I recently set off on a tour of adjacent regions in Italy, one as famous as any, the other living in its neighbor’s shadow. Tuscany captures the imagination of many, and with good reason. The riches of Siena, Florence, the hill towns and famous vineyards spanning Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Chianti have had a tremendous impact on history.
Moving just a few kilometers to the east one finds oneself in the province of Umbria. Long passed over as a tourist destination, and with a much smaller wine industry, Umbria is only now appearing on the radar of the average tourist. With far lighter crowds and an appealingly intense character to the people, cuisine and wines, now is the time to begin to include Umbria in your travels plans.
I was only in Italy for just over a week but I documented my every move, so that I can share with you some tips on great places to visit. I’ll not only be featuring wineries, but also hotels, restaurants, and sights to see. So let’s kick off this nine part series and see where it takes us!
Travel Tip Number 1 – DrivingWith fewer flights to Europe these days, your options for a direct flight to Italy are ever more limited. For access to Tuscany, Rome is the most convenient. If you plan to spend a few days in Rome take the train from the airport. The station is in the terminal and will save you from some serious culture shock: The Tangenziale! This ring road that loops around the city of Rome is as chaotic a scene as one can imagine, except during rush hour when it’s barely moving. Unfortunately, it’s the only direct route to the A1 Autostrada that connects Rome with points north and south. If you’re heading to Tuscany, do yourself a favor and ease into Italian life by taking the A12 coastal road. You can connect to the A1 via Viterbo, or just take it easy and cruise up to the Maremma at a leisurely pace, and probably in time for lunch.
With only a few days in Italy, I really needed to ration my time. Tuscany was getting half of my visit, but with so much ground to cover I had to make a decision: spend less time in each of the three principal wine producing zones or leave one for the next visit. I choose the latter. I was able to include a quick visit to Montalcino, home of the world famous Brunello Di Montalcino, but only enough time for a bit of sightseeing and lunch.
First stop: MontalcinoBrunello and Rosso di Montalcino
Once you enter the town of Montalcino there is no doubting what drives the economy here. Enoteca (wine shop) abuts enoteca, and the words Brunello and vino are plastered along every commercial corridor. But wine is not all there is to see in this quaint, well-preserved, and well-travelled Tuscan town.
The Osteria di Porta al Cassero presents a rather unassuming façade to the world, giving a deceptive appearance of calm from the street. Once inside this narrow space however, there is a comforting buzz of friendly Italian flying about the place. The clientele here seems to be a fairly even split of tourist and locals, always a promising sign.