So we're all in agreement that Tuscany is drop-dead gorgeous...a land that entices and entangles all who dare to set foot within her seductive boundaries. But what they forgot to tell you is that Tuscany is more like Sybil from that cheesy 70's movie than she is the coy Mona Lisa. This portion of central Italy is divided into == regions, which are then subdivided into unique territories, each pushing and pulling and parading with utter decadence of delights to convince you it is, indeed, the best.
Except, in my opinion, the Crete Sinese -- that land south of Siena whose name is derived from the aged, sun baked clay that sustains and supports the voluptuous rolling hills and sparse forests resting here. Sister to the Chianti region and her famous vineyard laced hillsides flanked by countless silvery olive grooves and charming tiny villages that make her the rock starlet of central Italy, the Crete presents as the older, maybe even brooding, one; full of beauty, yet reserved and almost unwilling to give up her secrets. She is a land that is an artist's collection of seasonal hues...deep late spring green expanses of new wheat sprinkled with confetti of orange-red poppies that melds into early summer glistening gold ready for harvest; high summer and she bursts in an explosion of brilliant sunflower fields that tumble across the ancient landscape, dancing to appease the demanding sun. Hilltops are prickled with silent marching regiments of proud cypress, many leading the way to yet another aged brick farmhouse or villa that stand like oases in this ever-changing land-locked ocean. She seems to have no need to brandish her wares, but is quietly, even mysteriously, willing to allow the travelers to explore as she decides to give up...or not..her secrets to the curious.
I was lucky enough on this brilliant blue sky day literally exploding in glorious spring frenzy to find myself in a car transversing the Crete towards my destination of the Abby/Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore. It's a minor miracle that I made it there and back in one piece -- one cannot look right/left/ahead/behind without having full-sense assault of indescribable beauty, never static in the changing light and winding bends, being thrown constantly in the 180 realm of vision. It was stunning to behold; almost too much for my head to wrap around. I wondered aloud if those exposed to this gloriousness daily maintained the deserved awe commanded by the Crete?
The walk up to the abbey leads one through a beautiful forested trail canopied by the gentle overhung branches of pine, oak, and cypress. Age-weary brick paving provides a steady path, and one can't help but wonder what souls, both figurative and literally, have connected to this same terra.
I was also able to take in the beautifully adorned main chapel remodeled in the 18th century to Baroque standards, the somewhat stoic library -- albeit the richly frescoed hallway outside the library and the carved wooden doors leading in were most impressive -- and the refectory, or "mess hall" in colloquial terms, that glowed in a juxtaposition of ancient and modern as the low afternoon sun cast an ageless aura on rough hewn tables and chairs set with modern utensils and plates readied for an evening meal whose pleasant aroma wafted out to those stopping to view.
A quick perusal of the interesting gift shop offering a brood of all-too-typical souvenir type items interspersed with chant CD's, informative books, an impressive array of therapeutic oils and balms, honey, and other handiworks crafted by the monks, as well as the aforementioned "tonic" was my last adventure before departing Monte Oliveto Maggiore for the return through the Crete to Castellina in Chianti. ( there's a fascinating story of the connection to Monte Oliveto and our "home away from home", Casamonti ... to be continued!)
And the return was as rapturous as the journey there. The late day light draped a honey-coated warmth over the evolving wheat fields, and somehow the same vistas of undulating landscape I'd enjoyed a few hours prior had changed clothes and were now sporting an elegance that the high sun had not uncovered. Daring to divert my attention from the jealous road, I was plied with a beauty determined to yank me whole-heartedly into a dangerous gaze. More than once it required I give in and pull off the road to stare, to absorb, to try to assimilate the 360 degree theatre of God's glory that was an overwhelming realization of any and all photos, paintings, or reproductions ever produced of this classic land. And I did it willingly, thankfully, happily.
Paula A. Reynolds
Traveler or Tourist?