Image above is a watercolor I painted, inspired by our time in Tuscany
Having had enough time in the sea and sun on the Amalfi coast (j/k, you can never have enough) we were in search of our new adventure. This is a fun activity that generally entails having Google Maps & Airbnb in separate tabs, all while consulting Conde Nast Traveller, Lonely Planet, as well as a slew of travel blogs discovered via Pinterest.
Tuscany seemed like a great way to escape the Amalfi tourists, see a new landscape, and of course continue our wine and pasta tour. G spent time in Tuscany while studying abroad in Siena, so he reluctantly agreed to play tour guide yet again. We decided on Montepulciano, a medieval hillside town at with its own “Vino Nobile” region within Tuscany (more on that later).
A quick Gaeta stopover
While G is part French, technically Gaetan is the French version of Gaetano, which means “someone from Gaeta.” So on the way to Montepulciano, we couldn’t not make a pitstop at his namesake. Gaeta is a lovely town just a few hours North of Naples, known for its large NATO base, delicious olives, and inhabiting prominent place in Italy’s history. What Gaeta lacked in glitz and glamour, it made up for in relaxation. The city was a perfect 2-day reprise before our train ride to Tuscany.
The town of Montepulciano was the ideal home base in Tuscany. First of all, even without a car, it was close to several wineries: many prominent wineries such as Gattavecchi and Contucci actually operate from within the village itself. Additionally, even in a 95 plus degree heat wave, the medieval walls of the village were narrow and kept us cool the whole time. Though the villa we originally booked didn’t have a/c and was therefore uninhabitable, the nice people at Airbnb helped us switch it out for a great apartment in the heart of town.
Montepulciano itself had everything we might need: artisanal shops carrying local food, beautiful art galleries, and plenty of music to be heard. We were lucky to visit during the 42nd annual Cantiere Internazionale D’arte: a classical music festival with daily performances in the square. Outside of the scheduled events, many of the visiting performers played along the cobblestone streets for all to enjoy.
Food & wine
You can’t talk about Tuscany without mentioning all of the amazing food we tried. Walking around Montepulciano town was like stepping into a dreamworld filled with the best produce, cheese and pasta I have ever tried. I’m a sucker for truffles, and they were certainly plentiful here. We recommend trying the local hand-rolled Pici pasta with truffle sauce, or perhaps a cacio e pepe. Since we had a kitchen, one of our favorite things was buying local produce and recreating some of our favorite dishes at home. Gaetan has even since become a bruschetta maestro.
And of course no meal is complete without a glass of the Montepulciano Vino Nobile: a delicious Sangiovese blend that went well with the pounds and pounds of pasta we were eating. The vintners we spoke to all seemed completely in awe of their local Vino Nobile, almost as if no other wine existed. It got a little repetitive and became a running joke of ours whenever we drank wine.
“Let me guess, you recommend the Vino Nobile?”
“Do you have anything lighter?” — “Certainly, we can add some water to the Vino Nobile.”
Some of our favorite places to drink and eat in and around Montepulciano:
Contucci Winery. The Contucci family were some of the fathers of the Vino Nobile of Montepulciano, cultivating the vine since the Renaissance and contributing to making it famous in the world. This traditional winery is located at the very top of Montepulciano, and does free daily wine tastings with extra heavy pours.
Salcheto Winery. This was one of the wineries we biked to. The estate conducts a 100% environmentally sustainable wine-making process and operates an energy independent cellar system and uses wooden materials from controlled sources and responsibly managed forests. The estate has an enoteca, a “winehouse” hotel, along with a winery. We loved their house “Salco” wine, along with their take on the Vino Nobile.
Trattoria di Cagnano. Our first meal in Montepulciano was at the restaurant owned by our Airbnb hostess, Francesca. The cuisine was traditional Tuscan and very reasonably priced. Also, we just loved all the people who worked there, so recommend it to anyone passing through Montepulciano.
Podere Il Casale. Podero Il Casale is an organic farm on top of a hill with a breathtaking view of Tuscany. We biked to it and had a leisurely farm-to-table lunch on the terrace of the restaurant. Their tasting menu was impeccable, and they also make their own wines, which are fantastic. We tried the rose and white. After lunch, we took ourselves on a tour of the grounds to meet the goats and other farm to table animals 😉
Biking around wine country
As we’ve been traveling, renting bikes has been one of our favorite ways to get around. We can’t claim to be expert cyclists, so the hills around Montepulciano were a bit intimidating in the 95 F heat, especially after a glass or five of vino. Solution: e-bikes.
We rented from an amazing company called Urban Bikery, who provided brand-new bikes, as well as app-equipped Androids that provided customized itineraries based on what we wanted to do. This was my first introduction to e-bikes: electronically-powered bikes that allow you to have the experience of being on a bike…without needing to work nearly as hard. The bikes have three modes: Tour, Cruise and Sport, with Sport requiring the least amount of work to go fast. The experience was great and helped us see some of the destinations a bit outside of Montepulciano.
Our 3 days were the perfect amount of time to get a taste of Tuscany. If we were to come back, I’d love to take a pasta-making class or see Siena as well. Next on the list: Cinque Terre to do some hiking and see the 5 villages.