Morning everyone on Wednesday 10th March. The fledgling month has grown wings and we're almost a third of the way through it already. Whilst it's all tempus fugit in one regard, the country is still dragging its heels through the Coronavirus pandemic with a slow-motion vaccination program and case numbers reaching an unacceptably-high plateau.
The number of new Covid-19 cases reported in Italy yesterday was 19,749; that was a big increase on the previous day (13,902) but not wholly unexpected as there's always a slowdown over the weekend. I think whatever figure is announced later today will be of much more interest. Doing some amateur mathematics and studying the general pattern, I would anticipate somewhere between 18 and 19 thousand this evening which would actually be fairly good news and represent a week on week reduction.
Putting optimism to one side for a moment and looking the facts squarely in the eye; even if we do see a small reduction in case numbers later this evening, it's not enough to get the situation back under control quickly enough. New measures are now being discussed and it could be as early as this weekend that we see a national lockdown in place for weekends only. This is of course in addition to the current ban on movement between regions and overnight curfew, as well as the colour-coded regional restrictions which are outlined on the home page.
I will cling to the claims that every Italian will be offered a vaccine by the end of June, something that seems extraordinarily optimistic at this stage but it would suggest the authorities are confident on the forthcoming supplies. You'd lie to think they know something we don't!
If we go back to the days when there were no vaccines at all, we found more innovative ways of stopping the pandemic and it's nice to see another one of those coming to light over the past 24 hours. At the beginning of April, the first "Covid-free train" will run between Rome and Milan. Passengers will be tested before they board the train and only allowed to travel if their test produces a negative result. This scheme will gradually be widened to include major tourist areas and the trains that serve them. That's a really positive move and we now need a lot more of that whilst vaccine supplies are still low.
Away from the pandemic, life does go on and it's the world of sport grabbing the headlines at the moment. Last night, Italy's most successful football team, Juventus were knocked out of the Champions League on home turf in Turin, while on a more successful note, the Italian Luna Rossa sailing team has drawn level with Team New Zealand in the fight for the prestigious Americas Cup.
Over to the weather and most of the country will be enjoying some sunshine today, particularly in the north. Turin with its Alpine backdrop will be coldest with a maximum temperature of 8° Celsius, while at the other end of the spectrum, the Sicilian city of Catania will be warmest of all at 19° C, perhaps a degree or two of that aided by nearby Mount Etna's continued eruptions.
Whilst we're in the midst of the pandemic and patiently wait for things to get better, we can of course look ahead to the places we'd like to visit when the restrictions are lifted. Today I'm going to share with you one of my favourite places in Italy: the beautiful Val d'Orcia. Over the course of this blog, I've looked at beaches, cities, lakes and regions as a whole, but today we're looking at a slightly different category. As the name suggests, the Val d'Orcia is a valley region and situated within the Province of Siena in Tuscany.
Since 2004, the Val d'Orcia has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, its listing awarded as an exemplar of agrarian management and landscaping. Siena was a city state during the Renaissance period in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the valley region was reshaped to create a more aesthetically-pleasing landscape. Well you can say they did a pretty good job: the Val d'Orcia really is the epitome of what people hope to find when they visit Tuscany. The sweeping landscape of rolling hills, encrusted with Cypress trees and a series of historical hill towns.
Perhaps the most beguiling area is that around the town of Pienza, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right. From Pienza you can get some of the Val d'Orcia's best views but there are many more places from which to enjoy the 150 thousand or so acres of its territory. There are some wonderful hiking routes in the area, but if like me, you enjoy a scenic drive, then you can have a wonderful time exploring the valley by car. The little stretch of road between Pienza and the small town of San Quirico d'Orcia is one of the prettiest but it doesn't end there.
Other small towns of note in the valley region are Castiglione d'Orcia and Bagno Vignoni while the famous hill towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino are a must if you're in the area. One of the best things about Tuscany is that this type of landscape is repeated throughout the region. Slightly to the north of the Val d'Orcia is a town called Asciano which marks the gateway to the Crete Senesi area, another valley region which draws gasps for its beautiful landscapes.
The second part of that name senesi indicates "from Siena" and that's because the city itself is just a short distance from there. Siena deserves and will have its own spotlight on this blog in the future, but suffice to say, basing oneself in Siena, enjoying all that city has to offer and then an exploration of its hinterland is one of the best things you can do in Italy.
Well that's all from me today. I'll post the latest Coronavirus figures when they're released later today, both on the website and the Italy Review Twitter feed which has just been set up. That Twitter feed has very few followers (maybe one now I think!) at the moment so any votes of confidence on there would be most welcome.
As always, let's hope for some good news later; enjoy the rest of your day and also the photos of the beautiful Val d'Orcia.
My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.