This shot was taken from just outside the Fort in Montalcino, Tuscany and I never could have thought I’d bag something like this. We had planned for a shot of some kind from this location the week before, as we visited the town in the height of the day looking for handbags and wallets made out of the beautiful leather products made here. We also discovered some of the finest salami we had ever eaten in our lives, made from Wild Boar (Cinghiale) , served with prosciutto (also delicious), sweet tomatoes and bread as fluffy as the mountain air. We didn’t buy any Brunello wine but one elderly shop owner tried to persuade us to do so. 20 Euros per bottle at the cheapest, it is very expensive but I’m happy enough with a nice (and a great deal cheaper) glass of Chianti and if you read my article on La Prodaia, you’ll see why we weren’t short of wine for our trip.
…and so we decided that 7pm would be a good time to revisit and that I could capture a great shot of some kind across the rolling hills and mountains that stretched out for some miles beyond. The light would be beautiful and if we were too early, I’d have enough time to pick my composition.
Fast forward one week…
I had been studying the map, thinking that there must be a quicker way of getting to Montalcino than we’d taken in our first week. I found that there was a shortcut on our map, we could avoid having to drive via Siena which can be very busy during the late afternoon. So we set off with camera gear and looking forward to rounding off the shoot with a nice meal in Montalcino. However I hadn’t realised that the shortcut involved a network of unsurfaced roads which would take us up a perilous route around a mountain or two or was it four?? I can’t recall…
So I kept on driving thinking that maybe it was just a short stretch of road that was like it, it had signs after all and it was only 20km to Montalcino. It was clearly signposted, what a great shortcut! My wife fell silent and I was beginning to realise she wasn’t too happy with me and for that matter I wasn’t too happy with myself for assuming that the shortcut would consist of normal surfaced roads. I was thinking this as I watched the dust cloud behind me shroud the view in my main mirror. Then a giant cement mixer came towards us, complete with his own dust cloud and left me fumbling along the road as if someone had pinched my glasses. We did find a normal road eventually and once again, Montalcino had vanished from the signposts and we found ourselves on a road that wasn’t shown on the map. Taking an educated guess we turned left and found a sign for Montalcino, right on top of the turning, I executed a hand break turn, Tina was getting increasingly more annoyed with me and told me not to drive like someone out of the Italian job. I apologised but the schoolboy inside me was loving it and so we pressed on, discovering a beautiful rolling landscape (which will feature in the next post).
Now this was just the beginning because what was to come, was crazier. We took another turning, a brown sign pointing us in the direction of Montalcino, once again 20km (???) and I later made a note in my head not to follow brown signs in Italy ever again. The smooth road was leading us into some stunning farmland, dotted with beautiful buildings that looked like small castles. It was idyllic and then the road turned to dust again. I fell silent this time before Tina did but it was a beautiful dusty road, nice and flat plus nobody to be seen anywhere, meaning no tailgating Italians waiting to overtake me on a triple hairpin bend as normal. I could relax a little and we had found a reliable set of signs guiding us along the way, we could even see Montalcino perched up on the mountain top, not too far then. We spotted some great wildlife along the way including a Hare but were concious that time was slipping by very fast, 7pm had in fact been and gone, we had been on the road for two hours or so already.
Then my wariness was eased as we spotted a stunning new golf course being constructed. They had made use of the natural rolling landscape to construct it, the light was looking amazing, everything looked breathtaking wherever we looked. Though we had a feeling that we shouldn’t be where we were and above all else, we feared we’d get lost, very badly lost. Our fears were allayed when we spotted another brown Montalcino sign…. 18km this time. Our fears were then restored when we realised that the only other vehicles around were people working on the golf course development. They seemed to be surprised by our presence.
The road then became more interesting, the grit on the surface became looser and I found myself fighting with the car to keep it going up the hill, it simply didn’t have the power for it, first gear just about got me up the first incline. Turning a bend, it became steeper and bendier and wilder and scarier (too many ands there). We were now on our own, in a mountainside forest, on a road that would make a world class rally driver very happy indeed, except I’m not one. I feared we’d get a puncture and die and be eaten by wild boar, possibly bears. We reached an apex in the road and I was thinking, well, what next, what is on the other side of that, a sheer drop?Brown sign to Montalcino 10km. I felt relieved for a second, driving in the middle of the road at what felt like a 100mph (really 5mph as the Punto couldn’t do much), my wife very unhappy with me. It was a 1 in 10 incline, pretty steep. Madness. Why the hell had I chosen this route? What in God’s name had made me think this was a bright idea? I also recalled the scene from the Italian job where the car topples off the road (in fact there were quite a few scenes like that).
We eventually came across some other people, who looked bemused at the once black Fiat Punto being driven by a wild looking englishman (they can tell this very easily) caked in dust and with a palid looking passenger. They were driving a very clean looking Mercedes. They also looked lost and I hope my look of fear made them change their minds and turn around. We then found a road and then thankfully Montalcino and finally my wife spoke to me again, our marriage intact… The car had changed colour and was caked in mountain dust.
All’s well that ends well
…Well as you can imagine we were delighted to find Montalcino but were less than happy to find most places had closed for the day, as it had just turned 8pm. Luckily my location was looking good! I took my camera out of the bag, hands still shaking from our Top Gear/Indiana Jones/Italian Job experience earlier. Fitted some filters and exposed away.
We then took the normal route back and finished the night off at our favourite restaurant in Costafabbri with some nice local Chianti….