Montalcino, famous for its spectacular Brunello wine, is a lovely Italian hilltop town we visit on many of our Tuscany Bike Tours. The medieval town dates back to the beginning of the 10th century, famous mainly for its tanneries and as a stop for pilgrims on their way to Rome along the Via Francigena. During the 16th century, nobles fleeing Siena to escape the conquering Florentines built their new mansions here, increasing the prestige of the once-humble Montalcino.
Nowadays Montalcino is a popular tourist destination, with people coming from all over the world to taste its wines: authentic Brunello wine cannot be produced anywhere but within its city limits. Those among you who are passionate about biking might already know Montalcino as one of the stages of the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy). The narrow, paved main road to town is the one riders use in the race--and our guests follow the same path into town on our Casual Inns trip. Pretty cool! Those on our Premiere Inn trip have the chance to spend a delightful evening seeking a fun spot for dinner on their own in Montalcino. Of course our Trip Leaders are always there to point guests in the direction of their favorite local eateries.
Dinners on your own are an important part of the Backroads experience, giving guests the chance to follow their nose and savor the local flavors at their own pace, fostering a sense of adventure and exploration.
I found my favorite Montalcino restaurant when I was walking with my co-leader Paolo near the main piazza, Piazza del Popolo (if this sounds familiar to you, you must be a great fan of the Giro d'Italia). As always in life, the greatest discoveries happen by chance. On our left-hand side we saw a restaurant with two windows, partially hidden under stone arches. "Al Giullare" was written on the sign. A warm ambiance and the welcoming smile of waitress Gloria was calling us in.
We decided to enter, and what a surprise! Al Giullare is beautiful, with a style that combines tradition and modernity. I quickly learned that the manager, Claudia, owns the restaurant with her sons. They're from the Padelletti family, Montalcino winemakers since 1571 and one of the oldest wine producers in the area. The majority of wines served at Al Giullare are made by their family-run company, and they offer an abundance of Brunello, Rosso, Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco that pair perfectly with your meal. I'm a huge fan of pici pasta. It's similar to spaghetti, but thicker and made without eggs; the ingredients for pici are just flour and water. In my opinion, one of the best combinations of pici is with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) sauce. It's a really common dish in Tuscany, but I have to be honest and say that at Al Giullare I had the best pici ever! I guess it's all about the fresh, high-quality ingredients they use. Their pasta is handmade daily from scratch and you can definitely taste it.
If you're up for meat instead, you're in the right place. Montalcino is in the Val d'Orcia, an area famous for its meats and the unforgettable Fiorentina steak. Fiorentina, a traditional Tuscan dish, is a cut of scottona (young bull) that includes the bone and is cooked over coals or on the grill. It also must be no less than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). Unforgettable but pretty challenging to eat, indeed. You can of course opt for smaller portions of equally famous local meats, such as wild boar, veal with rosemary, mushrooms or Brunello, steak with radicchio and parmesan cheese or pork tenderloin with gorgonzola. When you find yourself in Tuscany, take a walk in the beautiful medieval town of Montalcino and surrender to its tastes. Let Claudia or Gloria welcome you into Al Giullare, pairing your food with the perfect wine and telling you stories about the Padelletti family and their ancestors. Treat yourself to a meal worthy of an ancient Sienese noble.
Ristorante Al Giullare: Via Panfilo dell'Oca, 11/13, 53024 Montalcino Siena. Tel: +39 0577 84 72 07