• Mary Beth Chalk

Virtual Day Seven: Ballooning Over Tuscany

Our alarm erupted at 5:30AM alerting us that it was time to achieve my bucket-list goal of riding in a hot air balloon over the vineyards of Tuscany!

After dressing warmly and savoring our coffee, we made the 20-minute drive to the Avignonesi Vineyard. On a prior trip to Avignonesi with Mom and Dad we had a memorable tour through the Vin Santo (“holy wine”) airing rooms. The three-storied drying racks held the grapes, drying to their sweet perfect, destined to become this extraordinary desert wine. I was anxious to return to see if the vineyard was as beautiful as I had remembered.

We arrived at the vineyard as the sky was beginning to lighten in the east. We were met by a team from Ballooning in Tuscany who took us to an open field near Montisi (population 300). Not surprisingly for Tuscan businesses, we learned that Nick, Annie, and Harry are a family and their passion for ballooning was palpable. After a safety drill and assisting with the inflation of the balloon we were ready to board.

We climbed up and over into the wicker basket with six other eager individuals – all looking forward to our skyward view of the Tuscan landscape. As the balloon completed its inflation with hot air, we began to lift off the ground. The ascent was quiet, everyone was held in a suspended state of reverential awe as we climbed ever higher above the lush, life-giving landscape.

The current of the wind blew us in the direction of Monastero di Sant’Anna (founded in 1334 by monks from the abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore near San Gimignano and location for scenes from “The English Patient”) and down the Chiana valley towards Montalcino. As the sun began to peek over the horizon, the valley turned golden beneath our feet and the mists between the hills began to rise. Tuscany was awakening to a new day of growth, of life, and of love.

Ballooning, as with life, is dependent upon where the winds may blow. And on this day, the winds blew us over a local farmer’s field where we landed. Nick explained that balloon landings are not only permissible but expected in Tuscany. Upon landing, Nick and Annie set up a lovely breakfast of locally sourced meats, cheeses, fresh pastries, and sparkling wine.

Following breakfast, we were taken back to the lovely Avignonesi vineyard where we enjoyed revisiting the Vin Santo drying and fermentation room followed by a tasting of their exceptional wines. Remembering that family would be joining us in the upcoming week we purchased several bottles of the wine, including the Vin Santo, to enjoy at Villa Maramai.


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