As promised some more suggestions for child-friendly Tuscan excursions, within reach of Montalcino…
Il Bosco della Ragnaia, Strada Provinciale del Pecorile, 53020 San Giovanni d’Asso (SI) www.laragnaia.com
This is a landscaped Arcadian garden created by the American artist Sheppard Craige and his wife Frances Lansing. It is open from dawn to dusk every day to everyone and is a huge gift to this area. The “garden” is a work in progress that began in 1996. The woods are full of sculpture made from simple materials (plantpots, tiles and so on), playful poetry and inscriptions, waterfalls and hidden corners to discover along with comfortable seats at regular intervals. Part of the garden is in shade all day. This is a lovely place to be and to explore.
Driving from Montalcino (30 mins). From Torrenieri follow signs for S.Giovanni D’Asso. After the carabinieri station, and as the houses stop there is a layby on the left with a hexagonal bench. 20 metres later, on your left, there is the car park for Il Bosco delle Ragnaie.
Restaurant suggestion: http://www.lalocandadelcastello.com/ Tel. 0577 802939. It is just before the main street of S.Giovanni and in the grounds of the castle itself. There is outdoor seating in summer. Look out for the beautiful customised glassware and the white truffles for which San Giovanni is famous. Closed Tuesdays.
For those in search of a complete and literal change of gear, an afternoon at the Crossodromo can be an antidote to churches and the silent contemplation of cypress trees. The track is open at weekends and on Wednesdays from 9 am to 7 pm. Usually between 10-50 pilots can be seen scrambling up and down and over steep jumps and obstacles. It’s noisy, dusty/muddy and terrifically exciting to watch. There is a Motocross and a Pit Bike track, a bar and restaurant serving affordable unsophisticated food (barbequed meats, pasta, chips, crepes…). The crossodromo is between Borgo Santa Rita and Paganico and is signed “Crossodromo Santa Rita.”Driving from Montalcino (30 mins). Follow signs for Grosseto. After Borgo Santa Rita and the garden centre, keep your eyes peeled on the right hand side of the road for the turn-off.
Horse riding with the “Butteri” Loc. Spergolaia 58100 Alberese (GR) www.alberese.com
The Butteri are real-life cowboys from the Maremma area who tend herds of cattle on horseback. Up to eight people can join them for their mornings’ work. This is no gentle walk but an incredible experience riding in the pineforest and pastures, herding cattle, chasing calfs, rounding up horses. Only for experienced riders. Participants must be at the Agriturismo Alberese at 7 am sharp and finish up around 12. The butteri are out everyday including weekends and holidays. Book by phone (0564 407100 or by email email@example.com). At the time of writing the cost is 50 Euros per head. Driving from Montalcino (80 mins). Follow signs for Grosseto and then for Rome. Leave the highway at the Alberese exit and follow signs for the sea (not the town of Alberese). The beach here is wild and wonderful, with great bleached tree-trunks and no organised umbrellas or other frills.
Il Giardino dei Tarocchi, Garavicchio, 58011 Capalbio (GR) www.nikidesaintphalle.com
This spell-binding place is open from 1st April to 15 October from 2.30 – 7pm. It is an esoteric sculpture park with 22 monumental sculptures based on the characters from the tarot pack. It was created in the 1970s by Niki de Saint Phalle and includes work by her husband and great love, Jean Tinguely. Gaudí’s Park Güell was an inspiration for this park. Some of the sculptures are enormous and you can climb up into them or look out from them. Nearly all are decorated with mosaic pieces and mirrors fired on site. The whole thing is fantastical, colourful and magical. A word of warning: it can be very hot since there is little shade and a lot of reflection. I can really recommend visiting off-season. From January to March and November to December, the first Saturday in the month, from 9am to 1pm, there is free entry for all visitors (normal ticket price is €10,50).Ps. Judith… there is a dragon here too!
Driving from Montalcino (90 mins). Follow for Grosseto and then Rome. Do not follow the blue sign for Giardino (very confusing but it has nothing to do with Il Giardino). Look out for brown signs with lower case white writing for Il Giardino dei Tarocchi. Googlemap it – its easy to miss the turn-off!
Restaurant suggestion: Ristorante La Selva. Località Selva Nera , 58011 Capalbio (GR) Toscana Tel. 0564 890381. Fish restaurant on the crossroad with great local fresh fish and a great wine list. Very popular so do book. Cost €40-€80. Closed Mondays.