“Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi!”

Christmas with your own folks, Easter with whomever you feel like goes an Italian proverb and many Italians are on the road during the Easter holidays, Bolgheri being a very popular destination with cars parked half way down the Viale dei Cipressi. However, on the whole, the Bolgheresi stay at home. Easter from a religious point of view is an even bigger festivity than Christmas and celebrations and preparations start a week before. In the days before Easter the parish priest, Don Antonio visits all the houses in the area to impart an Easter blessing, accompanied by Franco, one time majordomo to the della Gherardesca family and one of the elders of the church. Spring cleaning tends to precede these visits, known as “pulizie di Pasqua”. On Palm Sunday, olive branches are blessed outside the chapel dedicated to Sant’Antonio on your left before the archway into the village, the same chapel where during the Christmas holidays the Presepe or Creche is installed every year by Franco’s brother, Roberto. The chapel was built in 1686 to celebrate the victory of the Christian forces over the Ottoman army of Sulieman the Magnificent in Budapest, an event which at the time must have seemed as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall in our day. On Maundy Thursday, every Bolgherese is entitled to a blessed bread roll which some of the village old wives preserve over the winter to put out on the windowsill during a storm to protect their homes from the elements. On Good Friday church folk are encouraged if not exactly to fast, in any event to avoid eating meat. On Easter Sunday, everybody takes their Easter eggs to be blessed at the altar during Mass. Many of these are still hen’s eggs, painted or otherwise, in flower decked baskets, but in recent years cellophane-wrapped chocolate eggs also figure largely. It is one of those Sundays when the church of San Jacopo and San Cristofero is packed, the congregation spilling out onto the little square in front where everyone gathers after the service to wish each other “Auguri” or happy Easter. The menu for Easter lunch is always very young lamb, usually bite-sized lamb chops served on the bone with the season’s first asparagus and artichokes or tender peas. For dessert, there is the Easter equivalent of the Christmas panettone, a sponge cake in the shape of a dove covered in sugared almonds called Colomba which is sold in every supermarket, although the bakeries often make one of their own. Easter Monday is called Pasquetta, little Easter, and is another excellent excuse for a family feast followed by a walk on the beach or through the olive groves and vineyards to search for wild asparagus. All my memories of Easter in Bolgheri are happy ones when the sun always shines, egg hunts with the children and lunching outside in the garden where the first swallows have arrived and the lawn is dotted with daisies and the Judas tree is in flower.


You might be forgiven, driving through Bibbona on your way to the via Aurelia, or on your way to lunch at “La Carabaccia”, if you were unaware of the fact that this was once one of the most important Etruscan centres in Tuscany three thousand years ago. And, although the church of Santa Maria della Pieta’ with its cinnamon coloured dome is imposing in the extreme, you might wonder why instead of dominating a hill top it is nestling in a hollow surrounded by modern villette. You probably are also unaware that this church was completed in 1492, the year Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas and, according to scholars, Leonardo da Vinci was either directly or indirectly involved. The architectural design of a cross and a circle was a concept dear to the great Renaissance artist’s heart and it has been established that he spent part of his youth in this part of the world. When Queen Elizabeth II asked an Italian art scholar to review her collection of drawings by Leonardo at Windsor Castle, he also found a sketch of Santa Maria della Pieta’ and it is believed that the church in the background of his famous painting, the Vergine delle Rocce is none other than that of this little village a quarter of an hour’s drive from Bolgheri. Savonarola even mentions it in one of the verses he wrote to caution against sin: “A Prato e a Bibbona, E perche’ tu non degni, Di credere a persona, La tua mente e’ prona, A ogni vizio”. Over the centuries the Church has been much restored, but its structure remains awe-inspiring and the writ over the door: Terribilis est Locus Iste contains another enigma. This is a very rare inscription also to be found in France at Rennes-le-Chateau and is one of many signs in Bibbona that this was once a site chosen by the Templars, those monks in knights’ armour who roamed the known world in search of the Holy Grail, something about which we know a great deal more since the publication of the “Da Vinci Code”. There is an arch up the hill in Bibbona Alta with a  frescoed fleur de lys, traditionally the coat of arms of the Templars in the XIII and XIV centuries. Leonardo da Vinci himself was apparently the twelfth Gran Maestro of the Priory of Sion. The little church of Sant’Ilario, also in Bibbona Alta,  contains more fascinating clues to this ancient mystery and the Etruscan past is almost palpable even today in the narrow medieval streets. But to return to the here and now, at Eastertime Bibbona traditionally stages a reenactment by local villagers of the Passion of Christ.        


Ten minutes on foot from Bolgheri on the old road leading to Bibbona is a little Bed & Breakfast called “Le Casette Biondi”, named after a family of contadini who lived and worked the land here for many years. Duilio Biondi was also one of our village poets of whom we have had many over the years and not just Giosue Carducci. For information call Susanna: 3287776851.