Excursions into the vineyards of Tuscany, Italy

Time to go! So, after siesta, we would get in the car to begin our excursions.  It is truly a pleasure to drive in southern Tuscany, which looks like it comes out of a fairy tale.  I didn’t know the tales of the region yet, but I learned that there were three main cities:  Montalcino, Pienza and Montepulciano. 

The unique beauty of the Tuscan landscape

The unique beauty of the Tuscan landscape

They were on the tops of hills and around them spread out the vineyards. They were the first vineyards we encountered as the colours of the land changed before our eyes. It was like crossing a golden-green carpet, only that we could not see it from above because, no sooner would we dive into one slope than we would ascend another. 

My husband enjoyed it, but I used to get car sick and, fortunately, was kept busy observing the surroundings.  I believe there are beautiful landscapes, more beautiful landscapes, and a third category – those that are incomparably unique. That’s where I placed the location we were looking at now, which in Italian is called le crete senesi, and which is located south of Siena.

Le Crete Senesi in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany

Le Crete Senesi in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany

Pienza stole my heart.  There was order, beauty and symmetry.  There was not a scooter, stroller or street fight to be seen!  I liked its inhabitants because they were tolerant.  When I asked a waiter for a glass of water, he brought it to me with no complaint.  He wore his bow tie perfectly, and his shirt was neat and pressed, even at this heat.

There were only a few, small inns, everything else was ‘rooms to let’. The shops were full of the local culinary specialties – picci, spaghetti made by hand, a goat cheese known as pecorino di Pienza, intense in its flavour of herbs, a honey of chestnut, eucalyptus and orange blossom.  All were displayed in small shops, tastefully decorated and lovingly organized.

Pienza in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany

Pienza in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany

When we left Pienza, I felt such heartache.  My husband put some music on and, as the car effortlessly negotiated the hills, I thought I was dreaming. Sometimes, our path would cross with a vintage car, probably driven by an Englishman, while, at other times, we would encounter groups of motorcyclists who reminded me of modern knights.

We arrived in Montepulciano, the third city, through the vineyards.  It didn’t have the warlike ferocity of Montalcino, nor the serene symmetry of Pienza.  Wealth reigned here.  Even the scenery lost some of its severity.  The golden hills had turned to green and the cypresses no longer kept their isometric distance.

It was an important crossroads that dominated all the valleys.  I came to this realization when we sat on the tiny terrace of the Caffè Poliziano and I had to catch my breath when I saw how high up we were. The valley below looked like you were viewing it from an airplane, and a helicopter passed under the terrace at that exact moment.  Only the swallows could reach us.

 An excerpt from the book: A Year in Tuscany

Barbara Athanassiadis