In Tuscany it feels like all the towns and villages are on display on a hill, but one town is on a hill a little higher than all the others. In the middle of the beautiful Val d'Orcia (Valley of Orcia), among exuberant vineyards and cypresses stretching towards the blue sky lies Montepulciano. The small town on the green kullen. It almost sounds like a description worthy of a historical novel. Because Montepulciano is not only the highest located town in Tuscany, but also one of Italy's foremost wine towns.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, "the noble wine of Montepulciano", it is wine that flows in the veins of the stony alleys. Definitely not as well known as its Tuscan sister wines Chianti or Brunello, but a favorite of many wine connoisseurs. For God's sake, don't confuse Vino Nobile with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines – it's wine made from the Montepuliciano grape from the d'Abruzzo region. Many wines in Italy are made from the Montepulicano grape, but the grape does not have to be grown in the town of Montepulciano. Here, in the vineyards below the city, the Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo grapes are grown instead. The grapes used in Vino Nobile.
Vino Nobile is produced under strict conditions. Among other things, the wine must be entirely produced in the area around Montepulciano, it must consist of at least 70% Sangiovese grapes and the wine must be stored for at least 2 years before it can be sold. What will be the result? A dark red and full-bodied wine, with notes of pickled cherries, blackberries and plums, which can be enjoyed at one of the many wine bars in the city. In addition, many of the wine bars have popular terraces overlooking the fertile hills of Tuscany. And I think we can all agree that there are more difficult times in life than a glass of Vino Nobile with one of the world's most beautiful landscapes at your feet.
The history of Montepulciano
That Montepulciano is located on a 605 meter high hill, you can feel it in your calves. Walking up the streets of Montepulciano is like walking on a slow step machine. It feels like wherever you go, it's uphill. The cobbled streets are lined with Renaissance palaces, small squares and old stone churches. Sometimes the valley below peeks out curiously through the city walls, showing a green patchwork of vineyards and sand-colored farms with mighty avenues. In the shadows you will find the many wine cellars. Because in the city's hills, there are many wine cellars hidden under restaurants, squares or why not stairs.
According to legend, Montepulciano was founded in the 500th century AD by people fleeing from Chiusi. But it would turn out that it wasn't just the people from Chiusi who liked the city's location between two valleys. The city was for several hundred years a trophy in the war between Florence and Siena, before the city became Florentine and the wars calmed down in the 16th century. During the city's heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries, most of the city's beautiful palaces, churches and even the city's fort were built. Even today you can see the symbols of Florence on the city's old buildings. When you see a heraldic lily (lily) or a lion with a shield (marzocco) on a building and you are most likely looking back more than 500 years in history.
On our way up towards the city centre, Piazza Grande, a minibus passes us at full speed. It turns out to be the local bus. The alley is so narrow that we need to jump into a gate to avoid being hit. Driving a bus in Montepulciano is undoubtedly an achievement. A horse and carriage is not much narrower than a minibus, so it must have been just as crowded in Medici's time. Minus all the tourists loitering on the streets, of course. Every year at the end of August, a glorified "roll-big-wine-barrel-up-the-hills-fastest" competition is held, so both the tourists and the local bus probably need to stay out of the way.
We settle down at an outdoor restaurant in the middle of Piazza Grande and each order their own gelato. Pistachios. Perhaps more of a taste associated with Sicily, but nevertheless good. Around us is the cathedral (cathedral), Town Hall ("municipal house"), and the privately owned Palazzo Tarugi and Palazzo Contucci. The buildings may be old, but they are fully alive. For example, the Contucci family still lives in Palazzo Contucci during the winter months, as they have done since the 17th century.
Vineyards and cypresses
Next to Piazza Grande is one of the city's best vantage points over the landscape. From here you look out over mile after mile of vineyards, cypress alleys and whitewashed farms.
A bit further down on kullen is the pilgrim church San Biagio. If your knees can handle a little more hill training, it's worth taking a detour to the church as a last stop in town. The church was built in the early 16th century by the town's son da Sangallo the Elder, a church whose architecture and perfect angles still impress the architects of the world. But I feel more like Ferdinand today. It is good enough for me to just take it easy and sit here on the wall and enjoy the view.
How do I get to Montepulciano?
Montepulciano is 7 miles southeast of Siena or 18 miles north of Rome.
It can be tricky to get to Montepulciano by other means than by car. There is a train station a little outside the city (called Montepulciano Station), from here you can get to Siena and Chiusi (and on to Rome).
Montepulciano is a "car-free" city, but there are plenty of parking spaces outside the city walls. It is possible to get a permit to drive in the city if you stay in a hotel in the center, but I don't know if I would recommend driving in the narrow streets. It might be a bit embarrassing if the rental car happened to get stuck between two house walls in a dead-end alley... Bring coins to the parking lot (we only saw coin machines) and set the parking brake.
Map (opens in Google maps)
Do you want to read more from Tuscany?
Traveling should be exciting, inspiring and provide lifelong memories, but if your…September 15
I am in a classic Italian Renaissance painting. Val d'Orcia is the world heritage site where Tuscany's…14 October 2019
The alabaster city of Volterra became our unplanned Tuscan gem, with both a Roman amphitheater and a fairytale…January 2