A hot air balloon ride is what brought us to Montisi. Unfortunately, it got rained out, and we were not able to go. It sounded like such a good time, I want other VT'ers to know it's available. It's a 3.5 hour event that starts with the balloon inflation at the launch site. You fly in an area about 20 miles South of Siena called the Crete Senesi. After flying over farmhouses, castles, and hilltop villages, you end the day with a champagne breakfast in an olive field (where you land). We were so disappointed to not be able to go, but I hope that a VT'er will drop me a note if they get to experience it.
5 years later, and I decided to try once again to experience the balloon. With a more flexible schedule, I was sure to fly this time. After several days of bad weather, it was finally scheduled. We drove to Montisi from Cortona. While it was extremely cold, it was not raining! The cold inflation of the balloon began, and the group started taking pictures. Robert our guide started talking about the wind, but I wasn't concerned. He then decided he needed to call the airport before progressing any further. Bad news! Too windy, no flight! A little closer this time, but couldn't belive I missed out again! Damn!
My husband always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon, so when we planned our trip to Tuscany we booked a flight with pilot Robert Etherington of Ballooning in Tuscany. It was not only the highlight of our trip but one of the best experiences we have ever had. We flew over a mile high, viewing the expanisive landscape of Tuscany from an entirely different persepective. To illustrate what an expert pilot Robert is he navigated the balloon near a pond, dipping down until the water delicately brushed the bottom of the basket, and then flew back up into the sky. Robert and his partner Liz are both fantastic interesting people and we enjoyed every minute of the adventure.
Da Roberto’s outside terrace is very much like eating in a friend’s garden. We were greeted by Roberto himself who asked us inside or out. When I replied out, he went inside and returned with a table completely set for two and set it down in the garden’s terrace. I felt a little like Alice in wonderland. There were only 3 other couples present; a French couple, an Italian couple and two German women. We ordered the crostini starter, and I asked for the asparagus salad with cherry tomatoes and pecorino. Sorry, the asparagus is finito. OK, I would like the artichoke with sliced pork cheeks. Roberto tried to dissuade me from ordering the artichoke. “It is raw” he said. “OK, but it’s obviously edible” I replied. “But you will not like it. One American ordered it and left the restaurant unhappy within 15 minutes. It is raw. It is only marinated.” “OK”, I reply, “I would like to try it.”
The crostini came with 4 different toppings; truffle, onion, parsley and baby calf spleen. I cut each one in half and gave half to Jill. She finished her’s before Roberto explained what was on them. The only one she didn’t care for was the truffle. Roberto told me about the baby calf spleen before I ate that one and I would have preferred not to eat it but didn’t dare after the conversation about the artichoke.
The artichoke and pork cheeks were delicious! I was proud to declare them excellent and Roberto was surprised. I told him that we were from San Franciso. We eat everything there. He agreed that San Franciscans were open minded.
We finished our meal with vin santo and cantucci. The French couple left, the Italians left and then the German girls left after asking for a reservation for dinner on Sunday night. Roberto was very clear that reservations were required for dinner. We asked for “il conto” and then Jill and I got into the inevitable debate about what to leave for a tip. It is clearly stated on the menu of da Roberto “Service and coperto not included”. By now, Roberto is being very agreeable to us, after all, we ate the artichoke and baby cow cheeks and even had a conversation about lucciole, so I asked him, “Please Roberto, if you will, can you educate me about tipping?” Here was his philosophy: “I do not think that I should charge my customers for the privilege of a chair so I do not charge a coperto.” Roberto went on to explain that Italians will never leave a tip. He said that if someone does choose to leave something, 7 or 10%, it will always be appreciated but it is certainly not expected. He was very understanding of the question and told me about the time he was in NYC and a waiter chased him out of the restaurant and told him he did not leave enough. I told him that the waiter was very rude, and a tip was optional but customary.
Montisi is so tiny, this may be the only little cafe in town! It was a great spot to relax and have a cup of coffee after the balloon ride.
Since Montisi only has a population of about 400, they only have one bar. We ducked in to escape the rain. Nice and friendly staff. We sat inside since it was raining, but they have an adorable patio and fountain area.
Dress Code: Casual
This is not actually IN Montisi but it's quite near it - on the road between Pienza and Montisi. So, close enough...
At any rate, this abbey was where my all time favorite movie was filmed in large part. So I visited it one evening and took several photos of it, including from the air on a ballooning trip the next morning. I hope you like it, and, if you go to Pienza please visit this abbey!