Watching the sun set from Monticchiello in Tuscany

On my Tuscan travels, I had a chance to stop for the evening in Monticchiello and contemplate the surrounding landscape like a painting as the sun set. Perched on a hill in the Orcia valley, this fortified medieval village is an unspoilt jewel which offers stunning views of Pienza and the neat rows of cypress … More Watching the sun set from Monticchiello in Tuscany

Pieve di Corsignano: a pearl on the outskirts of Pienza

I was walking along the panoramic promenade just outside Pienza in Tuscany, admiring the wonderful landscape views of the Val d’Orcia, when I first spotted a circular bell tower between the trees. Pienza, rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town by Pope Pius II in the fifteenth century, is a jewel in itself, but I had … More Pieve di Corsignano: a pearl on the outskirts of Pienza

A moment in the oratory of St. Catherine of the Night

I’ve always hoped to discover more about St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). I was drawn to her firstly because I share her name, but also because she was a strong woman, producing a lot of spiritual writing, not being afraid to speak her mind, and working hard to help the poor and sick. When I … More A moment in the oratory of St. Catherine of the Night

Leonardo da Vinci’s vineyard: the revival of a hidden passion

I returned to Milan for the first time in years this month and I decided to seek out the sites linked to Leonardo da Vinci. Of course I wanted to see the “Last Supper” masterpiece in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, but I also heard that for a short period of time there … More Leonardo da Vinci’s vineyard: the revival of a hidden passion

San Giovenale: a little gem overlooking the hills of Orvieto

When I am in the Umbrian hilltop town of Orvieto, what I like to do best is to wander through the backstreets, all the way to the viewpoints on the far outskirts, in front of the pretty little church of San Giovenale (Saint Juvenal). This spot is a jewel for many reasons: firstly you can … More San Giovenale: a little gem overlooking the hills of Orvieto

Spotting symbols in the Villa Romana del Casale mosaics

I had heard friends talk about how wonderful the mosaics at Sicily’s Villa Romana del Casale are, but nothing could really prepare me for finally seeing them myself. There is so much to take in at this site that it cannot really be described as a “gem” but more like a massive diamond. Situated south-west … More Spotting symbols in the Villa Romana del Casale mosaics

Caltagirone and its yellow and blue ceramic jewels

Caltagirone is one of the towns in Sicily that I remember most vividly: the bright blue and yellow colours of the ceramic tiles that decorate its pavements and walls, the interesting Arab influences, and the stunning views of the surrounding plains. The town’s history predates the Greek settlements in Sicily– necropolises found nearby are from … More Caltagirone and its yellow and blue ceramic jewels