Montepulciano, Italy – Your 2022 Complete Guide To The Hilltop Tuscan Town

Montepulciano Italy – medieval architecture, views, and wine – all in one small Tuscan hill town!

Are you thinking about visiting Montepulciano but aren’t sure if it’s for you?  Do you want the inside scoop on what to see, where to eat, and where to stay? 

In my many years guiding cycling trips in Tuscany, Montepulciano was always a guest favorite and I’ve continued exploring with friends and family who come to see us in Italy.

Montepulciano is known for its two hearty red wines, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Noble Wine of Montepulciano) and Vino Rosso di Montepulciano (Red Wine of Montepulciano). But wines aren’t the only reason to visit! 

Unlike other wine towns in Italy that only focus on wine, Montepulciano is also worth visiting for its other attractions, including medieval architecture, history, fantastic views, delicious food, and more!

Who Should Visit Montepulciano

Wine shop with area for sampling Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in Montepulciano Italy.  The walls are brick and stone and there are bottles set up on the tables.  There is a shelf with glasses against the back wall and you can see other food products like chips and jars of other food on the walls.

Montepulciano is a great ‘Tuscan hilltop town’ pick because it has something for everyone:

  • History Enthusiasts – Explore the town’s Renaissance palazzi (palaces) and learn about Florence’s influence on the town, visit San Biagio just below the city
  • Wine Lovers – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, anyone?
  • Foodies – Try pici pasta or dishes that showcase Chianina beef.
  • Culture Junkies – Check out the summer barrel rolling contest.
  • Families – Kids can climb the town hall tower, explore underground, or play in one of the town’s two parks
  • Photographers – In addition to the photogenic city streets, the neighboring Val d’Orcia is a photographer’s dream.    
  • Outdoors Lovers – Hikers and cyclists have plenty of gorgeous routes to choose from.
  • Movie Buffs – Montepulciano has been a filming location for many movies, the most recognizable being Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999).

How to Pronounce Montepulciano

Montepulciano is pronounced mohn-tay-pool-CHAH-noh.

Listen to it here:

What Does Montepulciano Mean?

While the origin of the town name is still debated, the consensus is that ‘pulciano’ derives from an Etruscan word meaning ruler.  ‘Monte’ in Italian is mountain, so Montepulciano could mean ‘mountain of the ruler.’  As you’ll see on your visit, it certainly does look like a powerful town!

Where is Montepulciano Italy?

Montepulciano is nestled in the countryside of the province of Siena, in the region of Tuscany, in central Italy.  It’s located at a similar latitude as:

  • Crater Lake, Oregon
  • Flint, Michigan
  • Syracuse, New York

To the east is the Val di Chiana (Chiana Valley), home of the famous Chianina beef. To the west, it borders the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Val d’Orcia (Orcia Valley).

Montepulciano Italy Map

Map of Italy with the regional borders outlined.  The region of Tuscany is highlighted in yellow and the city of Montepulciano Italy is marked with a red dot.

Distances From Montepulciano to Nearby Towns and Well-Known Cities

City/TownDistanceTime (by car)Highlights
Pienza15 km20 minSample pecorino cheese, take a walk along the city walls or in the valley below
Montalcino36 km40 minCompare its Brunello di Montalcino to Montepulciano’s Vino Nobile; climb the Fortezza
Bagno Vignoni25 km30 minRelax in the ancient Roman thermal springs
Cortona30 km40 minAttend the steak or mushroom festivals, wander the main street & check out the unique shops
Siena60 km1 hourSoak up the atmosphere in the Piazza del Campo, learn about the Palio
Monteriggioni80 km1 hour 10 minWalk on top of the medieval walls, visit the Armor Museum
Florence110 km1 hour 20 minSee Michelangelo’s David, try bistecca alla Fiorentina  
Rome180 km2 hoursExplore the Roman forum, visit the Colosseum, wander the Vatican Museums, dig into a plate of carbonara

 

See our post on the Best Things To Do In Florence + What To Skip!

 

How Long To Spend in Montepulciano

I think a half-day in Montepulciano is plenty of time.  I’d recommend pairing it with a nearby town like Pienza.

If you aren’t staying in Montepulciano, you can easily visit it on a day trip from a countryside base in the Val di Chiana or Val d’Orcia or from larger cities like Siena and Florence. 

We usually visit on a day trip from Florence and combine it with Pienza.  Even with small children, the day doesn’t feel rushed or overwhelming visiting both.

Montepulciano makes a great part of any Southern Tuscany itinerary – you can combine it with visits to all or any combination of the following:

  • Pienza
  • Montalcino
  • Bagno Vignoni
  • Cortona
  • Siena

First trip to Italy? 10th? Either way, check out our 200+ Essential Italy Travel Tips!

When To Visit Montepulciano

Empty street in Montepulciano Italy during the winter.  You can see most shops are closed up and there is only one person walking on the street.
Montepulciano during quiet winter months

The best time to visit Montepulciano is from May through October.  You’ll find this is when most people choose to visit the town, but don’t worry, it never feels uncomfortably busy. 

If you’d like to avoid any type of crowd, visit in November, December, or April. 

I’d avoid January, February, and March, as town is completely empty – almost all shops, restaurants, and museums are closed.  There are still enoteche open, so if you’re an enophile in the area during these months, it’s still worth a visit.

Good To Know:  Be sure to call ahead if you want to visit a particular restaurant, shop, or museum during the slow winter months.  Many close but don’t update their websites.

For a cultural fix, visit during one of Montepulciano’s many events.

Trying to decide when to visit Italy? Check out our monthly guides:
Italy in January
Italy in February
Italy in May

Italy in June
Italy in October
Italy in December

Weather In Montepulciano

Montepulciano has hot summers and chilly winters, as you can see from the chart below. 

HighLow
January46°F (8°C)38°F (3°C)
February49°F (10°C)40°F (4°C)
March56°F (13°C)45°F (7°C)
April62°F (17°C)51°F (11°C)
May70°F (21°C)59°F (15°C)
June79°F (26°C)67°F (19°C)
July85°F (29°C)72°F (22°C)
August84°F (29°C)72°F (22°C)
September76°F (24°C)64°F (18°C)
October65°F (19°C)56°F (13°C)
November54°F (12°C)46°F (8°C)
December47°F (8°C)40°F (4°C)

12 Things to Do In Montepulciano

Explore Montepulciano’s Main Street

Two boys run through the arch at Porta al Prato in Montepulciano Italy.
Porta al Prato

You’ll likely enter town at Porta al Prato and begin walking uphill along the corso, making your way past the town’s enoteche and shops.  You’ll find leather and wooden goods, local food products, clothing stores, and tourist trinkets, as you make your way toward the town’s imposing piazza, Piazza Grande.

Visit the Sant’Agostino Church

Boy standing on the steps looking up at the facade of the Sant'Agostino church in Montepulciano Italy.  The sky is blue.

This is the first church you’ll see as you make your way from Porta al Prato uphill toward Piazza Grande. It’s a meeting point in town and has an imposing white stone facade. Wander inside and make sure you go into the side room in the front on the left – it’s home to a permanent presepe (nativity scene).

Find Pulcinella

At the Sant’Agostino church, as you stand on the steps, crane your neck and look for Pulcinella at the top of the church’s bell tower (it’s across the street).

Pulcinella is a character from Italian comedic theatre. If you think he looks a little out of place in Tuscany, you’re right. He was probably brought to Montepulciano by a priest from Naples.

Try to time it so you can see him ring the bell on the hour.

Taste Montepulciano’s Wine

The entrance to the Enoliteca in Montepulciano Italy. There are red brick and stone archways and beautiful fuschia flowers in pots.

It would be silly to visit Montepulciano and not try the area’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or Rosso di Montalcino wines. The streets are lined with options for tastings. We love:

Consorzio del Vino – The Montepulciano Wine Consortium represents over 75 wineries from the area and in the Enoliteca you can sample over 100 different wines.  Worth checking out even if you don’t want to sample wines.  The floor has been built over ruins and you can see them through the transparent floors. There’s also an incredible view from the garden.

Cantina de’ Ricci -History and wine rolled into one. Don’t miss the tour of the ‘cathedral’ wine cellar and tasting the De’ Ricci wines.

Read our post on how to say Cheers in Italian + Italian Toasting Rules!

Go Underground

View of part of the underground passageways of Cantina Ercolani in Montepulciano Italy.  You can see terracotta decorations, medieval chainmail, and steps leading to a doorway further underground.

Close to Porta al Prato, inside the city walls, you’ll find Cantina Ercolani. You’ll probably want to walk by this place as it looks a bit like a tourist trap. Don’t – it’s worth a visit!

The women running the shop and cantina will welcome you in to visit the città sotterranea, the underground city. Walk down. the stairs and below the cantina, you’re free to explore secret passageways and underground tunnels that were part of an ancient underground passageway and escape route. You’ll see the aging wines, medieval armor, cisterns, and more.

When you’re finished, they’ll offer you a free tasting and snacks.  Don’t worry – there’s no sales pressure and the staff is very welcoming and knowledgeable.

Take in Piazza Grande

An empty Piazza Grande in Montepulciano Italy.  You can see the Duomo and the Palazzo Communale with its clock tower.

After those last couple of steep climbs (buns of steel!), you’ll see the Palazzo Comunale’s clock tower come into view. And once you enter Piazza Grande, you’ll be glad you made the climb.

The sizeable piazza is the center of life in Montepulciano. It’s a meeting point and a place for celebrations, and the home of Montepulciano’s town hall, its Duomo, and important palazzi (palaces).

The Duomo (aka Santa Maria Assunta) looks a bit out of place with its rough, unfinished brick facade. But don’t let its outward appearance fool you. Inside, it’s elegant, airy, and home to important works of art, like della Robbia’s painted terracotta sculpture.

Opposite the Duomo, you’ll see the Renaissance well built by Antonio da Sangallo. It’s called Il Pozzo dei Grifi e dei Leoni, the well of the griffins and the lions. You can see the two lions holding up the coat of arms of the Florentine Medici family.

Climb the Palazzo Comunale Tower

Does the Palazzo look similar to anything in Florence?  If you guessed Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, you’re right – it was designed in the same style.

Even if you’ve done other climbs in Italy like the Florence bell tower or Monteriggioni’s walls, do this one too – it’s worth it for the views of Montepulciano and the stunning countryside.

Find the Sets For The Twilight: New Moon Film

Map of Twilight New Moon film sets in Montepulciano Italy.  It's sitting on an outdoor terracotta floor.

Montepulciano was one of the film sets for the 2009 film, Twilight: New Moon. The crew filmed in multiple locations in Montepulciano and near town. If you’re a fan of the movie, stop in the tourist info office in Piazza Grande for the New Moontepulciano Map of the sets.

If you’d like to learn more, check out our article on Twilight: New Moon in Montepulciano.

Explore the Tuscan Countryside on a Walk to or from Pienza

True, walking up to Piazza Grande is a good hike. If you’re looking for a ‘meatier’ hike, put on your walking shoes and make your way to the nearby hilltop town of Pienza.  You can then take a 15-20 minute bus ride back to Montepulciano. 

Or, first take the bus to Pienza and then walk back to Montepulciano.

Before setting out, check in with tourist info to make sure the trails are clear and there are no new fences or route deviations.  Also, double-check the bus timetables – frequency varies greatly, depending on the time of day and the season of the year.  You’ll need to check bus 112 (Servizi Extraurbani -> Servizi Extraurbani SI -> 112 Siena/Buonconvento/Montepulciano).

Visit a Winery

Although there are many places to sample Montepulciano’s wines while you’re inside the city walls, it’s also fun to explore the vineyards of some of the area’s top producers. We recommend checking out:

See the Tempio di San Biagio

View of the front of Tempio di San Biagio in Montepulciano Italy from the left side.

If you reach Montepulciano from the direction of Pienza or Chianciano Terme, you’ll see the Tempio di San Biagio before you head uphill to the town center.

It may seem familiar. This Renaissance masterpiece by Antonio da Sangallo inspired several other churches during the time period, including St. Peter’s in Rome and the Duomo in Florence.

Photograph the Stunning Scenery

Green rolling hills of the Val d'Orcia near the Vitaleta chapel.
Val d’Orcia near the Vitaleta chapel

You could easily spend your time taking photographs inside the city walls, but if you’re willing to drive outside town, you have a few famously-photographed options (view locations on this Google Map):

  • The entire Val d’Orcia below Montepulciano
  • Vitaleta chapel nearby
  • Montichiello cypress-lined road
  • famous ring of cypress trees nearby
  • Crete Senesi panorama

What To Eat in Montepulciano

Pici all’aglione

Pici, a type of hand-made, thick spaghetti is a specialty of the area.  A classic way to eat it is with a garlicky tomato sauce, but you’ll find other variations, like pici al ragù di cinghiale (pici pasta with wild boar sauce). 

Pecorino cheese

Storefront of Cugusi pecorino cheese in Montepulciano Italy.  Dried pasta is on display outside and you can see the rounds of cheese in the refrigerated display inside the shop.

Neighboring village Pienza is famous throughout Italy for it’s pecorino (sheep’s) cheese. 

Try it in all its forms – fresco (fresh), stagionato (aged), semistagionato (semi-aged), and aged in cenere (ash), fieno (hay), or vino (wine). 

It’s also worth sampling with honey, marmalades and jams. 

Where To Eat in Montepulciano

Front window of historic Caffè Poliziano in Montepulciano Italy.

You have plenty of choices of restaurants within the city walls. We often stop into a place like La Vineria for a platter of local meats, cheese and finger foods like olives and sundried tomatoes.

Caffè Poliziano is the most well-known place to eat in Montepulciano. The elegant and historic cafè/restaurant is named after the town’s celebrated Renaissance-era poet. Stop in for a quick coffee or head downstairs and dine with a spectacular view of the Val di Chiana (Chiana Valley).

Osteria Acquacheta is the place to go if you’re in the mood for the excellent local Chianina beef. Don’t worry – if someone in your party is a vegetarian, there are plenty of delicious meat-free options!

You can also pick up picnic supplies at the grocery store just outside the city walls near Porta al Prato.

Questions about how to tip in Italy?
Check out our article Tipping In Italy – A 2022 Guide to When and How Much (+Printable Quick Guide)

Where To Stay in Montepulciano, Italy

I recommend staying in an agriturismo, villa, or B&B in the countryside. If you want to stay close to Montepulciano, Villa Cicolina is just outside the city walls. Otherwise, I’d stay in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Val d’Orcia:

Agriturismo Il Rigo – On a dirt road between Pienza and San Quirico d’Orcia.  I love this agriturismo as a base for walking because you’ve got access to all the strade bianche (dirt/gravel) roads in the valley.  It’s quiet, peaceful, and the food and owners make it memorable.

Agriturismo La Fonte – La Fonte’s apartments make a perfect home base for couples or families.  The (non-fenced) pool, stunning views, and on-site brewery will make it hard to leave to explore the area!  There’s a little play area for kids and the food at the restaurant is worth a visit, even if you don’t stay here. 

La Bandita Countryhouse – Beautifully designed and renovated villa smack in the middle of the Val d’Orcia hills.  Clean, modern, light, and with well-planned outdoor spaces.  The kind of place you’d want to stay in even if you lived here (trust me!).

Lupaia – Elegant and romantic country estate in a picture-perfect setting. You can tell the owners care about the details. Grab one of their mountain bikes and explore the valley.

How To Get To Montepulciano

The best way to travel to Montepulciano and around Southern Tuscany is by car. You can rent a car in a larger city, or in some of the smaller nearby towns.

