Where the sunrise lifts swirling rounds of swallows skyward over ancient terra-cotta to announce the day; where cobbled streets host the daily walk of shopkeepers, artisans, and townsfolk as they have for over 1,500 years; where ancient church towers sing bell songs to declare the gifts of life and time; where lush vineyards stitch and lace together green hillsides that cradle the protective city walls; where Piazza Grande serves as the heartbeat of rule, celebration, and her people; where soft rays of sundown caress the proud dome of the Church of San Biagio marking the close of another day:
This is Montepulciano – the medieval Tuscan hilltop gem of a town that stole my heart some 5 years ago when I made her my home for a week.
There’s no argument that the more well-known hill towns of Tuscany hold high rank in hedonistic, as well as intrinsic, rewards. But for the traveler seeking a more authentic experience -- the ability to become intimately acquainted with the lifeblood of a town in short order and the opportunity to savor the delights of food, wine, art, history, and local interaction in bite-size pieces -- Montepulciano is a custom-fit.
Situated in the southeast corner of Tuscany less than an hour’s drive from Siena, Montepulciano crowns a hilltop that dominates the lush valleys of Val d’Orcia -- a celebrity for its summer sunflowers, hearty wheat, and prized vineyards -- and Val di Chiana -- motherland to fine olive oil, Chianina beef, and thermal spas. No wonder Siena and Florence were constantly bickering over this little town. The panoramic views alone would be worth a skirmish or two.
Although Montepulciano can’t claim the title of “undiscovered”, especially after being featured in a portion of the Twilight series “New Moon” film, her charms retain their fresh appeal and easy access. Unlike the nearby smaller neighbors of beautiful San Gimignano with her ethereal towers, or Cortona and her over-night fame after the success of Frances May’s Under the Tuscan Sun, Montepulciano is just large enough (pop. 14,000) to gracefully accommodate the accolades of new-found popularity, yet not suffer the effects of excess tourism.
A piece of Tuscan heaven is found when an evening’s passeggiata can circumnavigate the ancient walls; when shopkeepers smile in recognition after only a repeated visit or two; when a full meal of fresh, local Tuscan fare satiates the belly, and maybe more importantly, the soul; when silent building walls wearing time’s story seem to lovingly guide every step; when a sunset inspires to a state of speechless awe; when a gentle breeze carried across the hillside whispers to my heart… welcome, my friend: