It was just another day in Chianti. Or, so we thought. The sky, a deep, rich blue, was dotted with an occasional cloud. The sun was bright and warm. The hillsides were covered with vineyards interrupted by olive groves. The air was fresh with the crisp scent of early fall. Narrow roads snaked their way up, down and around the hills. Here and there, a hilltop was graced with a medieval castle rising majestically upwards.
It was peaceful. It was Tuscany.
Our plan for the day was to enjoy a picturesque ride through the tranquil country side and stop in Panzano for a visit to Antica Macelleria Cecchini. Dario Cecchini is known to some as the “singing butcher”, due to his inclination to break into an operatic aria as he works behind the counters of his shop. We had learned about Dario through a television show, "David Rocco’s Dolce Vita".
As we travelled the dips and curves on Chianti's back roads, I could not help but get the feeling I was driving in the Gran Premio d'Italia (Italian Grand Prix). With a downshift here and there, a few quick bursts of speed coming out of the curves and up the hills my exhilaration intensified as my acceleration increased. My driving adventure had just begun when I was snapped back into reality. Looking in my rearview mirror, I saw a peloton-like group of cyclists following us. As we rounded a corner, there were more cyclists in front of us. None of the passengers in our car had an answer to the obvious question, “Who are these guys?”
Suddenly surrounded by cyclists, we quickly developed a feeling of being one of the “spare parts cars” in the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy). We continued our drive, being careful as we passed more cyclists. The peloton continued to follow us. Was everybody going to Panzano? Evidently they were because as we approached town, traffic slowed to a crawl.
Luckily, as we neared the centro storico, we found a parking place close to the main piazza. It was filled with people in a festive mood. Every town has a weekly market day featuring vendors of crafts and clothing, fresh produce, cheeses and meats, plants, flowers, kitchenware, leather goods and works of art. We wandered around admiring scarves, smelling handmade soaps and bought several spoons and other utensils of olive wood that were made by the man who sold them.
While strolling through the mercato we heard the sound of a horn and a man’s voice shouting “ciao ragazzi”. Around the corner, we saw the man with the horn.
Decked out in red and white striped pants, a white shirt and an apron, he enthusiastically welcomed the arrival of the cyclists. To avoid the crunch of the crowd we stepped backwards onto a step, our eyes taking in the spectacle in front of us.
We noticed the cyclists were wearing old-style woolen uniforms which identified them as members of various cycle teams. We moved a bit to the side to avoid blocking the entrance to a shop. A man approaching us offered us wine. With that, he produced glasses and proceeded to pour Chianti for us. He invited us into the shop for a sampling of bruschetta. As we entered we could not help but notice refrigerated display cases containing a variety of meats including the famous bistecca chianina. It was then we realized we had found Antica Macelleria Cecchini.
The man wearing the striped pants just happened to be Dario. He followed us into the shop and stepped behind the display cases. Wielding a large knife as an artist would his brush, he began slicing a variety of sausages, cheeses and fruits. He was preparing a delicious snack for the cyclists, to replenish their energy for the rest of their ride in L’Eroica (The Heroic), a race designed to test cyclists' ability and stamina as they pedal along the beautiful roads of Chianti. Not only was the riders' attire retro in style, their bicycles were also vintage, meeting such requirements as being built before 1987 and of steel frame construction. Gear shifts were housed on the "down tube" and brake cables had to be on the outside of the handlebars.
The cyclists gathered eagerly under the food filled tent in front of the shop, exchanging stories with comrades old and new. It seems Italians have a way of enjoying life to the fullest.
Although we enjoyed this wonderful outpouring of Dario's hospitality, it was time for us to move on. As we left town, working our way through the crowds of people and past the cyclists, we agreed the adventure in Panzano was beyond our wildest imagination.
Dave and Edie www.fototoscana.com