After having a lovely day seeing a few cities north of Siena, the next couple of days, we headed south to explore more of Tuscany. We weren't as fortunate with the weather these days, as it turned cold and rainy. Despite the weather, we still had a nice time visiting Buonconvento, Montalcino, Abbia di Sant'Antimo, Pienza, and Montepulciano. The day before, our landlord, Paolo, had come by to pick up our rent for the month when we told him we were planning on driving to Montepulciano. He was very excited, and told us all of the other cities to stop at on the way. With his recommendation, we were able to see a lot of small sites that we would have otherwise missed out on.
We ended up stretching this southern Tuscany sightseeing trip into two days. Our first stop was Buonconvento. This is a very small town just south of Siena that was originally part of the Republic of Siena. There is not much to see here but an idyllic, quiet medieval village. This town seems less touched by tourists than some of the other Tuscan villages.
Our next stop was Montalcino, farther south from Buonconvento. Montalcino is situated on top of a hill, looking out over vineyards producing some of the world's greatest wine, Brunello di Montalcino. As it turned out, we arrived there just in time for panini for lunch with a glass of Brunello. One of the things that I love about Italian food, and more specifically, Tuscan food, is the simplicity of it. The panini that we ate were delicious; simply some salumi toscani between two pieces of bread that were slightly crunchy and warm. Paired with a glass of Brunello, and we had an excellent lunch! After lunch, we walked around for a bit, explored the fortezza, then headed back to the car for our next stop.
After following some small winding roads south for a little ways, we came across the Abbia di Sant'Antimo. There is record of this abbey as early as 813 AD, although a new abbey replaced the original structure in 1117. There are still monks who live and work here today. It is a very calm place, located in a beautiful valley.
Our final stop for the day was Pienza, a city rebuilt for Pope Pius II in the 1400's. He was originally from this area in Tuscany, and wanted a retreat from Rome. He had his hometown rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. It is located in the Val d'Orcia, a UNESCO world cultural landscape. These rolling green hills studded with cypress trees are exactly the type of scenery that you would expect from Tuscany. Here, we walked around, bought some cheese (Pienza is famous for its pecorino), checked out the cathedral, and then headed home.
The next day, we decided to take it a little slower, after seeing so many places the day before. As we headed to Montepulciano, we drove through the Crete Senese, the rolling clay hills south of Siena. Montepulciano is another town that is situated on top of a hill surrounded by vineyards. Here, they produce vino nobile di Montepulciano, another well-known red wine. Once there, we checked out some shops, saw an Etruscan tomb, and of course, had some wine with lunch, this time pizza. After lunch, we headed to the main piazza to check out the cathedral and the Palazzo Comunale. Parts of this city looked very familiar, as it was used as a backdrop for movies such as Under the Tuscan Sun, and more recently, New Moon. After taking in the vistas of Montepulciano, we headed home to get ready to leave for Rome in the morning.
To see more of my pictures from these days of traveling around Tuscany, check out my online album here: http://picasaweb.google.com/recarlisle/Tuscany#.