To the south of Siena is a classic fairytale hilltop town, set within a full circle of fortified walls and watched over by a mighty castle of medieval perfection. Montalcino, west of Pienza is a beautiful village immersed in the breathtaking Val d'Orcia, renowned all over the world for the production of its precious Brunello red wine.
The town has scarcely changed in appearance since the 16th century. Once you get up to the town, a magnificent spectacle unfolds for your eyes: rolling sunny hills dotted with yellow and red flowers, ancient oak trees, picturesque olive groves, scenic country roads winding through perfect vineyards and isolated cypress trees atop hills.
The town has been made incredibly rich and famous by its Brunello wine, one of the world's best and most appreciated Italian wines. Montalcino was already well-known for its fine red wines during the 15th century. However, the precious formula of the fantastic Brunello was invented in 1888 by Ferruccio Biondi Santi, who first had the idea of leaving out the grapes used in the traditional Chianti recipe, such as Canaiolo and Colorino, and using only the Sangiovese variety.
Before the Brunello is ready, it must age for a minimum of 5 years, 2 of which must take place in oak barrels, while the Rosso of Montalcino is ready after only one year of aging. Amongst the many renowned wine producers in the area are Biondi-Santi, Schidione and Banfi.
Montalcino is not just wine, it is also very rich in artistic treasures. The historical center is dominated by the mighty and imposing Rocca or fortress built in 1361 to mark the passage of Montalcino under the domination of Siena. The views from its ramparts are spectacular, stretching towards Monte Amiata, across the Crete to Siena, and across all of the Valdorcia and the hills of Maremma.
The fortress has remained practically intact since the Middle Ages and often becomes the special setting for festivals, concerts, and events, such as the famous Jazz & Wine Festival held in July each year, where you might combine the pleasure of listening to fine Italian and international jazz music with drinking some fine Brunello!
Another landmark of Montalcino is the tall and slender clock tower that graces the Palazzo dei Priori, the city's town hall, while below lies the main square known as Piazza del Popolo with its characteristic Gothic loggia. Also worth visiting are the Palazzo Vescovile and the churches of Sant' Agostino, Sant' Egidio and San Francesco.
The streets of Montalcino with their stone pavements are truly enchanting and the village is a wonderful place to stroll around among the labyrinth of charming arts and crafts shops, cafes, restaurants and wine bars. Take some time to fully enjoy the special medieval atmosphere of this magnificent Tuscan hilltop town. Walk slowly through its narrow and characteristic alleys offering extraordinary views over the underlying valley.
Sant'Antimo abbey is one of Tuscany's most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture and was one of the most powerful monasteries around Siena in the medieval ages. The works on the originally benedictine monastery started in 1118 and ended in 1260 (without the convent having ever been finished). Life at the abbey can't have been to bad. At least to judge from the fact that the abbot who looked over the monastery in the 15th century his abbot was put into prison for lewd behavior. From there on things kept going downhill. Renaissance Pope Pius II decided to close Sant'Antimo down in 1462. He was turning his birth town Corsignano into Pienza and needed to expand the territory for his nephew - the bishop of the newborn town!
The monastery started to crumble, but never lost its splendor even though the crypt was used as a wine cellar and the church as a shed by the farmers who inhabited the convent buildings in the 19th century (I kind of envy them).
In the 1980s efforts were made to restore the church and return Sant'Antimo to spiritual life. Today, after a break of more than 500 years, a small community of around 8 canon regulars from France and Italy lives and prays at Sant'Antimo. Vespers and mess are accompanied by Gregorian chants and are open to the public (as long as you don't disturb). The church is surrounded by olive trees and fields and one single cypress tree bears testimony to a thoughtful monk (or farmer?) who planted it right next to the monastery's bell tower. The man knew what he was doing.
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.