Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Eastern Hill Towns of Tuscany

To contrast the previous day of large, touristy Tuscan cities we had the small Eastern hill towns of Arezzo, Cortona, Montepulciano, Montalcino, and Pienza on tap is a map to help visualize where we were (look to the right - east)...
So one wow about our Tuscan villa was they had TWO cribs and TWO high chairs set up in our apartment (it is always the little touches isn't it?!?). While it is certainly time for Connor to learn to sit still without straps, it was very helpful at breakfast to let them eat and play without being directly underfoot!
As we left Chianti we had to trespass, just a little! It was harmless really. The grapes and vineyards pulled us in for a closer look.
Harvest was in full swing. We were stuck behind trucks like this one loaded with grapes more than once! How very authentic!
We traveled first to Arezzo. Arezzo dates from pre-Etruscan times, when around 1000 BC the first settlers erected a cluster of huts. Arezzo thrived as an Etruscan capital from the 7th to the 4th centuries BC, and was one of the most important cities in the Etruscans' anti-Roman 12-city federation, resisting Rome's rule to the last. Now THAT IS OLD! But funny the town seemed full of life and pretty modern.
Will thought Arezzo was a hit. He was all smiles!
Arezzo is today best known for the magnificent Piero della Francesca frescoes in the church of San Francesco. They were very special. What dedication and devotion to the Lord it must have taken to stick with a project this enormous!
Connor really could have cared less about the frescoes. She just wanted to pose and jump around in the front courtyard.
Arezzo was everything and more you would expect of a Tuscan hill town. And while the Etruscan history and culture is great, the very best part of Arezzo is...
...the Italian Oscar award winning movie, Life is Beautiful, was filmed right here!*** I don't have words for how inspirational I found this movie when it first came out. And now that I am a parent myself the story of optimism in the face of the Nazi invasion is even more endearing.
Our second town of the day was Cortona. Cortona blankets a 1,700-foot hill surrounded by dramatic Tuscan and Umbrian views. Frances Mayes' books, such as Under the Tuscan Sun, have placed this town in the touristic limelight. But long before Mayes ever published a book, Cortona was popular with Romantics and considered one of the classic Tuscan hill towns.
Our strong hubbies pushed our babes in strollers UP the enormous hill to get into Cortona. We all could feel the burn! And we were famished for lunch. We climbed to Piazza della Repubblica and spotted Ristorante La Logetta right away. The eatery is located in a former fish market under the arches in this image below.
And with a view like this, we were sold.
The pasta, appetizers, and wine were all delicious. I kinda wish I could just push a button and go back to eat that meal again and again. Mmmmm!
We window shopped along the streets of Via Nazionale and the little ones played together on the steps of City Hall.
Cortona won the prize for best country view in Tuscany. The roads stretched out for miles and the textures and contours of the land contrasted with beauty.
Kirk's mom loved Montepulciano best when she traveled to Tuscany, so we were sure to put it on our to see list. I agreed it was a comforting surprise of a place. The roads in and around wound gently up to town hall. We relaxed and enjoyed. Thanks for the recommendation Cara!
We kept trekking and neighboring Pienza was next. It was a jewel of Renaissance architecture thanks to Pope Pius II's decree to remodel his birthplace. Another jaw-dropping view...
Pienza also specializes in Pecorino cheese; nearly every shop sells it. This makes for a pungent smell of sheep's cheese wafting through the streets. We did try the cheese while we were there, but I have to say I wasn't a huge fan.
And yet, my favorite town of the day was Montalcino. We were there late and saw the sun go to bed. We went to the Fortezza, the 14th century fort, and to the enoteche wine bar inside. We tasted the most amazing vino my tongues, cheeks, and throat have ever felt. The Brunello red was warm and very, very memorable. We didn't fork over the money in the official enoteche but went to the local grocery store to pick up a bottle to take back to the villa to share. It is a pricey investment (even on the cheap at the market) but well worth the splurge. We all agreed it was perhaps the very best wine we have ever had.
For as much hype as Florence and Siena generate, the small hill towns gave us a contrast with time to relax and just be. And that is a fantastic kind of art all of its own. Without having to fit in must see museums and tourist sights we were able to simply eat, drink and be merry with the most amazing scenery accenting our adventure.

***Honestly, if you haven't seen Life is Beautiful then run to your video store to check it out. Here is a trailer with several scenes right in the main Arezzo square where we walked:Also just a bookmark note for another trip to Tuscany. We ran out of time and had to pass up going to the Tuscan hill town of Volterra. Next time! It is Rick Steves' favorite, so definitely want to check it out one day.


Sues said...

OMG - "Life is Beautiful" & "Under the Tuscan Sun" *in person* - definitely on my itinerary for next time!

Dallas said...

Cool! Life is Beautiful is one of my all-time favorite movies. Looks like you had a great time.