Here is the complete travel guide to discover Montepulciano, the historic Medieval and Renaissance town in the province of Siena, between the Val di Chiana and Val D’Orcia, a UNESCO heritage site.
A beloved village perched on a hill, surrounded by beautiful landscapes, vineyards and olive groves, Montepulciano is a magnet for everyone and receives visits from all over the world, all year round. Every excuse is good to come here, but also to return.
Those who come here are inspired by the old town centre with its historical monuments, noble palaces and ancient churches. Also by the chance to restore body and mind in the spas and thermal springs scattered throughout the area, but also and above all by the well-known food and wine specialities, including the famous wines, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, Rosso di Montepulciano DOC and Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC, accompanied by Tuscan dishes.
Before starting our tour, however, we want to tell you a few curiosities. You will come across the word ‘poliziano’ in reference to the village and its inhabitants, so we want to tell you where this name originates from.
Well, the first document in which there is evidence of the village, named Mons Politianus, dates back to 715 AD. Among the many hypotheses, one of the most accredited dates the foundation of Montepulciano to King Porsenna the Great Lucumone (supreme chief) of Chiusi, in 500 B.C. And Porsenna’s name in Etruscan, Lars Porsina, in the Middle Ages became Mons Politianus and in the Renaissance, Poliziano. Also the name cemented thanks to the famous Renaissance poet Angelo (Agnolo) Ambrogini, known by the nickname ‘Poliziano’.
Another curiosity that we would like to share with film enthusiasts: Montepulciano has been the location chosen to shoot some scenes of important films, such as Curzio Malaparte’s ‘The Forbidden Christ’ (1950), Ettore Scola’s ‘L’Arcidiavolo’; ‘The English Patient’, ‘A Spasso nel tempo’; ‘Twilight’; the historical fiction ‘The Medici’. And these glimpses of beauty and history, the marvellous places depicted in the films, are real, they exist.
Now it’s tome to leave: in this guide we point out the most interesting tourist itineraries to discover what to see in and around Montepulciano. We start from the historic centre, focusing on the monuments that can be visited even in a single day.
For those who have more time, the guide continues with advice to visit other villages and the best events, tastings, excursions and spas.
What to see in Montepulciano in one day?
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To see everything, and breathe in the atmosphere, the ideal would be to dedicate at least two days to visiting the town. But in this guide, for those with little time, we point out what to see in Montepulciano in one day, starting from the historic centre with the main attractions not to be missed.
The historic centre is a Limited Traffic Zone (ZTL), so if you come by car, you can park in one of these car parks:
- Parking Montepulciano Via dell’Oriolo, free parking.
- Parking Montepulciano Piazza Don Minzoni, the closest to the historic centre (€1.50 per hour).
- Parking Montepulciano Vicolo San Donato (€1.50 per hour).
- Parking in Montepulciano Via Bernabei, regulated parking with a maximum stay of 1 hour.
Let’s start our tour. 👇
1. Piazza Grande
Piazza Grande is located in the heart of Montepulciano and dates back to the 15th century. It is one of the most beautiful squares in all of Tuscany, and perhaps even in Italy, according to the comments of those who have visited it.
The most important historical buildings of the town overlook it: the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta; the Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo; the Palazzo Comunale with the Torre Civica; Palazzo Nobili – Tarugi; Palazzo Contucci; the Pozzo dei Grifi e dei Leoni.
A scene from Twilight – New Moon was also filmed in Piazza Grande.
2. Other historical palaces
Worth seeing in Montepulciano are its beautiful noble, mediaeval and Renaissance palaces, some of which can be visited free of charge.
Among these is the famous Palazzo Ricci, in the street of the same name, near Piazza Grande; along Via Ricci are also Palazzo Sisti and Palazzo Nero-Orselli; in Via di Gracciano nel Corso are Palazzo Bucelli and Palazzo Avignonesi; along Via di Voltaia nel Corso, you will find Palazzo Cervini.
Palazzo Ricci, one of the most beautiful Renaissance palaces in Montepulciano, is the seat of the European Academy (Europäische Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst), which hosts courses and concerts.
But this same palace also houses the historic wine cellars of the Ricci family (known as ‘cantine del Redi’), carved into the tuff and open to visitors free of charge.
3. Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
In Piazza Grande, in the highest part of the village, there is the Cathedral of Montepulciano, built between 1586 and 1680 by Ippolito Scalza, in place of the ancient parish church of Santa Maria, consecrated in 1712.
We recommend a visit to the interior of the Cathedral, where there are some important works of art such as the Triptych of the Assumption, painted by Taddeo di Bartolo (1401), on the high altar, the 15th century Funeral Monument of Bartolomeo Aragazzi, made by Michelozzo between 1427 and 1436, the 15th century painting on wood by Sano di Pietro and dedicated to the Madonna of the Pillar, on the altar of the Lilies, and the glazed terracotta by Andrea Della Robbia (1512).
