After Pontassieve, I make the turn towards Consuma. For me, this is the dividing line in my journey, perhaps because after this, the road twists and turns and climbs up and dives down even more than it has until now and the towns become smaller.
In a lay-by after the turn, a produce truck is usually parked. The fruits and vegetables are bright spots of color in the spring and summer. The offerings are less colorful, but equally delicious, when funghi come on the market in the fall. A turn of the road and I’m going through the village of Le Palaie.
Shortly after Le Palaie comes one of the most beautiful parts of this drive – the Frescobaldi vineyards. I have seen the vineyards in the dead of winter – long, straight lines of vines, bare of foliage atop bare earth, in the spring when the leaves first start appearing and each vine looks like it’s wearing a mohawk, in late summer and early autumn when the leaves are turning gold and the vines are bearing fruit, and I am always tempted to capture the image. There is, fortunately, a place where I can pull off and pull out my camera.
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After the vineyards comes Diacceto, a pretty town. From the parking lot off this main road, there are views of layers of hills, with the bell tower of a church playing a prominent role.
After Diacceto comes one of the oddest sites of the drive, Le Cupole. I’m both intrigued and slightly appalled at this ‘flying saucer’ – surely there’s an interesting story behind this building, which houses a restaurant, and the similarly-styled house nearby. Since I’ve heard the food is good, I’ll probably wind up there some day for a meal!
Next comes Borselli and then the turn off to Vallombrosa, which is a marker for me and a word I love. Now I’m in Consuma and almost to the pass into the Casentino Valley. The gas station here is the site of one of my minor triumphs when I figured out how to use the self-service pumps. A bar and grocery are next – the pastries in the bar are pricey but lovely. And then I’m at the pass.
It’s one of my most favorite phrases in the world these days – driving through the Consuma; it sounds so romantic and adventurous. The pass is the dividing line between the provinces of Florence and Arezzo. Its height above sea level – 890 meters (2900 feet) – doesn’t seem that high, but it’s high enough to have its own weather system. In the winter, we keep tabs on the weather and the status of the pass, as it can be closed to traffic.
The first time I made this trip, I was on the bus with my friend Catherine. It was a Sunday morning and the bar, aka the chalet, at the pass was open. We were astounded and amused when the bus driver pulled into the parking lot and said he was going for coffee. Most of the passengers followed him into the bar. Ten minutes later, everyone came back to the bus and we went on our way to the bus stop at Ponticelli.
Images © Melissa Corcoran.