I always keep a few ideas of places to go and things to see for longer trips that require more than just a weekend to uncover. So then when we have unexpected extended time off (like our four day weekend at the beginning of July), we have options to choose from! In the end we landed on Toscana!! We originally chose to travel north to go truffle hunting, and because I’m me, I had to squeeze in a few more tuscan towns to make the best of our time since we don’t normally have that many days in a row off. Our car air conditioner kept giving out but thankfully the way up was still pleasant- the way down was a different story. There were so many things that we discovered on each part of our trip that I had to break them up so as not to create one exhausting blog! Our first glimpse of Toscana was everything we thought it’d be: fields of yellow sunflowers, picturesque olive groves, scenic country roads, vineyards along rolling green hills, and picture post card views of cypress trees. It was clean and refreshing (especially compared to Napoli and I love Napoli). It was exactly what every picture or movie has ever shown. There was no need to have to look from a certain angle to get that “great shot-” every angle made for a great view!
Thursday after work we left to drive halfway, just past Rome, to break up the drive with the kid. After departing from our stay Friday morning, we took off to head towards Montalcino, where we would explore and stay for one night. A small detour, situated so close to Montalcino, first led us to the famous Abbey of Sant’Antimo. It was built from travertine stone in the 12th century!! It sits isolated, surrounded by olive groves and wheat fields. The legend that Charlemagne (Charles the Great) founded the abbey is surely the most suggestive and best known among the various stories which fuel the intriguing mystery surrounding the birth of this beautiful church and the monastic community connected to it. It is said that in 781 Charlemagne himself was returning from Rome along the great route created by the Longobards that skirted the foothills of Mount Amiata. Reaching the Starcia valley, a crossroads of major routes of that time, he was forced to stop because his court and army had been struck by a terrible epidemic of the plague. While he was praying for the safety of his men, an angel appeared to him and told him to climb the nearby hill, shoot an arrow into the air, and wherever it landed, to burn the grass, grind it into a powder and put this into his wine he gave the sick to drink. Thanks to this miraculous herb, later called carolina, the terrible infectious disease was defeated. So to thank God for the grace received, Charlemagne founded the monastery and abbey, or perhaps only rebuilt part of the earlier structure.
The room that houses the monastery’s apothecary (pharmacy) once held the Treasury, where the precious objects belonging to the abbey were stored; chalices, monstrances, and other objects used during the liturgy. The apothecary now sells herbal products, food, and artisanal pieces made in monasteries, representing the Benedictine tradition of manual labor; the Rule of Saint Benedict says: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specific periods for manual labor.” It was a really neat area to look around. We ended up purchasing a few bars of soap (some as gifts), eucalyptus camomile drops, and beer.
Stepping inside takes you back to the Middle Ages as you walk around in silence with only the chants of the monks in the background. A truly unique experience!
The drive here was very hot with no air conditioning, so we were ecstatic when we spotted a local pizzeria right up the road from the abbey. We headed there for a delicious Tuscan lunch surrounded by incredible views.
Finally, we headed off towards Montalcino. Only 15 minutes away from the abbey, Montalcino is a beautiful hilltop village set within walls and renowned all over the world for its production of Brunello red wine. Brunello di Montalcino, together with Barolo Piemontese, is among Italian wines that can age the longest: depending on the year, from 10-30 years and sometimes longer. There are bottles from the late 19th century whose wine is still in perfect condition! We also discovered Padelletti, one of the oldest families of Montalcino. Since 1571 their family has produced Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino (a red wine from this area). Their historical winery is the only winery that you can find inside the city center! We stayed at Residenza Palazzo Saloni, a full equipped apartment right inside the city walls with gorgeous views of the Tuscan landscape and the city rooftops. The historical center is dominated by the mighty Rocca, or fortress built in 1361. Another landmark is the tall and slender clock tower in the Piazza del Polpolo. We spent a lot of time walking along the stone streets, weaving in and out of cafès and wine bars, stopping for gelato, and tasting local dishes, meats, & cheeses. Towards the end of the night, restaurants began pulling TV’s out into the street and people began to gather to watch Italia compete for the final four in soccer (they won too!). Their cheers could be heard echoing through the streets. Montalcino had such a magical vibe!
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!