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Report 1924: Another Attempt at La Dolce Vita!

By Podie from Florida, Spring 2011

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Page 7 of 13: The Wine Road from Siena

photo by Celeste Rubanick

Sant Antimo Abbey

After a nice breakfast at our B&B, we met Patty and Bill and took a taxi for 5 to the Avis office just outside the walls. I'm glad we took the taxi but we could have easily walked it. It was downhill!

I had reserved a car a few weeks before (for 52) and we were the only ones in the small rental office. I tried (successfully) to be patient as the two male workers shuffled papers around before saying a word. After a few minutes of this, one of the men, who was obviously pleased we hadn't said a thing other than "Buon Giorno," asked us in English how he could help.

Less than 10 minutes later, we were in a new Fiat Punto and I was pointing us toward Montalcino. Having driven in Europe many times, I decided immediately that the Sienese drivers were not in as much of a hurry as those I'd driven alongside in Naples and Rome, and relaxed.

With gorgeous blue skies, sunshine, and a nice breeze, the scenery en route was breathtaking. We had no problem going right to the Fortezza parking lot and walking through the roofless ruin to the wine tasting shop.

For a total of 27 , the four of us shared six, three-ounce pours of Brunello and munched on cheese, crackers, and honey. I had never paired cheese and honey and it was delicious. It was still mid-morning and the streets in Montalcino were quiet, so we headed out to Sant Antimo Abbey where we hoped to hear the Gregorian chanting.

On the way, we stopped several times to take pictures and we detoured up a dirt road to the Barbi Winery as we planned our later lunch. The Barbi Winery was gorgeous and we planned to return for lunch (but unfortunately it just didn't happen).

The signage was excellent throughout the area and I had no problems getting us to the Abbey before noon. It was beautiful and peaceful and we sat outside after visiting the church, dozing off in the shade as we waited for the 12:30 chanting. I think I could have spent the rest of my life there, sitting under the olive trees.

Several people arrived to hear the chanting, which only lasts 12 minutes, so we made sure we were in the first pew. I was able to follow the beginning of it in the supplied books, but then I just put the book down and listened with my eyes closed. Years of Catholic school came back to me and I was surprised how much of the Latin seemed familiar.

It was cool and peaceful in the church, and this, too, is one of my favorite memories of the trip.

We exited to find a group on horseback outside the church, and watched while they collected their stragglers ( they, too, were obviously tourists) and headed across the field adjacent to the abbey. We got back in our Fiat and pointed it toward Montepulciano.

Montalcino was high on a hill, and I knew Montepulciano was also, but when we saw it from a distance, it looked really high up there! If I was ever going to stall the car, this would be it!

Luckily my instincts took over and I was able to cautiously climb the narrow roads into the town and park right at the top. As luck would have it, we were only about 100 meters to Piazza Grande and the restaurant which had been recommended to us, Ai Quattro Venti.

We had prosciutto and melon, pici with various sauces, wine, and tartufo. It was good and we relaxed. My husband, a Twilight fan, recalled the movie had been filmed there and got a kick out of all the t-shirts and merchandise for sale in the shops.

It was a nice, lazy ending to our day driving around Tuscany - a little shopping, good company, decent food, wine - la dolce vita!

I returned the car to Avis after filling it with 18 of gas and we walked back into Siena (ALL uphill!), quite proud of ourselves for having such a great day with no mishaps. The full-day tours to Montalcino and Montepulciano were advertised everywhere for 125 per person. Our grand total (not including food) was 52 for the car rental, an extra 25 for full coverage on the car, and 18 for gas.

Bill and Patty were doing a round trip to Florence the next day, so we walked to the bus station and bought tickets so we didn't have to do it in the morning. We stopped at Grom for gelato on the way back, walked past the magnificent Duomo, and parted at the Campo. What luck we had made nice new friends!

We ate a light dinner at Zest Winebar, which was all we needed, but I wish we'd gone to Osteria Il Campaccio across the street, as it smelled great! Back to the B&B to bed. The pigeons had an all-night conference outside our window again, but I was too tired to notice.

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