It is a Sunday morning in Montepulciano. All morning we have been able to hear the church bells rolling across the valley, echoing through a light fog that wraps around the shoulders of the Tuscan hills. No one is in a hurry today; it is midday before we are ready to begin our exploration of a new town.
Our first foray into town is very pleasant. We enter the city through the Porta del Prato, the gate in the city walls at the northeastern edge of the medieval city. Like many Tuscan towns of this period, Montepulciano was constructed on the highest peak in the area so that the townspeople could see their enemies (usually raiders from other Tuscan towns) coming from a long distance off. Montepulciano's historic enemy was Siena. In the mid-fourteenth century, Montepulciano became a vassal of Florence and the ruling Medici clan, allying with this powerful city to hold off the Sienese.
The town's close association with Florence explains the architecture of the town. Most of the buildings—churches and palazzos—date to the Renaissance. Their appearance was shaped by the artistic and architectural development going on in Florence during this period. The town is arranged around narrow streets and alleys which radiate out from the central piazza at the top.
Montepulciano is deservedly famous for its robust red wine. For centuries, the Vin Nobile di Montepulciano has been the best known product of the region, celebrated by such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson. Today it seems as if half the retail space lining the streets of Montepulciano has been given over to flogging the local product. I've never seen so many wine shops concentrated into such a small area. Montepulciano is also quite proud of its cheeses, and some of the wine shops also sell large, fragrant rounds of pecorino, parmesan, and other unidentifie
We have one of the poorest pizzas we've had during this trip in one of the restaurants: the crust is thicker than normal and gooey in the middle as if it hadn't been fully baked. After lunch the shops are closing. The few tourists present earlier have gone home and the streets of the town are near deserted.
After lunch we decide to indulge in a short hike. Mary has discovered a guide book in town that features several short hikes in the area. With optimism burning in our hearts, we set off down our road, walking away from Montepulciano toward the vineyards.
Well, to distill a long story into a short paragraph, things do not go well. In retrospect, I think our failure to find the route must be ascribed to a poor map. We were led to believe that we were on the right road when in fact we were not. Tears rapidly welled up in our eyes as we wandered in the wilderness, looking for a single landmark that would get us on course. Finally, after fumbling about the countryside for ninety minutes, we threw in the proverbial towel and returned home.
Our first day in Montepulciano. We are all looking forward to exploring more of the town when it reopens on Monday.