Wine Country (May 17, 2007)

With our fixin’s from the Coop, Rick made us huge omelettes with ham, cheese, garlic, and asparagus, which we ate outside our room at the outdoor tables. Then we loaded up the bikes and headed southward toward Sienna on the back roads. The Sienna-Firenze autostrada is not far to our west, but there is no direct route west out of Greve that hooks up with an interchange. Rather than trying to avoid Sienna, we pointed right at it, staying just outside the city walls on the eastern edge, guessing our way out of one roundabout after the other. Eventually we picked up the main road south from Sienna towards Rome. Our destination was Montalcino, one of the great wine towns of Tuscany.

We planned to do a loop out of the Tuscany cycling tour book Rick had bought several months ago, but rather than start (and finish) high in Montalcino, we hit the midpoint of the book’s loop, which was closer, and lower. So lunch in Montalcino would be our midpoint respite. We parked along the road near the Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Within five miles, we passed through the small town of San Giovanni d’Asso. David called for a coffee stop, Rob concurred, and we set a record for minimum distance to the first stop. Recaffeinated, we turned southward through fairly flat terrain. Eventually, the road kicked up for the climb up to Montalcino.

57. Coffee Stop, San Giovanni d’Asso
58. Bikes, Montelcino
59. Lunch, Montelcino
60. Siena at Sunset
On the climb upwards, it seemed that every 200 feet David would see another winery and exclaim, “That is a very famous wine!” Eventually we reached the outskirts of town, and regrouped to quickly find a restaurant Rick Steves recommended. Bikes locked all together outside, we took up one of the nine tables. The waitress made sure we really knew this was a “ristorante” and not a bar or sandwich shop. Yes, we told her, we were ready for a full meal. David ordered a wine he knew, produced by a female vintner in the vicinity. The owner of the restaurant approved. I had boar stew, and Ken had the same as a sauce over noodles. Sweet wine, biscotti and the local “osso di morte” cookie (“bones of the dead”) made for a nice dessert. I enjoyed my meal, though reviews were mixed within the group.

We checked out the nearby fortress, which completed the significant sites for the town. I followed the guidebook’s description for getting out of town (which would be the starting point of the book’s tour) and ended up at the fortified gate at the north end, where a dirt road plummeted straight down the hillside. Something was clearly not right, and an entering motorist confirmed that the road was “strada bianchi” for some distance down the hill. Eventually my confusion became clear, the guidebook had one entering town on the previous day’s tour and so assumed you knew your way back out, and I was reading about how to exit the next town of the tour down the road (Buonconvento). Meanwhile, Rick Steves map matched many of the descriptions in the guidebook, mistakenly confirming my insistence on the guidebook’s description. With perhaps fifteen minutes delay, we got back on course and a great descent down off the hill, and a nice flattish ride back to the van. 31 miles, 2900 feet.

We intended to bag Sienna on our ride home. Our first probe from the south took us too far east of the tourist center of town. We retreated, slid west and probed again, this time locating a very modern parking garage signed as being located close to Il Campo, the main plaza (and site of Sienna’s famous intramural horse races). The 2.05 meter height clearance gave us pause, but the van left several inches of extra clearance to spare. We walked quickly to the amazing Cathedral, decided to pay the entrance fee, and discovered it was closing. So we walked past the Baptistry and down to the main plaza and Civic Building. Then we wandered the streets for a while along with the other tourists. David found a new wine shop and spent considerable time examining their stock, eventually settling on a bottle to purchase for one of our meals. Eventually on our way out we paused for coffee on a fairly quiet side street.

Leaving Sienna, we gained the autostrada along the western side of the city and headed north towards Firenze as dusk fell. Eventually, an exit was signed for Greve, but as suspected, we would need to backtrack 10 kilometers or so to actually reach home. By the time we returned it was getting late, and we ventured the Moro restaurant, on the main road that skirts around Greve’s piazza. They hesitated, but then decided to take us in for a relaxed evening meal.