June 22, 2015

Montefollonico to Montepulciano, Italy

We embrace slow travel, so for this trip to Italy we spent almost two weeks in Tuscany, then a few days in Rome.  While in Tuscany, we stayed in the tiny hilltop village of Montefollonico, a charming walled medieval enclave located a short 15-minute drive from both Pienza and Montepulciano, two of the most storied towns in the area.  We prefer to rent apartments rather than stay in hotels, and in Montefollonico, our two bedroom rental featured an incredible 12th-century tower, complete with parapets and arrow slits.  The views from the terrace atop the tower were spectacular!

While researching the area before our trip, we'd noticed farm lanes and white roads between Montefollonico and Montepulciano that might not be drivable in our compact rental, but were mighty appealing for a hike.  We used Google Earth to make the traverse electronically and determined it would be possible, and fairly straightforward to navigate.  Once we arrived, we could actually see most of the route we would take from the terrace. Nevertheless, I was comforted to find a brochure in the tourist office with a map and description of the hike, included here below the photos.  I just feel better with a map on my person, even though we ended up not needing or using it, as is often the case.  Peace of mind...   

We deviated from the described route only slightly, starting at our apartment rather than at the tourist office.  Also, the brochure describes two options at the base of Montepulciano, left to climb into the village and right to visit the enormous Tempio di San Biago.  Because the hike one way is over four miles, we knew that attempting it round-trip would be beyond Frankie's range.  Plus, we wanted to see the inside of the San Biago church, a striking building that we hadn't toured on our previous day trip to Montepulciano.  Therefore, as we'd planned back home, we hiked to San Biago, then caught a bus to the Piazza Grande at the top of Montepulciano.  We climbed the tower in the Palazzo Comunale (again) to look at where we'd hiked, got some gelato, and then walked back down through the village to the Porta al Prato, where we called a taxi to take us back to Montefollonico.

Highly recommended! 

the view from our terrace -- San Biago, our hiking destination, is indicated by the red arrow
another shot from our tower terrace, with San Biago visible between the parapets

a footpath descending through the woods starts right outside the east gate of Montefollonico, just past Chiesa del Triano
looking back up at Montefollonico
turning right at the tiny St. Anna church

picnic lunch

running up a hill in the blazing sun

getting closer to Montepulciano and San Biago

Montefollonico is visible on the hilltop behind Frankie

this friendly pony was grazing the far side of the pasture, but came to our side to greet us
Montepulciano, with the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) and it's tower on the far right
Tempio di San Biago

la Piazza Grande di Montepulciano; il Duomo (left) and Palazzo Comunale (right)
view of San Biago from the top of the Palazzo Comunale tower
view back toward Montefollonico from the top of the Palazzo Comunale tower (red arrow indicates our starting point)
Frankie crashed hard on the taxi ride back to Montefollonico
brochure from the Montefollonico tourist office
map in the brochure from the Montefollonico tourist office

June 21, 2015

Sentiero Rosso, Parco il Tondo, Italy

We'd been in Montefollonico nine days already, but had spent those days exploring nearby hilltop villages and the historical rival-cities of Firenze and Siena.  As spectacular as those adventures were, I was craving a simple day around town, with less driving and more hiking.  When Erwin wasn't up yet by the time Frankie and I finished breakfast, we headed out on foot, planning to stop at the playground, then pop into the little grocery store on our way back to the apartment.  A pair of adorable and super charming Italian boys were at the playground.  The older brother kept trying to get Frankie to play with them, but my shy little guy was overwhelmed by the language barrier and the 7-year old's friendly exuberance, and kept running back to me.  I chatted with the kids a bit, but when their Dad kept interceding to tell them to give Frankie some space, I decided we should clear out.  The kids were so sweet, I didn't want to provide the attractive nuisance that would get them in trouble.

The tourist office is right across from the playground, and was quite clearly open, so I decided to pop in and ask if there were any local trail maps available.  Jackpot!  I got four little brochures with maps and trail information.  Most of them weren't a good fit for Frankie, too long and hilly for little legs, but the Sentiero Rosso at Parco Il Tondo was enticing.  Best of all, it was here in town; the map showed the hike starting right at the tourist office.  Erwin showed up at the grocery store while we were re-stocking, and I shared our discoveries.  We decided to drive after all, and park by the cemetery, to give us more options after the hike (and we ended up driving around to the base of the hill on the other side afterwards to check out the ruins of an old monastery). What a delight to stay close to home and explore our immediate surroundings! 

Montefollonico is certainly worthy of the attention. It is a borgo medievale, perched on a hilltop between Val di Chiana and Val d’Orcia. Our rental apartment features a 12th century tower, topped by a terrace with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. As ancient as that seems from our American perspective, it was great fun exploring Il Tondo with the knowledge that people had been wandering these hillsides for not just hundreds, but thousands of years -- quite literally. The area has been occupied since Neanderthals roamed the land, as evidenced by the Lithic tools/utensils dating back 60,000 years that have been found within the park. And the views are pretty amazing, too.

Monument at the intersection of Via del Cimitero and Via Fonte dei Bighi.
Checking out the signs at the trailhead along Via del Cimitero.
Heading up the trail.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

We tucked Frankie's pants into his socks after I received several painful bites from some rather unwelcoming ants. 
Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum sp.)
Talking about Lego spaceships.
Field scabious (Knautia arvensis)
valerian (Valeriana sp.)

teasel (Dipsacus sp.)
Sign at a junction tells the history of the park.
The trail starts to open up.
Frankie took pictures, too.
Monte Amiata

It's hard to wrap your brain around such splendor.
We found a shady spot to rest and soak in the views.

Montpellier maple (Acer monspessulanum)

We three.
fire lily (Lilium bulbiferum)
Back in the woods.
downy oak (Quercus pubescens)