Tuscany - Montalcino / Chianti

Old Mar 13th, 2012, 04:25 PM
  #1  
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Tuscany - Montalcino / Chianti

Hi all!

We're honeymooners planning an October 2012 trip, and need tips on the Tuscany leg of our trip! We're interested in the obvious: visiting wineries, wine tasting, seeing beautiful scenary and stopping by quaint towns/villages. All this at an "adequate" pace (not exactly slow-travel, but nothing rushed either).

This is what we have so far (FYI we will have hired a car):

Day 1:
Rent a car in Rome in the morning (10am) and head to Orvietto.
Spend 1-2 hrs in Orvietto, light lunch there.
Head to Castello de Velona (our hotel), check in at 4/5pm-ish.
At night head to Montalcino (town) at 8pm-ish, stopping by Enotteca La Fortezza first.
Then dinner in Grappolo Blu (9pm).

Day 2:
Leave 10am, first stop Fattoria dei Barbi winery. Tour the winery.
At noon, head to Sant. Antimo to see the Gregorian Chants at 12:45pm.
Head to Poggio Antico for lunch and possibly a tour or more wine tasting (1-4pm est.)
Then head to Castello Banfi for a tour and/or wine tasting (4-6pm est.)
Head to hotel. Dinner at the hotel to relax.

Day 3:
Leave 10am towards Montepulciano
Stop at Bagno Vignoni to see the Etruscan baths (on the way)
Pit stop at San Quirico d'Orcia
Visit Pienza
Visit Montepulciano (it's market day there!)
Back to Hotel, back by 5/6pm
Dinner at restaurant outside of town -- Il Leccio at around 8/9pm

Day 4:
Check out of hotel at 9/10am
Head to Montalcino to spend a few hours (it's market day there)
Then continue to drive to Siena, check in at hotel (Palazzo Ravizza) at around 1pm
Spend the rest of the day walking through and getting to know Siena
Dinner at Locanda Garibaldi (9pm)

Day 5:
Drive to Pisa (head there at 9am, spend a bit of time)
Drive to Lucca (lunch here, spend a few hours)
Drive back to Siena arrive at around 6/7pm
Dinner at Antica Osteria da Divo (9pm)

Day 5:
Check out of hotel, head to Florence
On the way to Florence, stop by San Gimignano and have lunch there
Arrive at Florence 4pm-ish

My questions are obviouus,
1. Is the itinerary too rushed?
2. Are dining times OK by Italian standards?
3. Do I need reservations for many of these places?
4. Am I missing any "must see" spots? Should I swap any restaurants, wineries, towns, sights?

Any input would be highly appreciated.

Thanks!
el_guineo is offline  
Old Mar 13th, 2012, 04:39 PM
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Day 4- I suggest you visit some of the lovely towns and countryside in the Chianti area, just north of Siena. Pisa and Lucca are nice, but there are very nice places to explore much closer to Siena.

You may find yourselves running out of time to do everything on your daily list. Allow time for the unexpected- sometimes it's better than what you've planned.

I find outdoor Markets in Pienza and Montepulciano quite disappointing. Nothing like what you will find in France. But, you may enjoy it.

Dining times seem fine. I suggest reservations.

Are you missing some "must see spots"? Yes. But you only have so much time. I do recommend changing your day 4 plans.

Have fun!
zoecat is offline  
Old Mar 13th, 2012, 05:12 PM
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Day 4 head directly to Siena and spend more time there.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Old Mar 13th, 2012, 05:13 PM
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I think it's a bit rushed in places.

You need to factor in the time needed to find legal parking everywhere (which will not be inside the cities but on the fringes) and the time needed to walk to and from the city centers. Montepulciano in particular could take some time as it's on top of a steep hill and especially since you say it's market day. Trying to see Bagno Vignoni, SanQ, Pienza and Montepulciano in one day from a base in Montalciano frankly doesn't sound possible to me, but I suppose someone has accomplished the feat.

You could see a lot of time tick away as you're driving out of Rome. You might consider taking the train to Orvieto, riding the funicular up to the town and back down, and then renting the car (not far from the train station) when you're ready to leave. Note when the rental agency is closed for lunch. If you rent the car in Rome, you still need to park at the bottom of the town and take the funicular up and down. One to two hours in Orvieto would be barely enough time to reach the center, see the Duomo and have lunch.

Day 5 is one long day. If you have any spare time in Florence, you might consider seeing Pisa and Lucca as a day trip from there by train. It's simple and much easier than spending upwards of 5 hours in the car, not counting the parking searches, etc. If you want to climb the Leaning Tower, you need a timed reservation.

Where will you drop the car in Florence? This is tricky because of the limited traffic zones for which you won't have a permit to enter. If you substituted San Gimignano for the Pisa/Lucca driving day, you could return the car in Siena and train to Florence.

