Dave the motorhome is living it up, splashing out €10 for a stress-free night’s kip in the official sosta (N43.09575 E11.78807), under the walls of Montepulciano, the highest hill-top fortress town in Tuscany, 600m up. The view from the windscreen is a vision, like looking out from a ship over a sea of countryside. I think D H Lawrence may have penned something like that and I’ve just badly plagiarised my home town’s claim to fame writer.
Last night the Carabinieri turned up. These guys drive Alfa Romeos, sport knee-high black boots and as often as not a machine gun, a kind of weird cross between a police force and the military. In a huge car park, they pulled up within a few feet of us with the engine running. After a while of sitting there listening (we can’t see out when the curtains are all closed), we did some twitching and had a look, yep, the rozzers, but making no moves towards us, just running the engine. After a while, with a couple of cans of Lidl Dutch Courage inside me I jumped out of Dave to see the jack-booted fella stood aside his motor, just his head turned towards me. In broken Italian, I explained I’m English and spoke no Italian. “Si?” he grunts. “Are we OK to park here?” I mumble, in English. “Si, si, va bene” and he waves me off. The Carabinieri don’t handle parking violations, so we guess he was sussing us out, either that or having a cheeky beer, who knows.
Today we had high hopes for the weather; the BBC claimed sunshine, the BBC was, sadly wrong, but it hardly rained. We showered, cleaned Dave, gave Charlie one last attempt at crab-bits on the sea-like lapping shore of the lake and drove out of Castiglione del Lago, down the Roman-straight road heading for Montepulciano. Just the name of this place rings wonderfully, temping me to wave my hands as I sing it out: “mon-te-pulch-ee-arno!” An easy half hour drive and we pulled into the empty car park, lined by huge mature umbrella pines and staring out over the sea of countryside below us. After so many free nights, we felt like paying for somewhere, just for the feeling of being legitimate, so we could get a good night’s sleep. After a twenty minute tussle with the ticket machine, with us feeding it every note we had in all four ways, and it holding them for a fraction of a second then spitting them out, we rummaged around for change and proudly popped the tiny bit of paper on the dashboard. We’re both convinced we’re the only people who will ever see it.
Montepulciano has been here for ever, since the Etruscans at least. It’s stretched out along a 1500m main street, or Corso, along a ridge with streets bending off all over the place not unlike an aged oak tree splayed out horizontally over a mountain top. When I say streets, what I mean is alleyways, narrow enough to have us leaning against the wall as a steady stream of residents nail it around the place. Their head lights and engine noise bounce off the tall walls, half of which are fashioned from pock-marked travertine stone which seems to have always been intended to give the place a dishevelled, ancient look.
Before we had headed up to the town, Ju had done her research. You see, a scene from the Twilight New Moon filmwas shot here (as was some of the English Patient, a fabulous film), and hence the place is a mecca for the (surely entirely female) fan-club of the pale-faced modern-day blood-suckers. Enterprising locals were punting out a ‘Twilight Tour’ for €30 a piece. None of this stuff was in evidence for us though, just the odd Twilight mug, as the town seemed deserted of tourist and shop owner alike. Taking in all the main sights, the Piazza Grande, the Tempio di Sant Biagio and the Chiesi di Sant Francesca, we huffed and puffed up and down the stoned hill, Charlie’s snuffling about keeping him unaware of the array of nimble felines.
Sight-seeing done, and (shock-horror) work to do, we headed back to Dave, via the supermarket to grab an espresso maker. It’s 10:17pm as I type this and I’m zinging. It took a couple of goes to get something resembling an espresso out of the little red devil, so six shots are bouncing around my cranium. Yeah baby.
Once the work was done, our mission for a Tuscan meal recommenced. Ju pulled up Trip Advisor and requested info on the local eateries. Fifty places came back! Ju listed them out in order of positive reviews and we headed off out, taking two silver lifts up into the town as a novelty entry in this stone world. An hour later, defeated, we headed back to Dave. The only place open, while looked lovely, had some shocking reviews, with people being charged €70 for a bottle of wine (after requesting a €34 bottle and it being substitued), and being generally treated like ‘you ain’t never coming back so we don’t care’ tourists.
Instead Ju’s cooked up a gnocci stuffed with cheese in a Sicilian pesto topped off with shaved parmesan topping it off. A DOCG Chianti (€1.99) swirls in our Slovenian wine glasses and the heating’s on. We’re disappointed everywhere is closed, but a bit richer for it, and have loved our little wander around this hill-top wonder.