Information on the area Montalcino
Bagno Vignoni, a few kilometres south of San Quirico, is an odd little hamlet, primarily because its main piazza is entirely occupied by a large thermal pool edged in stone. Swimming in this pool is not permitted - it looks rather murky anyway - but there is a very chic spa just below the village.
The next village to the south is Castiglione d’orcia, surmounted by a massive rocca that is visible for miles around. For a period of time the castle belonged to the aldobrandeschi family, a name you’ll hear repeatedly in the area. of Lombard origin (their name is thought to be an italianized version ‘Hildebrand’), they assumed control around the 11c of the area between Siena and Orvieto (umbria) as counts of Sovana, Pitigliano, Santa Fiora, etc - in short, most of the villages in the area. decline had set in by the beginning of the 13c, however, when four aldobrandeschi brothers fought over a will, two of them subsequently landing in jail for debt. The details of the 1279 murder of the then head of the family, umberto, by the Sienese army are recorded, factually or not, in dante’s Purgatorio. By the end of the 14c the aldobrandeschis had vanished from local records. Vivo d’orcia is the next hamlet to the south, tiny and pretty.
Bagni San Filippo
Bagni San Filippo is famous, in its little way, for its lovely outdoor thermal pools, one of which is fed by a naturally hot waterfall. There’s a small modern spa nearby.
The Rocca of Radicofani
The Rocca of Radicofani, 783m, is even more dramatic than castiglione’s and it, too, had an owner mentioned in the inferno. Ghino di Tacco was born near Sinalunga in the Valdichiana and, together with a younger brother, was schooled from an early age by his father and his uncle in the art of brigandry. The Banda dei Quattro, as they were known, conducted raids on local castles for years under the noses of the Sienese authorities until finally caught in an ambush in 1285. The father and uncle were executed while the two boys were released as minors. after a 5-year hiatus, Ghino resumed his nefarious activities and was prompted exiled by the Republic. He fled to Radicofani, overcame the occupants of the Rocca and claimed it as his base of operations.
His favourite victims were travellers along the Via Francigena, where he allowed pilgrims and poor people to pass but pounced on the visibly wealthy, from whom he took everything save what they needed to survive - and then offered them a banquet.
There are a number of less-than-savoury episodes in Ghino’s biography - the beheading, for example, of the judge who had prosecuted his father - but his tale has a happy ending. Ghino’s last attack, as the story goes, was on the abbot of Cluny, who was travelling between Rome and San Casciano dei Bagni with the intention of taking a cure for his liver. Ghino ambushed him, carried him off to Radicofani and locked him up, but without hurting him. The abbot, during his imprisonment, was fed only bread and dried beans, with white Vernaccia di San Gimignano to drink. The diet ‘miraculously’ put an end to the stomach pains, and in gratitude the abbot convinced the Pope not only to grant Ghino di Tacco a pardon for killing the judge, but also to appoint him Knight of St. John and Prior of the Ospedale di Santo Spirito. Ghido died an honest man. The Rocca was heavily restored following an explosion in the 18C but is still a dramatic spot with a spectacular view. François Montaigne, Charles Dickens and two popes stayed at the once-grand Palazzo La Posta in the village below. The hotel has fallen on hard times but the church of San Pietro is worth popping into for its school-of-della-Robbia terracottas. If you didn’t make it up to the Rocca, the view from the piazza behind the church is almost as good.
Montalcino fell under Sienese control fairly early, in 1260, which made it the target of regular Florentine attacks for the next 300 years or so. It was all but abandoned by the 19C and is on record in the middle of the 20C as the poorest community in the province. Behold the positive effects of wine: it’s now one of the wealthiest. Much of the credit for this goes to the Biondi-Santi family, who developed the famous Brunello. The town is smaller than Montepulciano, and even more focused on wine - the duomo and the local museum are all but hidden between enoteche, and even the castle at the top of the hill is given over to wine.
Abbey of Sant’Antimo
The Abbey of Sant’Antimo, set in a valley of vines and forests about 10km/6 miles south of Montalcino, is one of the most beautiful and, yes, serene sights in Tuscany. It's believed that the abbey may have been founded by Charlemagne, in the 8C, but the building you see today dates from the 12C when its monks were among the most powerful landowners in this part of Tuscany. They, too, came into conflict with Siena by the 13C, and for that they were dispersed. The building stood empty for years until it was taken over by French augustinians last century. These are the sort of monks who chant, marvellously, seven times a day, albeit briefly. a visit here, perhaps with a picnic, is a lovely way to break a day of hill-town hopping...
Abbadia San Salvatore
The town of abbadia San Salvatore, not to be confused with the abbey itself, grew as a mining centre in the 19c and declined after the world demand for mercury, its primary resource, fell. The abbey, now surrounded by modern buildings, includes a stillactive cistercian monastery founded in 743 and was a key stopping place on the Via Francigena. The abbey’s church dates from the 16c but it sits on top of an extraordinary 8c crypt.
The anello della Montagna
The anello della Montagna is a 30km/18-mile trail which circles the top of Monte amiata (1738m/ 5700 feet) with various other trails leading from it. The summit itself is accessible by car and offers fantastic views, albeit from between souvenir stands and bars.
Montalcino vs Montepulciano
The best wines of Montalcino and Montepulciano, respectively Brunello di Montalcino and Vino nobile di Montepulciano, are among italy's most highly regarded. their second tier wines, rosso di montalcino and rosso di montepulciano, aren't half bad, either. a red montalcino is made entirely from a local varietal of the Sangiovese grape, Prugnolo Gentile, and is not a wine to be drunk 'young.' a red montepulciano, on the other hand, is a blend of 70% Sangiovese with colorino, mammolo or canaiolo grapes, which softens the wine and makes it ready for drinking a fair bit earlier. montepulciano won the right to call itself a 'vino nobile' in the 15c, when it was the only wine served at the court of Lorenzo de medici. ironically, of the two montalcino is today considered the more 'aristocratic,' perhaps because of the delayed gratification involved.