Montalcino Town and Dining Recap

Hotel: Il Giglio

The Hotel Il Giglio is a small, family run establishment right on the main stretch of Montalcino a few hundred feet from the Piazza Popolo and Piazza Garibaldi. The old and rustic ambiance of the hotel fits the nature of the town perfectly, and we were very happy with the overall cleanliness and standards of the room. For being stuck in a tiny medieval town that seems almost frozen in time, Il Giglio offers free wifi, flat screen television with English channels, and an up to date bathroom with a glass-door shower (although no work out facility, as I was frequently reminded by my wife). The lobby is warm and inviting, and almost gives off the feeling that you are a guest in an old Italian home. (Below).

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The owners Anna and Mario were very friendly to us, especially given that it became quickly apparent that the hotel is not generally used to accommodating young children. However, they happily re-arranged our room to make his baby crib fit comfortably and generally put up with him running around and causing chaos in the lobby. Even after he knocked over a ceramic vase in the lobby, breaking it upon impact, the owners remained cordial (it may have helped that we offered to reimburse the vase to the tune of €100). I was surprised at how well they spoke English, especially Anna, although I tried to speak Italian to them as often as I could. Their son, Michele, also works at the hotel and speaks perfect English. He was helpful in setting up restaurant reservations and answering general questions about the area.

The parking situation is a bit dicey, but in a town this small, the free parking lot offered by Il Giglio is certainly helpful. By the end of our six day stay there I think I finally had it figured out. The owners would park the car in the lot for us upon our return, but then it was up to us to retrieve the car from the lot when we needed to use it again, which for us was on a daily basis. The lot itself is down a hill from the hotel and shut behind a locked gate that you have to reach in and unlock from the outside in order to get in. After you figure that out (I didn’t on my first trip down the hill), there is an automatic wooden gate that you have to open. Wait for it to open completely, because if you drive too close to it while it is still in the process of opening, it will stop. I learned this the hard way but was pleased when I ran back up the hill to inquire about the gate and learned that indeed my car wasn’t stuck inside a broken gate, but that I merely needed to back it up and press the button again. The left turn you have to make in order to exit the lot requires several three point turns thanks to the narrow street, but I managed it. You quickly get an understanding as to why most people in this town use smart cars or motorcycles as their vehicle of choice.

We reserved Room #1 for the modest rate of €145, which is the only room in the hotel with a terrace. And oh what a terrace it is (Below). The terrace itself was nearly the same size as our entire room, and we certainly took advantage of it. I had basically planned our entire trip around staying in this particular room, so I was very pleased that there were no issues in receiving it. Breakfast is included in the rate, and includes basic cheeses, hams, cereals and yogurt as well as homemade cakes from Anna’s kitchen (although no hot food such as eggs or bacon). Since our little guy became quite a terror in the dining room, we enjoyed breakfast on our remarkable terrace instead.

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Town:

One of the most immediately striking things about Montalcino is how truly small it is. In about five minutes you can walk from one end of the town center to the other and in another five minutes you can walk up through Piazza Garibaldi to the fortress (Below). By the end of six days we felt like everyone in town knew who we were. I will always vividly remember one morning I went out looking for milk, and there was none to be found at any grocery store in town; it had sold out. We literally had to wait for the milk man to come and make a delivery.

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Still, even with such concision, this is a very serious wine town. The main streets are all lined with wine stores and wine tasting rooms, which pretty much makes it an ideal place for me. Our favorite was Enoteca di Piazza which is right next to the hotel, and offers over 100 tastes of wine, including such high end names as Casanova di Neri, Biondi Santi and Mastrojanni, using automated dispensers. I received friendly service and visited nearly every day I was there. My tastings were discounted significantly any time I bought a bottle from the store’s vast, reasonably priced selection. Any time that I ordered a glass of wine at a restaurant or cafe, it was accompanied by a circular card around the edge of the glass that stated the name of the producer and the vintage. Coming from a world where restaurants sometimes fail to even include vintages on their menus, it was eye-opening to see a town so unified in their passion for their local wine.

