DAYDREAMING IN VAL D’ORCIA – TUSCANY
Before leaving for a trip there are always so many questions to answer: where, why, but mostly how. Where: Val d’ Orcia, among the rolling green hills and villages which have an authentic Renaissance style. Why? Because Val d’Orcia exemplifies Tuscany. How? On board the new Opel Mokka, everywhere, with elegance. Seat belts on, off we go.
IMPRESSIONS: IN VAL D’ORCIA WITH OPEL MOKKA
Val d’Orcia typifies Tuscany. We are in Siena, in a place where history goes hand in hand with the landscape and every corner seems to come straight out of a postcard. Declared “World Heritage site” by UNESCO in 2004, the Val d’Orcia welcomed me in all its splendor. I had three spectacular days to discover all its wonders, accompanied by an Opel Mokka – the unwitting victim of a tight program as well as a fascinating test drive.
The journey started in Pienza, an ancient renaissance town of timeless charm, which gave birth to Pope Pius II, a fleeting visit to the small market and a visit to Palazzo Piccolomini with its elegant loggia. A simple stroll around but Pienza is Pienza and on every corner there is a pleasant discovery. I jump back aboard my Mokka and zoom off to San Quirico d’Orcia where I loose myself amongst the hills of dazzling green wheat. At the entrance to Pienza one finds the famous Crete Senesi and here the landscape becomes like a lunar desert, like an inverted oasis surrounded with so much green nature. I come across this area quite by accident, and I am speechless. We return on board and then set the navigator, this time I can not go wrong! In San Quirico I discover that you can’t not mention the Via Francigena, the route that connected Rome with northern Europe (Canterbury to be precise). Even today there are many testimonies about it and the many sites that were used by pilgrims as a stop in the medieval period are still visable. It’s amazing how every corner, also here, oozes history and courage.
After a moment of rest and refreshment, just as the pilgrims did we head to Montalcino, a “surname” that goes along with the name: Brunello. Before arriving in the village we stop to take some photos of the cypress trees, the iconic image of the Val d’Orcia (left along the road between San Quirico and Montalcino). Montalcino is elegant and superbly looks down on me from a height of 567 meters as I in my turn admire in all its majestic beauty from the small garden of Vignolo. Also here there are taverns, small shops, glimpses where time seems to stand still, an old person who looks out of the window intrigued. The ingredients of the Val d’Orcia are all there, except that here there is also the medieval fortress, the icing on the cake of this wonderful ancient world.
Montalcino was wonderful but my desire to discover does not stop here and we continue the race to Castelnuovo dell’ Abate. A quick glance at the Romanesque abbey of St. Antimo and we go on following my GPS which guides me to the Localitá Mulinello, towards the Cantina Ciacci Piccolomini. More about this soon …. Meanwhile, welcome everyone to Val d’Orcia!
The young people of Montalcino are full of energy. I do not know whether it is because of the wine, the fresh air, or simply because they are made like that. We met Nicoletta, a real Montalcinese DOC, just like the Brunello wine. Young, passionate and lively. Nicoletta works at the winery Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona. She tells us that, after some experience abroad, she could not resist the call of her country and has returned. The pull of her home land was stronger than she. I understand well. I, too, after years spent travelling abroad and living in Milan I feel the need to return home to a life on a more human scale. But we aren’t finished yet. Nicoletta has introduced us to and welcomed us among her friends (who share her passion, as well as working in the wine busIness), it was as if we had known each other for a lifetime. Nicoletta told me of her Val d’Orcia and her love for her work which left me feeling energised. Meetings of this kind are rare, but I hope it also happens to you, to discover the most of this beautiful land. Thanks Nicoletta and see you soon!
KITCHEN: BRUNELLO AND AROUND
I choose a wine after an online search and am navigated towards Castelnuovo Dell’Abate where there is the winery Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona
(Http://www.ciaccipiccolomini.com), owned by the family Bianchini. I had just set foot inside the winery when I was welcomed warmly and I told the fascinating story behind the property and winery. Left alone after the death of her husband Piccolomini d’Aragona, Countess Ciacci carried an immense estate of 300 hectares and all the work that involved, aided by her faithful assistent, Giuseppe Bianchini. On her death in 1985 she decided to leave all the property to the Bianchini family who over the years have expertly handled the buisness with respect for tradition and the rules imposed by the consortium.
I wonder, however, what makes this wine so special?
I ask for an explanation from Paul, the owner, together with his sister Lucy, who since the death of their father, Giuseppe Bianchini, this cantina has been left them in their. The answer is clear and technical: on one hand it is certainly about the closeness to Mount Amiata, the other of the proximity to the sea, at least as the crow flies also due to the presence of the river Orcia, which has its source on the slopes of Mount Cetona and runs through the property (it marks the boundry between the province of Siena on one side and the province of Grosseto on the other) and the wind that often blows on these hills drying and thus limiting diseases that often affect vines and olive trees.
