Bella Tuscany

Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world and visiting some of the popular tourist sites is sometimes a turnoff because of the crowd and the waiting in line.  However, my visit to the hills of Tuscany was the most pleasant and enjoyable.  It was not only the eating and wine sniffing, swirling and tasting part of this wine-hopping excursion that gave me a full sensory experience, but the drive along the winding country road amid a postcard-perfect landscape unfolding before me was serendipitous. It was a riot of green. The scenery confirmed what the flight attendant told me about the weather in Europe during my flight to Italy, “spring arrives late in Western Europe this year.”   

Passing the Chianti region, we headed to the wine town of Montepulciano and hiked up the highest hill town in Tuscany at 2,000 feet above the Val di Chiana.  We stopped for a photo-op of the valley below us. The views extend into the lake and the medieval Cortona, another hill town.     

Montepulciano is famous for the vino nobile, a hearty wine, but before the famous wine wet my taste buds, we hiked up some more to explore the medieval and Renaissance town’s landmark: the Palazzo Communal, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta or the Duomo of Montepulciano.

Next on our wine-hopping excursion was the small hill town of Montalcino, overlooking the Sangiovese Grosso grape vineyards used for Brunello, one of the most expensive wines in Italy.   Our wine expert guide explained the steps taken by the consortium of Brunello producers to protect the brand and the quality of the wine.  The regulations defining Brunello are very stringent with defined alcohol level, and the wine must be aged for five years after the harvest year.  Meanwhile, I could not take my eyes off the green and peaceful scenery surrounding me.  

We stopped by the Abbazia Di Sant'Antimo and listened to the monks' chant that reverberated through the scenery of green, peace and quiet.  But the hike up Montepulciano and Montalcino was more than enough to work up an appetite. So that our visit to the abbey was cut short so we could have lunch at a local family-run vineyard/winery.
Abbazia Di Sant'Antimo

The 'local wine industry folks' were waiting for us a few miles away to show us their cellar and to tell us more about the Brunello wine production-process. It was also there where we ate our lunch of typical Tuscan fare of cold cuts appetizers, Primera and secondi, etc. with a pairing of five different types of wines that include reds, whites and Sangiovese franc. The sensory experience did not end with dessert wine. 

Fifteen miles east of Montalcino, we found the town of Pienza, a Renaissance town designed by the 15th century Pope Pius II and became a papal retreat.  We visited the Duomo and the Palazzo Piccolomini courtyard, but there were astonishing views of the surrounding hill towns from nearly everywhere in the village, especially behind the cathedral.  Now I understand why Pienza is dubbed as the “Pearl of the Renaissance". Walking behind the Cathedral, we saw the views of the Val d'Orcia and the green cypress-clad hills.  It's said that many Renaissance artists drew inspiration from the beauty of the landscape and used the scenery as background in many religious paintings. 

Pienza's village square and narrow streets also boast a number of cafe's, gelaterias and food and cheese shops.  After sitting down for gelato and coffee, we hit the cheese shops and bought some of Pienza's famous pecorino cheese to take home.

NOTE:  All photos by the author



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