Many of the hill towns of Tuscany are famous for their clustered houses, cobbled streets and lovely views. To an outsider, they often seem interchangeable – unless one of them is particularly noted for a wine grape that’s arguably even more well known than the town from which it comes. Such is the case with hill town of Montepulciano. The town and the wine grape share the name, and any visitors drawn to the area for one of the two is likely to be equally charmed by the other.
Montepulciano (pronounced mon-teh-pull-CHYA-no) is a small town in southern Tuscany, an easy day trip from Siena. There isn’t a whole lot to do or see in town, so visitors are encouraged to settle in for a “take it easy” approach. Stroll – really take your time – through the streets that wind up and down the hill. Circle the town to compare the views in all directions. Pop your head into the churches and small museums if you like. Above all, however, take the time to sample the local food and wine for which Montepulciano is famous. In addition to the Montepulciano wine produced here, the area also produces some fine cheeses and pork, as well as lentils and honey. There are a few places in town where you can do wine tastings (which are relatively unusual in Italy), some of which are even free.
Despite its small size, Montepulciano is popular with tourists in the high summer season, so if you plan to stay overnight during the summer be sure to book well in advance. Day trippers will find the town pretty crowded then, too, so to really enjoy a bit of the quiet you’ll either need to spend the night or visit in the off-season. Also note that Montepulciano holds a festival each year on the last Sunday in August, when teams of local runners race uphill through the town pushing enormous (empty) wine barrels in front of them. Bragging rights are at stake, and the Bravio delle Botti (as it’s called) is more fun than you might think.
Montepulciano doesn’t have its own train station, so you’ll either need to rent a car to get there or take the bus. There are buses that run regularly from many nearby cities, including Siena, Pienza and Montalcino. If you drive, note that all cars must be parked outside the city center, which is blissfully car-free.