I woke up and my first thought was: day five – last full day of our Tuscany trip: how did the time go by so fast? What an incredible experience.
I can’t say enough about the group of people we met on this trip. It is rare when a group this large is so compatible – every last person was a joy to get to know. In fact, there was some group discussion on day five about a follow-up trip in two or three years to another Classic Journey culinary tour destination with the same group of people. Count us in! IF ONLY we could bring the same guides along: Francesco and Luciano were fabulously entertaining, personable, and knowledgeable.
Today was Walking Day. I think most of us signed on with Classic Journeys for this unique combination of eating and walking. And, by day five, I certainly needed to burn off a few (few?!!) extra calories.
Our last day trip took us to Montalcino, a 1000 ft. elevated village with sweeping panoramic views and beautiful walking trails. Montalcino is also well known as a cycling destination. Miles and miles of groomed paths attract many bicycle tours here. Our first walk was high up along the city’s ancient wall and encompassed farmland, large estates, olive groves, and forest. This beautiful path is featured in the movie “The English Patient”. We saw the umbrella pines that produce pine nuts. Pine nuts are still harvested by hand by the local villagers: they are manually extracted from within a very hard shell. Now I know why a jar costs $15!
The walk ended in the center of the village. We had many cafes for our lunch choice. By now, we trusted the guides when they referred a certain restaurant! We all piled into a small cafe that, happily, had a back wine cellar room that would accommodate 12 of us. The special was a sage, ricotta, and walnut ravioli that was DE-LI-CIOUS. Did I mention that Montalcino is famous for their Brunello wine? We ordered a bottle for our table – yes, it too was good!
After lunch, I enjoyed photographing the particularly charming village. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was on a movie set: Tuscany is all too picturesque. Every village square, street, door, restaurant, and back alley – perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a region that made me wish I had 5 hours a day just to photograph. (OR wish that I had brought my professional equipment!!) Once again, I found myself running up ahead of the group or lagging behind to capture a scene.
We took a long bus ride back to Cortona. One last chance to gaze at the sweeping Tuscan vistas and contemplate buying an abandoned “fixer upper” on the crest of one of the many hills. There was one Perfect Moment on the ride back: Luciano shyly asked us if we’d like him to sing (he studied music in college, among many other things.) Instead of the usual Italian sing-along tunes, he began to sing (in Italian) Andre Botticelli’s “Time to say Goodbye”. Oh man: the combination of the beautiful scenery and this emotional song hit me with a tidal wave of emotion. Luckily, Mike and I were in the back of the bus. You know the feeling: your heart squeezes and your eyes start uncontrollably leaking out tears. I turned to Mike and whispered “don’t LOOK at me”! But he just put his hand over mine. awww…. He was feeling it too!
Once back at the hotel, we were given an option of a two hour walk to see the sites of Cortona (including Frances Mayes house), or stay and shop in town. Or… maybe nap? Most of us opted for the walk. And what a walk it was! Up, up, up to the crest of Cortona. Frances Mayes’s house is almost at the top surrounded by lush gardens. At the very top is an ancient church. The sun was starting to set and people were hurrying to the Saturday evening mass. Very peaceful. Almost made you wish to move there and settle into the slow paced country life. We could see the entire village, surrounded by the centuries old stone wall (think the Great Wall of China, only a smaller scale. These were originally constructed for defense and surround every medieval hill town.) Many photo ops! By now, we were an army of photographers.
When we arrived back in the town square of Cortona, dusk was falling and all the pretty little shops were lit up. Local village old-timers were congregating on the park benches to gossip or just sit contentedly. We had just enough time to go to our hotel and freshen up for dinner, which was held at a local trattoria.
While this meal wasn’t particularly memorable, food-wise, it was a festive last get together. I think a few extra bottles of wine were consumed at this dinner! We celebrated Shirley’s birthday with a delicious cake for dessert. A pact was made to keep in touch, and we passed around a sheet for addresses and emails. Then back to the hotel to pack, as most of us were catching early taxis to the train station. Our wonderful trip had come to an end.
Why I Love to Travel: we owe it to ourselves and the world to experience other cultures to better understand each other. The more you travel, the more you realize that ALL people and cultures share many of the same traits: love of family, sharing love through the preparation and eating of food, the joy of music and song, a wish for law and order and a peaceful community, a belief in a higher power and beautiful places to worship in, and a curiosity to know about strangers. Plus, the world is such an AMAZING place – if we are able to, we should travel as much as possible and discover how beautiful every country and its’ people are.
This corresponds with my favorite saying, “the best things in life aren’t THINGS”. They are – experiences.
I hope I get to have many more experiences in my life like this one! Thanks to all on the trip for making it a great one.