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Winter: Dec to Feb

After the new olive oil has been tasted in December, the fireplaces of Le Radicchie will be alight until February. The thick-walled house, like all Tuscan farms, is designed to be cool in summer and warm in winter -- even warmer now, with the new wood-burning stove in the upstairs sitting room. The kitchen tiles are warm underfoot and, after a wintry tramp on the ridges above Sicelle, one can have a hot bath then fireside tea in the Fienile under bronze Voltaire's profile.

Unlike the gaunt English woods, Italian forestry never looks truly wintry because it contains principally sessile oaks, which hold on to their dead leaves until the new buds appear behind them. Sometimes there is snow but not often; and the winter sun is not watery but strong enough to burn when it shows.

In the nearby Appuan Alps, beyond Lucca but glimpsed on clear days from Le Radicchie, however, the snow lies thick from November until February. The smart Lucchese and Florentines drive to resorts there and in the spiky Garfagnana for an afternoon's skiing: Careggine has gentler slopes and large lifts, while the higher Passo delle Radici has 8 km of Nordic tracks.

Winter is also a time of religious festival: Christmas Eve, Twelfth Night when the good witch La Befana distributes gift, ending with the Carnivale in February. This is a Catholic phenomenon rather than a purely Venetian one, and indeed the parade at Viareggio (a few kilometres up the coast from Pisa) is second only to Venice's. Bright floats topped with Spitting Image dolls enact a satirical history of the town's past year, mixing truth with comic slander -- the spirit of carnival allows it. At the end of the parade, the Year reads his satirical "Last Will and Testament", in which no mayor, councillor or even prime minister is handled gently. Then the effigy is burnt.

After Carnivale, and the Year's official funeral, the sun begins to shine more strongly on the bare boughs and, behind one's back, the blossom appears again.