Yesterday, we had our first driving adventure. We chose to head to the west of Montepulciano with stops in Pienza, San Quirico and Montalcino. I would be writing for days if I attempted to give the historical background and cultural significance of each of these places, so I won’t even begin to try. Just suffice it to say that each of them is shockingly old and each has their own unique historical and cultural importance. I have to reign myself in reminding myself the purpose of these posts is to share our experiences with friends and family, not to give academic lectures. So, let’s begin.
Oh, wait. First – here is the G-man fixing our dinner Monday evening. We are all over the fresh pasta that is so readily available. G-man enjoys cooking so he has taken over the kitchen. I resisted for show.
Ok, so off we go in our little Fiat 500. Pile in everybody! We barely made it outside the town walls when we ran across our first vineyard. Actually, the town wall was directly across the street. The vines were heavy with huge dark clusters of grapes. Of course, we had to pull over and grab a few snaps.
Back in the car and off we go again. It didn’t take long to realize we were going in the wrong direction. No worries. We whip a U-turn and get a fantastic look at our little town! Pull over again and get some more pictures!
Back in the car. Next stop, Pienza! But first a bit about the drive. Winding, two lane road the whole way. The entire route was a winding, two lane road, as a matter of fact. Over every hill crest and every turn, we were faced with this.
The pictures you see plastered on every travel poster for Italy. Yeah, we were driving through a scrolling travel poster. After a while, it just became insane. We started yelling things out the window at people like, “Hey! How about you guys build something ugly for a change!? How about you throw up a shopping mall center over there!? A high rise condominium would look great next to your thousand-year-old palazzo!” The overwhelming beauty was getting to us.
We finally made it to Pienza and were sorely disappointed by its age, attractiveness, and dazzlingly charm. Where’s a big ugly strip mall when you need one just to break up the monotony? Seriously, people. When I talk about age, I’m talking about things that came to be way before the world was round. Back when the sun revolved around the Earth, human beings built these beautiful buildings that evolved into these beautiful towns. I can not explain the beautiful countryside. G-man and I have yet to figure out exactly which forces of the Earth lead to such beauty. That’s a riddle for another day. Back to the manmade stuff. I know I sound like a broken record, but we are constantly mesmerized by the architecture, the narrow streets and alleys, and all the other ancient elements that combine to create these wonderful places we have the pleasure of visiting. To me, what made Pienza standout from Montepulciano was the flowers. Lots of potted flowers, mostly petunias and geraniums, on doorsteps, window sills, and balconies. They made for great pops of color against the old stone buildings.
Oh, and lest I forget, Pienza has a reputation for some kind of cheese. They call it pecorino. It’s made purely from sheep’s milk. Folks are real serious about it here. Other people are real serious about getting here to buy it…by the ton! The place was over run with people clamoring for a share to take home or have shipped home.
Back in the car we go, heading off toward San Quirico. Again, we were faced with more of the same horrific scenery. The visions were being seared into our brains as our little heads swiveled from side to side. There was no doubting we had arrived at our destination. I wanted to get out of the car and yell, “Excuse me, your towers and castle walls are showing!” I say that with total sarcasm. San Quirico was small, quaint, and not over run with tourists unlike Pienza and Montepulciano. But, honestly, we were starting to feel like we were in Epcot as everything is so clean, quaint, gorgeous, beautiful, amazing. It takes great effort on our parts not to stand around with our mouths hanging open. San Quirico, while not on everyone’s bucket list, is equally as pretty as every other town and made even more quaint and charming by the lack of tourists.
Load up folks! We are headed to our final destination, Montalcino. Close your eyes because the country side is no less stunning. Just look away. Fortunately for us, Montalcino is a wine town. I’m talking serious wine. We saw bottles for sale for 600€. That’s more that $900 for us Americani. Mmmmmm, yeah. We’ve been buying some pretty decent stuff on special at the Conad for 3,90€. Enough of the snarky. Montalcino was our favorite town of the day and not just because they have the best cannoli. Because of its famous wines, Montalcino does draw the tourist crowd, but when we got off the main drag and explored the back streets we found ourselves rather taken with the subdued beauty of the buildings. The buildings are, in fact, residences, ancient and beautiful as they maybe. We could hear the voices of children and women floating out the open windows. (Windows are open as #1 – the weather is perfect and #2 – air conditioning is not common.) Also, they are big on flowers adorning their balconies and windows. The town just had a bit more of a realistic living feel to it. Of course, I’ll show you a few pictures but if you want to get a better idea just go back and watch The English Patient or The Gladiator as both movies were filmed here and in the surrounding Val d’Orcia (the place where we can attribute all the hideous landscape). Oh, and a little trivia tidbit. This area was rather poverty stricken until the 20th came along and brought the tourists to see its natural beauty.
Off we go heading back toward our home away from home in Montepulciano. Seeing the scenery in reverse was no less wonderful. I’m really reaching for adjectives at this point. The G-man has really gotten in touch with his inner Italian driver by now. He’s down shifting and scanning the landscape for anything photo-worthy. He has really gotten good at jerking the car off the road so we can snap a few. And then he spots this. A couple of old buildings off in the distance. The one on the left looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. What the heck. Let’s take some pics and keep moving. Apparently a bunch of other folks thought the same thing we did.
By the time we got home, we looked like this. We were overwhelmed by the beauty and history of what surrounds us.