Do you have reservations for the winery tours and tastings? Most do not accommodate spontaneous visitors. Also, the driver should not drink but, literally, taste/spit the wine. The Italian blood/alcohol limit for legal driving is very low compared to most countries.

You'll need an International Driver Permit for Italy.
Jean is online now  
Old Mar 13th, 2012, 05:17 PM
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A revision to my Orvieto suggestion. There is no baggage storage at the Orvieto train station, so you'd need to rent the car on arrival, stow ALL of your luggage in the trunk and park the car near the funicular/train station. The car rental agency could advise on a safe and legal parkingoption. They might even let you leave the car with them for a couple of hours.
Jean is online now  
Old Mar 13th, 2012, 06:30 PM
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I agree with the remarks about not arranging your trip around market days. Italian markets are set up to supply utilitarian items in towns that don't have supermarkets or department stores. They are about bath mats and crayons for the kids.

I would also suggest that go to lunch at your target restaurants rather than dinner. You will be more in sync with the Italian day. If you've picked a hotel with a restaurant, think about eating a light meal there at night.

You face a very long, rushed day of sightseeing by using your car to go to Lucca and Pisa from Siena. it would make more sense to use Florence as a base for seeing Lucca, Pisa and Siena.

I would probably head for lunch somewhere in Chianti rather than near San Gimignano, but if you go to San Gimignano, be sure to look at the art work inside the churches, which many people don't realize is something to see.

If you end up needing to drop something on this trip if you find yourselves rushing around, I would make it Lucca, and possibly Pisa unless you are extremely interested in Renaissance architecture.
zeppole is offline  
Old Mar 13th, 2012, 06:41 PM
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PS: I just looked up your hotel and recommend twice a strongly that you go for lunch at your destination restaurants and eat dinner at your hotel.

Your hotel also produces its own wine, and you won't be able to drink much wine with dinner if you drive to and from restaurants for dinner. You may also find that after you've been out sightseeing all day, it is much more appealing to park the car and have a glass of wine on the terrace and watch the sunset, rather than wash and dress up to head back out in the car yet again. You may especially not want to do it if it is raining.

The long Italian lunch hour is still observed in rural Tuscany. In the middle of the day, shops, churches and museums lock up their doors. If you aren't eating a long lunch, you've really very little to do.

It is nice to eat a big pasta lunch and then spend the remainder of the afternoon walking it off. At night, it is nice to eat a lighter meal, and I notice that your hotel has a wine bar with lighter offerings.

Anyway, you have a long time between now and October, during which time you can follow reviews of the hotel and its food and see if it sounds good to eat there in the evening and eat and the more famous spots for lunch.
zeppole is offline  
Old Mar 13th, 2012, 07:04 PM
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1. I find the itinerary ambitious. EG you have 1-2 hours in Orvieto and plan to have lunch there? Getting to the restaurant and having lunch could consume all your time!

2. As was suggested above, I'd consider taking the train to Orvieto (at the Hertz office, they kindly stored our luggage while we visited the town).

I've driven out of Rome a couple of times -- never by the A1 however, always by smaller roads -- and will never do it again.

And the A1 is so dull that I'd as soon take the train...

3. I really feel Montepulciano merits more time. We spent a week there on 3 different trips and have dropped in on day-trips when we were staying further North. IMO the perfect Italian hill-town.

4. I have a huge fondness for La Foce estate and its garden, usually open on Wednesday PM. It is about 20 minutes from Montepulciano. Late in October, they'll be harvesting and processing olives on site...

5. The appeal of Bagno Vignoni escapes me. Yet it is frequently cited here. It's nothing, IMO.

6. S. Gimignano is... OK but no big deal. Have visited twice. Not anti, just would not detour to see it. I actually prefer nearby Certaldo and Castelfiorentino.

7. Siena is prodigious and deserves as much time as you can manage, within this tight schedule. Maybe you can reduce other parts of your itinerary. I'd trim back on Montalcino -- a dull town, IMO, unless you're keen on wine.
tedgale is offline  
Old Mar 13th, 2012, 10:47 PM
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Small hill towns close up early. Have you checked with any of these restaurants about hours in October? I would also check which days they are closed as all will have closed days.

Have you checked the winery to see if they have tastings that late in Oct.(6pm)?

I would change the Pisa/Lucca day to the day your are driving to Florence. Visit San G. from Siena (maybe add Certaldo or somewhere in nearby Chianti).

>>>A revision to my Orvieto suggestion. There is no baggage storage at the Orvieto train station, so you'd need to rent the car on arrival,
kybourbon is online now  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 11:45 AM
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Guys -- these are all fantastic responses. I will consider each and every one of your suggestions.

Thanks a million and obviously welcome more suggestions!
el_guineo is offline  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 12:23 PM
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You have been given great advice. Re: Montepulciano market day.
We've stayed in Montelpulciano on several occasions and have visited the weekly market at the bottom of the town near the bus station. As described previously, its no "biggie", simple everyday fare with some fresh vegetables, flowers and fruits along with lots of household items, clothes, shoes and underwear. I would not make it a priority and certainly don't dash to it before it shuts down at about 12:30-1 pm.
macanimals is offline  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 04:32 PM
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Thanks again all.

