#Montepulciano; Where the wine flows freely and the morning mist is broken with a medieval smile.
A fellow travel writer once stated “Montepulciano is the Florence of the South” and I couldn’t agree more. And even though I haven’t been to Florence (yet) I could imagine it to be so. – GIROSOLE Italy Walking Tours
( Read about our journey to Montepulciano…)
Not far from the spa town of Chianciano is another town known to rival the splendour of Florence. It’s a place where one can savour the finest wines in all of Italy and for the discerning palate the cinghiale – wild boar – is to die for. It reads like a treasure map and was riveting to say the least. And was in part what inspired my colleague and I to pursue such an endeavour of self indulgence as we explored the medieval town of Montepulciano.
But before we could dive head first into the fray we had to at the very least take the family into consideration. Understandably they wanted to do all the tourist stops but sadly for them we were having none of it. Our mission was clear and our purpose true. Acquire as much wine and wild boar as humanly possible while doing a bit of sightseeing along the way. It was to say perfect, nay the perfect murder if you will and was for Danilo Jr and I, an opportunity one waits years to exploit. And although his previous experience in this regard – he had been to Montepulciano once before – did much to fuel my novice ambitions. It had also managed to throw us in an alliance not unlike the brotherhood displayed by the popular icons: Asterix and Obelix.
However, and unlike our fictional counterparts we were not going to set up camp in the middle of the countryside. No, Desi – the matriarch – would never stand for such frivolities and instead booked us into what is locally called an Agri – turismo. Or in plain English a restored villa right in the heart of the countryside. It turned out to be the perfect dwelling for our rowdy bunch, double storied and spacious and even boasted its own vineyards and olive groves. I can’t speak for anyone else but for even the most inspired of artists it definitely lent itself to being more than just a muse.
Now settled the short drive to the town’s main gate the Porto al Prato, an imposing walled archway complete with a wooden gate and watchtowers atop ramparts, we were finally on the beat as we hit the main street, the Via Gracciano nel Corso. It’s an incredible stretch of walkway if ever there was one and was lined on each side with just about every business scheme you could think of, all neatly packaged in medieval flair. This ultimately prompted Danilo Jr and I to scour every stall and shop with a fine tooth comb in search of our just deserves. While Danilo Sr, who by all accounts did what he came here to do, which is to graze the menus for food (it never stops and is an exercise in futility in trying to keep up with him). But unhindered Danilo Jr continued the search as I tried in vain to engage a few shop owners who obviously spoke no English, no kudos’s to me.
While doing so, Danilo Jr, let out what some may consider a squeal but was to my ears the sweet cry of victory. For what he had found had to be the Mecca of wild boar meat. Unfortunately the establishments name escapes me but the treasure found within more than made up for my indiscretion. The place abounded with everything boar. From salami to preserves and cheeses infused with the poor buggers, you name it they made it. I started to lovingly call it the wild boar palace as we hungrily threw our Euro’s out like it was confetti at a wedding. The free tasters of just about everything on offer ultimately saw us being forced out by our entourage and into the bowels of said establishment.
Only to discover that it was in fact built on the ruins on an ancient Etruscan village. Not just the store but the whole town. And upon venturing into the dimly lit tombs were treated to a spectacle of early brickwork, paintings and interesting looking burial urns built into the walls, to name just a few. All of which was further built on top of underwater rivers accessed by many wells and thus served as window into an earlier way of life.
Subsequently these recesses were now home to a wine cellar and as luck would have it were exactly the next item on our check list of indulgences. And not ones to waste time (and for a small fee) were soon sampling what can only be described as heavenly. But to the locals is called Vino Nobile and is considered one of the best wine variants in all of Italy and is incredibly an indigenous vine to Montepulciano. Which means it’s in ample supply and is sold on just about every street corner of the city, and to top it off is very well priced. Needles to say, and for the next day and half you would be hard pressed not to spot the pair of us drinking it liberally at every café, bar restaurant and agri – turismo we came across.
But before we could retire like two uncultured barbarians who had just successfully raided the Tuscan countryside we had to of course allow for papa patriarch to finish grazing the menus for a fine establishment for us to have dinner at. So continuing on the Via Corso, which interestingly enough spirals all the way to the top of the city to the Piazza Grande; where typically the main sights of most medieval villages resides; was where we encountered the most imposing yet seemingly unimpressive façade of the Santa Maria Assunta, or the Duomo of Montepulciano (Cathedral). Built between 1594 and 1680 and home to the masterpiece the Assumption of the Virgin triptych; it was to say the beginning of my love affair with all of Italy’s cathedrals.
