Hill Towns of Tuscany: Sienna, Montepulciano, Assisi, and a side trip to Saturnia, Italy

This post was written by jd on May 27, 2010
Posted Under: Travel

Renting a car in Pisa, we easily got to an exit out of town with no mistakes. Our plans were to go through Sienna, for a quick stop, then go on to Montepulciano, where we were spending the night in a castle!

In Sienna we walked past Il Campo and the Duomo, and the Cathedral. Sienna had as really good museum of Etruscan history and Renaissance Art, which we also toured. After a lunch we continued on to Montepulciano, where we took a walk to find the hotel, while David rested his knee in the car. Finding our hotel, we then had the attendant called by the wine tasting lady across the street. The castle, now called Camere Bellavista was neat, and we got a room for three, for an extra 30 euros.


Then we explored the town, being very near the Piazza Grande, the Duomo, and quite a few wine tasting rooms. In fact I have never SEEN so many wine tasting rooms anywhere in such a small area. The wine is Vino Nobile, a hearty red, improved and softened with age and oak. But truly, every street you turned on had a wine tasting room. The restaurant we went to (forgot the name was very good)!

By the way, driving a car in an old city that was built in the early Anno Domini (AD) period is an experience. The streets are very narrow and making a 90 degree turn unto another street with inches to spare on each side of the corner is something you do with care!

The next morning, we left for Assisi, parked below the escalator, and began the Rick Steves tour, first the Roman Amphitheater from the first century AD, the buildings filling it today were built in the 13th and 14th centuries.  Passing right by our hotel without noticing it and continuing, we came to the Cathedral of San Rufino…  looking at one of the lions at the base of the Cathedral, you find the lion eating a Christian martyr, reminding worshipers of the courage of early Christians. Then on to the Basilica of Saint Clare (who ran away from a wealthy family to join the church after hearing Saint Francis of Assisi, talking about the life of non-materialism). She became a saint almost immediately after her death.

Because I spent four hours in a café with internet access, we were too late to see the Basilica of St Francis, but have some pictures of the outside. After walking back across town to the parking lot, it took several U turns and requesting information to make our way back to the hotel for the night, within the walls of the city.

Leaving at 7:30 am we quickly navigated ourselves onto the road to Saturnia, a natural hot springs (David had been waiting for weeks!!)  Along the way, we passed through an ancient city called Pitigliano.  That was fantastic when viewed from the side of the road and below. The whole town is built on a big hill composed of a light colored volcanic rock called tuff or “tufo” in Italian.  Apparently the seven hills of Rome are also made of tuff, and quarried tuff is in the Colosseum and Pantheon and is the material that most of the catacombs were built from.  It is apparently easy to work with (soft and easy to carve) as a building material then it hardens and becomes stronger when it is exposed to air. There are shops that have been cut into the mountain side (like a cave) and you can see them as we drove along the highway through the town. You can see the town and also a door shop which is tunneled alongside the road and into the mountain on the video.

The springs at Saturnia have a very high sulfur smell and we could tell when got close to the springs.  We found it, and bathed, but it was sort of lukewarm, not hot and a mild disappointment.

Next up: DRIVING IN ROME!!!…

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