Taking it Slow in Tuscany

Montepulciano

We arrived in Montepulciano in the late afternoon. Thea and I snoozed on and off during the 5+ hour drive from Sorrento. I woke to the sound of Matt and Brian pointing out the hill top towns sprinkled all over in the distance as we drove through the gorgeous Italian countryside of Umbria and Tuscany.

Agriturismo La Terra

We parked the car at Agriturismo La Terra, where we would be staying for a few nights, and wandered past the brick building where we were greeted warmly by Ilaria and Pierpaulo. They offered us a glass of wine and a seat on their deck.  Also on the deck were 7 tiny kittens playing at our feet.

Agriturismo La Terra

It was at that moment that I decided that if I had to spend our entire visit on that deck. I would be totally okay with that.

Agriturismo La Terra
Agriturismo La Terra
Agriturismo La Terra – An agritourismo is basically a farm stay, a combination of the words agriculture and tourism. Here at Agriturismo La Terra, the food they prepare is seasonal and locally grown.
We stayed in Casa Maria.
Agriturismo La Terra
Agriturismo La Terra
Agriturismo La Terra

As we watched an amazing sunset, other guests joined us on the deck and began discussing how amazing their dinner prepared by Pierpaulo was the night before and how we were in for such a treat.

Montepulciano

Eventually, after it was sufficiently dark and we were sufficiently hungry, we all gathered around the dining table with Ilaria and Pierpaulo. We discussed everyone’s plans for the following day and learned about our hosts while we dined on bucatini with tomato sauce, spinach salad with walnuts and figs, porchetta, and cheesecake with pears. (There was more, much more, but I didn’t write it down or take any pictures. Sigh.)

Montepulciano – first it was an Etruscan city until the Romans showed up, then in the 12th century it was under the rule of Siena, then the Sienese fought over it with the Florentines until the city allied with Florence.

The following morning we drove over to the town of Montepulciano. (We were staying in the rural outskirts.) We took the usual self guided walking tour courtesy of Rick Steves to get acquainted with the medieval town along with some of it’s Renaissance architecture.

Montepulciano
Montepulciano
Montepulciano – The city has various districts, or contrade, a throwback to the medieval days. Each neighborhood has a mascot and a flag. On the last Sunday of August, each neighborhood competes in what’s called the Bravio delle Botti in which teams of men push large wine casks up a steep hill. Now that sounds like my kind of entertainment!
Montepulciano
Palazzo Comunale  (the town hall)
The Well of the Grifi and Lions in the Piazza Grande. The lions represent Florence and the Griffins represent Montepulciano. That’s the Medici family crest in the middle. (You’ll hear more about the Medici’s when we’re in Florence.)
Montepulciano
Montepulciano

If you have ever gone wine tasting in Italy, you know it’s usually a big production that requires a reservation at the winery and at least a couple hours of your time. Without knowing much about the wine of the region, we decided to forgo any reservations and instead stop into some of the shops where we could have a less formal tasting experience.

Montepulciano is loaded with wine cellars that go deep underground, one such place is Cantina Ercolani. Here you can wander underground, below seven historical buildings to see the wine cellar, a medieval museum, and Etruscan tombs. (Etruscans settled in central Italy around 900 B.C. and were around for centuries until they were killed off or absorbed by the Roman culture, but don’t worry, based on artifacts from their tombs, historians believed that they lived very good lives and were more technologically advanced than other nearby civilizations.)

Ercolani
Ercolani
The underground city.
Sipping Vino Nobile di Montepulciano at Cantina Ercolani

Back at Agriturismo La Terra, the four of us had signed up for a cooking class with Pierpaulo. We learned how to make homemade ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach, pappardelle with mint pesto using walnuts and almonds, and tiramisu, along with other delicious things.

Making the pasta.
The perfect amount of filling.
Our beautiful, non-uniformly sized ravioli.
Making the pappardelle.
Our ravioli’s!
Hmmm. I don’t remember what we made with all of those mushrooms.
We made a pork dish too.
Outside the kitchen door.
Pierpaulo booted us out of the kitchen to finish prepping our meal so we could eat dinner before 10 pm (Some of us may have had too much wine and were slowing down the process. I won’t name names, Brian.).
So we played with the kittens.
Dinner is served! Here is the pork.
And some pasta.

The next morning, we drove around admiring the various vineyards and dodging scattered rain showers. We wandered around the town of Montalcino, known for it’s Brunello red wine, and we visited Bagno Vignoni, a town surrounded by natural hot springs.

This fog was hanging over the farm in the morning.
Montalcino – This town was allied with Florence, but switched to the Sienese side in 1260. It prospered under the rule of Siena, until that darn Medici family had control over the entire region.
Montalcino
Montalcino
This view of Montalcino is courtesy of a pharmacy with a sign posted on the front door that visitors are welcome to come through the shop and enjoy their balcony. Nice folks!
The Piazza delle Sorgenti (Square of the Sources) in Bagno Vignoni. You’re looking at natural spring water bubbling up at around 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bagno Vignoni – people were soaking in these pools scattered around below town, but the temperature in this water was more like a cold bath.
Bagno Vignoni
Bagno Vignoni

Our visit to Montepulciano was a welcome respite from the busyness of Rome and Sorrento. The relaxing few days we had filled with wine, hearty Tuscan cuisine, and kittens(!) prepared us for the craziness of Florence, our next stop.

Did you miss the first two parts of this Italian adventure? Read When in Rome and Visiting Sorrento, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast

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