Thursday, May 22, 2008

More Tuscany

So, I have officially entered wine country. Montepulciano is a bit larger than Pienza and equally rich in art and architecture, but it the fact that it is also famous for its two excellent wines – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano – is a mere coincidence (I swear!). The layout of the city is very confusing. Perhaps the steep winding roads, the lack of street signs, or the pouring rain contribute to that, but without a doubt there is a “Cantina” to be found on every street, offering a tour of the underground wine cellars with free samples of their best tasting vino at the end of the tour. The owners of the wine cellars are families that go back for decades.

I arrived later in the afternoon, and having no hotel to stay at I opted for a place I had read about in a guidebook – Montepulciano has many restauants that offer “Cameres” as well (places to sleep). Marcella, the owner of one ristoranto called Il Cittino, rented out rooms above her restaurant, and cooked the most amazing food for me. It was like having a host mother for a couple days, which was lovely.

The main reason I came to Montepulciano was to see San Biagio. The church is located on the outskirts of the town at the bottom the hill, and was an enjoyable walk now that the rain had stopped. I learned a little about its history before going there – it was originally a small, ancient chapel that contained a Madonna who performed miracles. Pilgrims from all over travelled to this destination. Then in the early 16th century, Antonio da Sangallo (the Elder) was commissioned to transform it into a Renaissance church with the traditional greek-cross layout. The church still contains a painting from the 14th century of the Madonna and Child with Saint Francis. The outside has an amazing view of Tuscany and other hilltop towns.

I had a delightful cappuccino at Caffe Poliziano and spent the rest of the day walking around/getting extremely lost in the narrow streets. I’m sad to leave Tuscany so soon. I found a really good quote about Tuscany by Irving Stone:

“Tuscany is a state of grace. The countryside is so lovingly designed that the eye sweeps the mountains and valleys without stumbling over a single stone. The lilt of the rolling green hills, the upsurging cypresses, the terraces sculptured by generations that have handled the rocks with skillful tenderness, the fields geometrically juxtaposed as though drawn by a draftsman for beauty as well as productivity; the battlements of castles on the hills, their tall towers standing gray-blue and golden tan among the forest of trees, the air of such clarity that every sod of earth stands out in dazzling detail..."