It is such a shame that so many people rush, for example, from Rome to Florence, and then over to Venice, without stopping to experience a day, or even an afternoon, in the life of the wonderful small medieval Tuscan towns such as charming Montepulciano. This ancient village in the southern part of the region is known for its wines such as Vino Nobile, as well as its many colorful and lively festivals that take place along the winding cobblestone streets.
Even if you don’t have time to stay overnight, do what my husband and I did years ago, on one of our first trips to Tuscany; stop for a leisurely pronzo, sip the wine, and walk in and out of the variety of shops where you can buy everything under, no pun intended, the Tuscan sun. In addition to the delicious vina rosas (red wines) you’ll find savory meat products and cheeses not to mention lovely ceramics to take home as a Montepulciano memory.
If you happen to be in Montepulciano the last Sunday of August, the Tuscan town hosts its famous race of the Barrels called “Bravìo delle Botti,” that pits eight local neighborhoods, or “Contradas” against each other to win a painted cloth banner of the town patron, St. John the Baptist, whose feast is August 29th.
Pushers or “spingitori” push 160lb empty wine barrels uphill for 1800 meters through the town until they reach the Grand Plaza in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Twists and turns, and escaping barrels, entertain visitors and the locals watching from their doorways and streets.
Originally started as a horse race through the town in 1373, things apparently got a bit frisky in the 17th century, and the race was suppressed for reasons of “public order.” Then, in 1974, a local priest, Don Marcello del Balio, had the idea to resurrect the horse race as a barrel race to celebrate the local wine. Filled with parades of residents in Renaissance costumes, food, games, music, ceremonies, and practice runs, the town is filled with excitement and joy.
So, even if you can’t make it for the barrel race, be sure to stop into this lovely town for a day you will truly remember!