A Day in Montepulciano, Italy

A Girls Trip to Tuscany

My tennis partner Ann organized a girls trip to Tuscany.  Ten of us came from near and far.  Some arrived in Italy early; others arrived the day we were transported to Tuscany from Rome.  With the exception of Mary, most of us enjoyed a smooth arrival to Rome not counting the deluge of water falling from the sky!

We took two vans to Il Colombaio, our villa on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. We settled in for a lovely evening of food and drinks and prepared for our first full day in Tuscany in Montepulciano.

Montepulciano is a medieval and Renaissance town that sits atop a 2,000 foot limestone ridge in southern Tuscany.  It is renowned for its pici pasta and Vino Nobile wine.  Our drivers delivered us directly to its Piazza Grande formed in the typical medieval fashion with a church, the city hall, and a wealthy man’s residence with a portico below for socializing and doing business.  On a side note, the FREE public bathrooms were nearby (a nice change from the Amalfi Coast).

The church which borders the square is called the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and is also known as the Duomo of Montepulciano as it is the most important church in the town.  Here is a link to an interesting article discussing the difference in Italian Church names:  chiesa, basilica, catedrale, and duomo: Is it a church or a cathedral?

After looking around the square, we visited Rameria Cesare Mazzetti.  Rameria means copper smith, and Cesare is a famous one.  He hand makes a variety of copper kitchen ware and decorations.  His craft has been passed down through his family for generations.  He still uses his grandfather’s stamps and tools today which are over 100 years old.

Cesare buys his copper from Chile.  It is certified in London and is then sent to Italy. He receives it in forms of rough globs and thin sheets.  He hand pounds the copper into the appropriate shape and depending on its function adds pure tin.

While copper requires a little more attention in the kitchen, it offers distinct advantages and professional chefs from around the world commission work with Cesare.  Both the shape and the thickness of the copper is very important for the pots to transmit both high and uniform heat for cooking.  In order to withstand the heat, the pots require the correct number of beats with the hammer!

In addition to being excellent heat conductors, copper also adds iron to water, so those who are anemic can add cold water to a copper pitcher and eventually get the iron they need without taking medicine.

Cesare was quite the character and a rather horny old man.  He wanted a kiss from every lady after he pretend branded everyone’s buttox before we left his laboratory to see his store up the street. As a parting gift, we made a copper decoration with flower petals, our initials, and the date. It was nice and creative!

After visiting his store, we wandered the streets of Montepulciano.  The views of the rolling Tuscan hills covered in olive groves and vineyards were lovely.  I wandered around the town looking for interesting photos, while the shoppers in the group visited the row of stores to find some nice leather, jewelry, and olive wood cutting boards just to name a few items purchased.

Many of us also explored the Città Sotterranea.  Here we weaved through passage ways filled with giant barrels of Vino Nobile produced by Ercolani.  The underground city included a crypt, the well of love, old olive crushing equipment and combs used for sheeps’ wool.  I loved wandering through the maze of rooms.

After the morning in the walled town, our drivers provided a short ride to Ristorante la Grotta, a Michelin Star restaurant located at the base of the town across from the Chiesa di San Biagio.  Courtesy of Ann, we enjoyed a long, savory lunch before heading back to the villa where we took an afternoon walk through the Tuscan hillsides before we ate and drank the night away.  ETB

At the Villa


A Day in Montepulciano, Italy

Montepulciano, Siena, and Cinque Terre!

Oh what a busy day! We had to wave good-bye to our fantastic host Gianluca and his family as we prepared to go from being 100% spoiled in Tuscany to self-sufficient in Cinque Terre. We left the four house complex that was built in the 1400’s and restored by Gianluca between 1999 and 2007 to take a round-about way to Cinque Terre. First, we stopped in Montepulciano, only 10 miles away and later Siena, a bit further.

As with every Tuscan town it seems, Montepulciano sat up on a hill, was home to many churches, a palazzo, restaurants, and a variety of stores including a famous copper store. Each town, including Montepulciano is laid out with a parking area upon arrival with a posted map and a water closet nearby, all very convenient when we were otherwise feeling constantly lost.

We started our walking tour strolling up a hill, enjoying the view and eventually making it into our first church, Chiesa del Gesu. It began construction in 1691 in the baroque style, was changed shortly after, and finished construction in 1730 under the supervision of three different architects.

