It took me over a week to fall asleep without earplugs when I moved into my apartment in Sant’Angelo in Colle, a tiny hamlet close to Montalcino in Tuscany (Siena province) where I lived for nearly 3 months. My beautiful top floor (just a 3 floor walk up) apartment was directly across from the church whose bells would chime on the hour all night long. After awhile I could manage to sleep from about 12:01am until 6:00am. I could never make it past 6 chimes of the clock! And I had no AC in a really ridiculously hot and dry summer, sweltering in front of my one fan. But I grew to love it as part of the life in my tiny village.
Tuscany is dotted all over with these tiny hamlets whose origins date back as far as the Middle Ages and a few even before that. They are one of the biggest attractions about the culture of Tuscany to me and in Italy in general, not only for the quaint charm they retain, but also for their individuality that stubbornly and thankfully refuses to be diminished. The little old nonne (grandmas) arguing over the best recipes for whatever the town specialty might be in the morning as they shop from the fish truck that stops in the village center (and who gets the best fish,) the traditional afternoon stroll around town, sitting in the park visiting with neighbors or reading the paper or a book, a lovely glass of wine and snacks at apperitivo time, watching the glorious sunsets from the terraces—all these can be found in their own various iterations in each little Tuscan village.
Montalcino is a gorgeous example of one of these hilltop villages that has its roots as far back as the Etruscans and retains many of its Medieval structures. It’s first noted document according to the official website for the commune states that it was formally mentioned in 715AD over a dispute with a Bishop. They go on to say that it became a formal city in 1462. The vibrant town square is home to several quaint but lively cafes, bars and restaurants. The towering clock is the center of attention in the main town square and they often have outdoor concerts and other live performances there that can be enjoyed from a seat at one of the many cafes. It is also home to several ancient churches with beautifully preserved and restored frescoes dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. They are definitely worth seeing in person.
The Museum of Montalcino is equally impressive, housed in an ancient St. Agostino monastery. And I cannot leave out festivals! Every city in Italy pretty much has an annual schedule of festivals for saints, wines, foods, medieval city quarters, hunting, sport, and music. Montalcino is no exception. The city has a full list of events here including a Brunello festival, The International Festival of Montalcino, International Chamber Music Festival, Jazz & Wine Festival, the famous Sagra del Tordo (Festival of the Thrush) with the competitions amongst the quarters, medieval traditions, spectacles and parades. See Rescources for more info.
St. Antimo Abbey
Robbin and I both happened to be in the Montalcino area at the same time and had the fabulous opportunity to do a little touring together. One of the most memorable spots was certainly the Abbey at St. Antimo. It was built in the 11th and 12th centuries, including part of the old Carolingian Chapel, and until very recently was one of Italy’s oldest working monasteries and home to a small group of Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré monks since 1992. While we visited, it was still possible to listen to them sing their daily prayers. From what I’ve been able to learn, a new, small group of Olivetan monks have taken over again as of January of 2016, continuing the ongoing work at St. Antimo. They have beautiful grounds and gardens as well as orchards where anyone can walk around and admire the scenery. See Resources for more info.
Val d’Orcia and Bagno Vignoni
While I was living in Sant’Angelo in Colle, I had the incredible opportunity to take a drive through the majestic, rolling hills of the Val d’Orcia. Depending on what time of year you go there, it can actually look more like Mars! The reason for the drive was to arrive at one of the many spa villages that Tuscany has to offer, Bagno Vignoni with its thermal springs and beautiful ancient center with its vast “pool” of hot springs. Unfortunately it is forbidden to bathe in the town center, but there are many local spas to choose from as well as the very nearby and FREE Parco dei Mulini where you can take a dip in the outdoor, natural hot springs.
Brunello di Montalcino
Nearly everyone has heard of the delicious wines that come from the Chianti region of Italy (and are made predominantly from Sangiovese) but slightly lesser known and deeply rooted in the culture surrounding Montalcino are the famous wines of Brunello di Montalcino (also made from Sangiovese grapes and which will certainly have their own post!) And check out one of my favorites, Terralsole.