4. Crociani Civic Art Gallery Museum
A few metres from Piazza Grande is the Museo Civico di Montepulciano, housed in Palazzo Neri Orselli, a building dating back to the 14th century, where you can see works of great artistic value, including stone artefacts of various origins (the Poliziana section); Etruscan and Roman archaeological findings (the archaeology section); and the Terracotte Robbiane, a collection of glazed terracotta works of art, produced by the Della Robbia workshop, a famous family of Florentine Renaissance artists.
The museum also houses a section dedicated to the Crociani Art Gallery, which was started in 1859 by art collector Francesco Crociani’s bequest to the Poliziana community.
The museum collection consists of works of art (paintings, sculptures, ceramics and sacred art objects) from various periods and styles, from the 13th to the 18th century by Sienese artists.
5. Other museums
Among the museums to visit in Montepulciano, a few metres from Piazza Grande, inside Palazzo Bellarmino is the Torture Museum where you can see the various instruments of torture, including the stretching bench, guillotine, chastity belt and inquisitorial chair.
Art lovers can also take a tour of the Galleria Cerri Arte in Piazza Grande, a crossroads for collecting contemporary Italian and international art, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and engravings.
6. Medici Fortress
Near Piazza Grande, on a small hill is the Fortezza Medicea, built by the Republic of Siena in the mid-12th century (1261) as a military garrison. Today the Fortezza houses the Enoteca del Consorzio del Vino Nobile and a branch office of Kennesaw University.
It is well worth a visit, just for the marvellous landscape of the Val di Chiana and Val D’Orcia that can be seen from here.
Browsing around the various interiors, you come across a transparent floor that reveals the remains of ancient Etruscan tombs on which the fortress was built.
7. Poliziano Theatre
Montepulciano is worth seeing for its historic theatre, a rib of the previous Regio Teatro built at the end of the 18th century. The theatre was designed by the Accademia degli Intrigati (18th century), at the time promoter of literary and theatrical activities.
The theatre has a horseshoe layout with four tiers of boxes and an oval vestibule. Since 2005, the theatre has been managed by the Fondazione Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte di Montepulciano.
8. Tower of Pulcinella
Walking down Via Gracciano nel Corso, in front of the Church of Sant’Agostino in Piazza Michelozzo, stands this Renaissance tower with a clock. At the top of the tower, a wooden Pulcinella chimes the hours with a hammer.
According to legend, the Pulcinella strikes the hours on this tower at the behest of a Neapolitan bishop, although it seems to have been a priest, who proposed to restore the previous, but then deteriorated statue, inspired by the ‘Mangia’ of Siena, placed on the clock tower in Montepulciano with the task of striking the hours. The restored automaton was therefore dressed as Pulcinella.
9. Church of Sant’Agostino
We remain in Piazza Michelozzo where, opposite the Tower, is the Church of Sant’Agostino (1285), recognisable by its beautiful white façade in late Florentine Gothic and Renaissance style, on which we note the rose window and the lunette with the terracotta relief of the Madonna and Saints John the Baptist and Augustine, by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo.
Inside the church, which has a single nave, along the side walls you can observe the decorations with Renaissance-style altars and frescoes.
On the left wall, there is an altarpiece painted by Cesare Nebbia da Orvieto (1585) of the Ascension; the Madonna of the Cintola, by Federico Fiori known as ‘Il Barroccio’ (second half of the 1500s); and the Crucifixion with the Madonna and Mary Magdalene by Lorenzo di Credi (late 1400s early 1500s).
On the right-hand side, instead there are are frescoes of the Resurrection of Lazarus by Alessandro Allori (1500); a portrait of St Nicholas of Tolentino by Giovanni di Paolo da Siena (1400); a Pietà by Pomarancio (second half of 1500). Above the altar, on the other hand, you can admire the polychrome wooden crucifix (1400), according to sources, a work by Donatello.
10. Temple of San Biagio
Also worth a visit in Montepulciano is the Temple of San Biagio, outside the city walls and not far from the centre, but also reachable on foot, if you want to take a walk accompanied by the cypress trees that follow the path along the avenue.
It was Antonio da Sangallo the Elder who built the church (1518-1545), majestic and immersed in a tranquil natural landscape, on the remains of a thousand-year-old parish church in ruins.
A 14th century fresco of the parish church, depicting the ‘Madonna with Child and St Francis’, to whom some miracles were attributed, gave the impulse to build the dedicated temple.
Inside, the works of art to see are the large marble dossal, behind the High Altar, with the fresco depicting the Madonna and Child and St Francis in the centre, created by the brothers Giannozzo and Lisandro di Pietro Albertini, the decorations of the vault (1650), and the stained glass windows.
10 things to do in Montepulciano
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- Piazza Grande
- Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
- Historic Palaces
- Tower of Pulcinella
- Temple of San Biagio
- Church of Sant’Agostino
- Poliziano Theatre
- Caffè Poliziano
- Crociani Civic Museum Picture Gallery
- Museum of Torture
What to see around Montepulciano
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If you have time to discover other villages in the area among the most beautiful in Italy, from Montepulciano you can easily reach the Val d’Orcia, one of the most evocative areas in Tuscany, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its hills covered in cypresses, wheat fields and vineyards. From Montepulciano it is easy to reach the villages of Pienza (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the small medieval village of Monticchiello, only about 9 km away.