Montalcino is not a town for the clubbing crowd, and it turns quite sleepy at night. A typical day for us there consisted of sleeping in, having a late breakfast, grabbing the car around 11 or 12 to hit a winery or two and have lunch, and then returning around 4 or 5 for a pre-dinner siesta. For us, that meant me sitting on the terrace sipping wine and soaking in the view while my wife and son napped. A stroll through town at dusk on the way to dinner at one of the many quality restaurants really reveals Montalcino’s charm (Below). One thing I will never forget about this place is how it smells, especially in the evening. There always seems to be someone nearby with a massive fire burning, which fills the air with the smell of campfire and crackling wood. This wonderful aroma combines with all of the smoked meat and game being cooked at the various dining establishments, and the entire aroma of the place is just heavenly.

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Restaurants:

All of our meals in Montalcino were fantastic, and all of them were reasonably priced. Typically, appetizers run in the €6-10 range, pasta courses cost about €12-15, and main courses cost about €15-20. Rather than try to assemble a ranking of all the places we went to, which would be impossible, I’ll simply break down each meal individually in the order in which we ate them.

Il Giglio

This is as authentic a home cooked Tuscan meal as you will find, as hotel owner Anna literally cooks every order from scratch herself as the guests come in, while husband Mario and son Michele work the tables. Since we were staying at the hotel, we took advantage and had dinner here on our first night in Montalcino. The dining room is small and quiet and maintains an ambiance of elegance which wasn’t ideal for our son’s mood that night; luckily we were able to get him to sleep upstairs so we could enjoy our meal in the dining room. The first course of tagliatelle with wild hare ragu was rich and gamey, if a bit skimpy on the hare. The main course of Veal brasied in Brunello was incredibly tender and flavorful (Below).

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Boccon Divino

For lunch on our second day, we made the short drive here. We had hoped to sit outside but the temperature was just a bit lower than typical for that time of the year, and they were not seating outside. No matter, the window seat inside served our purposes just fine. This place is worth a stop for the view alone (Below), but I also found the service to be very friendly and accommodating and the food to be innovative and flavorful.

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I ordered a course of gnocchi in a sausage sugo with pine nutes, truffles and herbs to hold me over for lunch (Below). The portion was pretty small, but was rich and flavorful enough to get the job done.

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Re di Mecchia

I made the trip next door to this tiny kitchen by myself on our second night, as the time change was still causing issues in my wife and son’s sleeping patterns. They missed perhaps the single best meal of the entire trip while catching up on those z’s. The whole place consists of maybe five tables, and if it feels like you are dining in someone’s living room while they cook in their kitchen, that’s because you are (Below).

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My waiter recommended after I ordered the pinci pasta with wild boar ragu that I abstain from adding parmesan to it, so I happily complied. The dish was amazing. Homemade pinci pasta is a big thing in Montalcino- it’s basically a thicker version of spaghetti, and the gamey flavors of the boar really came through along side it (Below).

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Since I was in the mood to demolish some hairy pig, I went with the stewed boar for my entree, which was as intensely flavored and perfectly cooked as anything I’ve ever tasted in Italy (Below).

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Since I was by myself, I went for it all and ordered a delicious slice of tiramisu cake for my dessert. The presentation was terrific, and even being one who is not usually a dessert eater, I must admit it melted in my mouth and was quite delicious (Below).

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Osticcio

This is really a wine bar that has transformed itself into one of Montalcino’s more elegant eateries, boasting probably the very best view over the hills of Tuscany through its large windows. We made a reservation at the earliest possible time in order to secure a window seat which I highly advise, as the ambiance isn’t as spectacular after the sun goes down. The owner Tullio is a very friendly guy, and really knows his wines. I paid up for the tasting flight of three Brunellos, which Tullio hand selects on a daily basis for a modest charge of €14.50. Trust him. In terms of food, the menu leaned a bit towards the vegetarian side of things, but I was able to find a dish of thick spaghetti in a bacon ragu served with pecorino cheese that went well with my three Brunellos. This seemed to be more of a place to pair food with wine than the other way around.

