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Help planning day trips from Montepulciano w/ car

Help planning day trips from Montepulciano w/ car

Sep 23rd, 2012, 01:13 PM
  #1  
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Help planning day trips from Montepulciano w/ car

Hello all!
My fiance and I are going on our honeymoon to Italy in a couple weeks. I have been reading up and trying to plan some good day trips from our hotel in Montepulciano since we will have a car the whole time there. We have never been to Europe/Italy, so we're excited to get out and see a lot. However, we also don't want to be in a car the entire trip.

Any advice on the second leg of our trip below would be greatly appreciated!

Leg 1: Venice (3 nights)

Leg 2: Montepulciano/Tuscany (4 nights)
-Day Trip #1: drive to Volterra, spend 3-4 hours, drive to Sienna, spend 5 hours, drive back to hotel in Montepulciano
-Day Trip #2: drive to St. Antimòs Abbey to watch Gregorian Chants at 9AM, stop in Montalcino, San Quirico d'Orcia, and Pienza on the way back to Montepulciano
-Day Trip #3: drive to Assisi, spend 4-6 hours, drive to Cortona, spend 2-3 hours, drive back to Montepulciano.
-Day Trip #4: drive to Civita di Bagnoregio early in the morning, spend 2 hours, drive to Orvieto, spend 2 hours. Catch train to Rome at 12:00p

Leg 3: Rome (4 nights)

Some of my questions of the bat:
1. Is this too much driving?
2. If yes above, what should we cut? (Is Volterra/Assisi/Orvieto worth it)
3. Any other advice based on what you see?

Map of our honeymoon including these day trips:
https://www.google.com/maps/ms?msid=...9b00ac09&msa=0
danzaman is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2012, 02:13 PM
  #2  
 
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I'm worried you are going to come back from your honeymoon saying "It was all great, we saw incredible things, but I wished we'd relaxed more."

If both of you are the type who roll out of bed at 6.30am every morning, and on the road by 8am (your hotel is not likely to be giving you a cup of coffee until 7.30), then I can see you being able to get to Volterra in time to spend 3-4 hours before everything closes. (Maybe 3). If you skip lunch, you can be in Siena in time to walk around for 5 hours (things won't re-open there until 4pm) or until you feel like you better drive back before it gets dark -- whichever comes first. (Europe turns its clocks back in a couple of weeks.)

But this really is not the Italian way. The Italian way -- especially on one's honeymoon -- is to get up when you feel like, have some coffee and drive to a beautiful place to have a long lunch. And then you go someplace beautiful to walk it off, and then you make sure you are back in town to join the evening stroll, to have a glass of bubbly and talk. And then you for a long dinner with wine. And then...

Assisi is full of pilgrims -- really to the max. Siena is filled to the eyeballs with tourists. Tuscany is filled with the charm of small places.

Sure, pack your map. But don't feel like if you're "missing" something if you never get where you're going in Tuscany because you stopped too many times just to get out of the car and stare because it's so beautiful, or you decided to linger over dessert and coffee, or .... you get the point.

All these things on your list, including chanting monks, have been around thousands of years. They'll still be around when you come back with the kids.

Have a great honeymoon.
caldarroste is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2012, 03:34 PM
  #3  
 
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When will you see Montepulciano??

Are you comfortable with the idea of driving back to Montepulciano in the dark? (Sunset will be at about 6:30 p.m.)

Day 1 is at least 4.5 hours in the car. Day 2 is about 2 hours of driving, but you'll spend time locating legal parking 3 times (not an issue at the abbey). Day 3 is another 3+ hours of driving and parking. Day 4 isn't much driving, but catching a train at noon will severely limit your sightseeing time. Could you take a later train?

Assuming you're picking up the car as you're leaving Venice (and got an early start), you could make a stop in Cortona (perhaps for lunch?) before you reach Montepulciano.

FYI, each driver needs an IDP and his/her locally-issued driver's license.
Jean is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2012, 04:17 PM
  #4  
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thanks for the advice, how's this as an alternate?

