As you leave Montalcino, you see a beautiful church down the hill. Resist the temptation to drive by and head down the little road to the church. It is the Abbey of San Antimo and is beautiful and peaceful, set in fields of poppies and olives. There are hiking trails and plenty of parking.
The Abbey is open to visitors and some of the services are sung in Gregorian Chant. If you miss it, they do have recordings for sale.
(Click on the little painting to see some photographs of the Abbey.)
Visiting hours are from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and no payment is required to visit the church. Visits are not allowed during religious services but you may attend the services if you like. Check the web site below for hours of services and more information.
The Hotel Il Giglio Montalcino is a family run hotel that specialises in caring attention to its guests. I was lucky enough to be able to photograph Anna and her mother making Pici for the hotel's restaurant. Pici is a hand made thick spaghetti. It took an hour to make enough pasta for an entree for 8 guests so it is pretty labour intensive. Briefly boiled and rolled in garlic flavoured breadcrumbs with a drizzle of local olive oil ---- fantastic.
This is the small town right next to/above the Abbey of San Antimo. The photo is taken from just outside the doors of the abbey.
In the town you have the chance to vist a nice, midieval Italian town, not inundated with tourists. It is small, but has a few nice looking restaurants. Just be prepared that as it is not a major tourist center, some places will not be open all the time- i.e. afternoon reposo from 1-3:30 p.m., sundays, etc.
The Church is very basic, but beautiful. The word harmonious comes to mind- the architecture, stones, colors, light of the Church fit flawlessly in the Tuscan valley where it resides.
The main alter is surrounded by seven arches, with light emanating from the well placed windows behind. The crypt with relics of Saint Antimo lies below the alter.
Of interest inside the Church include the wooden figure of Christ above the altar. This is a work done most likely by a monk or layman who stopped here for as long as necessary to realize this work. From the 13th century it shows French influence. Also check out the capital of Daniel in the lion’s den- this done by the master of Cabestany, who’s done some other great works around Europe.
Located 38km east from Montalcino is the amiable hill town of Montepulciano, which sits perched atop a narrow ridge of volcanic rock in central Tuscany. The towns main street climbs steeply to Piazza Grande, and along the way gourmet food & wine shops tempt you.
While you are there, take the time to sample some local cuisine in one of the excellent restaurants, and more importantly, try some of the town's most famous product - Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - a flavoursome red wine, which is produced here.
Other attractions include the Duomo and surrounding grand buildings, dark cellars to explore and of course, don't forget about the wine ; ) You won't be disappointed by the views from the city walls either!
For more details, visit my Montepulciano page
Located just 23km from Montalcino is the delightful town of Pienza, which is perched on a hill overlooking the rolling landscape of the Val d'Orcia. This tiny walled town is refreshingly not overrun with big tourist groups and is quiet enough to lose yourself to the stunning scenery surrounding it.
There is not a lot to see here, it is more about its location in one of the most stunning parts of Tuscany. It is a place to stop and sample the creamy, locally made Pecorino cheese and perhaps a glass or Brunello produced in nearby Montalcino.
Take a stroll along the town walls, enjoy the colours of Tuscany and plot your return.
It is an easy day/half day trip from Montalcino. Arriving by car, you will find small parking lots around the edge of the old town. There isn't a huge amount of parking though, so grab whatever you can find. We found a shady, free parking spot about 5 minutes walk from Piazza Dante Alighieri.
For more information, visit my Pienza page.
'Foreign writers living in Italy frequently treat the local people as an exotic species who provide amusing stories for their readers. Sipping cappuccino and supping pasta, rarely do they perceive what is going on around them, nor understand the complexity of life for today’s Italians.
Isabella Dusi sold everything she owned to travel half way round the world and settle in Montalcino, a beautiful mountain eyrie famous for its wine and the proud nature of its inhabitants. Her acceptance into this close-knit community was hard-won and has inspired Isabella to capture the true spirit of Montalcino. Vanilla Beans & Brodo tells of the tempestuous and bloody history of this medieval village which has left its mark on the character traits of the Montalcinesi, but also offers a rare insight into the anxiety, joy, fun and intensity of village life.
Isabella takes the reader through the seasons as they unfold in the village, showing the changes that only someone who knows and loves Montalcino would recognise. Vanilla Beans & Brodo reaches a dramatic climax as summer approaches and tensions rise when unpredictable storms threaten to decimate the grape harvest. The story weaves a path around the growing of the splendid Brunello di Montalcino in the sun-drenched valleys, uniting the exquisite wine and deliciously simple Tuscan cuisine as the bedrock of every event in village life.
An evocative story of the rivalry between village neighbourhoods, of football fever and festival pageantry, Isabella destroys the myth that Tuscan villages are tranquil places and instead reveals a life infinitely rich and packed with drama. This moving, often humorous journey will change forever the clichéd image of Tuscany and bring real understanding of the fierce passion of today’s Tuscans for their ancient village, their cuisine and their life in Montalcino.
The outstanding capacity of the territory of Montalcino to produce high quality wines has been known for many centuries. Nature has bestowed on this land a perfectly balanced environment: the soil, the climate and the exposition are as favourable as could be to the growing of high quality vines, an essential factor in producing the great wines of Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino, which are now recognized as top-ranking Italian wines, and play a unique role in spreading the fame of Italian wine all over the world.
Brunello di Montalcino is a garnet red wine with an intense persistent perfume both generous and ethereal, evoking the scent of undergrowth and berries with a touch of vanilla, composite jam and wood from ageing; it has an elegant and harmonious body with a striking racy flavour, dry and persistent.
Brunello di Montalcino is produced exclusively from Sangiovese grapes (of the species defined in Montalcino as "Brunello"), following the official guidelines laid down by the D.O.C.G. (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) by decree of 1/7/80, which defines all the standards of production such as yield of the vineyard (a maximum of 80 quintals per hectaqre), and the particular quality of the product and also the essential requirements that every plot be subjected to a chemical and organic analysis by the appropriate Commission at the Camera di Commercio di Siena.
Rosso di Montalcino is a ruby red composite both intense and fragrant. It brings to mind the scent of fresh berries and wild plums. It is harmoniusly dry with a fresh, strong and persistent core. It is grown from the same grapes as Brunello, so that both Rosso and Brunello can be obtained from the same vineyards. The Production Authorization of 25/11/83 has established its D.O.C. (Denomination of Controlled Origin) and laid down the production methods and required characteristics of the production.
This Abbey is situated some 9 kms. from Montalcino, built at the beginning of the 12th century on the ruins of an old 8th century monastery. Remains of the 8th century building are on one side of the cloister: the finely worked frames and architrave that make up the lateral door of the building. The Abbey, well preserved thanks to recent restoration work, is one of the most brilliant examples of romanesque architecture in Italy
The Abbey is very famous, still not known at all people, for the "Gregorian chant". It is one of the few places in the world for the genuine "Gregorian chant"(Absolutely without music, only human voice). It is known as "The singing stone" for its particular travertin marble of whose its nave is built up. This travertin reflects the voices in a wonderful manner! It's incredible!!
It seems that the stone itself is singing!