Back in the days when hilltop towns were built, the word “picturesque” did not play a role in the urban planning decisions. Defense was the name of the game, and it was a very deadly game if your enemy from the next town over broke through your barriers. Being up on the top had the advantage of making it difficult for them to sneak up on you from a visual standpoint, as well as from a physical standpoint. It’s tough carrying a battering ram uphill, and since the marauders’ efforts would probably be accompanied by the telltale sounds of loud grunting and grumbling, their evil intentions would have been announced before they’d gone 50 feet.
Today’s invaders of Italy’s hilltop towns come by car, bus, bike, and in Orvieto’s case, a funicular……and rather than plundering, they leave money in exchange for goods and services, and frequently use the word “picturesque”, as well as “beautiful”, “well-preserved”, “magical”…..and will often throw in witty, original phrases like “they sure don’t build them like they used to”.
Earlier this year, I wrote about Iconic Sites in the countryside (https://halfyearitalian.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/iconic-sites/), and in that piece I mentioned what my friend Lou considers absolutely necessary when you’re in Italy: getting THE “Chamber of Commerce” photo of those towns lucky enough to have had forefathers who weren’t afraid of heights when they started building. Today’s smart town governments, wanting to entice tourists to come and “invade”, know — just like beautiful women know — which is their town’s best side for a photograph. Some are thoughtful and make it easy for you to get a great shot.
For instance, several years ago Orvieto installed a paved pull-off to allow people to safely park their cars so they can take THE perfect photo of the family with Orvieto in the background….or perhaps just THE perfect photo of Orvieto….without the family. The picture in the masthead above is from this lookout. Once you’ve taken the photo, the town hopes your next step is to visit and drop a few euros here and there. A beautiful view can be a great marketing tool.
Lou knows his “Chamber of Commerce” views. His beloved Pitigliano has a great pull-off, and you can’t imagine how much it annoys him if someone sneaks in and out of town on the “wrong” roads so that they miss getting the perfect picture. I’ve included a lot of these Chamber of Commerce photos in my past blogs, but just as a refresher:
Lake Bolsena, near Orvieto, has 2 paved pull-offs along the road leading down to the town and the lake. With views like this around every corner, 1 just wasn’t enough.
While some towns haven’t gone to the trouble of helping their tourists with an official pull-off, over the years, discerning travelers have worn away grassless, gravel-covered spots next to the road. VERY GOOD ADVICE: Pay attention to these unofficial pull-offs because they quite often mean there’s a photo waiting to be taken.
Montepulciano looks good from several sides, so I guess that’s why the town does not have an established view. My favorite is this one with the characteristic San Biagio church below on the right. Others must agree with me, because there are at least 3 gravel pull-offs along this road.
You can see in the picture of Pienza below that I wasn’t the first person to think this was a good spot. Just in front of where I was standing is proof that enough people wanted that particular shot that they’ve made a small unofficial pull-off just big enough to get their rears out of the road on the curve.
And then there’s San Gimignano with its trademark towers. Like Montepulciano, there are several beautiful approaches, but all of my pictures are like this one…..way off in the distance, over fields or vineyards. I don’t have any close-ups.
And the oddest thing is that if you take the most direct route from the main highway, you don’t get a view at all; you just go around a lot of uphill turns and suddenly you’re there. If I’m in the car, I always make sure my friends arrive via the less direct route. Yes, it takes a bit longer, but the back roads are so sparsely traveled that you can safely stop almost anywhere and take a photo. After all — as Lou has taught me — friends don’t let friends go home without proper Chamber of Commerce pictures.