If you want an authentic medieval Tuscan competition but don’t fancy battling the crowds in Siena’s palio, go to Montepulciano for the Bravìo delle Botti on the last Sunday in August. The eight contrade of Montepulciano compete for the Bravìo, a beautifully painted cloth banner by rolling barrels weighing 80 kilos in an uphill race for more than a kilometre. The barrels are rolled by two athletes called "spingitori" and the race winds through the streets of the town’s historical centre until it reaches the churchyard of the Duomo in Piazza Grande. The townspeople dress up in lavish medieval costumes and a number of important ceremonies take place on the morning of the race, while in the afternoon there is a procession to prepare the entrants for the event itself. The festival is also an excellent opportunity to sample some of the 'vino nobile' wine which comes from this area of Tuscany.
Monte Amiata offers something beyond stereotypical Tuscany for the discerning visitor. The spectacular summit (1732m) is accessible to most, but it is the slopes of the mountain that hold a special magic. Visit in October and join the locals as they fill their baskets with sweet chestnuts, then take a hike into the forest and, if you’re lucky, you might spot a family of wild boar in search of the same delicacy. At the end of the day you can stop to soak aching muscles in the thermal springs at Bagno san Filippo.
30km SW of Montepulciano
Montepulciano itself is a wonderful base for day trips throughout the region, and it really struck me since it's not as touristy and packed as many other places feel. It's still got its fair share of travellers, but it's not as stifling as say, Venice can be.
The scenery is straight from a fairy tale and the cuisine is beyond even that. Mix that with some architecture, and the destination is already perfect.
Perfect places are made more memorable by perfect places to stay, and this place took the cake on my last trip. It used to be a small village actually, but was remodelled as a hotel with all the modern amenities - yet it still has that homey-country feel, almost as if a well loved relative prepared everything exactly to your liking before check in.
Quiet, friendly, and absolutely beautiful with a terrace to take it all in, Borgo Tre Rose has relax written all over it and it's exactly what I wanted. The reception desk isn't 24-hour, but that's ok because at least they tell you. Get all your questions in by 19:30 (it closes at 20:00, so why make a poor receptionist suffer by prattling on at 19:55?....obviously they'll still help you then though, as I found when I needed a phone number urgently) and they're helpful as ever, with warm friendly smiles to boot.
For moments when you're not relaxing, the washing machine and internet point are really really convenient and to relax after all that, there are actually hot springs nearby (S. Albino).
Anyway, a great stay in a great place, and if you have a little more time than I usually do, look into regional wine tastings! Superb!
Via Dei Palazzi, 5 but these people were VERY helpful with all, including directions: www.italiancollection.com/en/hotel-borgo-tre-rose.html
Il Sasso is a language school offering courses in Italian for adult learners at all levels and of all ages. Classes are small and fun.
The teachers, all local, are excellent. I have been there three times and the highlights have been: meeting students from all over the world, staying with a local family and having wonderful food, enjoying the local music and wine festivals, going on visits to Montalcino, Sienna, Cortona and Arezzo, and simply living in such a beautiful place.
For me it has been the best way of getting to know a part of Italy well.
Il Sasso, Via di Gracciano nel Corso, 2
I-53045 Montepulciano (Siena)
Tel.: 0039 0578 758311
Fax: 0039 0578 757547
Nearest station: Chiusi.
Nearest airports: Pisa, Florence, Rome.
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