-Evening #1: Relax in Montepulciano after arriving at 17:00 (forgot to add this in original post)
-Day Trip #1: drive to Volterra in AM, spend 3-4 hours, drive to San Gimignano, spend 2 hours, drive back to hotel in Montepulciano
-Day Trip #2: drive to St. Antimòs Abbey to watch Gregorian Chants at 9AM, stop in Montalcino and Buonvonvento on the way back to Montepulciano, relax in the evening in Montepulciano
-Day Trip #3: drive to Siena, spend a full day, drive back to Montepulciano.
-Day Trip #4: drive to Civita di Bagnoregio in the morning, spend 1-2 hours, drive to Orvieto to drop off car, then spend 2-4 hours, push back train to Rome to 19:40 instead of 12:00

The above removes Assisi (we weren't crazy about this anyway,) Cortona, and Pienza; while adding San Gimignano/Buonconvento to create a somewhat more relaxed schedule?

Some questions:
1. Should we remove San Gimignano to spend a full day in Volterra? I've heard mixed things about it San Gimignano.
2. Is Cortona worth seeing?
3. Is Montalcino worth the visit even if we don't want to go on full day winery tours?
4. Is Orvieto worth seeing since we're dropping the car off there? and worth pushing our train time back?
5. Chanting Monks not worth it?

Thanks again! We're trying to strike the right balance of seeing what's out there and also not driving ALL day. I think I'd be comfortable driving at night, we did pick up IDP's at AAA last week!

Dan P.
danzaman is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2012, 05:35 PM
  #5  
 
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bookmarking

these are great questions that are very similar to what we have in store for our trip
CraigContact is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2012, 08:07 PM
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Trip #1 will still be at least 4.5 hours of driving. The source of this problem (if you see it as a problem) is that Volterra is at least 2 hours away from Montepulciano, assuming no photo stops or traffic delays. Whether 3-4 hours in Volterra is enough time is difficult to answer. It depends on when you arrive (some sights close for lunch), what interests you and how much of Volterra you hope to see. I find San Gim more interesting when viewed from a distance, with its towers on the skyline, but you will certainly hear differing views from those who love San Gim.

Everything is worth visiting, including Cortona, Montalcino, Orvieto, Chianti (not on your list), but you have to face the need to make difficult choices and decide how much driving you want to do.

FWIW, I think Orvieto is one of the more interesting towns you'll be going to. Your plan would not provide enough time in Montepulciano for me, but that's me. Notwithstanding the Gregorian chants, we found the abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore more interesting as a destination than Sant'Antimo. IMO, this abbey pairs better with Buonconvento, and Sant'Antimo pairs better with Montalcino. The two abbeys are about an hour apart.

So much depends on your interests, how you like to spend your time, how early you like to start, whether you'll let yourselves take an intriguing detour, etc. Do as much reading about the towns and sights that you can. Look at photos on google and watch videos on youtube.
Jean is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2012, 08:09 PM
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Trip #1 will still be at least 4.5 hours of driving. The source of this problem (if you see it as a problem) is that Volterra is at least 2 hours away from Montepulciano, assuming no photo stops or traffic delays. Whether 3-4 hours in Volterra is enough time is difficult to answer. It depends on when you arrive (some sights close for lunch), what interests you and how much of Volterra you hope to see. I find San Gim more interesting when viewed from a distance, with its towers on the skyline, but you will certainly hear differing views from those who love San Gim.

Everything is worth visiting, including Cortona, Montalcino, Orvieto, Chianti (not on your list), but you have to face the need to make difficult choices and decide how much driving you want to do.

FWIW, I think Orvieto is one of the more interesting towns you'll be going to. Your plan would not provide enough time in Montepulciano for me, but that's me. Notwithstanding the Gregorian chants, we found the abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore more interesting as a destination than Sant'Antimo. IMO, this abbey pairs better with Buonconvento, and Sant'Antimo pairs better with Montalcino. The two abbeys are about an hour apart.

So much depends on your interests, how you like to spend your time, how early you like to start, whether you'll let yourselves take an intriguing detour, etc. Do as much reading about the towns and sights that you can. Look at photos on google and watch videos on youtube.
Jean is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2012, 08:10 PM
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Sorry for the double post.
Jean is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2012, 08:22 PM
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I doubt you'll need more than an hour in Civita di Bagnoreggio, though getting into and out of it can take some time.

I personally would skip Cortona, which I find close to abhorrent in high season, just bearable other times.

I also don't know how anyone can say we'll spend 2-3 hours here or 4 hours there when planning a trip to Italy. First of all, you'll be dealing with fall hours, when everything closes except restaurants and such for a few hours in the middle of the day, and second of all, how can you even imagine what will captivate you and what you'll want to just skip over depending on the weather, crowds, your frame of mind, etc.? Italy is not the place to plan a granular vacation.