If you do decide to take public transport, know that the train station ‘Montepulciano Stazione’ is not in Montepulciano.  It’s about 10 kilometers (a 30-minute bus ride) from town.

From Florence

By Car – Take the A1 Autostrada and EXIT Valdichiana.  It takes about 1 hr 25 min depending on traffic.
By Bus – Traveling by bus isn’t very convenient.  The route takes between 2-4 hours and involves at least one change.
By Train – There are no train routes to Montepulciano, because it doesn’t have a train station.  But, you can train to nearby towns (like Chiusi) and then take a bus to Montepulciano.  Like traveling by bus, taking a train to Montepulciano is a long journey and involves multiple changes.

From Rome

By Car – Take the A1 Autostrada and EXIT Valdichiana.  It takes between 2 and 3 hours, depending on traffic.
By Bus – It takes around 4 hours and you’ll need to change at least once.  The better public transport option from Rome is to take the train/bus.
By Train – It takes about 3 hours to take the train to Chiusi and then the bus to Montepulciano.

Parking in Montepulciano

View of parking area on the road just outside Porta al Prato in Montepulciano Italy.  The road is lined with trees and you can see a church at the end of the road.  There are cars parked on the right in blue-lined spaces.
Convenient paid parking just below Porta al Prato (behind us)

You’ll find paid parking (look for the blue sign with a white ‘P’) scattered around the city walls.  There aren’t and huge parking lots, so you may need to drive into a few of them to find a spot. 

We usually park along the road just below the Porta al Prato (viale dei Sangallo).  If it’s high tourist season, we look for a sport in Piazza Don Giovanni Minzoni, below Porta al Prato, just off of the traffic circle.  If we can’t find a spot there, we head for the large free parking lot.

Free Parking

For free parking and less hassle, park in the large lot in Piazza Pietro Nenni.

Good To Know: In some free lots, you’ll need to use a parking disco.  Rotate the disk so it shows the time you’re leaving your car and place it on your dashboard. 

Best Souvenirs From Montepulciano

Wine

You’ll find the town’s famed Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Vino Rosso di Montepulciano in the many enoteche that line the main corso of town. 

Try it before you buy it!  The shops are happy to let you taste the wines.  Some offer free tastings, and others have aperitivo or set tasting menus.

You’ll also find Brunello di Montalcino from the nearby Tuscan hilltown.

You can bring wine home with you in your suitcase (ask the shop to wrap it for you) or, have the shop ship some to your home.  Shipping costs are high, but per bottle shipping cost decreases the more you buy.

Val d’Orcia Tasty Treats

Besides vino, you’ll find pecorino cheese, tartufi (truffles), saffron, prosciutto from the cinta senese pig, and olive oil. 

Good To Know:  If you’re heading back to the United States, don’t bring any meat products with you, including prosciutto and cured meats.  You’re not allowed to bring it in and it will be confiscated on arrival (and if you don’t declare it, in return they’ll give you a big fine).

Events in Montepulciano

Montepulciano’s events calendar is loaded – there’s something going at all times during the year (except for the lull in January and February).  Some favorites include:

Anteprima Vino Nobile (Spring)

This is an important event in the wine world.  The Fortress of Montepulciano hosts the Vino Nobile preview in the spring.  You’ll have a chance to taste the just-released Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that has been aging for 2 years, and the Riserva Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which has been aging for 3 years. 

Festival di Pasqua (Easter)

Festival di Pasqua means ‘Easter Festival.’  This musical festival takes place over the two weeks leading up to Easter.  Visiting musicians perform in gorgeous venues in town, including churches and theaters.

Montepulciano doesn’t have a big Carnevale celebration.

Cantine Aperte (May)

Cantine Aperte means ‘open cellars.’  Many wineries around the world are open for drop-in visitors but Italian wineries don’t typically function that way.  Many Italian wineries are always closed to the public or are only open by appointment. 

Cantine Aperte is an exciting time when Tuscan wineries open their doors to visitors and have special events and tastings.  The event usually takes place in the spring and the fall.

