Guide to visit Montalcino, the homeland of the wine Brunello
A vast and majestic territory, a rich and generous countryside made of sinuous and gentle hills with oaks, olive trees and cypresses, a majestic ultra-millennial abbey, one of the most precious wines in the world and a beautiful fortified village overlooking the panorama from above of a hill: all this is Montalcino.
Immersed in the incomparable landscape of the Parco Naturale della Val d’Orcia, Montalcino is one of the most interesting places to visit in the Province of Siena for many reasons: it enjoys a very beautiful position, has an enviable historical and artistic heritage and has a food and wine tradition of top notch.
Many visitors reach Montalcino to do the classic Brunello tasting in one of its cellars (and they’re right!) However, as we will see, this historic center has a lot more to offer.
The origin of the name and the history of Montalcino
The name Montalcino probably comes from the Latin, but it is not certain if it comes from “mons ilcinus” which means “mount of holm oaks” or from “mons lucinus” which would indicate a “small forest” or a “sacred forest” and it could be a name in honor of the goddess Lucina.
The hill on which the village stands was probably inhabited since the time of the Etruscans, but the first certain mention dates back to 814 when the emperor Ludovico il Pio granted this territory to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. The village began to develop from the 10th century and reached its present size within four centuries. Although it established itself as an independent municipality during the Middle Ages, over time Montalcino entered the orbit of Siena and was involved in numerous wars, especially against Florence. Among other things, even Montalcino was not exempt from internal struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines that took turns in controlling the city.
After the fall of Siena (1555), the Sienese nobles took refuge in Montalcino giving life to a new Republic of Siena which however was short-lived. In fact, after just 4 years, Montalcino also became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany until the unification of Italy in 1861.
The love story between Montalcino and wine has distant origins. We know that this land has been known since the Middle Ages for the production of red wines while the birth of Brunello dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1869 Clemente Santi was the first to present a bottle with the name of Brunello at the Montepulciano Agricultural Fair, but it was his nephew, Ferruccio Biondi Santi, who had the intuition of creating a wine with only Sangiovese grapes and perfecting the techniques of production. Thus, in 1888, the first great vintage of the legendary Brunello di Montalcino was born.
In Montalcino there are many wineries, wine bars and wine bars, so it will not be difficult to get a good glass of Rosso di Montalcino or his majesty Brunello!
Things to do in Montalcino
Well, now is the time to find out, what are the main things to do in Montalcino. The city has a large number of prestigious palaces such as Palazzo dei Priori, Palazzo Vescovile and Palazzo Pieri; a truly remarkable number of churches starting from the Duomo and the Chiesa del Corpus Domini, to continue with those of Sant’Egidio, Sant’Agostino and San Francesco; the beautiful Santuario della Madonna del Soccorso; the Museo Civico e Diocesano di Arte Sacra and a series of fortifications that have their fulcrum in the Rocca.
- Palazzo dei Priori
- Museo Civico e Diocesano d’Arte Sacra
- Chiesa di Sant’Egidio
- Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
Palazzo dei Priori
The center of the village is represented by Piazza del Popolo, a small square overlooked by the Palazzo dei Priori. Built between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the palace has a high bell tower which dominates the whole town; the facade is characterized by the presence of some coats of arms and a portico inside which you can appreciate a statue of Cosimo I.
On the left of the building, there is a large loggia from the Renaissance period.
Rocca di Montalcino
In 1361 the Sienese chose the highest point of the city to build this imposing fortress. Designed by architects Mino Foresi and Domenico di Feo, the fortress of Montalcino has an irregular pentagonal shape and is reinforced by corner towers which also serve to guard the structure’s entrances. The whole complex develops around a large central courtyard overlooked by the keep and a chapel obtained from the remains of an ancient basilica. The fortress offers the opportunity to enjoy beautiful views and is used to host numerous events and concerts such as the famous Jazz & Wine Festival.
Museo Civico e Diocesano d’Arte Sacra
In 1997 the civic and diocesan museums were brought together in a single location in the former convent of Sant’Agostino; subsequently an archaeological section was also set up with finds from various eras, from the Paleolithic to the barbaric age (VI-VII century), discovered at various sites located in the municipal area of Montalcino.
The collection of Montalcino museums is very large, since we are talking about 200 works, and of a very high level. The exhibition is organized along the 3 floors of the complex for a total of 12 rooms. The works on display allow us to admire the artistic production of the Sienese area from the 12th century onwards.
The museum preserves an important collection consisting of wooden and terracotta sculptures, paintings, sacred vestments and also some illuminated volumes. Among the many masterpieces on display are the Crucifix of Sant’Antimo, dated around 1190, a Madonna and Child by Simone Martini, a San Pietro and San Paolo by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, the Polyptych of the Coronation of Mary by Bartolo di Fredi (1388), a Maestà by Vecchietta, some terracottas by Andrea della Robbia and workshop and much more.
