An apartment in Montalcino, or a detached farmhouse for sale in the countryside of southern Tuscany make perfect holiday homes where you can enjoy the best wine Italy has to offer. Montalcino is at the heart of Italy's wine growing, and Brunello di Montalcino is arguably the finest of all Italian wines. Montalcino is located south of Siena and to the west of Perugia, Umbria. The medieval walled town is surrounded by olive groves and vineyards in the most sumptuous of settings. Pisa and Rome airports are best for Montalcino.
The road leading up to Montalcino (named after the Holm oaks that used to cover the hill it stands on) winds through the vineyards and open fields of the producers of one of Italy's most exquisite (and expensive) wines, the pre-eminent Brunello di Montalcino. In mid-September made from the deep purple Sangiovese Grosso grapes, almost ready to harvest, hang heavy on the vines. The rolling hills of southern Tuscany spread before you and the light is, just as so many writers have described it - golden and warming, bathing everything in its glow. As you round each turn you can see in the distance the fortezza standing tall on the southern edge of the town.
The local economy is prevalently agricultural and, in that context, the vine occupies only a small share of the total land surface: 50% is covered by wood and uncultivated land; 10% is planted in olive-grove, 8% is cultivated by vines of which more than a half are recorded in the list of the wine Brunello di Montalcino, the remainder is sown in grain, pastures and other cultivation. The hills of Montalcino, having been formed in different geological eras, present extremely variable soil characteristics, whether in constitution or structure.
The strip of the hill of moderate altitude, where the greater part of the wine making estates are situated, is not affected by fog, ice or late frost as are the surrounding valleys, while the normal, persistent winds ensure the best conditions for the health of the plants.
The fundamentally mild climate and the large number of days of serene weather during the entire vegetative cycle assure the gradual and complete ripening of the grape clusters. The most widely used form of training of the vines at Montalcino is the cordone speronato, which involves short pruning (to two buds) of the variable number at the crown of the rootstock. The other form in use for Brunello di Montalcino, involves a single vine shoot, pruned to 6 to 10 buds, which alone is responsible for the vine's vegetation.
Montalcino is located 40 kilometers to the south of Siena. A town of 5,150 inhabitants built on a hill dominating the Ombrone and Asso Valleys. Its surface area of 243 km2 makes it one of the most extensive municipalities in central Italy. Montalcino is a member of the association "Borghi più belli d'Italia" (Most beautiful villages in Italy) and has been awarded the "Paesi Bandiera Arancione" (Orange Banner) seal of approval. The area is connected with the Slow Food movement and has a goal of sustainable tourism based on local traditions, culture and produce. The town is surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of gentle landscape and rolling hills, golden fields, olive groves and vineyards. To the north, within easy day tripping distance, lies the ancient city of Siena. Southern Siena is a tranquil land dotted with ancient churches and little villages, and is within reasonable driving distance of the vast nature reserves of Grosseto and the Maremma to the west, and the bird life and water sports of Lake Trasimeno (Umbria) to the east.
Occupied by the Etruscans and the Romans, in 1260 Montalcino fell into the hands of the rulers of Siena. Its fortress, a beautiful example of 14th century military architecture, was the refuge for the government members of the Republic of Siena when the town was taken by Charles Quint in 1555. The historic center of Montalcino reveals its rich and tumultuous past. Sant'Atimo Abbey, built in the 12th century on the ruins of a church which is said to have been founded by Charlemagne in the 8th century, lies in an area of hillside planted with vines and cypress trees. Its Romanesque church is one of the most beautiful in Tuscany.
A Tour of Montalcino
Start your tour at the fortezza. Climb to the top of the tower and take in the fabulous view over the town and the valley. Then go downstairs and enjoy a tasting of Brunello.
Proceed from the fortezza to Piazza Garibaldi, just down the hill, where you'll find the Tourist Information Center and a map of the village. Be sure to look at the ceramic tiles along the outside wall of the Tourist Information Center. The tiles are commissioned to artists each year to commemorate the rating of Brunello every February.
Visit the Diocesan and Civic Museum. Although small, the museum has a number of excellent works including paintings from the Sienese School, wood statues, and an illuminated Bible and a crucifix from the 12th century. Last year, the museum was displaying a wonderful collection of contemporary statues.