Bravìo delle Botti (August)

This is the event to see in Montepulciano.  It’s like Siena’s Palio, but instead of racing horses, the neighborhoods race wine barrels! 

Teams of two from each contrada (neighborhood) roll 80kg(!) empty wine barrels over one kilometer uphill through town to Piazza Grande.  The winner receives the ‘Panno,’ a painting on a piece of fabric. 

Competition is fierce and emotions run high.  It’s a fun and exciting experience for kids and adults.

Montepulciano Run (Fall)

A multi-day running festival that includes races, non-competitive walks, and wine tours. 

Natale a Montepulciano (December)

Montepulciano hosts one of Tuscany’s largest and most adored Christmas markets. It’s our family’s favorite Christmas market in the area. The bulk of it is in Piazza Grande, and Santa’s Village is up the street in the fortezza (fortress). You’ll find local food products like cheese and wine, along with Christmas ornaments, wooden presepe (nativity scenes) and other gift ideas.

The market begins at the end of November and finishes at the beginning of January (usually after the Epiphany on January 6th).

Visiting Montepulciano With Kids

Two boys walk in the playground in Montepulciano Italy.  The fortress is in the background and there is a green bush labyrinth and a large abstract animal sculpture in the playground.

There are plenty of things to do with little ones in Montepulciano! It’s an easy town to visit, but be ready to get in a workout if you’re pushing a stroller up the town’s steep hills!

Speaking of hills, you can bring a stroller or a baby carrier. I usually bring a stroller – you can reach everything with it.

You can breastfeed on benches throughout town. Italians are very respectful of breastfeeding mothers.

Never pass up a chance to use a bathroom in a restaurant or bar. There are also public toilets to the right of the Sant’Agostino church (next to the clock tower with Pulcinella).

Things to Do In Monteriggioni with Kids

Explore Underground Passageways – Just after entering town through Porta al Prato, you’ll see the Cantina Ercolani and a sign for ‘Città Sotterranea’ or Underground City. You can walk down into the historic underground passageways and see armor, the cisterns, a wishing well, and more.

Entrance to Cantina Ercolani.  The sign is below the stone archway entrance and there is a wooden sign with yellow painted 'città sotterranea.'  There is a knight in armor on the right and there are boxes of wine bottles around the door.  You can see inside is full of wine displays.

Play in the Playgrounds – Montepulciano has two playgrounds for kids. One is just outside the city walls near Porta al Prato. The other is in front of the fortezza at the other end of town. Our kids enjoy both of them. They especially love running around in the labyrinth-like bushes in the fortezza and looking at the huge sculptures.

Boy on motorcycle toy in playground in Montepulciano Italy.  The fortezza is in the background, along with a bush labyrinth, a swingset, and benches.

Find Pulcinella – Kids and adults will have fun finding Pulcinella and watching him ring the bell.

Get Gelato – Everyone feels better with a gelato in hand!

Climb Up The Clock Tower in Piazza Grande

See The Twilight Set – Older kids and teens will love seeing where Bella ran through the crowd to Edward in the film, Twilight: New Moon (in Piazza Grande).

Choose a Contrada (Neighborhood) To Find in Town – You’ll see the colorful flags waving from buildings throughout town:

  • Gracciano – green/black
  • Cagnano – green/blue
  • Collazi – yellow/green
  • Le Coste – yellow/blue
  • Poggiolo – white/blue
  • Talosa – yellow/red
  • Voltaia – red/black
  • San Donato – white/red
Red and white flag hung from a wall in on a tiny street in the San Donato neighborhood in Montepulciano Italy. The buildings are red brick and stone and there is also an old iron lamp and a stone crest of the Medici family.
Flag of the San Donato contrada

If they get bored, give them a copy of this Printable Map of Italy For Kids!

I hope you’ve gotten enough information to plan your trip to Montepulciano – divertitevi (have a great time)!

Find your next destination or activity in our post on Things to Do in Tuscany.

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