Finally though, Danilo Sr had found us a restaurant whose menu he was satisfied with called La Briciola. It’s was a fine dining looking establishment but then again, in Italy they all do. Seated Danilo Jr and I opted for any dish with wild boar in it while papa after numerous starters settled on the steak fiorentina. A word of advice before we continue, please if you order the steak fiorentina, whatever you do, put cheese on it, it seems to drive the locals crazy and Italians are everything and traditional.
The evening saw the parents head home early while the rest of us stuck around to do some tipsy sightseeing. Subsequently it didn’t last long, due to winter hours and not long afterwards saw us negotiating the countryside as we strolled or rather stumbled through numerous vineyards and olive groves en route to our lodgings. Only to be rewarded with a motorbike’s discarded number plate, an Italian memento if you will, due to it almost killing me after I had tripped over it and rolled splendidly down the an embankment on the side of the highway.
And as I lay there in the ditch, with a bottle of wine poking me in the back, salami of wild boar lost to the brush and a head full of medieval nostalgia. It then struck me, as Danilo Jr helped me to my feet, for even though we didn’t get the chance to fight off Roman legionnaires like our Gaullist counterparts at least we had been on an adventure of culinary and cultural discovery. And just like the two fictional characters, other than lining our pockets and our stomachs we did come to appreciate the fact that there’s a lot more to Montepulciano.
Highlights of Montepulciano:
- Hilltop town surrounded by endless rows of vineyards, olive groves and fir trees.
- The medieval town is in fact built on ruins many earlier inhabitants to the area, namely the Etruscans and the Romans. It’s all there right under your feet. Look out for signs posted outside of some shops that have walkthroughs to these catacombs, tombs and museums where you can explore to your heart’s content.
- Don’t miss the main sites on the Piazza Grande, namely the Duomo of Montepulciano with the incomplete facade. And even though it’s not so much to look at, it’s what’s on the inside where the magic happens. And not forgetting the Palazzo Comunale styled on the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, is just superb.
- Be sure to take a stroll or drive down to the Madonna di San Biagio, a goliath of a cathedral built on the road to Chianciano.
- Feel like gazing out to the horizon, then why not climb up the City Hall tower where on a clear day you could see the city of Siena and the Umbria Mountains.
- The main Road, which leads up to the Montepulciano, has a plaque commemorating the liberation of the area from Nazi occupation by allied forces during WW2. It has the added distinction of mentioning that it was achieved by South African troops. I wonder if Grandpa was there.
- Tourist figures for Tuscany: 47 Million.
- The Agri-turismo we rented was called : La Frateria di San Benedetto and is situated on the Via Strada per Chianciano, leading up to the town of Montepulciano.
- An added bonus to our agri – turismo was that the current owners’ family has had the villa for a few generations and has their finger in more than one pie, owning a store and vineyards. Where upon inquiry produced their own preserves, cheeses, and obviously wine. And to top it off awarded us with some very fine wine and preserves for choosing them, win, win.
- Walk whenever you can, even to your lodgings, the country air will do you good and everything in the surrounding area is literally in walking distance.
- All sorts of stores line the many alleyways and side streets in the medieval town, be sure to stray a lot as to find many of the gems hidden down of the beaten track.
- Most small business within the walled city are fascinatingly enough still owned by a sole owner, who for what it’s worth has been handed down the business for a good many generations. It was a theme we encountered all throughout Italy.
- Vino Nobile – a varietal of the Sangiovese vine, is very affordable and is available all throughout Tuscany, so don’t forget to stock up before you head back or to the big cities, where it’s a a lot more expensive and the variety lacking.
- This goes for the Wild Boar meat as well, be sure to stock up.
Our adventure continues through Tuscany with stops in the towns of Pienza, San ‘d’ Ouri Coco and Siena.
This part of our trip took place from the 18th/19th – 20th of December 2013
By Slippery Joe Lyzard © (Writer for Nomadic Existence)
Photography: Nomadic Bug ©
Nomadic Existence 2015 ©
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