Our 'travel gems' guest blog series continues, and this week we are very lucky to have a fantastic new post by the immensely talented and humble Marie Kreft - winner of the 2010 Bradt / Independent On Sunday Travel Writing Competition.
Escaping 'Museum Legs' At Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri
Florence has an abundance of cultural treasures which, if approached too enthusiastically, might make you ill. Stendhal syndrome is named after the 19th-century French author who suffered dizziness, fainting and confusion after overexposure to Florentine art.
"As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart ... the well-spring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground".
As every sensible tourist knows, Stendhal probably just had a bad case of 'museum legs'. This affliction, usually accompanied by a cricked neck, dry mouth and temporary hatred of one's companions, is easily cured by perching on public steps with a tub of ice-cream.
But if you start seeing stars in Firenze's frescoed ceilings or find yourself chatting up an oil painting, it might be time to escape la città bella and head for the slopes of Monte Amiata in southern Tuscany.
There, between olive groves and fortressed hill towns, you'll find the perfect antidote to stuffy galleries. Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri is a woodland sculpture park where, at every turn, an exhibit lies in wait to make you laugh, shudder or maybe even ponder your existence.
Opened to the public in 1997, Daniel Spoerri's gardens contain more than a hundred installations by artists from Europe and Asia. Some of the sculptures are morbid: Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) by Giampaolo di Cocco depicts zoo-enclosed elephants in varying states of decay. There are perished caged birds, a crashed biplane and straggly-haired skulls that leer out of a voodoo cabinet. Others are playful, such as Spoerri's grass sofas and Nam June Paik's diminutive Eiffel Tower on a plinth. Inside a greenhouse, you'll find lightbulbs springing up from plant pots, as if inspiration can be nurtured and grown.
However your eyes and mind respond to the art, it's hard to wander among cypress shrubs and chestnut trees, with the Tuscan sun shining warm upon your face, and wish you were in a queue in Florence. Just watch out for rock lizards that dart across your path and, even more alarmingly, the snakes that are said to lurk in the parched straw.
When your legs grow weary or your family frays at your nerves, you can replenish your senses with fresh pasta and local wine in Non Solo Eat Art (Not Only Eat Art), the cafe' of the giardino. Like the rest of the park, it's run by chef Roberto Rossi of the famed Silene restaurant in nearby Pescina, so the ingredients are fine and the standards exacting. If you sit at the tables outside, you can admire Spoerri's giant bronze cup and saucer, or try to fathom Andre' Thomkins' Swiss palindromes worked into enamel street signs.
It's not easy to say whether Stendhal would have made it round all 103 exhibits. In midsummer, the heat may have overcome him entirely, the poor flower. But if you have the luxury of time in Tuscany, Il Giardino is worth a trip. Florence is indeed full of must-sees, as Stendhal found to his detriment, but Daniel Spoerri's wonder-filled garden is a privilege to behold.
Writer's bio: Norwich-born Marie Kreft lives in Birmingham with her husband Steve Wilkes and runs a small copywriting agency called Good As Gold. She was delighted to win the 2010 Bradt / Independent on Sunday travel-writing competition, judged by Matthew Parris.
When travelling, Marie is a compulsive journal writer, using maps, leaflets and postcards to illustrate her entries. In 2005, Steve almost got stuck forever on a Thai island after Marie prematurely glued his exit ticket into her diary.
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