Friday, November 20, 2015

Montepulciano - A Tuscan Hill Town

Part of what being in a hill town means
is that you must walk up and down stairs like this.
Sorry that this one is out of order. It took us a while to get all the pieces together.

Our host in Florence arranged for a taxi to take us to the car rental agency near the airport.  It was a much longer drive than the one we had from the train station when we arrived but was 10 E less.  Getting our rental car was easy; getting all of the luggage in was a bit of a challenge.  Patti and I had a wall of 3 suitcase/backpacks between us. Fortunately, it was only about a 90 minute drive and mostly on highway.
Towns built upon the cliffs
At the top of town a path leading to the fort
We had made arrangements to meet our host Luca at the church in the lower part of town.  He guided us to the apartment.  He told us to pay attention.  Well even with four us paying attention, I don’t know that we could find our way again with some help from Google maps.  We wound around the hills up into the old part of town.  Many streets are one way and others are open to locals only. 
We arrived at the apartment and were happy that there were only 20 stairs up to the door.  The apartment was spacious with kitchen, dining and sitting area combined.  Two bedrooms and two bathrooms made for a comfortable stay.

Piazza Grande with the Duomo in the background
A Commedia del-Arte figure strikes the town bell
We unpacked and then went out to explore.  This is where we came upon the brass shop and Cesare, which you can read about on the blog.  We went up to the Plaza Grande where the city hall and Duomo are located.   The plaza was covered in mud and straw, the aftermath of the filming of a TV series called Medici:  Masters of Florence.  A cart used as a prop was in the middle of the square.  Cleaning efforts were underway but the evidence remained for the entire two weeks we were there.

Street scenes in Montepulciano

We went back up the Plaza for dinner at Al Quattro Venti.  We enjoyed it so much, we went back several more times during our stay. Steve and Patti shared an outstanding Florentine T-bone steak from one of the famous Tuscan Chianina cows. We ate that again, too. When brother Kent and his wife Jina came to spend five days with us, that was our choice for dinner with them, too.
Food at the market
Ancient plaques on the wall

The next day was market day so we headed down to see what it was like.  Unfortunately, while exploring an old small church, I missed a step and twisted my ankle.  So back to the apartment for me for ice and rest.  David, Patti and Steve went to the market and told me all about it and brought home dinner!

View from the tower
 The next day we did the Rick Steves’ driving tour around the area.  If you are in the area and have a car, we highly recommend taking this tour.   If you missed it, there is a page describing the tour.
The next three days we spent exploring Montepulciano, including following Rick Steves’ walking tour.    We had some great dinners and enjoyed shopping on Courso.  Of course, we visited Caesar’s shop and made some purchases to be shipped home.  Steve and Patti decided to climb the bell tower at the Palazzo Comunale.  I declined due to the number of stairs and David decided to wait for a nicer day since we had the time. 
The door to a Salumeri - where one buys proscuitto
Harvesting olives. Olive trees are wherever they might fit.

Patti and Steve were with us for 5 nights.  We took them to the train station in Chuisi and saw them off to Rome.  Kent and Jina were due to arrive later in the afternoon, so we went in search of a Vodaphone shop to get another two months of service on our phones.  We got back to Chuisi and wandered around.  There isn’t much to see.  As Rick Steves says, it is a place to get off one train and get on another.  We had time to get a bite to eat before the train was due. We later learned that the town does have an excellent Etruscan museum, but we missed that opportunity.
Down into the caves

Kent and Jina were with us for five days.  We repeated the Rick Steves’ drive, took them to Caesar’s shop, went to the Thursday market and did a day trip to Siena.  When walking around town, we found De’ Ricci winery with cave tour.  At the end we had a great tasting.  Something the hostess said turned the light on in my head about how to pronounce things in Italian.  She said Italians pronounce every vowel!  Kent and Jina bought a case to ship home.   We thought we would but later found one we liked better.   We ended up purchasing a bottle of their Super Tuscan to add to our shipment.
We found two more places to taste wine.  The first tasting was at Poliziano in the Plaza Grande.  We were welcomed and offered tastes of one white and four reds.  All were great.  We decided to have a case shipped home mainly because they would allow up to six bottles from other wineries be included in the box. 

Wine tasting in the cellar. Paperwork for shipping wine home.
We had a white wine from Crociani at one of the restaurants so we sought out their tasting room.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  I started back to the apartment while David went on to explore uphill.  He called just as I was making to turn to go up the apartment and said it was now open, so back I went.  Not disappointed.  Really thought long and hard about having a case shipped home, but settled to have three bottles of their white added to our Poliziano case. 

Glass designed to stop the evaporation of the wine. Invented here.

A barrel cemented into the cave
More barrels and an old wine press

An old well or cistern in one of the wine caves
Montepulciano turned out to be a great place to spend two weeks. It is close enough to several other places that it makes a good hub and it has a lot to offer on its own. Montepulciano is one of the three great wine types of Tuscany along with Chianti and Montelcino’s Brunello. Each is made with Sangiovese grapes, but the different terroir gives them a different taste. Just wandering the streets and enjoying the magnificent countryside views makes this a great town for visiting. Add to that the many shops, the great wineries where one can visit the caves that are still in use for aging wines and people like Cesare and the mosaic artist whose shop we passed every day and Montepulciano is hard to beat.

The neighborhoods have this race every year.
The barrels are rolled up the hills of town to Piazza Grande.
The race route is over 1 kilometer. 

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