You actually have a very short time in Italy. I personally would maximize my time in Montepulciano and just get to know the immediate area somewhat well and forget trying to "hit" all kinds of tourist spots around it. Dump Cortona, try to get to at least one abbey if that interests you, and try to get to Orvieto. I wouldn't aim for much more than that. It's Italy...slow is better.
StCirq is online now  
Sep 24th, 2012, 01:36 AM
  #10  
 
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Montepulciano is a more interesting place than you realize. You will want to see it in daylight and get to know it.

You've done a lot of research and I applaud you for that, but what guidebooks don't give you is any information about the several dozen beautiful small towns and villages that will be all around you. A guidebook would need to be the size of a dictionary to include them, and some of them don't have peculiar "sights" to see, so guidebooks are afraid to suggest going there, lest you think "Why am I here?"

But many of those small villages are precisely what gives Tuscany its special charm. Part of what people are trying to tell you is that it can be heartbreaking to go speeding past them, only to arrive at place like San Gimignano, or the abbey of Sant'Antimo, and find the place loaded with tour buses and fellow tourists with cameras.

All that said, when I travel in Italy, I am a big time educational sightseer. I want to see the great cathedral, the ancient walls, the fountains, the historic sites. If you or your fiance have a very keen interest in Etruscan art (or the "Twilight" series), do NOT let us layabouts tell you not to drive to Volterra to see it.

But if Etruscan history is not your biggest passion (you can find it much closer in Orvieto and Chisui anyway), than Montalcino is great substitute for all that driving, a castle town with commanding views over the most beautiful of the Tuscan valleys. (Consider Boccon del Vino for lunch, and have the onion soup.)

Almost everything in Tuscany exists in triplicate or quadruplicate. The whole point of those little towns was to be able to completely ignore your neighbors and build everything you needed right inside your own walls. Everybody did it their own quirky way, so the towns have variety, and the towns that had money -- like Siena -- have spectacular show-off stuff.

So by all means chase down something you'd hate to personally miss -- but that could be a horse farm -- but it sounds like you are wondering if the guidebook suggestions are really going to interest you. Wine tours bore me to tears. I won't get up in the morning at 7am to hear religious people chanting. (They tried and failed to get me to do it when I was a kid.)

But you might love the dawn in Tuscany and morning vespers with the monks. You might love Cortona and running into people from your home town. Nothing is "objectively" interesting in Tuscany. Different strokes, different folks. Tuscany is so full of a variety of things, it is very likely that you and your fiance won't be bored for 5 seconds, even you don't go much further than 20 kms in any direction from Montepulciano. Your instinct not to drive too much is the right one. Start out sticking close to home and only fling yourselves at Volterra if you're really restless.
caldarroste is offline  
Sep 24th, 2012, 05:35 AM
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>>>-Day Trip #2: drive to St. Antimòs Abbey to watch Gregorian Chants at 9AM, stop in Montalcino and Buonvonvento on the way back to Montepulciano, relax in the evening in Montepulciano<<<

I would either drop Buonconvento for Pienza or stop to eat dinner in Pienza on the way back to Montepulciano. Pienza is not very far from Montepulciano.

>>>Day Trip #4: drive to Civita di Bagnoregio in the morning, spend 1-2 hours, drive to Orvieto to drop off car, then spend 2-4 hours, push back train to Rome to 19:40 instead of 12:00<<<

The Orvieto train station does not have luggage storage. There used to be a hotel nearby that would store it for a fee. I'm not sure they still do.

I doubt anything will be open in Civita until 9 or 10. It might make more sense to keep your rental car until they reopen at 4 pm. You can park for free (free last time I parked there) in the big lot below the train station and leave your luggage in the trunk. Take the funicular from there up to Orvieto.
kybourbon is online now  
Sep 24th, 2012, 06:47 AM
  #12  
 
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Click on my name for my trip report last year when we stayed a week in Montepulciano. I too applaud your homework, and each destination is worthy, but the drive time to Volterra may kill that idea. All of these places are worth it---you just do not have enough time.
bobthenavigator is online now  
Sep 24th, 2012, 06:22 PM
  #13  
DAX
 
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Your trip sounds more like an episode from the Amazing Race.
Like you, I also don't necessarily want to spend multiple days in each little town but you need a day (6 hours) or at least half a day to enjoy and get the vibes of each of these well known places unless it's such a small place like Civita Bagnoregio. I enjoyed Cortona as much as Montalcino, San Gigmignano, or Sienna etc.