Get an amazing listing like this. CLICK HERE
While I have discussed Sant’Angelo in Colle and Montalcino, a delightful hamlet and small city, this is not to say that the larger cities don’t hold their own vibrant charm. When we think of Tuscany, many of us likely think first and foremost of Florence or Firenze in Italian—the Duomo, the Arno, the churches and the famous frescoes, the grand museums and squares. It’s the regional capital of Tuscany (Toscana) and thought of as the home of the Italian Renaissance and the hub of all things Tuscan and is for sure a MUST SEE. Since volumes have already been written about Firenze, I’ve focused here today on a few things I love the best about the general culture of Tuscany and some specifics that spoke to me deeply during my truly enchanted time there.
That being said, it’s still nice to have some general context for Tuscany as it might seem nebulous to some. It’s located relatively in the center of Italy, surrounded by mountains on the north and east, with a gorgeous coastline on the Tyrrhenian Sea and full of those famous undulating hills so well documented in photos and film. And the stunning city of Siena is relatively in the center of Tuscany itself.
Art, Architecture, Etc.
Tuscany boasts major museums, grand architectural triumphs, was home to scores of artists, musicians, scientists and authors throughout the ages. Among the more celebrated are the following: Giotto, Donatello, Botticelli (a personal favorite,) Brunelleschi, Michelangelo. More info in Resources below.
Due to its location with mountains to the north and east as well as the gorgeous coastline, there are also seemingly limitless options for outdoor adventures like hiking, trekking, boating, fishing, cycling and on and on.
Tuscany also has more UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites than any other region; it has seven. The historic center of Florence, the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, the historic center of San Gimignano, the historic center of Siena, the Pienza historic center, the Val d’Orcia, the twelve Medici Villas and two pleasure gardens, Boboli and Pratolino. See below for more info.
There are also seemingly UNLIMITED Festivals one can attend, no matter what time of year. From massive international music or food and wine festivals to the tiny local festivals for, say… honey! Check the resources below for more info.
We hope you enjoyed our cultural adventure in Tuscany.
What are some of your favorite cultural activities in Tuscany? Your favorite city? Festival? Museum, etc.? Share with us in the comments!
And look for our upcoming posts on how to travel in Tuscany and our posts from the road as Robbin and I head back to Italy.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Robbin & Raelinn
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Below are some fantastic resources on the culture of Tuscany:
Nell’Abbazia di Sant’Antimo (Diocesi di Siena – Colle di Val d’Elsa – Montalcino) risiede dal gennaio 2016 un gruppo di monaci della Comunità monastica benedettina di Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto Maggiore (Asciano, Siena) www.monteolivetomaggiore.it. I monaci benedettini di Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto, chiamati anche olivetani, furono fondati nel 1319 dal senese san Bernardo Tolomei (1272 – 1348).
IL RESPONSABILE DEL SERVIZIO 7 ATTIVITA’ FINANZIARIA -PERSONALE- ECONOMATO PremessoL’Amministrazione Comunale di Montalcino intende avvalersi dell’assistenza tecnica e della consulenza… Con la presente si comunica che il DPR 160/2010, prevede che a decorrere dal 29/03/2011, le domande, le dichiarazioni, le… Bando “Panno” Giostra di Simone 2017 Aperto a tutti i cittadini italiani e stranieri, anche non professionisti, che abbiano compiuto…
Tuscany is located in central Italy and stretches from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Its landscape, artistic heritage and stand-out cities – first among them Florence – make Tuscany an unquestioned protagonist of international tourism. In this region, nature has many different facets, starting from the coast that alternates long and sandy beaches, like the Versilia beach, with rocky cliffs and steep headlands.
Toscana Events – The Official Site of the Tuscan Region: an online guide to discover art, nature, spas and events.