MONTEPULCIANO | TUSCANY
Montepulciano sits between Val D’Orcia and Val di Chiana. Built along the narrow top of a limestone hill, this beautiful medieval village seems to be the natural continuation of the landscape on which it was built. Coming from the striking but more touristy city of Pienza, just eleven kilometers away, the landscape that you encounter just before reaching the village is the perfect reflection of classical Tuscany. Immediately below town’s castle walls and fortifications, you can admire the beautiful church of the Madonna di San Biagio. This sixteenth century treasure stands out in the distance welcoming anyone who chooses to spend a day strolling the streets of the village. Don’t miss a luxurious bath in the hot sulphurous waters of the nearby thermal springs. Leave your car in one of several parking lots located outside of the town’s walls and you’ll be able to visit the elegant, ancient town on foot.
Montepulciano welcomes visitors with vino and views. Alternately under Sienese and Florentine rule, the city still retains its medieval contrade districts, each with a mascot and flag. The neighborhoods compete the last Sunday of August in the Bravio delle Botti , where teams of men push large wine casks uphill from Piazza Marzocco to Piazza Grande, all hoping to win a banner and bragging rights.
The city is a collage of architectural styles, but the elegant San Biagio Church, at the base of the hill, is the most impressive Renaissance building. Most ignore the architecture and focus more on the city's other creative accomplishment, the tasty Vino Nobile di Montepulciano red wine.
WHAT TO SEE
The pleasant, lively Piazza Grande is surrounded by an architectural grab bag. The medieval Palazzo Comunale has a Florentine-style clock tower that you can climb for a windy, panoramic view (€1.50, daily 10:00-18:00). The Palazzo de' Nobili-Tarugi is a Renaissance arcaded confection, while the unfinished Duomo glumly looks on, wishing the city hadn't run out of money for the facade. Dream up a way to finish it while you enjoy a cappuccino at the café on the square. Small and eclectic, the well-presented Civic Museum is worthwhile if only for its colorful della Robbia ceramic altarpieces (€4, Tue-Sat 10:00-13:00 & 15:00-18:00, Sun 10:00-18:00, closed Mon, Via Ricci 10, tel. 0578-717-300).
Down a picturesque driveway lined with cypress, the San Biagio Church, designed by Antonio da Sangallo, is a great example of Renaissance, with proportions of the Greek cross plan give the building a pleasing rhythmic quality. The lone tower was supposed to have a twin, but it was never built. The interior is impressive, with a high dome and lantern (daily 9:00-13:00 & 15:00-19:00). The street Via di San Biagio, leading from the church up into town, is an enjoyable walk.