Montepulciano – Pasta, Red Wine and Pinocchio

Part of a series from my travels to Italy…

montepulciano1One of our hillside destinations was Montepulciano, one of the highest Tuscan hill towns and one of the most historically preserved in all of Italy.  The road to Montepulciano makes a dramatic change in the landscape.  This part of the Tuscan countryside is a grape-growing region, and lush with rolling green hillsides of vineyards, terracotta-roofed farmhouses, and Cyprus trees.  A beautiful day of 75 degrees, we found ourselves sharing the narrow roads with many cyclists.  Montepulciano is perhaps most famous for its red wine, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, or the “noble Wine of Montepulciano”.  But images of Montepulciano are currently best known among the 20-somethings as the filming location for Twilight New Moon. montepulciano2

Montepulciano is an ancient walled city, and automobiles are limited within the walls to residents and businesses.  We parked our rental car outside the wall and entered through the Porta al Prata, a two-story stone arch leading us along the road up to, ultimately, the Piazza Grande.  Just a short distance past storefronts and enotecas, we eyed an arch-covered alley curving away to the right. At the alley entrance was a menu and sign propped against the wall for La Briociola Ristorante with a Trip Advisor review and a note in English “Do not be intimidated by the Italian menu, this place is GREAT!”

La Briociola was tucked back into the alley with red tablecloths and tables both inside and in the alley.  We took a table outside and being the only lunch patrons, we had the complete attention of our very waiter.  After a marvelous lunch of gnocchi and tagliatelle (quite possibly the best pasta I’ve ever had), we began to work off our lunch climbing the long curving strada to the duomo and Piazza Grande, despite our waiter’s admonition that we may want to take the shuttle to the top. Sounds like a challenge to me.

Without a shuttle we were able to enjoy stunning vistas, art galleries, buy hats, and enjoy stores filled copper kitchenware, beautiful linens, leather and ceramics, hand-knitted wraps and scarves, and all sorts of Italian tchotchkes.  One shop was full of Pinnochios in every form — on puppet strings, key chains, stuffed and not. (Pinocchio was written by Italian author Carlo Collodi, and not Walt Disney.)

Eva and I have similar approaches to travelling.   Start the day with a general plan and see where it leads you, and we discovered that Tuscans seem to have the same philosophy — go wherever you nose or heart may lead you and relish in the moment.  A lazy afternoon becomes a treasure (or distraction), and driving to another Tuscan hillside town can wait until domani.  There are too many sites, sounds and smells to indulge. And most importantly, you have to respect the Tuscan rhythms.  Restaurants typically serve lunch from 11:30 to 1:30, after which everything closes until 3:30 or 4:30, or when the mood strikes.  Which is why we found our destination at the Strada del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano shop closed when we reached it.  Hoping to book a tour, we turned back down the hill and home to Terrapille, where we were able to contact the proprietors by email.  Happily, there were able to add us to a tour of six Americans (if we didn’t mind). It would “only” tour four wineries, and was not the deluxe “wine lover” tour that included a meal. We’ll take it!

On Thursday we returned to Montepulciano and swiftly hoofed it back to the Piazza Grande and the wine tour office.  Our driver, Vincenzo, explained in broken English that the other participants had not yet arrived. 20 minutes later our group of six Americans arrived with a driver, having gotten lost on the way up the hill…………