Breath Halted in Val D’orcia

October 15

Heading out early to Abbadia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, we found the monastery shrouded in fog and its parking lot empty. Nice and quiet. Just the place for contemplation.

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Impressive red-bricked tower with terraced restaurant greeted our arrival. We entered via a drawbridge. Following the sloping brick walkways, lined with tall cypress, passing a giant abandoned fish pool, we came upon the Abbey. Entering an open door, we discovered a chapel where we sat quietly listening to a Benedictine monk in characteristic white robes singing hymns by the organ.

It was Sunday and the Abbey would be filled with worshippers soon plus our “chauffeur” B was waiting near the parking lot so we made a quick peek around. The chapel led to a courtyard with statue of St Benedict in the center. Surrounding the courtyard on 4 sides are colonnade hallways lined with colorful frescoes with scenes from the life of St Benedict. The library with its own gallery was further up, and the wine cellar plus shop were other worthy diversions. But with time constraints and a full schedule, we retrieved to our car and awaiting chauffeur who delivered us next town, Bagno Vignoni.

At Bagno Vignoni, the main attraction was the mineral pool in the center of town. It was tempting but we didn’t wade in. Not allowed.

Further down, at Parco Milini, there’s a place that you can swim. We did not get there. Too many people and too many places yet to see. So we walked and admired the old buildings around the town which is set on a hill with magnificent view. We sat on a bench admiring said view and picked out our future homesite…for when we win the lottery. The weekend crowd was out. Many bikers and locals … I overheard Italian spoken. Bellissimo this, bene that. Si, exactamente!

The next town was my favorite. Passing through the Val D’orcia region, all the while admiring the breathtaking view of carpeted green hills punctuated with olive groves, vineyards and cypress avenues. We arrived at tiny hamlet of Monticchiello. We wandered the small alleys lined with well-kept homes encountering very few visitors.

Flowering pots of geraniums and heathers adorned every corner. So pretty. Too bad we couldn’t linger longer but, fret not, I found the perfect B&B with a killer view for our return visit.

We went to Pienza next seeking a lunch spot with a view. Not an easy task. This town was full of tourists. Jazzy American tunes blared from a cafe. After enjoying the fruity gelato at Buon Gusto, we retrieved the opposite way along the panorama walkway and found a quiet spot for our picnic spread with a view.

It was unusually warm for October making us long for the cold weather in Alsace. Our coats and sweaters were dead weights. We barely had enough energy left for the next town Montepulciano. Finding parking was dramatic but leaving the parking was much more so.More on that soon. We should be guzzling wine here. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano put this town on the map. But not for us. I’m traveling with wine half-virgins so it called for restraints. We meandered quickly through the town, climbing up the main avenues lined with touristy shops and admiring the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta in the main square Piazza Grande.

We had just enough time to snap some photos to announce “we’re here”– like animals marking their territory. Did we visit too many places in one day? Should we enjoy thoroughly and relax at just one or 2 towns? No. I say when you have the energy, make a run for it. This ain’t no vacation. It’s hard work. Maybe that’s why aD took a break today! He missed the memorable ending where I let Google map guided us thru one-way pedestrian-only street crowded with weekenders teetering on being squashed by our halting car as we inched our way slowly up the street on the verge of slipping if the manual gear and clutch didn’t engaged properly. Thankfully our own Mario Andretti-like driver B had laser focus and nerve of steel. We made it out alive if only slightly embarrassed…by the multitudes of pedestrian wondering who are these FOB!?! Now we’re just waiting for the traffic ticket from Italy to remind us of the day we all almost have a heart attack. What nice memento !

Our hard-working Fiat Punta

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