this time with Peanut at the wheel and SilverBeast was once more running like a dream. We had another stop for a light but poor lunch and swapped drivers again. I used a few Italian cars as markers to follow and pushed in hard. We had no hold ups at all and the sat nav led us straight into Siena. We drove past the Moderna Hotel that we stayed in two years ago and parked in the car park there. This was 50 metres from some escalaters that led up to the old town. Ten past two saw us ascending these stairs.
We meandered towards Piazza del Campo, the large square in the centre, famous for the wild horse race held there each year. We window shopped as we walked and wallowed in the joy of being back in a town we love so much. The heat was strong, but the narrow streets and tall buildings provide total shade and meandering is great fun.
We decided to find a cafe for a drink and turned down an alley that opened onto the Campo. We emerged between the restaurants all fully shaded as the Campo is large and open and the heat was intense. We turned left, found nothing, backtracked and explored the cafes to the right of where we entered the Campo.
Half way along and three familiar faces were sat on a table. Dave, Becky and their daughter Mini. MINI friends who we have shared many continental adventures with. It was a wonderful surprise seeing them. They were just finishing their drinks and were heading off in search of a spot of lunch, so of course we joined them.
They had a place in mind which Dave had found on the Internet, so we crossed the campo in search of it. We arrived at another square with a covered area in the middle presumably where a weekly market is held. We carried on up some steps and along a narrow street.
Suddenly in front of us a rat jumped up out of a drain in the middle of the road and raced into a shop where it was trapped. Dave was struggling to locate the restaurant on his sat nav so we paused to watch the drama unfold as the people in the shop tried to catch the rat. They cornered it in a back room where it met its fate. Meanwhile I noticed that the shop was a lovely old fashioned shop full of maps, old paper and hand made bound writing books. I saw a map of Italy in the window for 4 euros which I couldn’t resist, so sent Peanut in to buy it for me.
We failed to find the restaurant Dave wanted and settled for one in the market square we had passed through. Dave had wild boar, Mini had chips and the rest of us had home made pasta, mine and Peanut’s topped with a tomato and onion based sauce. Very nice but in truth the pasta was like spaghetti but much thicker which made it almost chewy. The waiter was very friendly and helpful though which was good.
I think the whole purpose of Siena is to meet up with old friends and have a leisurely lunch outside in a lovely restaurant it is a lovely way to idle away a few hours.
Our day had been long with the drive down from Port Cogolin, near St Tropez to Siena and as we left the restaurant poor Peanut suddenly felt quite unwell getting very overheated. She had wandered around without a hat and now was feeling quite ill. It was well after five by now anyway, so we said our goodbyes and left in search of our castle.
It was called Castello di San Fabiano and was 18 km from Siena. We set our sat nav for the nearest town – Monteroni d Arbia and once there put in San Fabiano. Basically San Fabiano is a few houses plus the castle, so the sat nav took us straight there.
The road took us up a long road that was really a glorified track. A long plume of dust trailed behind us and it reminded me of a MINI run we did many years ago on just such a road in Belgium where trails of sand plumed after every car. The castle loomed up in front of us, a fairy tale fantasy that didn’t disappoint. We were greeted by Bernice who with her husband owned the castle. She was very friendly, explained where breakfast was served, on the terrasse on the first floor and showed us to our room.
It was perfect. We love hotels with character and authenticity. We recently stayed in a Holiday Inn in Northampton for a night. Perfect catered for all your needs but was soulless, very corporate and very uniform. This place was real. It had history, it had flaws, bits that needed work on, where the work had to stop as taxes went up twenty fold on the property. It is a castle owned by an architect and his wife who had opened it up as a bed and breakfast in 2011. They try different things, cooking lessons, castle tours to assist in the revenue flow, there is a grit in their determination to carve out a viable way to run the castle that lets them enjoy living on their castle estate. We are not staying in some faceless corporate hotel, we feel we are staying with friends who own a castle. That is the essence of the charm of this place.
Our evening was lazy. We walked around the castle estate and used the wifi to catch up on our mail. The silence of the castle lulled us to a deep sleep that night.