Montepulciano is a pretty hilltop town in the south of Tuscany in the province of Siena. Its existence dates back to the 4th and 5th centuries BC. It is surrounded by the incredible scenery of the Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana valleys and its historic centre is filled with churches, palaces, picturesque alleyways and idyllic piazzas. In more recent years, Montepulciano has become more popular than ever thanks to the popularity of the Twilight vampire series which was partly filmed here.
Certainly, no stay in a Tuscany villa would be complete without a visit to Montepulciano.
What to see and do in Montepulciano
Start your visit by taking a walk uphill along Montepulciano’s main street from the Porta al Prato. The street name changes as you make your way up from Il Corso to Via di Gracciano and Via di Voltaia before moving into Via dell’Opio and then Via di Poliziano. All are filled with impressive buildings thanks to the work of a number of the finest Renaissance artists. These include Andrea Pozzo, Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelozzo as well as Vignola who designed the Palazzo Avigonesi. Look out for the Palazzo Bucelli which is decorated with a mosaic of Etruscan urns, a nod to the town’s ancient origins.
You will also come to Montepulciano’s Museo Civico inside the 14th century Palazzo Neri Orselli. This small museum is worth a visit if you are interested in art, home to terracotta paintings by Andrea della Robbia, a portrait by Caravaggio and a number of artworks from the Medieval period along with much earlier Etruscan archaeological remains.
Keep heading uphill and you will reach Montepulciano’s main square, the aptly named Piazza Grande. The west side of the square is home to the Palazzo Comunale (town hall). Visitors who are familiar with Florence may recognise it! The palace was originally built at the end of the 14th century but was given a bit of a makeover in 1424 by Renaissance architect, Michelozzo, in a sort of homage to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. It’s worth paying the handful of euros to climb the palace bell tower as the 360 degree views from the top are superb, stretching all the way to Monte Amiata one way and to Lake Trasimeno in Umbria to the other. However, if you don’t fancy climbing the steep stairs, then there is also the option of paying a slightly smaller amount to make your way to the roof terrace which also has lovely views over the piazza below.
Opposite the town hall is the later 16th century Palazzo Contucci. These days, it’s owned by a successful aristocratic wine-making family and it’s possible to enjoy wine tastings and a cellar tour in the palace basement. However, this palace was once inhabited by Pope Julius III and by the Grand Duke Ferdinand. It was originally designed by Italian Renaissance architect Antonio da Sangallo the Elder (1453 – 1534). Antonio was born in Florence but lived and worked in Montepulciano for the last 15 years of his life, designing and building many buildings and palaces in the town.
Antonio da Sangallo the Elder also designed another building within the Piazza Grande – the Palazzo Nobili-Tarugi – along with the adjacent well which is adorned with both the symbol of Montepulciano (the griffin) and the heraldic lion (the Marzocco) which is the symbol of Florence.
Finally, the 16th century Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Montepulciano’s Duomo) also takes pride of place in the Piazza Grande. The facade of this building was never actually completed and inside the interior is quite dark and oppressive. However it is home to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary triptych by Taddeo di Bartolo that adorns the altar.
Before leaving Montepulciano, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the domed Temple of the Madonna di San Bagio. This sits beneath the Medieval walls of the town at the end of a long row of tall cypress trees. The temple was another of the designs of Antonio Sangallo and is extremely elegant and eye catching.
Last but not least, no visit to Montepulciano would be complete without sampling some of the Sangiovese wines that are grown all around this area. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is one of Tuscany’s greatest red wines and has been given DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). The grapes are grown to the east and north east of the town. Head to the Strada del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano main offices in the Piazza Grande to find out about wine tours and for the best advice on which wineries to visit.
Events in Montepulciano
You’ll find Montepulciano busiest during key events during the year, of which there are several. So, whenever you’re staying in your Tuscany villa rental, you may well find that something is happening in the town.
The first of these each year is Carnivale. An event which takes place all over Italy, it includes a costumed procession through the streets of the historic centre of Montepulciano on the Sunday before Mardi Gras. It’s extremely popular with families and children. For that matter, so is Montepulciano’s next key event – Cioccolando. This is a 2 day festival each March dedicated to all things chocolate.
After that comes the annual Easter Festival. This event is held over the Easter weekend each year and was the brainchild of opera singer Leonora Contucci (a member of the afore-mentioned Contucci family of wine makers). It’s a chance for visitors to enjoy some beautiful classical music in the most wonderful of settings in palazzos, churches and other historic sites within Montepulciano.
On 1 May, there is then the Fiera di Sant’ Agnese, a historical procession through the streets followed by mass. And at the end of May, Montepulciano takes part in the Cantine Aperte (open cellar) initiative. This is a must for wine lovers with the chance to visit some incredible wine cellars and enjoy guided tours and tastings around the town.
A couple of other historical events include the Giostra del Saracino in late July which takes place on the lawns in front of the Temple of the Madonna di San Bagio, as well as the Barvio delle Botti in August. This is when you’ll find barrel racing competitions taking place between the eight contrada. It’s also one of our favourite events of the year.
In the Autumn, you then have the Olive Oil and Autumn Flavours Festival, a chance to try the new olive oil harvest and learn more about this other important local crop. And finally, enjoy a Tuscany villa holiday in December and you can enjoy the Christmas markets in the town. The market fills the Piazza Grande and there are temporary ice skating rinks and other attractions for children to enjoy.
Where to stay in Montepulciano
Villa Romantic is a stunning villa in Tuscany, just a short drive from Montepulciano. It’s the perfect setting from which to explore this beautiful area. Alternatively, how about a stay in Villa Pienza, a 7 bedroom Tuscany villa just 15 minutes from the heart of Montepulciano.
How to get to Montepulciano
By plane: The nearest airport is in Perugia about 70 km away. Florence Peretola airport is about a 90 minute drive away, Pisa 2 hours away and Rome a little further again.
By train: We don’t recommend you travel by train from your Tuscany villa to Montepulciano. The train station is about 15 km outside the town at Montepulciano Stazione and bus connections from the train station to the historic centre are few and far between whilst a taxi will cost you around 30 euros. Otherwise, you could catch a train to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme train station in the nearby town of Chiusi however this is still 30 minutes from Montepulciano.
By bus: Timme run buses from Siena to Montepulciano.
By car: Travelling by car is probably the easiest way to get to Montepulciano. There are a number of car parks around the town. Probably the most convenient are the parking areas next to the fortress and just outside Porta al Prato.
Tempted to discover Montepulciano for yourself on a holiday in Tuscany, then check out our villas in Tuscany available to rent for your next trip. Or, to find out more about the other villages and towns in Tuscany, take our look our A to Z of Tuscany.