Day 03 - Tuesday, April 09, 2019 - Drive to Montepulciano, Climb to Top of Town Hall Tower; Visit Ceramic Factory, Pienza; Explore Monticchiello, Lunch; Walk Old City Center, Pienza
The chirping birds woke us up this morning about 7:30AM. It was an overcast beginning, but with promises of partly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 60’s. A perfect spring day in Tuscany!
After breakfast at the Piccolo, we loaded our daypacks and raincoats and set the GPS for the hilltop village of Montepulciano, less than 30 minutes from Pienza. Our first stop was the travertine beige stone church in the valley dedicated to Saint Biagio (Blaise).
We took a few photos and talked to several people and then made our way up to the top of the hill. About half way up, the road became exceptionally steep and narrow. Locals continued on into the ancient city, but we found a convenient parking garage for 1.5 Euros, and we began our hike the rest of the way.
Originally founded by the Etruscans, the city center was built in the Middle Ages and was renovated in the Renaissance by the famous architects working for the Medici Family of Florence.
After taking a few photos of the main square, we visited the Palazzo Comunale, the town hall. For 5 Euros each we climbed the tallest tower in this area of Tuscany. The first three floors of the building are the working offices of the city government.
Steep stone stairs lead to the terrace where we could take photos and then after climbing to the very top of the bell tower, we could see a 360-degree panoramic view of the Val d’Orcia.
The climb down was a bit more harrowing, but once on the ground we discovered another castle converted to a winery and beautiful gardens just beginning to display their spring colors.
We found our way back to the parking garage and on the way out of town we spotted the first of the beautiful red Flanders Poppies that are so well known all over Italy.
As we drove back to Pienza we stopped at the Sbarluzzi Ceramic factory. Although it was certainly tempting, we just looked and did not make any purchases.
Just driving through this beautiful valley with the green hills was a serendipitous experience on its own. The yellow fields of rape were just beginning to blossom and the stately cypress trees loomed over the roadways and surrounded the Tuscan farm homes.
Olive groves dotted the hillsides and the first buds were just sprouting on the vines in the rolling vineyards. The Sangiovese grape is Tuscany's most prominent grape and the wines bring wine lovers from all over the world.
Ready for lunch but not finished exploring, we set off for the tiny village of Monticchiello that we can see from our hotel window. Only 13 minutes away, we drove on a gravel road and then found a free parking space just outside of the old city gate.
Following the dilapidated ancient city wall, we found many little B & B hotels, well-kept permanent homes, and very few ramshackle fixer-uppers. Some of the medieval towers are still standing, but not climbable.
In ancient times wealthy families built towers to show their economical powers. The richer the family, the taller and stronger was their tower. Needless to say, there are only a few towers still standing after centuries of neglect and damage.
Just outside of Monticchiello’s main gate arch was the unassuming restaurant called La Guardiola, meaning the watchtower or guardhouse. We sat outside under the budding trees and enjoyed a plate of Tuscan delights.
Fresh tomatoes with olive oil and basil, two varieties of pecorino cheeses, and three of their famous meats, a prosciutto, pepper sausage, and thinly sliced salami were featured on the plate. Served with homemade hard bread drizzled with olive oil and fresh herbs, it was a perfect lunch. Vic had a glass of the region’s red wine and Gennie chose a Fanta orange, a satisfying late meal that will satisfy us for the day.
We stopped at the small Pienza grocery store on the way back into town but found that it was closed during the middle of the day for their afternoon break. We worked on the pictures and the journal and then we drove to the grocery store, but only bought a Coke, not very impressive.
After our big lunch, we decided not to have dinner but walked back to the old town for an ice cream and then walked back to The Piccolo for the rest of the evening.
Accommodations: Piccolo Hotel - - - Meal: B, L, D
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We drove through Montepulciano but Steve didn't stop. I enjoy their wines, though. It would be nice to visit sometime. I am enjoying the flowers and blossoms in D. C., but it is hard to beat the beauty of red poppies on the landscape! Continue to enjoy.
Love that part of Italy. Steph and I did a bike trip there a few years ago and visited some of the same towns. The only bad part was biking up to each town at night to our hotel. Have fun!
Boy are you bringing back memories!
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Wonderful pictures and lunch, yum!