Heartland for classic reds from Sangiovese
By Michèle Shah
This Guide was last updated on 28 April 2011
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The hill town of Montalcino dates back to the Etruscan times. In the Middle Ages it was associated to the nearby Abbey of San’Antimo (well worth a visit). Today it is one of the most important wine towns gaining importance revived by international tourism thanks to its famed Brunello wines. It sits perched on a hilltop dominating the valley descending though a sea of olive trees and vineyards. Inside the walled area of the medieval castle there is a wine bar with a good selection of Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino wines. You can also stop here for a snack. During summer the castle hosts an annual jazz festival sponsored by Banfi winery, where you can spend a very enjoyable evening with a good glass of wine and live music. Apart from visits to the castle and some of the churches, the most enjoyable aspect of Montalcino is to walk through the town and just soak in the atmosphere of the cafés, enoteca wine shops and trattorias.
Montepulciano is perched on a hill and the entire town slopes at a steep gradient culminating in the magnificent Piazza Grande which houses the Communal Palace and the main cathedral. The town is rich in history and offers many interesting medieval and Renaissance churches, and buildings to explore along with narrow side streets and alleyways that take you to magnificent viewpoints of the surrounding countryside. There are plenty of delicatessen shops and enoteca wine shops to explore as well as a good choice of trattorias serving local fare.
Walking down the narrow winding streets of Cortona, home to Under the Tuscan Sun, the first thing to enjoy is a good glass of wine at Café La Saletta. It is centrally located off the main street, Via Nazionale, and is the best place to absorb the local colour and atmosphere. From the town’s beautiful historical palaces, churches and piazzas you can admire a view of the whole of the Val di Chiana. Cortona’s chief artistic treasures are two panels by Fra Angelico, Annunciation and Madonna and Child with Saints, in the Diocesan Museum. It is also worth visiting Palazzo Casali , which houses the Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca. This displays items from the Etruscan, Roman and Egyptian civilisations, as well as art and artefacts from the medieval and Renaissance eras.
Between Montalcino and Montepulciano, in the centre of the scenic Val d'Orcia, lies the medieval papal town of Pienza. The town was completely redesigned in 1458 by Pope Pius II, who transformed it into a model of ‘ideal living’. Often described as the ‘ideal city’ or the Utopian city, it represents one of the best planned of Renaissance towns. Do not miss the Duomo, the papal palace and town hall. You could also plan a half-day visit to the open-air thermal baths of Bagno Vignoni (www.bagnovignoni.it), 5km from San Quirico d'Orcia.
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