Livin’ la dolce vita in Montepulciano

Deciding to take a trip to Italy is easy; deciding where to visit in a country so rich and diverse, is where the challenge arises.  Feeling nostalgic for the rolling hillsides and soft golden hues of the classic Tuscan landscape,  I  plumped for the hill-top town of Montepulciano as the location for my week-long study vacation last month. I envisaged spending my days in a little town with rustic charm and easy access to nature, and persuaded by its relatively isolated location and spectacular backdrop, it was a no brainer that paid off in every respect.  A medieval and Renaissance hill town in the province of Siena in southern Tuscany, Montepulciano boasts the most incredible panoramic views and with short of 15,000  inhabitants, its small enough for you to get familiar with the locals even in the shortest of stays. Famed for being an exceptional producer of red wine, the town is surrounded by undulating hills of rich green vineyards immersed amongst the beautiful rural landscape.

This was to be my third study-vacation in Italy – “study vacation” essentially being a holiday in which you spend some of the time studying (Italian in this instance) and the rest of the time relaxing in atypical holiday fashion. I love this way of experiencing the country as it gives you a privileged insight into the culture and people, whilst enabling you to spend as much time as possible perfecting your Italian and just generally living like a local.

It took exactly 12 hours door-to to reach my homestay in an apartment located in Montepulciano’s old town. It’s fair to say that by the time I arrived, battling fatigue, the heat and having spoken no Italian for almost two years, I struggled to string two sentences together as my gregacious, friendly and hyper-gestilating Italian “mamma” for the week spoke non-stop, demanding to know what I would like to eat (nothing, I repeat nothing, is of greater importance in the house of Fiorella). An extremely hospitable lady in her 60s, Fiorella is a widow and phenomenal cook who lets two rooms in her house to female students, and by the time I’d woken for breakfast the next day she’d filled the kitchen with my favourite foods!

Montepulciano is, quite simply, to die for. Within an hour of arriving I walked up to the town’s main square, Piazza Grande, and wandering off onto a side street was greeted with the most breathtaking view looking the rooftops into the surrounding countryside. It was during that golden hour before the sun begins to set, and at that moment I knew I had made the right decision for my Italian vacation. I firmly believe that there is no better quality of life than that experienced in this impossibly-picturesque small Tuscan community.  Every moment, every view, every sunset, every meal, every conversation – was lived in a whirl of heightened joy and intensity (and no, I didn’t even touch the wine!) My mornings were spent in Italian class whilst the afternoons were left to my leisure. I chose to visit in June as I’d planned to go trekking in the countryside after class – making the most of the lush green landscapes and long daylight hours. However, it transpired I had visited during a heatwave year with June temperatues mimicking those of July or August. With the seriously hot climate I had to sidetrack the hiking, settling for late afternoon/early evening walks through the local vineyards and olive groves instead (ah, it’s a hard life in Tuscany!) Still, this retreat did in no way disappoint, and here are some of the shots I took during my one week stay. My photographs are mostly of the countryside surrounding Montepulciano. With such strong and intense daylight, it was at times difficult to get shots that do the place justice, so many of these pictures were taken during the evening.

First impressions

The main square, Piazza Grande, sits on the top of a hill overlooking the town

IMG_2318 cn

IMG_0841 cn.jpg

A door is not simply a door in Montepulciano – rather an elegant display of craftsmanship

IMG_2412.JPG

IMG_2420 cn.jpg

Knew I’d come to the right place when I came across THIS view. I spent many an evening watching the sun go down here before returning to a culinary feast at my homestay.

IMG_2547 crop.jpg

IMG_2513.JPG

IMG_2458

View of the city from the tower in Il Palazzo Comunale

IMG_0895 cn

IMG_0898 cn.jpg

Walking in the Tuscan countryside

IMG_2461

IMG_0817

Chickens and rabbits roam freely in the Tuscan countryside

IMG_0807 crop 2 cn.jpg

IMG_2399 cn

So many delicious summer fruits – felt like heaven walking through the fields and vineyards!

