Lisa Perkovic visits Volterra, an ancient town made famous by modern vampire love stories.
The drive through the hills of Italy to the ancient Tuscan town of Volterra is just the beginning of an adventure that traces the path of fiction's newest power couple, Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. The stars of Stephenie Meyer's vampire love stories cross continents to fight for their love in the novel New Moon.
The movie adaptation of New Moon is set to hit cinemas next month and the nail-biting climax plays out on Volterra's cobblestone streets. We've taken the day trip from Siena to see the San Gimignano towers before but this time there's a Twilight fan in the car so top of the to-do list is the 40-minute drive to Volterra, just 39 kilometres from Siena.
Signs for the local torture museum help set the mood as the road winds upwards, turning motion sickness into a general sense of unease. At the old city gates, we set out on foot, armed with a New Moon location map from the tourist office. Marking all the major sites featured in the book, it's the perfect guide for visitors with one thing on their mind.
We skip the Roman theatre and the Etruscan artefact museum, heading straight for the alley where Edward brooded handsomely.
Half expecting to see bats, or at least some cobwebs, the empty passageway is a bit of a let down to the uninitiated. But, according to the map and the running commentary from the Twilight fan, this is the very spot where Edward almost stepped into the light. If you're a vampire, that's very bad, and in the height of summer, staying in the shade makes sense for humans, too.
In the blazing afternoon heat, the white cobblestones of the Palazzo dei Priori around the corner are blinding. Sunlight bounces around the majestic square, confounding the Twilight fan searching for the fountain through which Bella waded as she battled the crowds. Artistic licence is to thank for that landmark.
The square is empty, except for the formidable shadow cast by the 13th-century Priori palace and its austere clock tower. That is until a Porsche pulls up, its driver stopping to flaunt for a wedding party. It's not yellow but the silver beast adds a bit of Twilight drama to the moment, and if we weren't convinced filming had wrapped, we'd be getting ready to ask for autographs.
Evidence of the film is everywhere – “I love Edward” pendants hang over doorways plastered with pictures of the smouldering movie stars, video footage of filming loops in shop fronts and the city's alabaster artisans have upped their production of apples and chess pieces, emblems from the Twilight book covers. Red apple earrings are still kitschy but make a nice break from traditional touristy trinkets.
In the cellar restaurant of the sumptuous Palazzo Viti, site of several interior shots, guests can descend into a subterranean chamber for a New Moon Banquet. When we visit the eerie underground room, five young Canadian girls are fighting for space to sign their names on a Twilight dedication wall. In New Moon, this is where tourists are unwittingly led to their death, but here, any one of these girls would kill to meet a vampire.
Upstairs in the 16th-century private palace, the ballroom and library stand in as the sumptuous home of the evil Volturi. This vampiric royal family has exquisite taste. Owned and occupied by the Viti family for the past 150 years, the extravagant residence contains giant alabaster candelabra created for an emperor of Mexico, several generations of family wedding photos and a room full of porcelain plates.
The Nepalese cymbal demonstration completes this quirky experience.
Meandering back through the alleys and streets, windows lined with dried salami and doorways marked by wild boar heads, lead us away from the New Moon map. Abandoning the vampires, we find specialities such as boar with chocolate sauce and sweet ricotta pastries. Sitting in a trattoria, we drink good red wine and discuss history, not camera angles and casting.
Even though it's smattered with photo stops and novel cross-referencing, the New Moon Volterra experience is different to a trip to the movies. Scenes from the film come alive but visitors experience more than a love story or teen drama. As Hollywood comes knocking, visit Volterra while there's still history and culture to behold.
British Airways flies to Pisa's Galileo Galilei International Airport via London, from $1829, including taxes. See britishairways.com. Volterra is a 90-kilometre drive from Pisa on the A12 highway and the Superstrada following signs to Livorno. Route SS439 off the Ponsacco-Pontedera exit takes about one hour and 45 minutes.
Hotel La Locanda is a restored convent inside the city walls.Rates start from €89 ($145) a night.