The first stop today is in Bagno Vignoni, a village with hot sulphuric springs that have been used for thermal baths since Roman times.
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The narrow road twists and offers many angles on the beautiful landscape. The hills are lush green with yellow squares and silvery green olive groves. In the wind the fields look like a sea with waves.
The houses and the hotel in Bagno Vignoni are centred around a large square basin where people used to bathe in the old days. However that is not allowed now, says a sign in several languages. At the edge of the basin I notice some yellow stuff that could be sulphurous sediment, and on the bottom a Seven Up bottle and some coins.
It is not far to the baths used today and 5-6 persons want to try. The remains of the old Roman baths are close by. Here one could lie in the hot water and enjoy the terrific view.
The water runs in 2000 years old channels and I bend down to feel - yes, it is close to body temperature. We get an espresso and a piece of bread at the local hotel. The wind is chilly today.
Montalcino and Sant' Antimo
From Bagno Vignoni we drive to Montalcino, hometown of the Rolls Royce wine Brunello. The city stands high and proud on a mountainside, and the winery Fattoria dei Barbi is just out of town. At Barbi's they have made Brunello for generations. It is not considered the best of the best, but it belongs to the elite says TG.
A young woman who speaks excellent English guides us through the cellars. There are casks huge and small and the smell is alluring! Brunello must mature for years in the cask before it is bottled, and the smell makes me ask how much evaporates as the angles' share. However she does not know.
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And then we get to the tasting. We taste an "ordinary" red and then the just-released Brunello from year 2000. It is still young, edgy and aggressive. We can buy it for 21 €, which is a bargain, but I haven't got the patience to wait 15-20 years to taste if it was worth it.
Solveig from Norway declares without shame that she prefers the "ordinary" red and takes care of the remaining drops saying that she has slept 9 hours and is in good shape.
Beautifully situated at the mountain's foot lies the Sant' Antimo monastery. Outside TG clears his throat and tells a long story about the place and its history through time and age.
OK, he is just doing his job, but the wind is bitterly cold and I could not care less about the monastery's history. I look around to see if I can find some Christian warmth and shelter.
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At last TG finishes his lecture. Now one could seek shelter in the church, but there is mass and a wedding going on, and being what the superstitious call a heathen I do not want to impose to see yet another Madonna. Instead I return to the bus and my windbreaker. The bus offers shelter, and I wait here until the rest of the frozen company returns.
Back in Montalcino we are released for lunch. TG has arranged lunch for those who are interested, but Helle and I just want a panino or something light.
The town clings to the mountainside and is hit straight on by the chilling wind. We stroll for about an hour before we drop into an enoteca. An enoteca is a wine bar where you can taste and buy wine from the local district.
The Italians have an ingenious method of replacing the air in a bottle with a neutral gas (CO2?) allowing them to sell wine by the glass without oxidising and destroying the rest of the bottle. Montalcino has several enotecas.
However we are not here to taste Brunello and settle for a bottle of water and two panini with delicious ham and cheese. The bread is fresh with a crisp crust and the cheese is cut in generous slices.
On my right are two American couples that photograph each other and taste the local grape. On my left are four elderly English ladies and a very tall American with a minute Asian girlfriend.
The English ladies would fit perfectly into an Agatha Christie movie, but the polite American's two meters plus would never do as Hercule Poirot. He tells the ladies that he is from Los Angeles, and one of the li'll ol' ladies answers that they are from Sussex and adds with a giggle: "West Sussex" (or Norwich or...).
While in line to use the one and only restroom there is plenty of time to study the shelves where bottles too are lined up. Brunello is an expensive wine - a bottle in its teens will easily cost you 40-50 €. Collectors' items!
We are to meet by the old fort and inside its protective walls the wind is less chilling. We find a bench and soak some heat from the sun. There is a majestic view and cannons could make it very unpleasant to approach from below.
Pienza and pecorino
Pienza is an adorable doll-like town. It is so adorable and picturesque that it is often used as a set for movies. There is a steep fall from the city parapet and again the view is marvellous. The wind is less strong now, and we get an espresso in the sun and let our bones defrost.
Pienza is also the town of Pecorino. Pecorino is a sheep's cheese, which is somewhat like Parmesan but more salty, harder and with a more pungent taste. In Pienza you can get many kinds of pecorino. There is Pecorino with spices, Pecorino rolled in lava rock, red Pecorino, black Pecorino, young, mature, very mature and probably also with mites.
We enter one of the cheese shops and are greeted by a friendly signora: "Buona sera".
It is somewhat strange to say "good evening" in the afternoon, but we have reached the conclusion that you change from "buon giorno" (good day) to "buona sera", when you have finished your siesta. For obvious reasons nothing is said during the siesta.
I ask the lady if she speaks English. Just a little, she admits and is clearly relieved when I answer that I speak but a little Italian and that things will work just fine with our combined talents.
We want a piece of pecorino neither giovane (young) nor vecchio (old). "Medium!" the sweet lady concludes happily, and then we are offered samples to taste. There is one with red wax - yes, delicious. There is another with black wax - yes, good too and in fact just like we want it.
Unfortunately we cannot buy a whole cheese - there is a weight limit on the plane - so we get a smaller piece, which she wraps in vacuum-plastic to prevent it from getting airsick.
Back at the enoteca just inside the city gate TG waits for his herd with a glass of prosecco. We get prosecco too and chat about this charming town.
From Pienza it is straight home to Chianciano Terme and a siesta before dinner. On our way to the room we pass Mamma's office and the hotel-dog Asso. "My little friend" Mamma says, "he is counting you - one, two three!" and it really looks that way.
Dinner is spaghetti with tomato sauce as primo piatto. Il secondo is thin slices of pork with a sauce, baked potatoes and a vegetable that could be celery. For dessert Vin Santo with home baked almond biscotti.
The name suggests a wine for saints, but luckily sinners like us can taste it too.
Vin Santo is an amber-coloured dessert wine from Tuscany. Before the grapes are pressed and fermented they are air dried for months. This increases the sugar content, and you get a sweet wine with a fairly high alcohol content.
It is often served with dry almond biscuits (biscotti), which you dip into the glass before taking a bite. Your dentist will probably recommend this approach, because the biscuits are hard and can break a tooth if not softened.
My recommendation is to forget about the biscotti and enjoy the wine without crumbs in the glass.
After dinner the company settles outside. The Norwegian woman, who travels alone, complains to TG that we do not get maps of the cities we visit. She cannot understand or accept when TG explains why it is very difficult to get such maps.
She speaks quickly and it is difficult to understand her distinct dialect, where the other Norwegians make an effort to speak slowly and clearly. Helle retires and I follow suit as soon as I have paid the bill. We leave tomorrow.