I've made some adjustments and have a few questions for the experts!

1. Is spending time in Montalcino (town) recommended above some of the other activities aforementioned? I've heard good things about Grappolo Blu (the restaurant), but would have to skip some other activities to have lunch there.

2. If you only had to select 2 wineries to visit in the Montalcino area, are Poggio Antico and Banfi appropriate choices?

3. From Siena, other than a quick San Gimignano visit, what other Chianti-area towns would you recommend I visit the same day? I've noted Certaldo which was suggested in this thread. Any others?

4. Lastly, from what I've researched so far, I've settled on Castello di Velona as my "base" for exploring Val d'Orcia. It seems to have wonderful reviews. Would any of you recommend either staying in Montalcino (the town rather than outside), or another town such as Montepulciano as a base?

Your input is invaluable - thanks for helping with the itinerary!
el_guineo is offline  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 04:54 PM
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I enjoy wine tasting in Montalcino (love the Brunellos) and the town is worth visiting/wandering. There are multiple enotecas or the fortezza where you can sample wines (not free). I did Brunello flights at Enoteca Osticcio because of their views (they also have food). The fortezza (no view from the courtyard tables) has more selection for flights than Osticcio. What would you be skipping to lunch there?
http://www.osticcio.it/
http://www.enotecalafortezza.com/english/index.php

Not Chianti, but Volterra isn't very far from San G. (opposite direction from Chianti).
kybourbon is online now  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 05:30 PM
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We like small, charming Castellina in Chianti. Volterra is bigger, has a bit more to see, but for that reason gets more tourists. Either is a nice destination, but it depends on what you're looking for. IMO, Castellina can be combined with another nearby town (like Radda or perhaps Greve), but you'd need most of a day to see Volterra.

When we arrived at the Orvieto train station last October, I didn't see a sign about luggage storage at a nearby hotel although I might easily have missed it. The only time we've driven to the top of the town was when we already had a car and could park at our hotel. Otherwise, I prefer the funicular.
Jean is online now  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 06:47 PM
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On Q.4: I have never been able to spend more than an hour in Montalcino. There are other towns that are more atmospheric. Others will debate this, of course, as Montalcino has some fierce partisans. I prefer San Quirico and Pienza. Or even tiny Monticchiello.

IMO, Montepulciano stands head and shoulders above all the above -- for architecture, dramatic setting, good restaurants, cultural resources of all kinds.
tedgale is offline  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 08:10 PM
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Thanks all! I'm now debating whether to have Montepulciano be my base, vs. a more luxurious stay at one of the Castellos near Montalcino (di Velona, Banfi, etc.).
el_guineo is offline  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 08:26 PM
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... although I think I'll stick to Castello di Velona - we're somewhat charmed at the prospect of staying in a castle.

I've readjusted my itinerary as follows:

Day 1:
Train from Rome to Orvieto.
Rent car @ train station, leave luggage.
Spend 3-4 hrs in Orvieto (incl. lunch)
Head to Castello de Velona (our hotel), check in at 6pm.
Dinner @ Hotel

Day 2:
Leave 9am, drive all the way to Montepulciano (arrive 10am).
Spend 4 hrs in Montepulciano (incl. lunch)
Head to La Foce to catch the 3pm garden tour
Head to hotel, with OPTIONAL stops at Pienza and San Quirico if time permits.
Dinner at hotel.

Day 3:
Leave 9am to Sant Antimo (5mins away from hotel)
Head to Fattoria dei Barbi
Arrive at Montalcino by noon - slow lunch there at Grappolo Blu.
Castello di Banfi tour in the afternoon (4pm tour)
Back to Hotel, back by 6pm
Dinner at Hotel

Day 4:
Check out of hotel at 9am
Drive to Siena. Although drive is 1hr, budget 2-3hrs in case of unplanned stops.
Reach Siena by noon, check in at hotel (Palazzo Ravizza).
Spend the rest of the day walking through and getting to know Siena
Dinner at Locanda Garibaldi (9pm)

Day 5:
Day trip to visit nearby towns, including San Gimignano.
Other towns have been suggested in previous posts, I will research to determine which ones to visit!
Be back at Siena at around 6/7pm
RETURN CAR
Dinner at Antica Osteria da Divo (9pm)

Day 5:
Check out of hotel, head to Florence via Train (avoid drive INTO Florence to drop car off)
Arrive at Florence noon-ish
el_guineo is offline  
Old Mar 14th, 2012, 08:37 PM
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>>>tedgale on Mar 14, 12 at 9:47pm
On Q.4: I have never been able to spend more than an hour in Montalcino.
kybourbon is online now  
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