About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Siena and Tuscan Hill Towns

This morning we spent some time wandering around Siena. We didn't really have a plan, so we just wandered. At one point Katrina and Brandon wandered on their own while I went back to the room to relax. We met up again a little over an hour later. Siena has many interesting streets that seem to go in every direction.

One of the neighborhoods that is very proud of their Contrade.

Many, many streets look like this...all over Italy.

A breakfast treat...one of many donuts Brandon enjoyed on this trip.

Eventually we ended back in Il Campo. Our plan was to spend the afternoon visiting some more Tuscan hill towns. The day was cloudy and a bit chilly. I stayed with Brandon so he could run around Il Campo a bit while Katrina went back to the room to gather our coats.

Back in Il Campo.

Chasing pigeons.

Viewpoint in Siena

We made our way down to the car and entered Montalcino into our GPS. It took about an hour to drive there. It was a cloudy and sometimes foggy day in Tuscany.

Montalcino is a wine town, overlooking vineyards and valleys. It is famous for its Brunello di Montalcino red wine. In the Middle Ages Montalcino was Siena's biggest ally. Montalcino was originally allied with Florence, but quickly switched sides after Siena beat up Florence in the Battle of Montaperti in 1260. Its properity waned after the Medici took control of the region, only to become prosporous again in the late 19th century when the Biondi Santi family created a dark red wine.

After parking and walking up to the town, we entered the gate of the Fortezza, a 14th century fort built under the rule of Siena. Today it is little more than a shell with an Enoteca (wine bar). This is where we chose to have some lunch. We enjoyed a plate of cheese and meat, along with some local honey and glasses of red wine. Yum!


After lunch Brandon wanted to walk on the ramparts of the fortezza. We walked all the way around the Fortezza and climbed up one of the towers.

A narrow doorway leads to the ramparts.

Walking on the ramparts.

View of inside the Fortezza.

Climbing to the top of the tower.

On top of the tower.

View of the town from the tower.

The Fortezza had some dark narrow passages - only lit up because of my flash.

We also spent a little time walking around the town. Not much was open. It was lunch time and it is the off season.

Did I mention that hill towns have hills.

I thought this was an interesting sign.

Fall is in the air.

Fun in the fall.

Off to our next hill town, Pienza. It was about a 40 minute drive to Pienza.

Pienza sits on the crest of a large hill surrounded by green rolling hills. This is a Renaissance town. In the 1400's Pope Pius II, who was born here, decided to remodel the town in the Renaissance style. It was transformed from the town of Corsignano to Pienza in only five years. Not all of the town was remodeled. Work ended in 1564 when the pope and his architect both died. The town is full of the areas specialty - Pecorino cheese - which is wonderful to taste, but the smell of the cheese shops can be overpowering. Pecorino cheese is a pungent sheep's cheese.

The town is full of greenery. Trees, potted plants and flowers can be found on every street and balcony.

As we walked up the main street we were halted by yellow vested security guards. They were there to keep us tourists from walking into the movie scenes being shot in the Piazza Pio II.

A movie was being filmed in the piazza.

We had to bypass the movie location, so we wandered down the side streets and lanes. Pienza is a very beautiful little town. The only drawback was, as we were leaving we wanted some gelato and a drink. This town does not seem to have gelato (very suprising) and no Coca Cola.

A beautiful little piazza.

It was getting dark, but it was still early. We decided on one more town as we headed back towards Siena for the night.

The next town, Montepulciano. Montepulciano is a town built on a ridge. Its main street winds its way to the top of the ridge. The city has been under Sienese and Florentine rule through the ages. Like Siena, Montepulciano is divided into districts of medieval contrade. On the last Sunday of August the neighborhoods compete in the Bravio delle Botti, where teams of men push large wine casks uphill, all hoping to win a banner and bragging rights.


We arrived in the dark and found a parking lot near the fortified Porta al Prato gate. We wandered up the street, and I do mean up. We were at the bottom end of town and it is uphill all the way to the other end of town.

Many of the shops were still open, but not many tourists were around. There were many Pecorino cheese shops and wine shops. We visited one wine shop that offered a free underground tour. The self guided tour followed underground chambers from Gothic and Renaissance times. It was amazing how extensive these tunnels and chambers were, and they were almost all full of giant wine casks.

Shop with meats and cheeses.

Brandon posing next to one of many wine casks in the underground passages.

We slowly, very slowly made our way up to Piazza Grande, one of the main piazza's in town. It is located all the way up the long steep hill. I had to pull Brandon and Katrina up the last few hundred meters. We all laughed and quickly found a bench to rest our legs. We were tired! We finally got up and spent some time picking postcards at the only tourist shop open.

One interesting tidbit about the town. We noticed that many of the stores were selling t-shirts, pictures and other random items with references to the upcoming New Moon movie. Apparently, many of the Italian scenes were filmed here in town.

It was a long walk back down hill. Even that was tiring. We found our car and drove the hour back to Siena. Thank goodness for GPS on those dark twisting Tuscan roads.

We ended up picking random items for dinner. I had a slice of pizza. Brandon and Katrina shared some fruit and crackers from a corner market. It was a long but great day. We climbed into bed early and slept well.

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