There’s nothing quite like jumping right back into the thick of things. I had been back in the office at work here in Siena for approximately 20 minutes before they asked me to accompany a tour into the Tuscan countryside, since they needed someone who could translate into English. First day back, and I get to go on a tour? No problem!
The first stop was a cantina where they make the renowned wine, Brunello di Montalcino. The guides aren’t allowed to participate in the degustazione (tasting) but it was fun to watch the 20 or so clients sip their wine, mop fresh olive oil off of their plates with home made bread, and contemplate which bottles of wine to buy and take back home.
Next we headed south to the town of Montalcino, complete with fortezza(fortress) and beautiful views of the countryside. The town was originally inhabited by the Etruscans, and dates back to the middle ages.
We, the guides, pointed out the town’s gelateria, places to buy wine, and suggested climbing the stairs in the fortress to take a walk on the ramparts for excellent photo opportunities.
After an hour or so of browsing, buying and photo taking, we climbed back into the pullmini for our last stop, the Abbazia Sant’Antimo (Saint Antimo Abbey).
As far as Italian churches, abbeys and religious buildings go, Sant’Antimo’s architecture is pretty plain, and un-Italian. The story goes that Charlemagne (Carlo Magno, in Italian) was on his way back to France when his men and horses were struck by the Plague. One night, he dreamed of Saint Antimo (from the neighbouring Tuscan town of Arezzo) who told him to go to the forest and indicated what plants and types of juices he needed to mix together in order to create a healing drink. Legend has it that he followed the saint’s instructions and of course, his men were cured. He then commissioned this abbey to be built in honour of Saint Antimo, who helped him in his time of need.
Today the abbey is a working monastery, complete with shaved-headed white-robed monks, gardens and a parking meter maid who will ticket you if you don’t pay up. It’s a great place to relax, go for a walk, pray, and take pictures.
Not such a bad deal for the first day back at work!