Montepulciano – A Hill Town in Tuscany that’s Famous for its Vino Nobile:
One of the pleasures of travelling in Tuscany is visiting its many charming medieval hill towns, Montepulciano being one of them. Set on a ridge of about 605 metres above sea level, Montepulciano is one of the of the highest Tuscan hill towns. The town is famous for its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano so if you love a good red wine, this is the town for you.
Although Montepulciano’s history dates back to the period of the Etruscans, its economic power and period of social importance took place between the 1300s and the end of the 16th century. Montepulciano sits at the crossroads between Siena to its west and Perugia to its east and Florence to the north and Orvieto to its south. Surrounded by these important cities, Montepulciano was able to take advantage of its strategic location by creating alliances where it found them beneficial. It grew rich and powerful from these alliances, but on the downside, it was also drawn into their battles. Montepulciano was a loyal ally of Florence but subsequently became its possession.
Under the Medicis, Montepulciano reached the height of its splendour. Famous Florentine architects were brought in to build palazzi, luxurious residences and other structures and the old buildings were refurbished, giving Montepulciano a Renaissance facelift. However, Montepulciano’s glorious times did not last. When Florence conquered Siena in 1559, Montepulciano lost its strategic role and the city’s importance dwindled.
From our base in Chianciano Terme, we made a late afternoon visit to Montepulciano. This town does not have a stunning Duomo like Siena or the magnificent towers of San Gimignano, but much of what we see in this town today are the original structures, built in the 14th – 16th centuries. In the Piazza Grande are many of the city’s main attractions:
- The Pozzo dei Grifi e dei Leoni, the well in front of the Duomo is a tell-tale sign of the influence of Florence. On the well is the Medici coat of arms is held up by lions (a symbol of Florence), and flanked by griffins representing Montepulciano.
- The Palazzo Comunale (town hall), another reminder of Florence, was fashioned after the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria in Florence. You can climb the tower of the town hall and on a clear day, it is possible to see as far as Perugia, Siena and all over Tuscany.
- Opposite the Palazzo Comunale is the Duomo – The external architecture of the Duomo is rather plain but towering over the main altar is a triptych of the Assumption of the Virgin, painted by Taddeo di Bartolo.
- Palazzo Tarugi is entirely in travertine. Its portico was once open to the public.
Other Sights of Montepulciano
From the terrace outside the Chiesa San Francesco (in Piazza San Francesco) you can get panoramic views of the vineyards that produce the Vino Nobile. To the west of town, off the road to Pienza, is another of Montepulciano’s important monuments – the Tempio di San Biagio. This high Renaissance church is another of Antonio da Sangallo the Edler’s architecture – the exterior of the sanctuary and its two towers are built in white travertine.
What Montepulciano lacks in stunning monuments it more than makes up for by its famous wines. In and around the Piazza Grande there are many cellars where you can taste some of the famous Montepulciano wines. The Cantina Contucci is one of these wine-tasting places and you can freely roam around the cellar and see where the Vino Nobile and Rosso di Montepulciano are aged in barrels.
There are several very small family-run hotels in the historic centre with just four or five rooms. The Locanda di San Francesco and Palazzo Carletti are two such small hotels. Locanda di San Francisco, on Piazza San Francesco, has four individually decorated rooms with excellent views overlooking the Val D’Orcia and Valdichiana valleys. The family also owns the Valdipiatta winery. For the complete list of Montepulciano hotels, see Here.
By train – There is no train station in Montepulciano. What is shown as “Montepulciano Stazione” is about seven miles out of town. If travelling by train, it is better to take the train to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme on the Rome-Florence line (www.trenitalia.com) and then catch the LFI bus (www.lfi.it).