Montalcino is one of those classic Italian hill towns that make for a perfect relaxing break. Located in Tuscany, it’s close to major destinations such as Florence and Siena, but it’s got a pull all of its own for tourists. The town, as best as anyone can tell, grew out of the Sant'Antimo Abbey, which is one of its key tourist spots. Its history, chequered with periodic battles and wars, has crisscrossed with Italian legends - but today, among the stability of modern Italy, it has settled to become one of the country’s most venerated wine-producing locations.
Much of your trip here will involve looking at the troubled past and the prosperous present of Montalcino and every day of a trip here can be a school day, in the most positive way! Best of all, when you sit to take a breath, you will be surrounded by splendid scenery. Here are the eight best things to do in Montalcino, to make the most of your trip.
1. See where it all began at the Abbey of Sant'Antimo
Believed to have taken its name from the saint Anthimus, this abbey was built some time before the year 814. It’s not clear exactly when, but historic documents show it as in existence then. From that point on, a town grew up around the abbey. Now, it is one of Italy’s oldest working abbeys and a sight well worth seeing. A short drive from Montalcino itself, the abbey plays the sounds of Gregorian chanting - a leftover from a previous visit by French monks, and visitors may explore the church at appointed times.
Abbey of Sant'Antimo
Address: Strada Provinciale della Badia di Sant'Antimo, 53024 Castelnuovo dell'Abate SI, Italy
Website: Abbey of Sant'Antimo
2. Find real history and wine at the Palazzo Pieri
The Pieri Palace, a former royal lodging, has some non-monarchic history to its name, as well. During the Italian War, between 1555 and 1559, the French garrison stayed here, sent by the French emperor, Henry II. Their job was to provide support to the forces native to the region against the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Today, it’s a popular tourist spot and a scene for a well-appreciated wine market.
Address: Via Ricasoli, 2, 53024 Montalcino SI, Italy
3. Take in the wonders of Bibbiano Castle
When you visit a historic European town, you can generally expect to find at least one castle, and in Montalcino, the best example is Bibbiano Castle. Located close to Buonconvento, this fortification was built in the 9th century and still stands strong and impressive, today. It was held by two of the most prestigious families of the Siena region, first the Guiglieschis and then the Cacciacontis, before passing into the ownership of the then Cardinal Raffaello Petrucci. Since the year 850, it has undergone some renovations, but the bulk of the original castle remains.
Address: SP34/c, 53022 Buonconvento SI, Italy
Website: Bibbiano Castle
4. Find sacred art at the Museum Civico e Diocesano
As with most ancient Italian cities, there is a strong link between Montalcino and its religious history. This is best seen at this diocesan museum, which features some very important artworks, including a triptych by Duccio. The museum is curated on the site of the former convent of the nearby Chiesa dei Sant'Agostino.
Museum Civico e Diocesano
Address: Via Ricasoli, 31, 53024 Montalcino SI, Italy
Tuscany is famous for, among other things, its excellent wines, with the full-bodied Sangiovese reds a particularly popular speciality in the region. Montalcino itself is known for a particular grape - the Brunello di Montalcino - that gives its wine a very robust red colour. The city is also the end point of a delightful tour of the Tuscan region, which also includes such places as Florence and the legendary Montepulciano. You can expect to pay approximately 260 USD or 220 EUR for this trip, which includes tastings and meals.
Tuscan wine country tour
Address: Florence, Montepulciano, Montalcino
6. A more intimate wine experience at Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona
Wine enthusiasts may prefer, however, to keep things simple and just visit one of the many vineyards in the region, and, for a smaller price at just 12 EUR or 14 USD, you can visit the Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona. This is one of the finest examples of a vineyard growing the Brunello grape, and there are tours every day, with tastings. For a few euros more, you can leave with a couple of bottles to enjoy with your dinner.
Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona
Address: Località Molinello, 53024 Castelnuovo dell'Abate, Montalcino SI, Italy
7. Try something a little different at Podere Il Cocco
Finally, on your own little wine trail, you might want to switch up your choices, a little. The region is famous for its full-bodied reds - and Podere Il Cocco is certainly there for you if you want to try some more. But, they also have excellent white wines, and here is the perfect place to sample their crisp organic Bianco: a wine that has been getting attention at various artisanal wine fairs. Tours are in the 80 EUR (95 USD) range and are inclusive of food and wine sampling.
Podere Il Cocco
Address: 53024 Montalcino, Province of Siena, Italy
Website: Podere Il Cocco (in Italian)
8. Feel secure at the Fortezza di Montalcino
Along with Bibbiano Castle, the Fortezza is one of Montalcino’s key relics from the centuries of war which make up so much of Italy’s history. It’s a huge, imposing building and the scene for twice-yearly contests between the four sections of Montalcino, itself - known as “contrades” (a generic name given to Italian city subdivisions). A walk around the fortress is well worth the time and effort and if you haven’t seen enough wine to last you your entire holiday, there is a winery on site, too.
Fortezza di Montalicino
Address: Piazzale Fortezza, 9, 53024 Montalcino SI, Italy
Website: Fortezza di Montalicino (in Italian)
Montalcino: Grapes, grandeur and more
It goes without saying that Montalcino is a perfect place for a holiday if you love flavourful red wines, but it would be a mistake to assume that’s all it’s about. A fabulous history and plenty of long walks and delightful drives in the hills means that it has something to offer, even if wine doesn’t do it for you. And with the day trips out to spots like Siena and Florence, there’s really no reason not to give it a go!
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