One thing that really ruined my experience is visiting any place when it's jam packed with wall to wall tourists. I enjoyed Sienna the first time I went when it was not covered with wall to wall tourists while the second time it felt like I was in Disneyland during high season, we couldnt even walk straight without dodging other tourists. All my pictures were blocked by throngs of tourists unless I had pointed the camera upward. It's a waste of money and time to go anywhere when the crowd makes you feel like you're walking out of a ball game. On the other hand I had an amazing memorable time in Cortona because it was not too crowded where I was not surrounded with a sea of tourists.
DAX is offline  
Sep 24th, 2012, 06:54 PM
  #14  
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some great advice here guys, thank you very much.

it sounds like Volterra and/or Siena are the locations that are causing most of the driving time. If we were to cut one, which do you think it should be? Would Siena have more tourists crowding the streets in October than Volterra?
danzaman is offline  
Sep 24th, 2012, 07:22 PM
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What is your criteria? Siena is a much bigger town with more to see. It will be more crowded than Volterra. But you'll have more time in Siena because it's an hour closer and not many things will be closed in the middle of the day.
Jean is offline  
Sep 24th, 2012, 07:34 PM
  #16  
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we're trying to strike a balance between exploring and relaxing, as well as bigger towns with more to see and smaller towns with a bit more of the Italian culture.

do you think we're going to find the smaller towns are shut down in the middle of the day during October? whereas places like Siena will have more going on?
danzaman is offline  
Sep 24th, 2012, 09:58 PM
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I can only tell you what we would do.

We'd see Cortona on the way from Venice and skip Volterra. Spend one day exploring the Val d'Orcia (Pienza, SanQ, Montalcino). Spend one day in Siena. Spend the better part of a day exploring Montepulciano and perhaps drive a few hours in the Crete Senesi (Buonconvento area).

I'd also skip Civita di Bagnoregio, but that's me. I'd rather have more time in Orvieto. I'd keep the car (to hold the luggage) until the afternoon and then train to Rome. Note: This plan won't work on a Saturday (when car rental offices are only open in the morning) or a Sunday (when rental offices are closed).
Jean is offline  
Sep 25th, 2012, 05:12 AM
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Danzaman.

Experience more of Italian culture by visiting smaller towns is an excellent idea, but you need to go to ones that are not so famous. They really are not uninteresting. They haven't been left out of guidebooks because they are dull or charmless. So don't whiz by them to get to a place like Volterra or San Gimignano, which now are satellites of the mega-tourist industry you find in Pisa, Florence, Siena, etc.

It is absolutely the case that smaller towns will shut up their main shops and small museums from roughly 12.30pm to 4pm every day. Some postcard shops and such will stay open in San Gimignano, but that's it.) This will be less true in Siena, and besides, Siena is a town that it takes more than 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other. You can walk around Siena's battlements, streets, piazze for an hour or more without reaching the end of town or the end of your interest.

Also, if you are interesting in Italian culture, Siena is a key city for the entire area of southern Tuscany where you are staying. In history, it was the fierce overlord of that rich wine territory, the great rival of Florence, and much of the landscape, dotted with those fortified wall towns, is lasting evidence of how Siena ruled and the many bloody battles raged over centuries and why those walls were built.

So I think it would be a pity not to go see this showplace of power and flamboyance, and walk around for a bit and see the over-the-top church. Depending on when you are going, you may be able to see the decorated floor of the Duomo, which is only uncovered every so often. It is on display for some of October.
caldarroste is offline  
Sep 25th, 2012, 05:22 AM
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A suggestion:

If you do go to Siena, it is nice to take a look at this famous, centuries-old mural called "The Allegory of Good and Bad Government". It is not a "beautiful" work of Italian art, and some of it is now deteriorated, but it was made as a reminder to the ruling families of Siena of how to behave as rulers of the locals. If you are an American, it could be interesting in an election year to study if the room is open while you are there. Many museums and churches in Siena do stay open continuously in the afternoon, but check the guidebook.
caldarroste is offline  
Sep 25th, 2012, 05:35 AM
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Here is a simple explanation of the murals. It is interesting to see how Tuscans depicted their worries about health care, job creation and national security issues, pus the protection of women and corrupt politicians:

http://www.thepeasantandthepriest.com/fresco.php
caldarroste is offline  

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