IMG_2501

I encountered many a handy ladder for easy access to fruit picking. A thoughtful touch – thank you very much!

IMG_2392 cn

IMG_2983

I’d honestly never seen a peach tree in my life before. The excitement on spotting this bountiful one was quite overwhelming!

IMG_2914

IMG_0916 crop cn.jpg

IMG_2492

Practising the art of the middle-of-nowhere selfie

IMG_2932

IMG_2427 crop cn

Walking through the olive groves one evening

IMG_1006 crop.jpg

My Italian homestay

I can’t rave about my homestay experience enough! My ‘family’ was comprised of Fiorella, her beloved dog Gnuaff and a fellow student, Irene, from Slovenia. Every evening we sat down to the most incredible home cooked food and the most hilarious conversation covering everything from Italian politics to romantic disappointments. Most nights Irene and I walked Gnauff round the town afterwards (it seems that when you walk a dog once, you’ve unwittingly established a routine for every consecutive night!) which was a great way of getting chatting to the locals. The school I stayed at, Il Sasso, is small, friendly and has exceptional teachers. I’d recommend this study-vacation experience to anyone wishing to learn the Italian language.

IMG_1038 FINAL

Fatto in casa – one of Fiorella’s home cooked meals – comprising Pici (Tuscan pasta speciality), bruschetta, fried fish and salad. Despite munching my way through a huge plate of food every night, Fiorella still insisted that ‘mangio poco’ (i eat very little)!

IMG_2708

View from Montepulciano looking down to the Tempio di San Biagio just before sunset. The church is located 10-15 minutes walk downhill from the town. It’s an easy stroll though, as with all hill-towns, after the walk down, is the (longer, more ardous) walk back up…

IMG_2709 crop cn

IMG_2644

Sunset overlooking the countryside beyond the town – incredibly beautiful and in no way well-captured in the photograph below.

IMG_2545 cn

Around Montepulciano –  Pienza

The hilltop town of Pienza is one of the few places you can reach from Montepulciano by public transport (hurrah!). It’s a pretty little town with a wall you can navigate overlooking the spectacular surrounding countryside.

IMG_2598

IMG_2573 cn.jpg

IMG_2599.JPG

Monticicchiello

I’d planned to hike from Montepulciano to Monticicchiello but due to the intense heat we hired a taxi to take us there instead (no public transport).

IMG_2899

IMG_0931 cn.jpg

Gatti di Montepulciano

And yes, frankly no blog post is complete without taking a little peek at the local feline community. I’m pleased to report that there are lots to choose from in Montepulciano!

IMG_2771

IMG_2471

I had a truly amazing time in Montepulciano and was very sad to leave (I confess to even crying on the bus back to the rail station at Chiusi). I hope to be back soon – still so much beauty to explore. Just need some cooler weather and/or some refresher driving lessons next time round!

If you have any tips on places to visit in Tuscany I would love to hear from you.

Save

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Livin’ la dolce vita in Montepulciano

  1. Really felt I was there with the excellent photos and descriptions and the ‘behind the normal tourist scenes’ angle. I want to eat your host’s dinner please. I have been to Montepulciano years ago and took a photo of those same doors (possibly) and can vouch that their wine tastes a lot better there than here. Suggestions if you haven’t yet been there: Siena, Florence and categorically San Gimignano with its many square towers. Have you ever thought of producing a printed photo book with your best travel shots?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your comments Rod. I can assure you if you ever had supper at Fiorella’s (and you’d be lucky because it’s a women-only household (she does like men but not “in casa”!) you’d be proposing on the spot! If the saying that the way to a man’s heart is via his stomach is correct.
    I visited Siena (love it) and Florence (lovely but very busy/touristy) during my first visit to Tuscany almost eight years ago. Never made it to San Gimignano owing to some difficulty with transport but on the list.

    Not sure I have a book’s worth of photos yet guess I’ll just have to keep on travelling!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s