Montepulciano is a medieval and Renaissance hill town and commune in the Italian province of Siena in southern Tuscany. There are pretty towns dotted all around the rolling hills but the hill town of Montepulciano is less crowded than many of it’s rivals despite the filming of the vampire saga Twilight sequel New Moon here and a notable increase in visitors.
Montepulciano is full of elegant Renaissance palaces, ancient churches, charming squares and hidden corners. It has some of the best views we found on our trip, boasting vast panoramas all over the wonderful Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana valleys that surround it.
As you drive towards this historic town it resembles a painting for an opera backdrop, so perfect are the positioning of it’s buildings upon the peak of the hill. This is due in some part to no major building work taking place since 1580. It just receives a little touch up here and there.
One of the 2 town gates.Like all ancient Tuscan towns, the streets are narrow and shaded. The buildings are built from cool rock and many tall green-shuttered medieval houses loom down either side of the sloping streets.
We found it a delight to explore the network of narrow, winding, sloping streets and alleys. The shops are full of quality goods such as their Vino Nobile, local cheeses cured meats and homeware.
Charlotte spotted a nice wine bar, that looked like a cool lunch option…
Samples of the food were put out for passers by to try.
The churches are fairly plain inside but they are serene places to visit in the cool.
The cellars here can be cavernous. It makes shopping a delight because you’re in the cool brick interiors of these arched storage spaces.
Although the looming ochre buildings either side of the narrow streets mean there are lots of shade.
Every now and then you get a tantalising view of the view, and a lady resident beating a rug or hanging out her washing.
When you do find a viewing piazza, the view is breathtaking.
We keep making our way up. Looking for the famous ‘grande’ square and the highest church near the very top of the town. When you are near the top, the church is one way off the square, and the castle the other.
Finally we spot the Palazzo Comunale with the famous bell tower. This means we have reached the big and beautiful Piazza Grande, the focus of the town and where most tourists head to.
It was following Montepulciano’s alliance with Florence in 1511 that the town was given a facelift by its new Medici overlords. Evidence is most obvious in the square.
If you stop for a minute in the middle of the square you will see the lovely fountain to one side where you’ll find both a lion and griffon and emblems of the Medici family, the Duomo, the Palazzo Comunale, the Palazzo Tarugi and the Palazzo Contucci.
This was a nice spot to sit and have a coffee and ice-cream.
The piazza itself is as big as a football pitch. The surrounded by the solemn Renaissance palazzos, the crenellated Gothic town hall and the rough, unfinished brick façade of the Duomo. Beauty and beast rolled into one!
Along from the square is this large pale building I think is the castle. It gives one of the few green places within the town and the maze and vines growing in the garden make for a very cool spot to rest.
Head to the back of the garden. Here you will find exquisite views across neat vineyards and patchwork fields of corn and sunflowers to distant wooded hills.
Those vineyards produce Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both an elegant and in your face red wine to which the town’s name is linked. Wine has been made here since at least the eighth century and by the mid 16th century Montepulciano’s reputation was sealed, as Pope Paul III’s cellar master described it admiringly as “un vino da signori” (a wine for aristocrats).
I love the patched up walls of these ancient buildings.
Finally we reached the terrace outside the church of San Francesco, where the panoramic view stretches west. If you get lucky the wall will be clear and you can get your family group shot before being elbowed out the way! Note the church of San Biagio, which sits outside the walls in the background.
We followed a nun back down the hill only stopping to enjoy a pretty balcony here and there. The Tuscans don’t try to seduce you, the balconies are often full of dry plants and little else, but this one was lovely.
There were a few outside restaurant seats about but we had already made our mind to head back to La Vineria we had spotted earlier.
Inside this little wine bar was a family sized table by an open window that looked over rolling roof tiles. We ordered a platter of food to share leaving the details up the them. We were delighted by local cheeses, cured meats and vegetable titbits.
After a light lunch, copious bottles of water and of course a little La Nobile we explored the ancient shops selling cured meats and local cheeses.
Many of the shops are delightfully large inside with brick arches everywhere. They are fiercely proud of their produce and it is a joy to amble around sampling and buying.
The boys got a taste for the wine and fancied buying a few bottles for our home cooked meal back at the glorious Villa Montepulciano later. So they popped in a wine shop opposite.
It became quite difficult for them to choose so the girls waited patiently outside in the sun.
This town is wonderful. It is well worth visiting. Give it at least 1/2 a day.
We returned a few mornings later to buy some breakfast bread and pastries and entered through the other gate (there are two). This one takes you in through the neighbourhood area.
It gave us a different experience. The private side of the hill town of Montepulciano, where neighbours know neighbours and you are recognised as being from out of town, but are welcomed with warm smiles and a few yapping dogs.
We were there very early as we have been waking to watch the sunrise from our glorious Tuscan villa (Villa Montepulciano, Tuscany). But we did come across some Tuscan people, the poliziani, as the town’s citizens are known, who are compellingly courteous but reserved. I liked them.
Mainly the streets were very quiet this early in the morning.
It gives you hints of it’s tantalising history, leaving you wanting to understand more.
We found a shop open fairly easily and had fun ordering local delicacies. Oh, but unless you like their traditional salt-free bread make sure you ask for bread with salt. They will often store some out the back.
As the locals awoke and flung their windows open we were leaving with our bags full of local pastries for breakfast. If you get the chance to be anywhere near the hill town of Montepulciano I urge you to visit. It’s a wonderful town. Do it before everyone else catches on!