Settignano was everything I wanted Italy to be, like those Stella Artois adverts they show on Channel Four before the Sunday night movie. Last week I heard someone whistling the Godfather theme as I walked past the Duomo. It would have been a more appropriate musical accompaniment to a stroll through this village, positioned high above Florence in the Tuscan hills.
The bus deposited most of the passengers at various points around Florence, leaving just three of us to make the ascent into Settignano. Opposite me sat a beautiful Italian girl wearing a University of Pensylvania T-Shirt. To my left was sitting a man in his eighties with a walking stick. He was wearing shades, jeans and trainers and was talking to himself, as many elderly people on Fiorentine buses seem to.
Settignano itself is beautiful. The sheer simplistic loveliness of it, and the oppressive like-wading-through-treacle heat made the whole experience quite dreamlike. First I wandered roughly West, past a primary school and along a road that offered supreme views over a small, bright-yellow field, on to a thick patch of woodland and over Florence, the Duomo always visible. The road led to an up-market cemetery and then a children's playground, which could have been one from my childhood in Kings Lynn were it not for the silver birches and olive trees that circled the swings and roundabouts. Everywhere seemed empty. I saw only two people, a couple sharing an intimate moment leaned up against a Fiat, Badly Drawn Boy drifting from the car stereo, out of the open door and across the field. Occaisionaly, a scooter buzzed past.
I walked back to the central square and then headed in the opposite direction, what I assumed to be South-East. This road offered views over the other side of the village, looking out North to the Tuscan countryside, a view even more beautiful than the vistas of far off Florence. Perfectly arching hills, more of those silver birches, a few plush hillside houses and a gravel track that swooped down for must have been a mile before arriving at a beautiful converted farmhouse, that for some reason I imagined belonging to a wealthy English family.
By the time I boarded the return bus to Florence only around fifty minutes had passed in Settignano, but it was easily one of the most enjoyable experiences of the trip so far, a much needed contrast from the dusty lived-in centre of Florence.