A morning on Tuscan hills
This morning I was able to satisfy my desire to run on the Tuscan hills. This was the reason I came to Montepulciano, although it is an absolutely delightful hilltop town in its own right. There are gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside at every turn, many old churches and palazzi, and generally quaint narrow streets of ancient stone buildings (but maybe not quite narrow enough since they are wide enough for cars and the traffic zips around at high speed with total disregard for pedestrians. At the moment the town is deserted and I don't like to think how the cars behave when the streets are hopping with tourists.)
I decided to run to another hill town about 8 kilometres away, Montichiello, my choice being guided by seeing on the map that there was a quiet road winding through the hills which I hoped would have little traffic. I was proved right so that was good; I could run in the middle of the road and enjoy the scenery. That is, after I had made an initial false start and run a few kilometres in the wrong direction on a provincial road with no shoulder. Yuck.
I could see Montechiello on its hill almost from the start. It was just beyond some empty fields, olive trees and vineyards, beyond a scattering of rustic farmhouses, with the tower of its fortress poking up into the sky. I had a nice view of Montepulciano looking back although it's hard to get a good view of all the town's layers since the setting is so steep (the top of the hill seems to vanish from view easily).
There were four hills separating the two towns, all long and not especially gradual, and nothing flat in between and I could always see the road painted on the hillside. I passed a few farmhouses and a lot of vineyards and olive trees. It was all typical Tuscan colours of sage greens and browns, with the dots of yellow houses with tiled roofs. In the beautiful sunshine I felt warm but the air was cold, I think it was a couple of degrees above freezing.
I entered Montechiello through its stone archway and had a walk around. It was deserted apart from the local rubbish collector in his truck. The church had some nice frescoes, and the fortress seemed inaccessible. Many of the buildings had brightly painted window shutters. From the edge of town I could see Pienza on its hilltop, a larger town. I had contemplated continuing on there as a one way run but the network of minor roads looked complicated and I didn't want to get lost, also the bus back from Pienza wasn't for hours and I thought that if all the cafes are closed there as is the case in Montepulciano it might be hard to kill time there.
So as I started to feel cold I headed back for Montepulciano. The return felt much more uphill, strange how that happens. The rubbish collector passed me along the road. I detoured to the St Biagio church at the base of Montepulciano, running towards it down a very nice cypress lined avenue. Unfortunately the church was closed, but I saw the same rubbish collector again there. (I thought he might acknowledge me, after all I was dressed oddly and he must have noticed me each time.) The detour gave me the chance to enter town by a different route.
By the time I got to the Piazza Grande at the top of town I had started walking. The Piazza was lit up by the sunshine although the very austere wall of the duomo was in the shade and the place was, of course, deserted. Its name is a bit ironic as it isn't a large square, but the prominent buildings on the square are large so they appear oversized. Now I only had to go downhill. I had done about 18 kilometres and I was more tired than I expected.