That being said, if you are planning a trip to Italy bring a GPS (or rent one with your car, even if it doubles the cost of the rental). I guarantee you won't regret it, and it will save you many hours of being lost, and many tense conversations that go something like, "I don't know where we are anymore. I am looking at the map and this road is not on the map. Why don't you look at the map?" It's not that the roads aren't marked, it's just that the signs are hard to decode, unless you already know the lay of the land. So get a GPS. Trust me on this.
Montalcino, the home of Italy's most revered wine, Brunello di Montalcino, made from Sangiovese grapes grown in the area.
I love this shot from the hilltop, the way that the mosaic of rooftops echoes the mosaic of fields of the Val d'Orcia stretching into the distance. I think it's one of my favorite shots from the trip.
We had to stop and have a glass of wine of course when we got there, so we found this lovely wine bar and took a break.
I practiced ascending the tower stairs in case I was called upon to take up arms against invaders.
Interestingly, there is a wine bar, Enoteca La Fortezza, inside the fortress. I wondered if the soldiers who defended the town from the Florentines could ever imagine, as they stood on the high stone walls with their bow and arrows at the ready, that tourists would one day clink glasses where they used to store their canons.
We decided it was time to head off to Montepulciano, but, as usual, we accidentally took the wrong road. Maybe it wasn't the wrong road though, because we sped past a sign for Fattoria dei Barbi, one of the most respected producers of Brunello di Montalcino. We couldn't go all that way and not stop, right?
Unfortunately, the tasting room was closed when we got there (?), so instead we had a picture-perfect lunch at the elegant Taverna dei Barbi.
This was the view from our table. Sigh. I think we could have sat there all day.
We slowly strolled up and down the streets, now emptying of the tourists, and watched as the locals came out, heading to dinner. We realized we should always visit these towns after the heat of the day, when most everyone except the residents have left. The stores and cafes were uncrowded, the streets were shaded, and the town was coming to life all over.
We started out for home again, winding back through the idyllic Tuscan countryside.
One more landscape we could hardly believe--sunflowers as far as we could see, backlit by the setting sun. Who could ask for more?