From the church, we continued up the hill to the palazzo. Aside from the surrounding park, which didn’t allow futbol, the site wasn’t open so we continued up the hill.

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We passed by the torture museum which was advertised on billboards in all the small towns, as we got enough of a taste in the entry before we visited the cattedrale constructed in the 14th century on the Piazza Grande. It was adorned with flowers as it was being prepared for a wedding. No pictures were allowed inside.

Across from the cattedrale stood the Griffin and Lion well built in 1520. We have seen several throughout the region along with cool old water fountains. As we continued strolling around the streets, we stumbled upon an historic winery, De Ricci. It was free to tour, so we wandered through the dark tunnels storing giant barrels of wine. By now, it was time for lunch, so we ventured back toward the parking and found a trattoria. I tried Pici with pepper and Parmesan, one of Montepulciano’s famous dishes, and it was spectacular. Heidi had the gnocchi.

With a three hour drive to Cinque Terre and a one hour drive to Sienna, we were a feeling a bit pressed for time as we needed to meet Lorella, the lady from whom we rented our apartment. So off we went. As we weaved down the hill through the countryside, we noticed a few bystanders on the roadside. Shortly thereafter, we were waved to the side of the road and a bike race of fifty cyclists came storming through with support vehicles and all! How cool was that!?! Those boys were breathing heavy as they climbed that hill. It turned out it was the Italian National Road Race Championship. Of the 124 riders that started, only 49 finished. Vincenzo Nibali won. The race has been run since 1905 with the exception of the years during WWI. I found it kind of funny that such a big race didn’t even have the roads blocked. Here is the link in cycling news: http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/italian-road-championships-2014/road-race/results

IMG_4837 cycling

After a few interesting turns, we finally made it to Siena and parked by the stadio (this is the best place to leave the car and walk). We enjoyed the nearby fountain, passed by tourist stands, popped our heads in a few leather stores, took a look at St. Catherine’s head in St. Domenico Catherine Basilica, and followed the signs to the Duomo, as this cathedral was supposedly the one to see compared to all others. We only went to the cathedral and library as we didn’t have time for the crypts and baptista, but it was beautiful.

The black and white exterior was magnificent, both near and far. The marble murals on the floor, the carvings beneath the windows, and the paintings that covered every ounce of the church were lovely. Even the wooden chairs were ornate. I’m certain every nook, color and image had a meaning, but we were just there to take in the grandeur before we moved on to Cinque Terre. Sienna deserved more than 1.5 hours, but at least we made it.

In Cinque Terre, we parked on the outskirts because cars aren’t allowed on the interior and rolled our bags through the parking lot and down the street until we reached the stairs. We climbed a few until we reached a sidewalk and found the address, 85. More stairs…ok…to a courtyard, where a couple questioned, “Are you looking for Lorella (in Italian)?”

Si, we replied.

They pointed to a narrow, stone staircase that curved up the hillside and said, “La Scala”. Ok, we could barely fit…but up we went. Lorella met us and commented, “Just a few more steps”. Really!?! We climbed four stories of stairs from their basement to our “penthouse suite.”

And we were blessed with a penthouse view. Our patio looks out over the whole town as the sun sets on the harbor! The two bedroom apartment was quaint with a small kitchen and bath. Another building included a separate kitchen that we will never be using!

We opened the windows, enjoyed the sunset, and set out for 9:30 dinner reservations at the most popular restaurant in town, Billy’s. We had a fantastic waitress who would not tell us her name and joked with us despite not knowing much English (though it was more than our Italian). We had the antipasto seafood sampler which included octopus, cuttlefish, shrimp fritters, a crab cake, two types of anchovies, two types of tuna, and some things we didn’t know what they were at all…12 things in total.

We also opted for the fish of the day, sea bass, and to our surprise she brought over a plate of three dead fish for us to choose from. We pointed to the one in the middle. It was the smallest. Thirty minutes later, the whole thing was presented on a platter. After she watched us attempt to filet it, she came over and helped!

Suddenly, we started making friends. A couple from California asked where we were from and gave us tips about hiking from town to town, and a table full of fun Italian ladies called us over once the free Limoncello and bitters were served. What a fun night until we couldn’t get the gate open to our apartment, “Oh, just force it,” Lorella said. We kind of felt bad to call her after midnight…but what a fun day and night! We’re ready to tackle a hike tomorrow…ETB


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