After my trip to Sicily in April, I was itching to return to Italy. So much so, that I flew out a week before the next painting course in Tuscany and spent a few days painting and exploring Lunigiana, the beautiful less known region just north of Tuscany. A long awaited visit to Equi Terme village and Spa set in the most dramatic mountain landscape surpassed all my expectations, even though I have had brief glimpses from the train on previous excursions. However, the week whistled past and it was time to get ready for the painting course. The painting group arrived under a clear blue sky and we gathered after arrival to get know each other and our charming host, Karsten Mueller. After a refreshing cup of tea he made sure that everybody was comfortably ensconced at the apartments in 'La Vecchia Canonica'. It was too late for a dip in the pool – that had to wait for another day- but it was a perfect first evening for a glass of wine on the little terrace overlooking Cotto village and the stunning mountain peaks beyond.
This certainly put us in the mood, and next morning we set to work with paper and brush. Taking it easy on the first day, I suggested to paint the old wine caskets in their attractive whicker baskets dotted around the front entrance to the villa – some of them are holding up to 54 liters of precious fluids.
My demonstration helped everybody to make a good start and by day two we were in the swing of things. We ventured out to the impressive castle of Veruccola, dating back to the thirteenth century. At its base nestles a delightful jumble of stone houses, a splendid river and bridge, and luckily for us also a restaurant, ideal for lunch. Painting in Cotto the next day, the weather had turned and I used the opportunity to demonstrate an easy way to paint people/portraits by using only three colours: Yellow, Red and Blue. I had written an article in the Leisure Painter Magazine about this method the year before, so it was nice to demonstrate the technique first hand. The initial difficulties in capturing the human shape were soon overcome and everybody enjoyed learning a new skill, an experience which would come in handy later on in the week.
Thursday was our excursion day to the fascinating medieval town of Lucca. This time a 'foursome' from our painting group even rented a Quattrocycle for an exciting ride around the top of the double-sided city walls. Lucca has so much to offer: Duomos and Churches, Museums, pleasant shops set in old narrow streets and a great variety of tempting restaurants, cafes and gelaterias. Of course there is no shortage of painting subject there either and the cafes around the old amphitheater are a great place to paint from and watch the world go by. We finished the day by taking the train to the mountain village of Monzone, where we had a delicious meal in the local restaurant. Our enthusiasm was not dented, when grey clouds appeared on the sky the next day. Our friendly driver for the week, Paolo, took us to Fivizzano, the nearby old town featuring a cobbled square complete with Medici fountain. Several hours were pleasantly spent sketching and painting the regular visitors in the local 'Sports Bars' and cafes. Popping in and out for a quick expresso in passing or a longer chat over a mid-morning snack, we had ample subjects despite the fact that some people disappeared unexpectantly fast. Our practise from two days earlier paid off and the wonderful array of local people about their daily business captured on paper was our just reward.
The final day in Cotto presented us with a last chance to paint the stunning mountain panorama of the Apuan Alps from La Vecchio Canonica's terraces above the swimming pool. But is was also a day to finish off details from previous paintings or indulge in a quick still life of the knobbly local lemons and bulbous spring onions on the kitchen table. Soon it was time for a sip of Champagne in Fivizzano's gorgeous hotel and restaurant, the Il Giardinetto. In a private corner surrounded by fabulous portraits of former famous guests we had an informal showing of our paintings - a very suitable setting. We celebrated the week with a delicious ‘last supper’ and a happy glow was on all face as I looked around the table.
The pangs of saying goodbye to everybody on Sunday morning were somewhat softened for me, because I had been invited by my friend, and Cotto resident, Georgina to visit the famous marble mountains above Cararra - the artist Michael Angelo’s favourite Quarry for selecting marble for his sculpture. Cut into the mountains and high above the town of Carrara, the snow white marble ‘fields’ reach up to 1,500m (approx. 4,900ft) and are truly breath-taking. Carrara was featuring open days that weekend for their many artist studios and I was able to observe sculptors at work, cutting stones and polishing marble sculptures. Seeing the variety of art on display was a splendid way to finish my stay in Tuscany.
"Thanks for the fantastic week in Cotto. There was so much to paint in the village and I loved all the other places we visited too - would have loved another week there."
"Great locations and outstanding tuition!"
"It was a truly wonderful holiday and I loved spending time with you and the group and painting so much."