Yesterday I got back from a lovely vacation in Italy. We spent five wonderful days in Montalcino in Tuscany, a paradise for a sommelier and adventurer like me. Montalcino is a city with a long and fascinating history. The hill has probably been settled since Etruscan times. It is mention in historical documents in 814 AD suggests there was a church here in the 9th century, most likely built by monks associated with the nearby Abbey of Sant’Antimo.
The town takes its name from a variety of oak tree that once covered the terrain. The very high site of the town offers stunning views over the Asso, Ombrone and Arbia valleys of Tuscany, dotted with silvery olive orchards, vineyards, fields and villages. The lower slopes of the Montalcino hill itself are dominated by highly productive vines and olive orchards.
During medieval times the city was known for its tanneries and for the shoes and other leather goods that were made from the high-quality leathers that were produced there. Like many of the medieval towns of Tuscany, Montalcino experienced long periods of peace and often enjoyed a measure of prosperity. This peace and prosperity was, however, interrupted by a number of extremely violent episodes.
During the late Middle Ages, it was an independent commune with considerable importance owing to its location on the old Via Francigena, the main road between France and Rome, but increasingly Montalcino came under the sway of the larger and more aggressive city of Siena. Once Siena had been conquered by Florence under the rule of the Medici family in 1555, Montalcino held out for almost four years, but ultimately fell to the Florentine until the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was amalgamated into a united Italy in 1861.
Wine brings it back on track. As time went by, many medieval hill towns went into serious economic decline. In the case of Montalcino, this has recently been reversed by economic growth due to the increasing popularity of the town’s famous wine Brunello di Montalcino, made from the sangiovese grosso grapes grown within the commune. The number of producers of the wine has grown from only 11 in the 1960s to more than 200 today.
Brunello was the first wine to be awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status. In addition to Brunello di Montalcino, which must be aged five years prior to release, 6 years for the Riserva, Rosso di Montalcino (DOC), made from sangiovese grosso grapes and aged one year, as well as the Moscadello sweet white wines for which it was most famous until the development of the Brunello series.
Festivals in Montalcino. The most popular festival in Montalcino, the Sagra del Torde, is held on the last Sunday of October which we participated, enjoying the lovely, warm and including atmosphere. At the traditional archery festival, locals put their ability with a bow and arrow to the test, as well as showing off their traditional costumes and culinary talents. A parade marches through the lanes of the town before a large meal is served. Finally, representatives of the individual quarters test their archery skills against each other, and it is great fun just to observe it all.
Be present, absorb the experience and just float away. Tuscany is an amazing place itself, festivals or not. Just enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the amazing color of romance painted throughout Tuscany, and let yourself be seduced by the lovely wines and time with your lover as well, if you are as lucky as me:-) And above all, enjoy the great people you will meet. Tuscany is memories forever. So drop the internet and mobile phone and be present, absorb the experience and just float away.
Our favorite place nr. 1 in Montalcino is Casillero de Velona – a stunning castle in the heart of the Tuscan hills. Set high on a hilltop in the hills of Siena, Castello di Velona Hotel was once an 11th-century fortress which fell into ruins and has been beautifully restored to produce a magnificent hotel. The castle is in a prime position to enjoy the best of Tuscany`s food, wine and wonderful countryside views – or even better, why not enjoy some nice bubbles in the lovely heated pool overlooking the beautiful Val d`Orcia, and of course bubbles by the glass under the warm sun – or looking at the sunset. Magical, unforgettable and breathtaking. We had to go there twice!
Castello di Velona Hotel has 22 suites and 2 double rooms, all with fireplace, antique furniture and each one is individually decorated with an emphasis on blue, green and dark red throughout the castle. But more important – a wonderful and big sauna completed with an unforgettable SPA, thanks to very nice and professional people:-)
Our favorite place nr 2. Enoteca Franci, a very nice restaurant with a few tables outside, next to the old castle. The best part was the great tasting outdoor in the afternoon sun, the sommeliers knowledge of wines, he`s name is Biago by the way – Biago, we miss you:-), the good wines of course, the atmosphere and just the fact that we felt that this was all we needed in the whole world.
Our favorite place nr. 3 is of course where we stayed – at Fonte Aulente, a private lovely house five minutes from the city Montalcino, where you for certain will feel at ease very quickly. We just loved it. Fonte Aulente has wonderful panoramic views and is surrounded by beauty. The house is a part of an old Tuscan farmhouse dating back to the 12th century, full of history, charme and beauty – just like the owners of the house, Alexandra and Michelangelo, lovely people with big hearts:-)
In love with Tuscany – and we will be back!
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