Last week we visited, as a group, the beautiful and historic hilltop Tuscan towns of San Gimignano, Siena and Monteriggioni. We spent the night at the Certosa di Pontignano, a former monastery now hotel that dates back to the 13th century. Our rooms were the cells that the former friars used as apartments!

The next day we enjoyed a relaxing day at the thermal baths of Terme San Giovanni and a scenic drive back to Florence through the Crete Siensi, a picturesque part of Tuscany with rolling hills and vistas that seem to continue on forever. Above and below are a selection of photos from those two days that make up our Tour of Tuscany trip. 

The HUF program has been built on relationships, many of them dating back to well before the students even began their academic journey in elementary school. Because of these relationships and the years of cultivation that they take, HUF students today have the opportunity to participate in incredible cultural experiences and see Italy like no other tourist would be able to.

A prime example of this is our friend, Martha Specht Corsi, the owner of the Castello di Porciano. Martha has graciously opened her family home, a restored 11th century castle, to HUF groups for many years as an opportunity for students to experience a taste of what rural, medieval Italy would have been like. This castle is even a place where the great Italian poet Dante stayed  while writing his masterpiece "The Divine Comedy."

Over the years, "The Castle," (as it is called amongst HUF groups) has become a place where many memories are made and this semester was no different. We were incredibly blessed with fantastic weather that allowed students to hike the various walking trails that snake through the valley, explore the small town of Stia, just below the castle and even practice watercolor painting with Robbie in the courtyard. 

This castle holds 1,000 years worth of memories and we are thankful to also be a part of its incredible story.

 

Click here for more information on the Castello di Porciano and Martha's story.

Visiting Professor's Note

It’s hard to believe we have been in Florence for three weeks. This immersion into the Italian culture has provided many wonderful experiences with Robbie and the students. Classes are off and running and the students keep us on our toes by asking great questions. We truly are blessed to share this experience with them; each one bringing their unique gifts and talents.    

This week, we had the pleasure of visiting Mulino di Bucchio, one of the oldest mills on the Arno River. This mill has been in the Bucchi family over 700 years with its oldest building dating back to the 13th century. It is said that the mill served Castello di Porciano for many years, the place Robbie arranged for us to stay for two nights while in Casentino.

Mulino di Bucchio has also been the site of a large trout hatchery, which received many prizes in the 1930’s by the Italian Department of Agriculture. The mill worked regularly until 1955, and then on and off until 1960. The last miller was Pietro Bucchi, known as “Pietrone” or “the Philosopher,” because of his long beard. In the 1970’s, the mill and its owner were visited by writers, journalists, and the RAI (an Italian TV network), who filmed a documentary on old legends and tales of the Casentino valley. They were very proud to tell us about this prestigious filming opportunity.

The Bucchi's prepared a marvelous dinner for our HUF family to enjoy. We began with a corn appetizer, palenta, which was quickly followed by an amazingly delicious fresh baked flatbread from the stone oven right outside the door. Then fresh meats and cheeses, chopped tomato blend, and platters of apple cake, blackberry, and apricot tortes were brought in to complete the evening. We were “stuffed to the gills.”

This was an especially meaningful experience for Mike as he felt a family connection to Claudio and his family.  Although they could not figure out if there was a close blood connection, there was a strong connection of spirit.  Mike felt as if he had found a long-lost cousin from his “roots.” They hugged, smiled, and shook hands numerous times. It was evident they felt a deep connection. Robbie translated so they could talk with one another and share information about their family history, but the real communication was seen in the smiles and hugs. It was very special and felt like “home in Italy,” even if only for few short minutes.

 

-Mike and Marilyn Bucchi, visiting professors

 

Student's Note

As our cars wound through the Casentino mountains, we marveled at the Tuscan towns and medieval towers.  Little did we know that nothing could compare with the view from our castle.  For three days and two nights, we had the honor of calling the Castello di Porciano our home.  This castle was built in the 13th century by the Guidi counts, a powerful aristocratic family.  After centuries of neglect, an ancestor of the counts rebuilt the interior of the castle in the 1960s.  This restoration enabled us to experience the castle in a unique way. In the courtyard where knights had jousted, we learned about the history and culture of the area.  In the tower where Dante penned the Inferno, we wrote in our journals.  In a grand hall, we ate our dinner while peering down into the valley.  One evening, we climbed up to the battlements of the castle for a devotional.  Here, we sang songs to our Creator under the stars and marveled at His handiwork in the Casentino mountains.  We thanked Him for the minds that created this castle and those who preserved it for a millennium.  I will forever cherish this experience from my time in Italy. 

-Sarah, HUF Student

Castello di Porciano, our home for a few nights.