Also about 15 km from Montepulciano is another medieval village, San Quirico d’Orcia, the ‘City of the Horti Leonini’. Also not to be missed are Montalcino, famous for another excellent Tuscan wine, the prized Brunello di Montalcino DOCG; Castiglione d’Orcia, known for its imposing Rocca Aldobrandesca; and the ancient Etruscan town of Cortona, which still preserves traces of its past. But these are just a few examples; the territory is full of little gems to discover.
For those looking for a bit of relaxation, the area is also rich in thermal springs and spas, starting with those of Montepulciano, passing through the thermal baths of Chianciano, Bagni San Filippo, Rapolano Terme and Bagno Vignoni, famous for its characteristic main square with its large thermal pool surrounded by historic buildings and restaurants.
What to do in Montepulciano?
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As well as things to see in Montepulciano, there is also plenty to do here.
If you feel like strolling and shopping, you can walk along Via Ricci, inside the historic centre, where you will find shops and craft workshops. Some raw materials such as copper, wood and terracotta are worked here to create artefacts and furnishings.
Memorable photo shoots are always in vogue for those who love the genre, to be sublimated in some breathtaking viewpoints. One of these can be admired from the Fortezza Medicea, from where one can enjoy a crazy view as far as Lake Trasimeno.
Speaking of lakes, we cannot fail to mention the Montepulciano Lake Nature Reserve and the Chiusi Lake (about 20 km from Montepulciano), two unmissable destinations for those who want to dedicate some time to nature, trekking, walking and hiking, horseback riding, cycling, Vespa or quad biking.
If you want to stop for a mid-afternoon break, after sightseeing, we recommend a coffee, a cappuccino or an aperitif in the Caffè Poliziano (1868), a short distance from the Teatro Poliziano.
The historic café, preserved in its sober Art Nouveau style, is now part of the Locali Storici d’Italia, remembered also for the personalities who have passed through here, from Carducci to Pirandello, from Giulietta Masina to Mario Monicelli.
Local food & wine
You cannot leave Montepulciano without tasting some of its local specialities, such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montepulciano, and extra virgin olive oil, to be tried on Tuscan bread.
So, here is another itinerary, but of the best local dishes not to be missed, sweet and savoury:
- among the first courses: pici all’aglione, pappardelle with wild boar or duck sauce, malfatti (stuffed with ricotta and spinach); ‘Ribollita’ (soup)
- main courses: Chianina meat (Florentine steak, peposo), wild boar meat, pork
- appetisers: panzanella, crostini, focaccia
- Tuscan cheeses and Cinta Senese cold cuts
- truffles, lentils, honey
- vin santo and cantucci with almond
- panpepato and panforte
If you come to Montepulciano at Christmas time, panpepato is the typical cake par excellence. At Carnival time, you will find crogetti, or cenci di Carnevale, and at Easter time, Foiano’s Tuscan ciambellini.
In Montepulciano, there is no shortage of opportunities to taste local specialities. In addition to the trattorias, wine bars and shops, which can also offer food and wine tastings, you can visit the underground wine cellars, where you can sample the local wines accompanied by platters of cold meats and cheeses, and other specialities.
If you love Tuscan cuisine, or you fall in love with it after tasting its many delicacies, we recommend taking the opportunity to enjoy cooking courses organised by local chefs.
A truly unique opportunity, if you want to spend a few hours enjoying a new and relaxing experience, immersed in the true Tuscan gastronomic tradition, to discover the secrets of historical recipes, especially those of the province of Siena.
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After having seen what to visit in Montepulciano, let’s review the fair and festivals, folkloristic events you might come across during the year.
Among the most famous, the traditional Christmas markets; the “Carnival of Montepulciano”; the “Easter Festival”; the “Spring Fair”; “Fair of Saint Agnes” (May); the “International Art Workshop” (July); the “Bravio delle Botti” (August); “Montepulciano Calici di Stelle” (August); “Cantine in Piazza” (August); the “Sagra dell’Ocio” (September); the “Palio dei Carretti” (September-October); “Festa dell’Olio e dei Sapori d’Autunno” (October); the “Camminata tra gli Olivi” (October).
Again, we have shared only a few events, but in Montepulciano, as well as throughout Tuscany, there are many others.
How to get to Montepulciano
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You can get to Montepulciano:
- by train: the nearest station is half an hour away in Chiusi, from where trains leave for various destinations.
- By car: Montepulciano is just a few kilometres from the A1 and the SS2. If arriving from the north, exit at Valdichiana-Bettolle; if arriving from the south, at Chiusi-Chianciano Terme. The Siena-Perugia highway and the Via Cassia (to and from Rome) are also available, depending on your location.
- By plane, you can land at the airports closest to Montepulciano: Florence – Peretola A. Vespucci (120 km): Pisa G. Galilei (150 km); Rome – Fiumicino L. da Vinci (250 km). From the airports you can take trains, buses or hire cars.
Now that you know what to see in Montepulciano, we wish you a good trip to Tuscany! And remember: with Italia Delight you can customise your food and wine trip with local experts 😉
Cover photo: valerio-gentile-unsplash
Featured photo: pixabay, Makalu