WINTER LUNCH IN MONTERIGGIONI (and what to do in fortress town)

View on the piazza Roma - Monteriggioni's main town square in December


Close to the Firenze-Siena highway, tiny Monteriggioni is a beloved stop on the Tuscan tourist trail. However, most locals don't take the Monteriggioni exit for sightseeing but for a bite to eat at bar Orso. The roadside cafe not far from the highway exit is well known for its panini: generous Tuscan sandwiches filled with prosciutto, salami, Pecorino cheese or - my favorite - acciughe sotto pesto (anchovies marinated with parsley, garlic, chili pepper and extra virgin olive oil). 

However, on a sunny winter day skip bar Orso and drive up to Monteriggioni itself. The medieval stronghold is visible already from the highway and similar to San Gimignano has been a landmark along the former pilgrim route since medieval times (and hence also got its mention in Dante's Divine Comedy).


Monteriggioni's towers: visible from the Florence - Siena highway


The fourteen towers have been cut back and rebuilt through the centuries but the intact town wall is the real deal. The small town has several bars and restaurants. On a warm winter day a glass of Chianti Classico and a sandwich and platter with Tuscan cold cuts or cheeses from bar del Cerchio in piazza Roma will be perfect. Service isn't too welcoming and the selection of ingredients not as good as in bar Orso, but the outside sitting area in the beautiful square is perfect to soak up the winter sun and the beautiful outset of the square.


Simple but delicious: winter lunch in piazza Roma


WHAT TO DO IN MONTERIGGIONI 

If you explore Monteriggioni during high-season (from Easter to October) you may want to adapt the same tactics that I recommend for other small but overly popular tourist destinations like San Gimignano or Pienza. The car parking area close to the walls is bigger than the town itself, and Monteriggioni's vicinity to the highway turns it into a perfect stop-over for big tour groups. So come in the early morning for coffee in piazza or the late afternoon for an aperitif and stay for dinner. Like this you should be able to avoid most of the crowd.  

SIGHTSEEING

Two different sections of the the town walls can be climbed, but be warned the grating leading up to the walls is totally safe but totally doesn't feel like it. However, the views make up for the wobbly experience. Just don't wear your highest heels and hold on to that skirt. I'm sure the local youth spends long summer afternoons lazing underneath in hope of a Marilyn Monroe moment. 


the walkway along Monteriggioni's town walls


A combined ticket grants you access to Monteriggioni's museum too. Its a small sight but families will enjoy it since kids can try on some knights' gear or fiddle around with a sword. The chain mail has been especially popular with mine. 

Reproductions of medieval armors will make your 21st century teenagers yawn? Remind them of Monteriggioni's role in the Assasin's Creed videogames. I tried to look it up and don't understand any of it, but they'll probably know. 

Combined tickets cost 4 € (children up to twelve years for free). We were rather surprised by the low ticket prices (especially of the town's fancy car park - 2 € for the day), which makes of Monteriggioni an easy to reach and surprisingly low cost stop if you travel by car. 

SHOPPING

Obviously if you travel on a budget avoid the retail opportunities in town. The ceramic shop on the main road (Via Maggio near piazza Roma, not that one really needs a map in Monteriggioni) sells a beautiful selection of Italian artisan pottery. Most of the hand made plates, cups  and bowls are produced in Tuscany or close by. They are not cheap but make for beautiful souvenirs.


Artisan pottery at a shop in Monteriggioni


A few doors further on in via Maggio is the Tuscan shoemaker Pratesi. The leatherwear producer can be found in Siena, Pienza and Montepulciano too. The shops are often filled to the brim and not every model will convince. However, with a bit of patience you may be able to find a nice pair of shoes without having to spend a fortune. 

WHEN TO COME: FESTIVALS 

Monteriggioni is home to one of Italy's most famous medieval festivals. Each summer the town is taken over by jugglers, jesters, fighting knights and dancing maids. Markets are hold, games are played and street musicians entertain the crowd. Kids will love it! MONTERIGGIONI MEDIEVALE.
The 25th edition of the festival will take place on the first two weekends in July 2015: Friday, Saturday and Sunday  July 3/4/5 and July 10/11/12. Tickets from 6 to 12 €. 

If medieval festivals aren't your thing you'll know by now, that winter is my favorite time of the year for a lunch in Monteriggioni; the huge car park will be almost empty and you'll have the town to yourself apart of a few Italian tourists on the weekend. 


Closed up building on Monteriggioni's piazza Roma


WHAT ELSE TO SEE AND DO

Most travelers may head to Siena or nearby Colle Val d'Elsa from here. But church lovers should drive (or walk like the pilgrims would have) to Abbadia Isola. The former monastery with its church dating back to the 13th century were yet another stop on the Via Francigena, the famous medieval road that connected Rome to France and Canterbury.

Monteriggioni's tourist office website has maps for self guided hikes in the area. Rather walk with a guide? If you are looking for half- or full day walking tours around Monteriggioni, send me an email and I'll put you in touch with a certified nature and walking guide for the province of Siena. 

The tourist office website also offers information on accommodation and last but not least an itinerary leading your youngsters to the sites featured in the Assasin's Creed game. 


