After leaving Montalcino, we drove 15 minutes to Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, which sits in a valley under the hill town of Castelnuevo dell’Abate among vineyards and olive groves. It glows with pale stone in the midst of a silvery olive grove.
Tradition has it that the imperial abbey of Sant’Antimo, first founded in 813, can be attributed to Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne (748– 814). During the 9th century, thanks to imperial donations and the purchase of the relics of Saint Anthony, the abbey consolidated its prestige and in the 11th century, due to its close vicinity to the Via Francigena, it found itself in the midst of the the great European pilgrimage itineraries. The activity of offering refuge and assistance to pilgrims helped multiply donations to the abbey, which became one of the most powerful monastic foundations in all of Tuscany, with its properties extending into the counties of Siena and the Maremma.
Thanks to the donations to the abbey by Count Bernardo degli Ardengheschi, during the years immediately following 1117, the new Romanesque abbey church was erected to replace the old one, the so-called Carolingia Chapel, which is still visible today. A combination of French, Lombard and Spanish influences can be seen throughout the abbey.
A matroneum (women’s gallery) runs above the nave of the church; this is an unusual feature once used to separate the congregation.
We found a pretty garden in back, along with a gift shop. There Mike put some snail slime lotion on his face from a free sample. It said it treated six or seven things, one of them being old age. It is touted as the “Anti-aging holy grail.” I noticed that he immediately looked 20 years younger!
There were ancient gnarled olive trees on the grounds.
We backtracked to Montalcino and then onward to San Quirico d’Orcia. There are supposed to be two of the most photographed places along this route. Through there were lots of cypress trees, I couldn’t find any of the iconic scenes; besides, it was gloomy and raining. After a bridge, we found several people parked and climbing a ridge with cameras but we couldn’t quite see what they were photographing; it must have been something on the other side of the hill. We drove to San Quirico then backtracked along a windy parallel route and then circled back, but we never could find the iconic spot. Even if we’d found it, it was too rainy and dark to get a decent photo.
Disappointed, we went on our way to Montepulciano, bypassing Pienza altogether. The town is a pyramid of red-brick buildings set on a narrow ridge of volcanic rock within a circle of cypress trees. From the town are spectacular views over the Val di Chiana and Val d’Orcia. The town is famous for its Vino Nobile.
We got stressed out driving up into the medieval hilltop town, where we found ourselves driving down prohibited zoned streets. The GPS was leading us all around in circles, so I turned on my travel pass and tried to get directions on my phone, but I couldn’t access any signal. We were snipping at each other because we couldn’t spot our hotel or street names or anything.
Finally, we found a sign pointing us up a hill, then down another one, and we finally found La Terrazza Di Montepulciano, quite by accident. Roberto ushered us in with flair and humor. We had to go downstairs two long flights of stairs as the hotel was built on a steep hillside and our room was on the bottom level, though we’d entered at the top. I dreaded carrying our suitcases back up those stairs again!
After settling in, we went for a stroll around the cold and damp town, looking for a dinner restaurant.
Close by our hotel, we found the cozy Trattoria di Cagnano, where we ordered too much food once again. We started with a bottle of red Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2015. I had asparagus souffle with “Parmesan cream;” Zuppa toscana, or “legume soup;” Pizza Mediterranea, or “Mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, smoked cheese, and rocket salad.”
It was all delicious, although we brought back half a bottle of wine and half our pizza to the room.
Here is the map of our travels on this day, from Castello di Fulignano near San Gimignano, to Asciano to Montalcino to Sant’Antimo to San Quirico d’Orcia to Montepulciano.
*Steps: 12, 414, or 5.26 miles*
*Sunday, May 5, 2019*
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