Guided and almost already intoxicated even before sipping wine, I get lost in the immense cellar, home to much fine wine and finally I resurface in the tasting area.
Conscious of having to continue the tour, I go for the tasting of a sip of Rosso and Brunello of 2011. Although I savor only a little taste I feel its quality even more, this demonstrates that we are tasting one of the examples of excellence of our country which is the envy of the rest of the world, there are for sure a thousand reasons for that excellance but … the point is that this wine is good. But it is even more special because it leaves you something that goes beyond the taste … the passion and sacrifice of generations, the history of the countess left alone with all her wealth and a huge challenge to manage the buisness, through Giuseppe Bianchini and his children, the seventeenth-century palace that houses the cellar and finally the passionate tales of Nicoletta. Inside a glass there is all this.
But that’s not all. Soon a new interesting project related to cycling will be inaugurated. This is a structure within the estate, where cyclists can rest tired legs while sipping wine and enjoying a spectacular landscape.
Advice on what to accompany a such a good wine? Pinci pasta with bread crumbs, a specialty of the culinary tradition of Montalcino. Cousins of pici, the pinci differ in the fact of being “richer” because an egg is added to the pasta dough. Bread crumbs are toasted in a pan and mixed with the pinci with a heafty dose of extra virgin olive oil. Impossible to resist.
Travelling in a Opel Mokka
Not just any car, but a compact and elegant SUV with low power consumption, Hill Start Assist (HSA) for when you start on a slope and Hill Descent Control (HDC) for when going downhill and excellent roadholding. Perfect for a sporty and relaxed trip among the rolling hills that form the landscape. I speak of the new Opel Mokka 1.7 CDTI turbo diesel 130 hp, a perfect companion for this adventure on the road. Consider that to arrive from one town to another in the Val d’Orcia it will always take 20 to 30 minutes between paved roads and dirt tracks, so if you have a car to test drive, here you can have great fun! To move easily around here, unless you are a fan of bikes, you’ll have to rely on a car, or even better yet a dynamic 4×4 like mine. I also found the rear camera function very convenient and it assisted me a lot in parking or in tight spaces where it was hard to maneuver. Believe me that in these villages there are certainly many such situations.
Even if taking the train could be more romantic (the nearest stations are Buonconvento and Montepulciano), can you compare it to the comfort and freedom to move anywhere, anytime you want?
The solution for the night:
Moving on from the question of travelling to the question of accommodation, also here I have some suggestions to give you. We are in Montalcino, in the heart of the old town and it is here that I found my solution for the night. Michele, a young man from Montalcino, manages with his family the Hotel Ristorante Il Giglio (http://www.gigliohotel.com) The plus of this small hotel: the central location, the rooms with unrivaled views of Montalcino and it’s countryside (ask for a room with a view of the valley), a restaurant with a menu full of delicious dishes in the local tradition and last but not least, it makes you feel at home. Of course it is needless to say that the wine does not disappoint. After all, we are in Montalcino!
IN THE SUITCASE: UN COSTUME
When you pack your bags, remember to bring a swimming costume for the hot springs of Bagno Vignoni a picturesque village between San Quirico and Castiglione d’Orcia. A thermal spring of hot sulfuric water, in a relaxed and charming place is there ready to welcome you. The pool is located right in the center of this small town, which is also of medieval origin, but its original source has been known and visited since Roman times and once also hosted St. Catherine of Siena and Lorenzo the Magnificent. The rejuvenating effect will be immediate!
BOOKS AND FILMS: MARIO LUZI AND HIS POEMS
Mario Luzi needs no introduction. Let’s just say he was one of the most respected writers and poets of the last century. 100% Tuscan, he lived most of his life in Florence, although he was fond spending the summer holidays in Val d’Orcia, in particular in Pienza, where he was named an honorary citizen.
In one of his collections of poetry, Sui fondamenti invisibili (1971), he wrote about the Val d’Orcia:
“The winding road that leads from Siena to the Orcia, across the red sea of washed earth that in March it is covered by a green fuzz, it is a road out of time, an open road, pointing with it’s gyrations to the heart of the enigma.” In 2005 Luzi left us, but the citizens of Pienza, who knew him, always remember him affectionatley. Every year to celebrate his life, this ancient medieval village organizes various events, including exhibitions, lectures and conferences.
At the same time to Mario Luzi was also dedicated the eponymous foundation with the function to “provide for the continuing work of study and cultural, literal and humanistic research, started by Mario Luzi”.