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Report 673: Tuscan Rambles

By Doug Phillips from Canada, Spring 2004

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Page 3 of 17: Day Two - Sunday May 2: Montalcino, Sant'Antimo, Bagno Vignoni, Pienza

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Motorcycles in Bagno Vignoni on a Sunday Afternoon

When I used to visit a lot of museums, I would go to the top floor first and work my way down. Now when I plan day trips, I go the most distant location first and make my way back. It seemed like a good plan for our first full day in Tuscany, but we almost didn’t make it to Montalcino. Every time we turned a corner in the road we felt like stopping and taking a picture, and you turn a lot of corners going anywhere in Tuscany.

We had breakfast in our apartment, drove up the hill to Montepulciano, which we bypassed, continued on past Pienza to San Quirco d’Orcia, turned north on SS2 almost to Buonconvento, where we turned left and made our way up another hill to Montalcino.

One issue that cropped up whenever we visited a town for the first time was parking. Do we take the first place we see or drive on a bit farther? We quickly learned to never try to park inside one of these hill towns. At Montalcino we had to backtrack a bit and park in a newer and expanding parking lot a few minutes walk from the town walls. We have seen scary photos of long lines of cars pulled off to the side of the road leading up to these hill towns. Parking is another reason to consider a trip to Tuscany in other than the peak times of July and August.

The most striking feature of Montalcino is the Fortezza, a 14th century castle at the southern edge of the town, very near the car park. The Fortezza contains a busy and expensive enoteca (wine bar). For a small fee we were able to climb to the battlements of the castle and enjoyed the spectacular views. After leaving the Fortezza we walked along the narrow and busy streets of the town, making our way up to Piazza Garibaldi where we had an al fresco lunch at the well-known Fiaschetteria Italiana.

Montalcino is most famous for its Brunello wines. We stopped at an enoteca for a degustazione (tasting). We were shown to a table at the back of the shop beside a large expanse of windows with an excellent view of part of the town and the countryside. Our tasting consisted of four Brunellos accompanied by an explanation of the location of the vineyard and the vintage of the wine. I learned that the expensive taste of my BW extends even to the area of wine. We purchased two bottles, which now sit in our wine rack at home waiting the appropriate occasion. The tasting experience was OK, but I decided that I would rather visit the actual vineyards, if possible. It is not something I would do again.

From Montalcino we drove to the abbey at Sant’Antimo in the beautiful countryside just 10km south of the town. Except for Florence, the abbey was the busiest place we visited in our two weeks. The small parking lot was full with cars and tour buses and we had to pull off beside the road a few minutes walk from the abbey. It is well worth a visit.

From Sant’Antimo we started back in the direction of San Quirco d’Orcia. When we saw a sign for Bagno Vignoni, my BW said she had read about it and wanted to stop and have a look around. Good choice. Bagno Vignoni is quite different from most other places we visited in Tuscany. The main attraction and reason for its existence is water – actually a natural hot spring known to the Romans and enjoyed by popes and saints and even the Medici. The main square, the Piazza delle Sorgenti, is actually not a square at all but a large pool of water. The warm water flows from the pool in natural channels through the village, cascading over a hill down to pools below. It was a Sunday afternoon and quite busy with Italians out for the day. The parking area for motorcycles was completely full - see photo. Bagno Vignoni has a couple of recommended restaurants, but the time was out of joint for a meal. Next time.

We arrived in the beautiful village of Pienza, “a tiny medieval and Renaissance jewel” in the late afternoon. We walked from one end of the village to the other and enjoyed the panoramic views from Pienza’s walls. My BW and I decide to stay in Pienza for dinner at a popular family-run trattoria, the Latte di Luna. Restaurants in Tuscany open for dinner at 7:30pm. While we waited for the restaurant to open we enjoyed a leisurely late afternoon drink at the other end of the small village.

Since we didn’t have a reservation, we were at the door of Latte di Luna right at 7:30pm and were shown to a table beside the kitchen. Within a couple of minutes, people without reservations were being turned away. By 8:00 o’clock the restaurant was full, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and the food was wonderful.

We were fortunate enough to enjoy three meals at Latte di Luna during our holiday. It was our favorite restaurant. We usually started off with a plate of assorted crostini, followed by pici all'aglione or zuppa di pane, then cinghiale or bistecche, and finishing with a semifreddo. We also thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being there.

After our leisurely dinner, we had a twenty minute drive back over the Tuscan hills past Montepulciano to Villa Nottola.

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