Our second day in Tuscany and we are off to Montepulciano, a quintessential Tuscan hill top town, famous for its wine in the Orcia Valley, a World Heritage designated area. After a great drive through mountains, valleys and vineyards we arrived in Montepulciano and were ushered into the main square (in a totally pedestrian zone) to park our cars. Needless to say, we drew a HUGE crowd of gawkers!
While I was taking pix of the cars, I did what I always warn people not to do…. set my 35mm camera down while I shot some video on my GoPro. One minute later, when I finished, I reached down to get my camera and it was gone! Never take your eyes off your stuff even for a minute. I deserved what I got but am now relegated to shooting photos with my iPhone. It is not nearly as flexible, so we shall see. The shot below in the plaza was the first on the iPhone, sadly the rest from earlier in the day are lost.
We had a guided tour of the local church and the wine cellars and then were obliged to leave as our parking permit was limited.
Our cars parked in the central square, minus a couple of stragglers, one with a transmission problem, now solved.
As it happens, my daughter is in a one-week cooking school in the town of Montefollonico, only 8km away, so I split from our group to go look for her. After a torturous drive up a very steep, scrabble paved hill, I found a town quite a bit bigger than I expected and never did find her or her hotel. But I will meet up with her later as you will see in subsequent blogs.
From there our recommended second stop for lunch was the town of Pienza, the first town to be granted World Heritage status in the area. Since the rest of the group had a good head start on me, I cruised around the town looking for Jags, to no avail. So, I stopped at a little place just out of town for lunch on my own and was not disappointed. See below. Wanting something light for lunch after all the heavy meals so far, I ordered the Caprese salad. It was huge, probably 1.5 lbs. , but delicious. Check out that tomato Cindi!
Again, a nice drive back to the hotel on good roads, and then another big dinner, but only three courses! Total drive for the day 180 km or about 120 miles.
Our third day involved a trip to San Gimignano with an enroute stop at the San Galgano Abbey. The abbey is where the movie English Patient was filmed and is one of the best preserved (ruins) of Gothic style in Italy. Construction started in 1220 and it wasn’t until 1474 that it was abandoned by the Cistern monks who lived there after a serious incidence of the Black Plague. In the 1786 lightning struck the bell tower, which collapsed onto the remains of the roof and brought it down. Now a shell, it is very eerie to walk through what was obviously a marvelous cathedral in its day.
Nearby is the Emro (chapel) di Motesiepi, a small but interesting circular structure. The highlight is a sword stuck in a stone. Legend is that the saint for whom the abbey and chapel are dedicated (and who died in 1181), was a fierce warrior who renounced his warlike ways to retire to the hill and pursue a hermit’s life. He stuck his sword in the stone to prove his change of heart. By the way, “nearby” is a relative term. The sign said 500 meters, but I think it meant 500 meters UP! What a walk.
The sword in the rock
From the Abbey it was a 65km drive to San Gimignano, the so called “skyscraper” city. Another hill town (this one accessed by a long uphill walk from the parking lot), is renowned for its towers. In Medieval times, these towers were used for personal defensive purposes. Families lived on the lower floors and adjacent palaces, but the top floors were accessible only by ladders, which could be pulled up in the event of an attack, thereby allowing the families refuge. At one time there were over 70 towers in the town, now only 17 remain, but that is the most of any town in Italy. Most of these are in the vicinity of 50 meters (150 feet) high and a family’s wealth and status were reflected in the size and height of their tower.
Here we had another guided tour and experienced how life must have been hard in hill towns. There isn’t a flat square inch and only one direction…. up! We climbed to the very top and calves were aching that night, but the views were incredible.
After lunch, another great drive home. This is real driver’s country, with views around every corner, and there are lots of corners.
One of the museums in the town had an incredible model of the city as it was in the 1400’s. The detail was amazing and the pix don’t do it justice.
Proof I climbed to the top, but looks like I could stand to do it a few more times if I am going to keep eating like this. Need to get back to the GYM!
As I mentioned in the last blog, one couple in our group has done dozens of rallies, including many long distance ones. Below are some of their rally stickers, but not nearly all the impressive ones. They estimate they have done 80,000 miles on long distance tours in their XK150 and finished every one of them without a catastrophic mechanical problem! Meanwhile, my baby keeps rolling on!
Tomorrow it’s off to Siena (by bus), for a full day tour and lunch at one of the top gourmet restaurants in town. These guys don’t skimp on the food and wine.