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3 Tuscan Hilltowns You Haven't Heard Of

Growing up my friends and I had a spot in the woods we called the 50 footer. It is a deep valley dirt path carved out by the strip miners who once occupied the land. We’d bomb the rocky halfpipe on BMX bikes as a rite of passage and build elaborate forts on the other [&hellip

by Randy and Bethany Posted on 21 May 2013

Growing up my friends and I had a spot in the woods we called the 50 footer. It is a deep valley dirt path carved out by the strip miners who once occupied the land. We'd bomb the rocky halfpipe on BMX bikes as a rite of passage and build elaborate forts on the other side made of stolen pallets for king of the hill battles.

It wasn't until a recent trip to Italy that it hit me that my friends and I had been carrying out the age-old tradition of the hill town in our own backyards. There I was sitting on the back patio of Agriturismo La Pietriccia, sucking in the Tuscan flavors--house wine, cheeses and cured meats--as the sun set over Chianciano Vecchia (the old town of present day Chianciano Terme) on the crest above, and I realized I was staring at Tuscany's version of the 50 footer--albeit on a much larger and historic scale.

Central Italy is famous for its hill towns. Their crumbling stone walls seem to cling to every rocky peak, watching over the manicured valleys and vineyards as the rush of the 21st century passes by below. Siena and San Gimignano are the most well known in Tuscany, but they are certainly not the only ones. During our stay at the agriturismo, Beth and I visited three hill towns, including Chianciano Terme, in the Siena Province. Each one offering a tranquil taste of what eludes so many visitors to Italy.

Montalcino

Montalcino, Italy

If Virginia is for lovers then Montalcino is for wine lovers. This medieval hill town is famous for its Brunello di Montalcino red wines, and features a number of charming enoteche (wine bars)--_even the 14th century _fortezza contains one. Just a few miles outside of Montalcino, in a valley of olive trees, stands Abbey of Sant'Antimo, considered to be one of the top architectural remains of the Romanesque Period. Several times a day the church's community of monks fill the 12th century stone hall with the harmonious sounds of traditional Gregorian chants. These performances are free and open to the public.

Pienza

Pienza, Italy

Looking out over the gentle, carefully cultivated hills of Val d'Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is easy to see why locally born pope Pius II chose to remodel his hometown in the style of his day: Renaissance. Pienza, named after pope Pius, is still full of renaissance architecture and bustles with the feel of a modern day medieval village. Besides the architecture and epic views, Pienza is also known for its sheep's milk cheese, pecorino. Plus, with streets names like Via Dell'Amore (Love), Via Del Bacio (Kiss) and Via Della Fortuna (Fortune), it is difficult not to fall hard for this little hilltop town.

Chianciano Vecchia

Wine tasting at Agricola Fontanelle with Riccardo at the helm. Copyright Bethany Salvon BeersandBeans 2013

From Agriturismo La Pietriccia, Chianciano Vecchia is only a 10 minute walk following Via Madonna della Rossa down into the valley and up the other side. Our time in Chianciano Vecchia was limited to a wine tasting in the cave-like cellars of Agricola Fontanelle, where winemaker Riccardo Rosati and his two brothers produce world-class wines from experience they've inherited from generations of family winemaking. Despite only spending a few hours with Riccardo and his family, sampling their wines and incredible selection of cured meats and olive oil, we felt like locals, just visiting with some friends on a weekday night.