The wobbly iron grating walkway along part of Monteriggioni's town walls

View from the town wall

Lunch at bar il Cerchio in the December sun

Detail of Monteriggioni's medieval town wall

view onto Monteriggioni's piazza Roma from the walkway

Porta di Ponente - One of Monteriggioni's two town gates

MATERA IS ITALY'S EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2019

Matera has won the title of European Capital of Culture and even though we're disappointed in Tuscany, this is a well deserved victory. From the start of the competition Matera has been an eye-catcher. The bottom-up approach of its bid was impressive and once the city council married the idea of Matera's candidature (it had initially been born by a private group of people), the committee was swift in connecting the young and creative local scene to European and international forces.


Young people putting up wooden chairs and tables in front of the Madonna di Provenzano church
Hang on there, this party isn't over yet! #Siena2019

In regard to digital involvement Matera was the benchmark for the other Italian candidate cities with its great website and busy interaction on every possible social media channel from day one of the competition. But what must have been most important to the jury, Matera put together a soundproof bid book called 'Open Future/Open City', which has already started to infuse the people of the Basilicata (once mainly known as Italy's poorest region) with a new, open-minded and positive attitude to their future.  

But Siena, Cagliari, Lecce, Perugia and Ravenna aren't planning to pack up yet. In fact the party has only started. The six Italian candidate cities have been working together on #Italy2019, a project that supports the further development of the ideas and topics from all the 20 bidding Italian cities. 

Dario Franceschini, Italy's minister of culture and tourism congratulated Matera on its win, but also specified that the recently established #artbonus act will provide the shortlisted cities with means to realize some of the proposed projects in their bid books. Whilst Steve Green, head of the jury made up of seven European and six Italian experts, reaffirmed during the press conference that the jurors had been truly impressed by the thoroughness of each single bid book put together by Italy's six candidate cities. Last but not least Tuscany's governor Enrico Rossi has already confirmed the 40 million Euro that the region of Tuscany was planning to invest into #Siena2019. 

So, keep creating Siena! Tuscany and Italy at large are in dire need of your fresh and inspiring energy, and #Siena2019's thought-through concepts which rethink one-way tourism and revitalize the country's cultural life and economic output. 


Links: 



EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2019: AND THE WINNER IS....?


Siena's historic town center seen from the Valdimontone neighborhood

Today is the big day. The European and Italian jury meets in Rome to proclaim Italy's European Capital of Culture 2019. Two cities in Europe will share the title; Plovdiv has already been designated to be Bulgaria's ECoC city in 2019 whilst Lecce, Perugia/Assisi, Cagliari, Matera, Ravenna and Siena are still in the race for the title in Italy. 

Until 5 pm today that is, when the jury chosen by the European Union will supply the name of the Italian winner. In Siena the press conference will be followed via live streaming in piazza del Mercato (the square below piazza del Campo). From 3 pm members of the Siena 2019 team will meet voluntaries, locals and supporters of Siena's bid in the former market square. Join the crowd for a party with events and live music and keep your thumbs up.

Pier Luigi Sacco and his team have worked hard on an inspiring bid book. If Siena wins the title, every single project in it will be put into practice over the next years culminating in 2019. But whatever the jury's final verdict, be assured that Siena's #ECoC2019 journey to bring back the creative forces into town can't be stopped!

Read on about the objectives of #Siena2019 on the official website or find a summary of the projects in Siena's bid book on this blog



SUPPORT SIENA 2019 DURING MAGENTA DAY ON OCTOBER 3, 2014


I'm busy helping prepare our Tuscan village's Festa dell'Uva, the harvest festival 2014. But if I wasn't turning moldy medieval cellars into improvised bars stacked with Montecucco wine I'd be giving a hand in Siena today.



Not just Palio horses and Renaissance art.
Join Siena's Magenta Day!



MAGENTA DAY: FRIDAY OCTOBER 3, 2014

If you explore the Tuscan city today skip Duccio, Pinturicchio and the cathedral for a change and join some contemporary pink frenzy instead. From 10 am the Magenta Day takes over Siena's town center and no matter whether you're a local, an American tourist or one of the refugees who arrived this summer - everybody is invited to join in. Participate and experience for yourself how contemporary culture and innovation are - at last! - back in town. Siena is competing to become European Capital of Culture in 2019 - and judging from today's program SIENA 2019 is doing one hell of a job!

Starting off with a children's event at 10 am in the kids' section of the Santa Maria della Scala museum, a flash mob follows in piazza Gramsci, whilst celebrations obviously also have to take place in via Magenta (magenta road), which will be turned into a Siena 2019 hot spot from 4 pm. At the same time a human chain will form to connect Porta Camollia to Porta Romana along the former pilgrims' and merchant roads that brought Siena to fame and wealth in the Middle Ages. Express your support for Siena's bid to become ECoC2019 by linking arms with whoever is next to you. 

If you love a good old treasure hunt visit piazza Salimbeni from 5 to 5.30pm. You'll be supplied with indications of ten locations in Siena. Find them and take a pic of each on your smart phone or camera before making your way back to piazza Salimbeni. The first ten people or groups of city explorers, who have found the right locations will receive a Siena2019 kit. 

After all the running around enjoy a glass of Tuscan artisan beer at stylish birreria Diana during the inauguration of a photo exhibition about Siena and its people. Then it's time to join the final event (street art and live music), which couldn't but happen in piazza del Campo. For more info check the Siena 2019 website or follow the committee's facebook page

I have to go now and unload more cases of wine - but once you've finished giving a hand in Siena come and join us over the weekend for some partying in the Maremma. My Tuscan village is no runner up for ECoC 2019, but we'll have a good time nevertheless. And if you think our festival is the typical fake medieval fare you better watch this: Wine Harvest Festival in Cingiano


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