Montepulciano – Val d’Orcia


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Now we are seriously in the heart of wine country!  Montepulciano is reknown for 2 wines in this region: Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  These are some of the very best wines in the world. Sitting high on a hilltop with steep narrow streets it is like many of the other towns in the region with a main piazza.

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The medieval town hall Palazzo Comunale was built between the end of the 1300’s and the middle of the 1400’s.  The original front design of the building in travertine resembles the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence which is not surprising since 500 years ago this town allied itself with Florence. The cornel on the left side of the main entrance bears a ‘griffin’ the symbol of the town of Montepulciano. Contucci Palace on the right.

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Climb to the top for amazing views
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Palazzo Ricci

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On the top of the tower which you can climb that raises about 50 meters above the Renaissance Piazza grande provides amazing views of the countryside from Val D’Orcia to Val di Chiana.  To the west is Pienza and Montalcino. The tower was a keen lookout position although it was never meant to hide soldiers.

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The people’s spirit here is very independent and they show that with colorful rituals in the Piazza.

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Palazzo del Capitano

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The Montepulciano area is famous for producing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, a fine wine that is among the oldest in Italy and is from the Sangiovese vines. In 1980 it became the first Italian wine to display the neck-strip of the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.).

The town is built on a honeycomb of wine cellars with gigantic barrels.  It takes about 3 years and the tanins must be just right.  They have been making wine here for 700 years.

Red meat is king at local osterias like Bistecca Fiorentina: T-bone seared over embers and always served rare! You can’t help but love this area of Italy.  The people are friendly, the wine is outstanding and the food is divine!

Do you love La Dolce Vita?  I have many blogs on various areas all over Italy.  You can search by area.  Enjoy and share! If you missed the last one on San Gimignano here is a link.




San Gimignano- the “Manhattan of Tuscany”

San Gimignano sits high on a hilltop about 24 miles northwest of Siena surrounded by soaring medieval towers. The walls are tall, the streets narrow and very typical of Tuscan hill towns. It was first settled in the 3rd century BC by the Etruscans and the buildings and city plan were based around 2 major streets with 4 main piazzas. Today 14 towers still remain but there were more than 70 at one time. These towers were constructed partly for defensive purposes and like in other towns we have visited were used for pouring boiling oil on attacking enemies. Ouch! They were very convenient, of course, for spotting marauders and were virtually impregnable. However, ego most likely played a role to own the highest tower and were a symbol of a family’s economic power in the city. The towers are visible from great distances, thus the name “Manhattan of Tuscany”.


The town is a very well preserved medieval town in close proximity to both Florence and Siena. Like Siena it was also devastated by the Black death of 1348 and then fell under Florentine control.  San Gimignano is a walled city and very touristry so expect lots of crowds.  The center is closed to traffic so you must park in an outer lot and walk in. Again a steep hilly town so wear comfy shoes!


The town’s main 12th century church is not an official Duomo because there is no bishop there. The facade is Romanesque and is filled with important frescoes covering the interior by Bartolo di Fredi and Ghirlandaio as well as two famous wooden statues by Jacopo Della Quercia.



Don’t miss the gelato at Gelateria Dondoli it is totally worth the wait!! They say the best in the world! You decide- we agreed! Enjoy your gelato in the piazza in the heart of San Gimignano.  There were several bands there on the evening we visited entertaining the crowds!


The evening is lovely when it gets a little quieter and be sure to enjoy the local white wine called Venaccia di San Gimignano produced here since 1276 and was mentioned by Dante in his ‘Divine Comedy’. It has a distinctive dry and sharp taste. Vernaccia di San Gimignano, normal and riserva is made from 85%-100% of Vernaccia di San Gimignano grapes and traditionally produced in the territory surrounding San Gimignano in the countryside of Siena in the Val D’Orcia.


For a lovely view walk up to Rocca di Montestaffoli  which was a 14th century fortress and is now a public garden with amazing views at the highest point of San Gimignano. From here you can see the towers and the entire countryside. In summer there is an outdoor cinema!


Make sure to also follow the signs that say “Vista Panoramica” that loops around the city for spectacular views all around the Tuscan landscape.


If you missed any of the other blogs on Tuscany here is a link to get you started: Siena

Outstanding Fall Color from Shrubs

Fall in New England can be a magical time with the explosion of color everywhere, the crisp fall air and the anticipation of winter.  It is important to consider all the seasons when planning your garden or adding to it.  If something is not working, be brutal and pull it out and replace it with something that provides color in a different season.  Here are some of my fall favorites considering that I live in Zone 5.

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Winterberry ‘Red Sprite’


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Viburnum  ‘Mareieii’
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Kousa Dogwood
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Viburnum ‘Brandywine’
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Barberry ‘Royal Burgundy’


Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’
Hydrangea ‘Pinky Winky’
Allium tuberosum
Sedum ‘Angelina’
Siberian iris seed pods


Hydrangea ‘Pink Diamond’

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Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’
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Physocarpus – Ninebark – ‘Summerwine’ and ‘Coppertina’
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Amsonia ‘Montana’


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Hamamelis x intermedia
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Acer palmatum – Japanese Maple ‘Koto no ito’

Of course, don’t forget about perennials- seed heads from Alliums, Sedum, Seed pods from Siberian Iris and Mums


Tell me your favorite fall perennials and shrubs! I also love Red Twig Dogwoods and Fothergilla gardenii for great fall color.

Did you miss the last blog on Fall Grasses or Handy Tips for Autumn clean up

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