The terracotta rooftops huddled tetris-like on the limestone ridgeline. The rust red quickly melted to green as the valley fell away and verdant vine-wrapped hills were revealed. As we wound around the tight bends, guided by perfectly formed cypress trees we edged past cars, trucks and even the occasional sedate tractor as the anticipation brewed. The mountain-top medieval town felt both familiar and enticingly new and we couldn’t wait to uncover the many things to do in Montepulciano.
Getting to Montepulciano
- Getting to Montepulciano is possible from any of the major gateways to Tuscany. Like us, it’s likely you will fly into one of Rome‘s airports and travel on from there. There are also airports in Pisa, Perugia and Florence.
- From Rome, you can hire a car, catch a train or bus, organise a transfer through your hotel or BnB or book a Montepulciano wine tour (should you only have a day).
- If you are arriving by train, be aware that the train station isn’t in the town centre, nor is it walking distance, so you will have to catch the local bus up the hill or arrange a hotel transfer.
- Rome to Montepulciano takes about 2.5 hours by car. I highly recommend you hire a car in Tuscany. It will allow you to reach Montepulciano easily and also to take day trips from Montepulciano if you have a little extra time. If you are driving, simply park near the Fortress or one of the car parks near the top of town, wander down through the streets and catch the bus back up the top. For obvious reasons, most of the tours around Montepulciano are walking tours, so check those specific details before you book.
- Florence to Montepulciano is just a 1.5 hour drive. So, a Montepulciano day trip is very easily added into your Tuscany itinerary, if you are short on time. There are also a number of other stunning Renaissance towns within a short drive from Montepulciano, so spend a week in Tuscany if you can.
- It’s important to note that at 600 metres above sea level and clinging to a limestone ridge, Montepulciano is known for its very steep streets. If you are not particularly fit or you have mobility problems, there is a little red public tourist bus that runs from the bottom of town (near Porta delle Farine), to the top of town near Piazza Grande. You will find red sign-posted stops around the town with one right at Porta della Farine itself.
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Where to Stay in Montepulciano
This wasn’t our first visit, yet the first time we were staying inside the fortified walls to get more of a feel for the town, beyond our typical lunchtime stopover. Having driven the two and a half hours from Rome, we were looking forward to settling in, unpacking our bags and starting to slowly climb the streets of this Tuscan jewel.
It was the early afternoon when we pulled through Porta delle Farine, one of the two gateways to the town. Pulling up outside B&B L’Agnolo Di Caroti Cinzia. Owner Michael tapped lightly on my window, insisting he escort our daughter and I to our room while the hubby and he parked the car and carried the bags up the hill. This family-run BnB is an absolute gem in Montepulciano. While we would usually hunt down a luxury 5 star hotel, we really had our hearts set on staying inside the town walls, so we opted for a BnB instead and we had the most wonderful stay. Nothing was too much trouble for Michael and his family. The suite we had was very large and comfortable. The only thing lacking was air conditioning, so if you are staying in high summer you may want to request fans when booking your stay.
For those happy to stay slightly out of town there are are a range of options, including luxury hotels (search here).
Things to Do in Montepulciano
When it comes to things to do in Montepulciano and what to see, there is plenty of history both inside the town walls and in the surrounding Tuscan hill top towns. Start your stay by exploring Montepulciano itself, but make sure you schedule enough time for a few day trips from Montepulciano too.
Start in the Piazza Grande
Piazza Grande is the perfect place to start exploring Montepulciano. Located at the top of the town, the expansive main square features the Duomo dating back to 1570 with its rough unfinished facade, the 14th century Palazzo Comunale or town hall offering panoramic views from its clock tower, the Palazzo Contucci and the 16th century well, Il Pozzo dei Grifi e dei Leoni which, as the name suggests features the Medici coat of arms (as a nod to Florence), supported by lions and the griffin, representing Montepulciano. From the square, weave your way down through the Corso, zig zagging around the bends, stopping in at cafes, bars and admiring the many churches and Renaissance palaces tucked away among the narrow streets.