For more information on the museums of Montalcino, timetables and tickets, I recommend you consult the website of the municipality.
Duomo di Montalcino
The most interesting churches in Montalcino are the Duomo and the 14th century ones dedicated to Sant’Agostino and Sant’Egidio. The Duomo stands where the Pieve di San Salvatore once stood. In the nineteenth century it was extensively remodeled following the project of the Sienese architect Agostino Fantastici, and acquired the current elegant neoclassical forms.
Inside there are various works including two paintings, Immaculate Conception with Jesus and God the Father and St. John the Baptist in the desert, made by Francesco Vanni, a painting, St. Michael the Archangel who drives away the rebel angels from Paradise, from the Sienese school of the end Sixteenth century and a canvas, Madonna Assunta between angels with Saints Hippolytus bishop and Cyprian martyr, made by Francesco Nasini.
Chiesa di Sant’Egidio
Built in 1325 in place of a previous church, it was the chiesa di Sant’Egidio was the official church of the Republic of Siena in Montalcino. Very interesting for the mixture of Gothic and Romanesque elements, it preserves inside a Madonna and Child with Saints, a fifteenth-century fresco of the Sienese school, and a painted wooden tabernacle representing the risen Christ and Saints by Alessandro Casolani.
Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
The fourteenth-century chiesa di Sant’Agostino has a simple gabled facade embellished with a beautiful Gothic portal. Inside there are several frescoes of great value: Scenes of the Passion of Christ and Stories of the life of Saint Anthony the Abbot are along the walls, while the Stories of Saint Augustine, Evangelists and Doctors of the Church, attributed to Bartolo di Fredi, are in the choir. Next to the church we find the former convent of Sant’Agostino, home of the Montalcino museums, which is spread around two beautiful sixteenth-century cloisters.
Walls of Montalcino
To end your visit to Montalcino, you could take a relaxing walk along the city walls. Built in the thirteenth century, the walls of Montalcino develop for about 4 kilometers along which you’ll find 13 towers and 6 city gates. As you can imagine, from their walkways you can enjoy excellent panoramic views that go from Monte Amiata to Siena, and over the whole Val d’Orcia.
What to see around Montalcino
As anticipated, the municipal area of Montalcino is very vast and full of points of interest. Among the main things to see near Montalcino, we point out the centers of San Giovanni d’Asso, Castelnuovo dell’Abate and Montisi, Poggio alle Mura and the wonderful Abbey of Sant’Antimo.
San Giovanni d’Asso
San Giovanni d’Asso is a real tiny gem. Located in the Crete Senesi area, this center was a municipality until 2016 when it was merged with Montalcino. The village holds several surprises for visitors and is a perfect example of how there are a myriad of really beautiful places in Tuscany but which are perhaps not well known enough. To see: the castle, the parish church of San Giovanni and the church of San Pietro in Villore.
Typical Tuscan hilltop village, Castelnuovo dell’Abate owes its name to the close relationship with the nearby Abbey of Sant’Antimo. The center is surrounded by a beautiful landscape with many olive trees and vines. The main points of interest are the parish church of Saints Philip and James and the Palazzo del Vescovo.
We complete the review of the villages by talking about Montisi. Inhabited by the Etruscans in antiquity, Montisi was a castle in the Middle Ages and the imposing Cassero building can still be seen even though over the centuries it has been adapted and has lost its original forms. Certainly worth visiting is the Romanesque parish church of Santissima Annunziata. From Montisi you can also spot the ruins of Castello di Montelifré in the distance.
Poggio alle Mura
In the area of Poggio alle Mura there are two points of interest of absolute importance: the pieve di San Sigismondo and the Castello Banfi. Castello Banfi is a magnificent complex located in the center of a large estate where high-level wines are produced. Inside we find the Museo della bottiglia e del vetro that documents the processing of glass since ancient times.
Abbazia di Sant’Antimo
We close in beauty (it is appropriate to say it!) The review on Montalcino, talking about the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. Leaving aside the beauty and historicity of this building, I recommend you visit it to witness the Gregorian chants live: trust me, it is a truly unique experience!
Finally, starting from Montalcino you can quickly reach all the other centers of the Val d’Orcia such as San Quirico d’Orcia, Pienza, Castiglione d’Orcia and Radicofani. The closest spas to Montalcino are those of Bagno Vignoni and those of Bagni San Filippo.
How to get to Montalcino
By car: from Siena (42 km) you will need to take Regional Road 2 via Cassia to Buonconvento, shortly afterwards turn onto the Provincial Road of Brunello and follow the signs for Montalcino.
From Florence (110 km) you must take the Firenze-Siena motorway link to Siena and then continue on the SR2 and on the Provincial Road of Brunello.
By train and bus: by train you can get to Buonconvento, from there you have to take the 114 bus of Siena Mobilità.
Bus: from Siena, line 114 of Siena Mobilità.