Recently I mentioned I was working on some travel essays. I finally decided to post some of the ones from our last trip to Italy. I hope you enjoy.
We flew from Miami to Rome five years ago. Rented an Alfa Romeo, and took off like bandits, careening onto the Autostrada just outside Rome. We knew where we needed to end up. But we hadn’t managed the time well. I mostly wished for a bag to put over my head as my husband Jack manuevered into the melee.
The two glasses of Brunello you see in the screenless window above are a much earned indulgence after our wild day arriving. The hotel I booked, Ill Giglio, had been discovered in a copy of a Wine Spectator magazine article the summer before. Ill Giglio was more than a century old. That poor magazine was ravaged as I read and reread every article about the region on Montalcino and its surrounding wineries. The cover of that magazine became the reason we made the trip. Everything was booked online.
The tiny hill town of Montalcino sits atop a steep hill in the southern region of Tuscany. The town is surrounded with some of the most lush wine country in Italy. And the place is older than the hills them selves. And stunningly beautiful.
We headed out to find sustenance in the form of food and wine. Climbing down the steep stairs of the ancient hotel, we could be heard chattering away about our trip and what we hoped to find.
The Enoteca just down the narrow old cobbled street had a storefront showing off bottles of the local wines. We were starving and decided to stay and eat no matter what the menu. We were pleasantly surprised by a view of a lifetime. The wall to wall window expanded to show off the scenic hills in the distance. We were totally mesmerized and let the owner bring us pretty much what he wanted. We were served what would become the staple foods of the area: a sumptuous plate full of local meats and cheeses with fresh olives and spreads. And the wine began coming. And coming.
There is so much to share about this ancient hillside town. We fell in love with it and its friendly, hospitable people. They tucked us under their wings and treated us like family.
I wish I could adequately describe the sunrise. When mention is made of the light in Tuscany, pay attention. You can never be prepared for it. We were awakened to pastel colors creeping over the horizon. This, at an ungodly hour. We had left the tall wooden shutters thrown open so we could continue to enjoy the cool breezes of the night air. And I loved listening to the local birds as they prepared for night. But as the sherbet shades of tangerine, lime green, and lavender slowly turned into the brilliant aubergines, scarlets, and finally sunlit yellows imaginable, we were actually blinded by the light. Had to close the shutters.
The town is small; walkable in way less than an hour. So many tucked away eateries. We kept peeking into windows and peering around corners, not wanting to miss one thing. The first full day we discovered a veritable gem for lunch. It was hidden away down almost underground. Jack ordered his picci ( local to this area)pasta with wild boar sauce, and I my ribollita soup, the local bean soup. We were served a basket of Tuscan bread. Only good for dipping in soup or sauce. And we enjoyed a carafe of the local red wine. As we became acclimated, we noticed everyone seemed to know the owners. And most of the patrons were working class, enjoying their midday repast. But drinking wine nonetheless:)This was a spot we returned to. A young couple owned and operated the restaurant, complete with their toddler son who rode his tricycle around in the dining room.
We celebrated Mother’s Day with the locals. Pots, full of colorful blooms, were displayed on the steps of the cathedral. And families strolled the cobbled streets and stopped to dine in groups to celebrate.
Lucky enough to be in town for one of their big historical celebrations: Festival of Saint Mary of Succour. Mary is the patron saint of Montalcino. We were invited to take part in the parade and were wined and dined along with the locals at the packed Enoteca in the center of town. Fire works announced the end of a special day. Fire works like we had never seen before. They went on and on. Families came out of the woodwork for this big deal. And we all joined the parade as we marched back to town. Surreal.
We took several day trips to visit wineries in the area. And one amazing trip to Pienza on the Saturday of the spring flower show. These events deserve their own pages. And will appear soon.
Toward the end of our week in Montalcino we started looking ahead to our next stop: Panzano, thirty minutes from Florence.