For the first time since arriving in Europe we decided to rent a car to get the full taste of the Tuscan countryside. On November 27th we piled into our FIAT Tipo - love the standard transmission - and set out from Siena toward our next planned stop, Pienza in the Val d'Orcia. Along the way we had to pull over more than once to take in amazing landscapes. When lunchtime arrived we avoided the temptation to try out "McDrive" - Italy's name for the McDonalds Drive-thru window. Instead, we stopped at the medieval walled city of Buonconvento, where we had "pici" - the local pasta - and tagliatelle at Ristorante da Mario. We had a good laugh when we noticed photos of the owner with Ted Kennedy on the wall by our table.
Our AirBnB - La Corte Antica Appartamento "La Loggia" - was the former home of the grandparents of our hosts Alice and Simone. Built in the 1400's and beautifully renovated in 2015, this apartment is right within the historical center of Pienza - another UNESCO world heritage site. Alice explained Pienza's history - rebuilt by locally-born Pope Pius II in the 1500s in a way that has earned it recognition as the "ideal Renaissance city" - with an organization of streets and piazzas that epitomize the era's "ideals of rationality and humanism". We could see and hear the ancient Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) bell tower from our bedroom window.
After settling in, Patrick and I set out on a field trip to a neighboring town - San Quirico d'Orcia - where we sampled craft beer from Birrificio San Quirico. They even made jams from their beer that paired perfectly with cheeses. The next day we explored the old town and hiked to the nearby Pieve di Corsignano - a 12th century church where Popes Pius II and III were baptized.
On Thanksgiving Day we took a scenic drive around and into the Val d'Orcia - yet another UNESCO site. Their plaque at one of the lookout points says it all. [Check out our landscape photos here to see what they mean.]
The Val d'Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was rewritten in pre-renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create an esthetically pleasing picture celebrated by painters from the Siennese School. The Val d'Orcia has come to be seen as icon of the landscape which has profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking.
Along the way we stopped at Montpulciano and toured the Cantina de'Ricci, an ancient wine cellar that includes caves dug by the Etruscans. When the wine steward noticed the Rick Steves travel guide in Patrick's back pocket, she said "The tastings are free because you have that book." So we enjoyed a half dozen varieties of wine and chatted up a friendly couple from Dubai - he is originally from Ireland - who were in town trying to find a vineyard they could buy as an investment!
Further around the valley we stopped at Bagno Vignoni, site of ancient thermal baths that literally make up the town square. We hiked down the side of the hill where the natural springs formed small waterfalls and pools. The sights were other-worldly.
We enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner at La Buca delle Fate ("The Fairy Hole") a short walk from our apartment in Pienza. Even though there was turkey breast on the menu, we opted for more local fare. The dinner was fabulous - check out the food porn on the photos page.
Face-Time sessions with family back home capped off the night.
Thanks to our dear friends Michelle and Graziella who led us to the Val d'Orcia - a part of Tuscany that should not be missed. Leave the bustle of the better-known cities and check this place out!
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