Visit the Churches of Montepulciano
Whether you are religious or not Montepulciano’s churches are worth visiting for or even simply admiring their facades for the architecture and history from the street as your wander the cobblestones. Montepulciano Cathedral is an obvious choice if you are short on time and passing through Piazza Grande. Saint Lucy is located in the backstreets (Piazza di Santa Lucia) if you are zig zagging your way down the hill. You will probably also pass the beautiful facade and busy steps of Saint Agostino as you head towards the town’s lower gate. The dome of the Tempio di San Biagio enveloped in greenery is visible when enjoying the sunset over the valley from the just outside of Montepulciano when enjoying the view down to the valley below from the town walls.
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Wine Tasting in Montepulciano
Wine tasting in Montepulciano is a must during to visit; whether you are simply stopping in for lunch or staying for longer. Known for its Sangiovese-based Vino Nobile, Montepulciano cellars are dotted around town with wine cellar tours and tastings on offer to visitors. There are also lots of amazing little Montepulciano restaurants and wine bars where you can stop in for a tasting with very knowledgable waiters pouring up Nobile, the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and other less expensive, but also delicious drops by the glass or the bottle. Depending on where in the world you live you will also be able to easily send some bottles of your favourite wines home to family, friends or your own private cellar.
Visit the Montepulciano Fortress
Another unusual place to go wine tasting and enjoy the view of the valley is the fortress. Located near the Porta al Prato at the top of the town is the Montepulciano Fortress. Originally built back in 1261, the building has been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. Now, the fortress is a pop up space for exhibitions and also the Enoliteca Consortile, showcasing and offering tastings of the Vino Nobile. There is a glass floor in the wine bar so visitors can view the Etruscan ruins underfoot. Purchase a tasting card (which you can simply top up) and use it to grab yourself a glass or a tasting pour of wine and take it to the terrace outside to take in the views across the valley below to the Temple of San Biagio and of the Val di Chiana and Val d’Orcia.
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Give Your Camera a Workout
The ancient village of Montepulciano clings to a limestone ridge at about 600 metres above sea level which of course means the views are breathtaking across the surrounding Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana. The clock tower (with views stretching to Siena), the Montepulciano Fortress and any of the main walls as the top of the town provide a stunning panorama and the perfect location to use your camera to capture the sweeping valley surrounds. But I also highly recommend you set your alarm nice and early one morning and wander the backstreets with your camera in hand to snap some shots of the incredible architecture and characteristic details. If you are hoping to take some portraits of the locals, you may have to wait a little later; the only local we saw on our morning photo shoot was a slightly sleepy cat on a stoop.
Tour the Montepulciano Wine Caves
Taste testing and learning the history of the Vino Nobile is one of the top things to do in Montepulciano. While the Montepulciano wineries have vines covering the surrounding hills, some also process their wines in ancient centuries-old caves, dating back to the Etruscan era below the town itself.
We booked in for a walking Tour of the Historical Cellars and we absolutely loved it. A mix of history, sightseeing, wine and food tasting, the tour was thorough and lots of fun (and one of the few we could take with a toddler in tow). The tour runs for 2.5 hours, starting at the top of the town at Piazza Grande and working our way down the hill to finish at Cantina Ercolani.
We simply booked in the night before at the Valdichiana Living desk located in the tourist office at the Palazzo dei Nobili for 29 euros per adult. However, I recommend pre-booking your tour in the high-season. They have a range of tours from truffle hunting, to cooking courses and other gourmet options to sightseeing and wellness offerings too.
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Join in a Summer Celebration
If you are visiting in summer, book in early for a ticket to one of the Cantiere dell’Arte events, a festival that runs in late July through to early August. On the last Sunday in August the famous Montepulciano barrel race is held; the Bravio delle Botti. Pairs representing eight districts compete by pushing 80 kilo barrels up the steep slopes of Montepulciano to the Piazza Grande.
Relax at the Montepulciano Thermal Baths
About 10 minutes away from the town centre is the Montepulciano thermal baths. Said to have healing properties the thermal water is the ideal half-day destination for those needing to relax and unwind after days spent climbing the Montepulciano inclines. Visitors can book spa treatments, work out in the fitness area or simply swim in the sulphurous waters.
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Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.