Climb the hill to the church of Madonna del Soccorso and step inside the doors. Turn around and look up at the stained glass windows above the doors. The windows depict the end of the Siege of 1553 when it is said that the Madonna appeared at the top of the walls and the horse of the Commander of the Spanish troops kneeled in homage to the Virgin. You'll also see stained glass portrayals of the flags of the four quartieri (neighborhoods) of the village.
As you leave the church, walk to your left to the wall overlooking the valley. Perhaps you can see Siena from there, but certainly you will have such a breath-taking view that you may find it hard to leave.
Continue down the hill to enjoy the beautiful little garden in Piazza Cavour at the bottom of the hill. Begin the stroll up Via Mazzini to Piazza del Popolo, but take the long way by descending one of the stepped streets either to the left (down) or right (up) and walking a parallel street for a way. This way you can enjoy the homes, gardens and orchards of the townspeople.
When you arrive back at Piazza del Popolo, have a second glass of wine at the Caffe Fiaschetteria and contemplate the meaning of life in a medieval hilltop village today.
Towns around Montalcino
Pienza, San Quirico d'Orcia, Montepulciano, Chianciano Terme are located fairly centrally in Tuscany and each is an easy day trip from Cortona, Florence, Siena, or most parts of the province. There are outstanding views from the winding roads and many castelli and cantines which allow "drop-in" tasting and sell the wines and olive oil produced on their estates.
Originally named Corsignano, Pienza was slated in Renaissance times by Pope Pius II (born here in 1405) to become a model town. However, his designs were never realized beyond a few buildings around the main piazza within the walls. Primary buildings are the Duomo (constructed by Rossellino in 1459), Palazzo Piccolomini (Enea Piccolomini was the birth name of Pope Pius II), and the Pieve di Corsignano (11th century church in which Pope Pius II was baptized). Nevertheless, Pienza is a small and charming town in the lovely Tuscan countryside. Also worth seeing is nearby (5 km from Pienza; just off the road towards Trequanda) Sant'Anna in Camprena which was the location used as the set for the film "The English Patient" ; and (7.5 km from Pienza) the church of San Quirico d’Orcia which is on the way to Montalcino.
Montepulciano is located on a ridge which is about 600 m high. It is surrounded by walls which were erected on the orders of Cosimo I. The church of Madonna di San Biagio, started in the early 1500s the masterpiece of Antonio di Sangallo, stands outside the walls.
The connection between Montepulciano and wine production has been documented as far back as 790AD; with numerous personages through the centuries lauding it as "exquisite" and "the king of Wines." The principal wines produced are Rosso di Montepulciano (80% Sangiovese - aka Prugnolo gentile - & 20% cannaiolo nero) and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (80% Sangiovese, 15% Cannaiolo nero, & 5% Mammolo). Vino Nobile di Montepulciano first received the DOC designation on July 12, 1966 and the DOCG designation in July 1, 1980. Montepulciano also produces white wines (typically 50% Malvasia & 50% Trebbiano), Chianti Colli Senesi, and Vin Santo.
Please see our Guide to the Wines of Montalcino
Monticchielo, not far off the main road between Montepulciano and Pienza, is best known for its plays titled "Teatro Povero", which are presented in July and August.
Please see our Guide to Southern Tuscany
The climate is typically Mediterranean with precipitation concentrated in the months of May, October and November (700 millimeters annually on the average). In winter, snow is not rare above an altitude of 400 meters. Monte Amiata (1,700 meters in height ) not far to the southeast, represents a natural barrier that protects Montalcino from most climatic adversities such as sudden downpours and hail-storms.
Getting to Montalcino
Milano (405 km) take the A1 motorway the direction of Rome, exit at Firenze Certosa and take the Firenze – Siena highway. Exit at Siena Sud (Porta Tufi) and take the SS2 (Cassia) in the direction of Rome. Pass Monteroni d'Arbia; after Buonconvento turn right onto the SP45 for Montalcino
From Rome (219 km) take the SS2 (Cassia) direction of Siena,
The closest trains station is at Buonconvento. From here there is a bus to Montalcino (10 Km)
Bus from Siena (38 km).
Milano - Firenze - Chiusi – Roma
Roma - Chiusi - Siena
Firenze - Empoli - Siena
Pisa - Empoli - Siena
Orbetello - Grosseto - Buonconvento - Siena
Arezzo - Sinalunga - Siena
Perugia - Terontola - Chiusi - Siena
Campiglia - Follonica - Montepescali - Siena
Florence 110 KM
Rome 175 km
Pisa 200 KM
Bologna Forli 22o km
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