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Montalcino, Tuscany

The quiet Tuscan village of Montalcino has undergone few changes since medieval times, when it was a stronghold pertaining to the nearby city of Siena. With a small population of around only 6,300 inhabitants, Montalcino was once a strategic point along the road to Rome and offers a panoramic view of the beautiful Asso, Orcia and Ombrone valleys. The town's fame derives from its production of one of Italy's finest red wines known as Brunello di Montalcino, regarded by visitors and residents alike as a "heavenly" vintage. Local Brunello can be sampled in the large number of wine shops and enoteche (wine bars) lining the narrow streets, or just outside the city walls in one of the many wineries offering daily tours and a free taste to any who make the trip.

The history of Montalcino dates back to the Etruscan and Roman periods, and its name was formed from the Latin "mons ilcinus" (holm-oak mountain). Though independent for a time in the 12th century, the town later became subject to Sienese rule. During the 14th century, the city's fortress was built to better defend the southernmost border of the Sienese Republic. However, four years after Florence defeated Siena (in 1555), Montalcino landed within the jurisdiction of the the Granducato di Toscana of Cosimo dei Medici. Ultimately, in the year 1859, the city officially became part of the Italian Kingdom.

In addition to its sleepy medieval streets and sun-soaked vineyards, Montalcino presents other sights such as the Piazza del Popolo (People's Square) and the Palazzo dei Priori (old Town Hall), as well as the medieval churches of San Fracesco, San Egidio and San Agostino. The city's fortezza (fortress) is almost perfectly preserved, while its two interior courtyards offer a great spot to find shade or hold a picnic. The Enoteca La Fortezza serves up a sophisticated array of cheese plates and local wines to visitors. The Cathedral (of San Salvatore) and the Diocesano Museum are full of sacred works of art by 11th to 16th century painters, and contain other medieval objects and archeological artifacts from San Antimo Abbey (which is located 10 km from Montalcino).

To reach Montalcino, take a TRA-IN bus from Siena. (Buses leave daily from the train station.) If en route from Montepulciano, change buses at Torrenieri.


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