Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Siena Part 2: Montalcino and around

We woke up characteristically late on Saturday and wandered through the town in search of a quick bite to eat and a bit of planning before heading off into the countryside. We visited the tourist office which recommended a noleggi our guidebooks had said only rented scooters, and off we went into the Tuscan countryside in a slightly dodgy Ford Escort with a slipping clutch.

We headed straight down towards Montalcino as the first part of a circuitous route around the region of Siena, despite the fact the only write-up Montalcino gets in our guidebooks is that it has good wine for sale. Not to say that it doesn't have great wine, but when we got there that was hardly our focus as it is a beautiful little medieval town with stunning views over the country side.

In the end we spent several hours wandering around the town soaking up the views, buying up on panforte and exploring the streets before deciding it was time we had some lunch, whereupon we bought ourselves a couple of the best sandwiches ever made from a local deli.

We took our sandwiches up to the fort (Castello di Montalcino), which enabled Montalcano to hold off the irrepressible Medici's longer than any other town in the area, to eat our lunch and take in the views over the town from the ramparts.

At last we managed to drag ourselves away as there was still so much to see and the day was wearing on.

Being the driver, I often take the opportunity to stop by the side of the road to take in the scenery and snap off a few photos. This time I decided I would try to show how pleasant it was driving around Tuscany by showing the road and backdrop.

However, while we were standing there, a classic car came around the corner. And then another.

And then another and another!
It turns out there was some huge touring club event on and there was several hundred of these classic cars motoring their way around Tuscany. We stayed to watch for a while as the cars kept filing past, but eventually decided we could be there all day if we didn't make a move. A wise decision in the end as when we got to the next town we saw a huge number of cars still to head out.

So on we went, stopping every now and then to take more photos of the countryside. It's quite amazing, driving around Tuscany, just how often the classic images of vineyards, rolling hills, and lone trees on hilltops come up. However it actually is quite diverse, with quite thickly wooded areas in parts, which is surprising considering how long people have been living here and farming the land.

Soon we were at the Abbazia di Sant'Antimo, which is quite nearby Montalcino and overlooked by the town of Castlenuovo dell'Abate.

It is a magnificent abby in a spectacular location. Linda managed to track down some of its interesting history here, which I won't try to replicate.

At some point, while we were belting along a motorway, we looked at the window and spotted one of those Tuscan clich├ęs - the landscape of rolling hills of wheat, lonely stands of trees, and blue skies with fluffy white clouds. Unfortunately, being a motorway, there wasn't anywhere to stop. Luckily we spotted a break in the safety rails and I slammed on the brakes, almost causing a pileup behind me, and we pulled in for gravelly halt following by the beeping of horns from cars behind.

Whoever owns this land should sell tickets. It really is an incredible spot, bringing together all the elements that make this such a classic Tuscan scene. In fact when we returned to Siena we found this exact spot on many postcards, which is also how I found out the name of the place: Val d'Orcia.

At some point we realised we weren't going to get to all the places we wanted, in particular Montepulciano. However, knowing we were going to come back some day, we decided to go back to Siena via Le Crete, so as to catch this famous stretch of land at dusk.

It would be easy to be disappointed by landscapes after the Val d'Orcia, but Le Crete certainly had some amazing views. The famous clay wasn't to be seen as the fields were full of crops (it is primavera after all), but the light certainly made the most of the fields of wheat.
After all this it was getting quite late and we left the other photographers behind and drove back into Siena.

Getting back into Siena naturally took about 4 times longer than expected, taking us hours to find the right Porto through the city walls, negotiating the Zona Traffica Limita, and finding a parking spot with a reasonably low likelihood of getting booked.

After that little victory we were in a fine mood to take on the rudest-waiting-staff-ever at a local trattoria. Their only saving grace was their fantastic tirimasu.

1 comment:

JOe said...

Seems like a hard life over there Mark... well at least you're having fun and those photos are amazing.

Keep the blog going.