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 Natural Park, 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 you will find 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 that of good drinking!
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.
We also recommend a visit to the Museo Civico and Diocesano di Arte Sacra, hosting notable religious paintings and sculptures, and the Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) that tells the history of glass making. The museum, inside the lovely castle of Poggio alle Mura, hosts an interesting collection of glass and instruments from Egyptian to Roman times up to the great Venetian masters.
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. If you wish to take home a bottle of superb wine, this is the right place to take advantage!
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, and then sit and relax while tasting a glass of the delicious red wine.
And don't forget to visit the nearby Abbey of Sant'Antimo!