Montepulciano, perched high on a hill which forms the watershed between the Chiana river valley and the Orcia river valley, is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities of Tuscany.
Surrounded by the imposing circle of defensive walls planned and designed by the architect Sangallo, still furnished with the old gates, the apertures in the walls, which, from the Middle Ages to this day, give access to the historic center of the city, this “Pearl of the Renaissance”, as the city is named, discloses, almost with a certain shyness, its artistic and cultural treasures.
The majestic palaces follow one another in orderly rows on the Corso, the city’s main street, which rises from the “Porta di Gracciano” - the Gracciano Gate - to the Etruscan-Roman citadel which now houses the Medici Castle.
The rhythmical order of the palaces is interrupted and relieved by picturesque openings which offer, almost as a backdrop, the white walls of the Saint Augustine church and its splendid lunette designed by the architect Michelozzo. On the opposite side of the Corso are the mysterious Torre di Pulcinella, the Pulcinella Tower, the gothic vaults of the old covered market in Piazza delle Erbe, and the imposing bulk of the former Jesuit convent, given a more gracious aspect by the baroque architecture of the church designed by Andrea Pozzo. And, climbing, ever climbing, the incredible sight offered by the monumental Piazza Grande - dominated by the massive Palazzo dei Priori and, the façade of the cathedral, and, on the other three sides of the piazza, the palaces which feature the architecture of Perruzzi, Sangallo and Vignola – comes into view.
A final effort to ascend to the highest possible point in the city, the stairway which leads to the top of the Pulcinella Tower, is rewarded with a breathtaking panorama: to the east and the south, the gleaming surface of Lake Trasimeno stretching towards the imposing mass of Mount Subasio behind Assisi; on particularly clear days the snow-covered peaks of Gran Sasso and Mount Maiella in the Abruzzo appear on the far horizon. To the north, instead, lies the green plain of the Chiana river valley and, beyond it, the high plateau of Pratomagno; still further away in the distance are the mountains which divide Tuscany from Romagna, while the tenuous profiles of Pienza and Montalcino emerge on hillsides to the west of the city. To the southwest, finally, almost standing sentinel over the Orcia river valley, is the bulky profile of Mount Amiata.
Those who choose to vacation in Montepulciano will find, at a very short driving distance, Pienza, Cortona, and Montalcino, Mount Amiata, Lake Trasimeno, and the grand medieval abbeys of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Sant’Anna in Camprena and Sant’Antimo (where the liturgy is still intoned with the Gregorian Chant).
Siena, Arezzo, Orvieto, and Perugia are at an easy one-hour driving distance. Trips to Florence and Rome could not be simpler: the car can be left at the Chiusi railroad station and the Termini Station in Rome (where the two subway lines which serve the city both arrive) or the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence (in the very heart of the city) are a mere 90 minute train ride away.
Lovers of hiking or of mountain biking have the opportunity of splendid trips past Montefollonico across “Le Crete”, the clayey hills south of Siena, to the chestnut and pine forests of Mount Amiata, around Lake Trasimeno and Lake Chiusi, or to the ecological oasis of the lake of Montepulciano.
Last but not least: the wine. Or, better, the great wines of Montepulciano.
The production zone, where from time immemorial the vine has been cultivated, can boast of the first precise citation of a wine which is still present and identifiable today.
Who does not remember the story of the ancient Gauls who, while assaulting Rome’s Capitoline hill, were betrayed by the cackling of the sacred geese? Or does not have before his eyes the image of Brennus throwing his sword on the scales set up to weigh the ransom with a contemptuous “woe to the vanquished” and the reply of Furius Camillus: “ states are redeemed by arms, not with gold”? Very well, these Gauls were convinced to move against Rome, according to authoritative historians, only after tasting a marvellous wine.
A wine which came from the same hills which now produce Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
An episode which occurred 2000 years before 17th century poet Francesco Redi, a true connoisseur of Tuscan wine, proclaimed, in his “Bacchus in Tuscany”, that of all the region’s great wines: “Montepulciano is king”.
And even today there are very few persons who, having chosen to pass a day or two, at Montepulciano, renounce tasting (perhaps more than once) that nectar or leave the city without a bottle or two or Vino Nobile, of Rosso di Montepulciano or of the Super Tuscans which are winning a reputation as some of the finest wines in the world.