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Taverna dei Barbi

This was another lunch stop where I had hoped to dine outside, but this was our on/off rainy day in Montalcino, so we hid inside a tiny private room in the back. Barbi is a winery, so I took advantage of the modest pricing and ordered a half bottle of their 2007 Brunello (91 Points) to have with my lunch. To start, I ordered tagliatelle ragu, which was flavorful enough, but the ragu was a bit thin and watery for my liking (Below).

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For my main, I ordered the wild boar stew, which was a big, hearty dish that came off like a gamey pot roast (Below).

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With some time to kill and the sun peaking out, we ordered another drink and got to spend some time on the terrace after all following our lunch (Below).

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Taverna Grappolo Blu

Situated down the steps off the main road in Montalcino, this was one of the more modestly priced dining establishments we visited and has a very down-to-earth vibe thanks to its very friendly owner. My pasta dish of pinci al ragu di carne really hit the spot, and might have been the heartiest portion of pasta I ate all week (Below).

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After some deliberation, I went with a main course of diced veal braised in balsamic, which was rich and tender, and gave me some cooking ideas to try out now that I’m back home (Below). After seeing the restaurant’s owner the next morning at the pharmacy, my theory that we were equivalent to locals in town at that point in our stay had become a corollary.

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San Giorgio:

This place has a beautiful interior and tries to act like it is more elegant than it is; we got some dirty looks from some patrons as our son was acting up a bit, but in reality this is one of the most casual spots in town, which is evident from the pricing, which is about half of what you see elsewhere. We were pleasantly surprised, and simply split a sausage-gorgonzola pizza as well as a pepperoni pizza, and I ordered a veal osso bucco cooked with peas that was a surprisingly large portion for its price point, and was well-cooked and flavorful (Below).

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The bottle of Fattoria dei Barbi Rosso we bought for €12 was also very modestly priced and went well with our food choices. This is certainly a good, filling option for dining on a budget, or with children.

Taverna Banfi

We enjoyed perhaps our longest meal here, ordering a bottle of the Belnero 2010 (92 Points, Below) and laboring over two courses and coffee after our son fell asleep in his stroller, a rare occasion for us indeed. This is a very nice restaurant with high ceilings that fills up completely on a daily basis, and as a result has a noisy buzz that creates a very casual ambiance.

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I went with the wild boar pasta yet again here, and it was served in a far different style, with the sauce made from ground boar into more of a dark brown gravy (Below).

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For my main course, I went for it all and got the pancetta arrosto, a roasted pork belly rolled with peppercorns in a Brunello au jus (Below).

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Il Pozzo

We made a visit to the quiet, sleepy town of Sant Angelo en Colle for the sole purpose at dining at this well-regarded restaurant, which is run by two friendly sisters. We killed some time at a small grocery/ cafe store, and ran across a terrific sunset (Below) before securing our outdoor table when the restaurant opened.

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It was worth the wait. A jug of delicious house wine washed down my final pinci pasta with meat ragu (Below).

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I had planned to order osso bucco here as well, but it wasn’t on the menu, so I’m glad I ended up ordering some the night before. Instead, I turned towards my old standby, and went with the stewed wild boar. Again, this was a fantastic dish (Below). There is so much more complexity of flavor going on with boar than with a typical piece of pork.

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Cafes:

Bar Alle Logge

This was a great place to drop in, and we ended up eating here a couple of times, as my wife really enjoyed the salad of  tuna and beans, and we were able to get our son to eat a grilled cheese sandwich. There is a wide selection of wines by the glass, which can be enjoyed while sitting outside under the bell tower on Piazza Popolo. A little known fact- I ordered my first of 3 wild boar pasta dishes here for lunch immediately after we arrived in town.

Bar Le Potazzine

This is another great outdoor dining spot on the Piazza Garibaldi, which sits above Piazza Popolo just below the fortress. It is essentially the enoteca of Tenuta Le Potazzine, who is a pretty well-regarded wine producer in the area. I kept it simple for lunch and ordered what else, a pasta dish with a meat ragu, to get me through the day.

All in all, it was a great six days in this lovely Tuscan town. I would most certainly go back someday if the opportunity presented itself.

 

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