This year the day celebrating Saint Martin (November, 11th) was not sunny and warm as tradition has it, but very rainy. The weather forecast did not encourage us to go out for a visit, nevertheless we decided to maintain our idea to reach the White Truffle market and exhibition, held in San Giovanni D’Asso (Siena) on November 11th and 12th, and again on November 17th and 18th, on board the Sienese Crete Nature Train.
The Nature Train is a classic steam train pulled by a smoking locomotive and made up of 100-door carriages of a bygone time, travelling through the wonderful landscape of this part of Tuscany – the Sienese Crete – characterized by farmed lands, clay hills, old and isolated castles, hamlets and small churches, where time seems to have stood still. Usually the train leaves from and come back to Siena (departure and arrival stations and times are listed in the programme of the train excursions at http://www.ferrovieturistiche.it/e2004orarifvo2.asp). Itineraries on the Nature Train are scheduled every year, in Spring and Autumn. After the end of this Autumn edition, the Train will come back in March 2013.
Excursions last the whole day, and after the departure and a journey of about 120 kilometres through the enchanting Tuscan landscape, the train reaches a village organizing a feast, a fair, a market or other events devoted to typical products of the territory. In fact, train journeys are always combined with special events that can thus be reached by such unusual mean of transport! The experience is great, not only for the extreme beauty of the landscape the train runs through, but also for the emotion to travel on board an authentic steam train, with a background noise made of whistles, puffs, squeaks and the pumping of the pistons. A great experience for adults, an unforgettable day for children! The ticket costs 32 € , free for up to 10 year old children accompanied by an adult. It is not cheap, but the length of the journey, the landscape admired and the experience itself are worth the price.
Once in San Giovanni d’Asso, a medieval village between the territories of Crete and Val d’Orcia, rain was coming and going, but we could anyway go around the village little streets and visit the shops and stalls selling the typical products of the Sienese territory (jams, honey, wines, olive oil, ship milk cheese from Pienza and Crete, but also wool mantles and clothes, wood handcrafts etc.). After lunch, we visited the Castle, where both the Municipality and the Truffle Museum are located. Built up in different phases between the XIIth and the XIVth century, from the 1200’s onwards San Giovanni d’Asso passed into the secure hands of the most powerful Sienese families and then became grancia (fortified farm) of the Hospice Santa Maria della Scala of Siena. From the XVth century onwards, Siena directly dominated the hamlet.
The Castle still shows its medieval aspect, is completely built in bricks and consist of two parts, one much older with the characteristic of a fortress with high walls, turrets and some remnants of crenellation, the other with the appearance of an urban palace with single light , mullioned windows with gothic arches and a huge courtyard. Inside it is possible to admire a gorgeous fireplace and a fine stone-made washbasin, both dating back to the XVth century.
The Truffle Museum ( http://www.museodeltartufo.it/) is located in the underground store room of the castle and is devoted to the hamlet’s major product. Member of the Foundation of Sienese Museums, the Museum permits visitors to make a sensory experience trying to recognize, with the help of multimedia devices, the truffle through the five senses. At the end of our visit, it was raining heavily and our excursion came to an end. The beautiful medieval hamlet, away from the main communications, has for this reason maintained its authenticity, a direct and conscious contact with the environment, a peaceful and harmonic relation between nature and mankind. I imagine it in its daily routine, in a clear winter day, and I can clearly feel that time has stood still, as on board the steam train that we’ll lead us back to Siena.