Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Monticchiello and Pienza

The fortress walls of medieval Monticchiello
The village since 1777 comes under the municipality of Pienza which can be seen on a clear day from the walls of Monticchiello. Prior to 1777 it was under the republic of Siena and an important strategic medieval fortress with its strong walls and rising keep. I was able to ride a mountain bike around the outside of the village and could find no way in other than the one main gate. All this was formed in 1200. In 1559 at the fall of the Sienese Republic, Monticchiello came under control of the Merdici.

Except for residents, cars are not allowed within the fortress walls.

The fortress walls are amazingly well preserved - Well worth a walk around the outside to experience their strength.

Nothing much has changed for centuries in the narrow laneways of Monticchiello. 

The residents of the village have limited space for gardens.

Sculpture within and on the walls of Monticchiello

Pienza is only 10 kms away and was one of our first villages we visited as we required the usual necessities for a week in Barbara’s beautiful villa. Monticchiello has no shops, but a fabulous restaurant, but more about that later.
We were to visit Pienza many times during our stay and we became as much at home here as our little village across the valley.

Andrew takes a picture of Pienza, we just had to stop to admire the view.

The day started casually with an 8.30 am get-up. We decided to drive over to Pienza for some shopping. What a great entrance to this fabulous hill top village. Travelling along the winding valley road bordered by tall cypress trees, you the drive upwards and along the outskirts of the old town while looking up towards the imposing bell tower rising above the Cathedral.

As you swing around the road and the western side of the town walls you are confronted by the more modern and commercial part of town with its super market and car parks. This is where you leave your car and walk to the steps rising up to the gateway entering old Pienza.

Pienza has several Piazzas but the most imposing is Piazza Pius II. This where we were entertained by a musician playing, what he called, “the Stick” which is played almost like a piano, but is held like a guitar.
(It can be viewed on youtube if you type in Chapman stick)

Andrew our son is a musician himself and was most interested. We spent some time listening to his playing and both then entered into some discussion about the instrument.

Pienza was originally known as Corsignano. A noble family, the Piccolomini lived here and their son, born in 1405 would eventually become Pope. Pope Pius II returned in 1459 and was dismayed at the state of his birth home and commissioned the building of the “perfect town”. A bit like Cardinal Richelieu in France I guess.
Monticchiello, the Val d’Orcia and Pienza are part of the World Heritage of UNESCO listings.

Dinner at La Porta.
I’ll let Sue explain as the memory of that dinner has never left her.
Well not exactly right Leon.  Don't think I'll ever forget the entree...the rest of the dinner was delicious, but that entree......mmm
Starters: (I'm going from the diary here)
Andrew had eggplant parmiagana. He was a vegetarian in those days and somewhat of an expert in epplant parmiagana and he pronounced it "sensational".
Leon had homemade pasta with a duck ragu which he said was subtle and mellow
And me........I took a chance on something that sounded a little odd but interesting. A mound of mashed potato with lots of fresh truffle shavings and a sheeps' cheese sauce.  I don't think I said a word while I ate it in case they asked for a taste. Well that might not be true, I never stay quiet for long. My first experience of truffle and certainly the most memorable. I have tasted them since, but never with the same impact.  Truly fabulous.
Andrew had gnocci pesto, not enough garlic he said but very good.
Leon had a beef braise..the man is predictable..excellent
I had rabbit with mushrooms. Very good. I'm a big rabbit fan. Both farmed and wild.  Many people in Australia won't eat rabbit, especially those of the older generation who consider it "poor" food. During the Great Depression, it was the main meat type that people had access to. Rabbits were running wild in almost plague proportions as it was before the introduced diseases that controlled them later. A man called a rabbito, would go through the streets of the inner suburbs calling that he had rabbits to sell. He had been out shooting the night before I guess. It helped a lot of people, but left a legacy of not wanting to eat it when times improved.
Dessert was panna cotta with wild berries all around. Delicious.
When we left, Leon and I made another booking for Friday, the night before we were to leave. Andrew was leaving for Russia the day before, so we knew we would need cheering up.
As we left, the delightful owners gave us a bottle of local white wine to take away as an aperitif for the next day.
We have met some truly wonderful people.

The following day we decided we would drive to Chiusi to buy train tickets for a visit to Florence later in the week. I particularly wanted to see Lake Trasimeno on the borders of Tuscany and Umbria where Hannibal drove the Roman soldiers into the Lake but more about that next week.


  1. I am really enjoying these tours around Italy. It is a country I would love to see so roll on Nigel's retirement:-)

    Sue you and I alike, I love rabbit and have one waiting in the freezer that my neighbours gave me. I dare not cook it unless Nigel is here!!

  2. I thought Sue might enjoy this recipe. I will definitively make it myself this week.

    Italy sounds great this time of the year (fall for us).

  3. Truffles are delicious! I had some last Friday in a local restaurant. The shavings were generously topped on a pasta dish of 'plain' spaghetti, truffle oil and fresh chopped tomatoes and spring onions. Mmm! It's a pity that truffles are so expensive ... otherwise I would use them at home too. Martine

  4. Diane, lucky you with a rabbit waiting. Wish I had your neighbours. Why do you have to wait for Nigel? Cos he cooks it or he likes to eat it?
    Thanks for the link Nadege. What recipe was it that you like? Was it the chicken curry with cashews? It did sound good. I agree with you about Autumn in Italy, or France...sigh...It looks like an interesting blog also. We both love the Languedoc area.
    Martine, Tasmania (our Southermost state and an island) has just started producing very high quality truffles, but it is a new industry and I believe most are sold to the restaurant industry, and v.expensive ones at that. In Australia we are generally restricted to tinned truffles or truffle oil, both of which cost a lot for a very little. Not many people in Aus have tasted truffles at all. We call it the "tyranny of distance".


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