Colle di Val d’Elsa is a rather prolix name for a town, don’t you think? And it turns out to be a somewhat elongated place too, being split into new town and old, the latter high above the new on a long, narrow peninsula of hill. On the map we were given was marked a lift – ascensore – obviously for the purposes of getting up to the old town. So we went looking for it and found instead only a steep incline folding back on itself as paths or roads tend to do when they ascend hills, and began to suspect ourselves the subject of a tourist-oriented joke. It was only when we got to the top of the hill that we found it, landed like Charlie’s great glass elevator at the centre of a viewing platform looking down on the new town. It seemed obvious to take a trip back down to find out where the lift came out, and how we had missed it. So we did, and it was the strangest journey by lift I’ve ever taken; you go from bright sunlight to subterranean gloom, emerging at the bottom into a caved-out tunnel in rock, as cool temperature-wise as it had been hot in the open air. The street entrance was unobtrusive, but the real reason we missed it was because there were two lift icons on the map, down below and up above, and – guilty of thinking that a map has three dimensions rather than two – I had guided us towards the up above icon without noticing the down below. Fortunately I was quickly forgiven by the members of my party, on account of how truly peculiar the lift is. Not to mention how sleekly cool, how other.
The old town was worth the climb, and the expense of the recent installation of the lift. Two or three parallel streets run the length of the narrow hill, past churches, crypts, and crumbling palazzos; through shaded squares in which to sit, drink and gaze down from the hill or at the people passing through. The founders of these old Etruscan towns chose their hills wisely and later inhabitants fortified them well; but I bet even then they wished there was a quicker way up and down them than by foot or horse power. Well, now there is.