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Report 608: Southern Tuscany, 2005

By Karen Austin from Mississippi, Spring 2005

Trip Description: March 10-23, 2005 Southern Tuscany

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Rome, Tuscany

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 11: Driving from Florence to Montepulciano

We arrived in Florence by train on Friday afternoon. Gail had made a reservation for us some months earlier at a small hotel called the Alamanni, on Via Alamanni 35, about three blocks from the train station, so thither we trudged, our suitcases rolling dutifully along behind us.

The Alamanni was a little hard both to find and then to get to, as it has an entrance off an interior patio and behind a locked gate, and is additionally on the second floor of the building. Gail went up to see about an elevator while I stood by with the bags. She returned with bad news: the Alamanni says it has had problems getting paid by the site we had gone through (lodging.com) and no longer honors reservations made through them. They had asked for an address for us so that they could communicate this to us, they said, but lodging.com had refused to give it to them (and certainly not communicated with us themselves!), and they had no vacancies. They were very helpful, however, and called and located a room for us at no additional cost at the Hotel Boccaccio (Via della Scala 59), a nice place located halfway between the railway station and the Borgo Ognissanti Europcar office we were using, so all was well, and we had time to go to view the David.

We originally arranged to rent our car at the Via Ponte Sospesso office recommended by Maureen and Pauline, but two days before our departure I received a phone car from Europcar, who had just themselves been notified that the site was not open. They switched us to the office at 53-55 Borgo Ognissanti, and the staff there gave us very clear and relatively easy instructions for getting out of Florence. (Returning the car at the end of our stay was, however, a very different kettle of fish, as you shall see.)

I had thought to take the A1 from Florence down to Montepulciano on Saturday, but the young man at the Europcar office recommended that we take the S2 instead. (The #2 is sometimes posted as the S2, or the SR2, or other things – we never knew why the changes.) It was a very pleasant and lovely drive on a well-maintained and clearly marked 2-lane (and one very short stretch of 4-lane), with no tolls, and I would strongly recommend it.

A few asides here. First, I had gone online and bought a Touring Club Italiano map (Slow Travel had said they were the best and they were absolutely right) of Tuscany months before we left, and that was a smart move. I may have spent a dollar or two more, but I didn’t have to waste vacation time hunting for one.

Second, and again at the risk of repeating information I have read elsewhere on Slow Travel, Italians may have numbers for their highways, but they rarely bother to post them, and the Italians I occasionally asked for directions were really not familiar with them at all. You have to look ahead at various places along the road and just go in that direction, and when I have given driving instructions in this report, I have used the towns that actually appear on the blue road signs (i.e. dir. Buenconvento>San Quirico d’Orcia). You will also never be told on the signs whether you are headed north, south, east, or west.

Third, go by the color of the roads on the map: green in the autostrada, which is at the top. The red roads, such as the #2, are also just fine; so are the yellow ones, but look at their width on the map: if they seem more narrow, they may well be only one lane, requiring scooting over to the side if you meet anything on-coming. Some of the white ones are fairly good, but they can also be very poor, so as a general rule of thumb, stay away from them!

A little north of Siena we got off (again at the advice of the man at the Europcar office) at Monteriggione, which has a lovely square, with castle, and was remarkably free of tourists. There were several places to eat around the square, of course, but we continued to follow his recommendation and ate at a little place called Bar dell’Orso, with tables outside on the sidewalk, on your right just after you have left the S2 and before you get into Monteriggione. To park, go just a few feet past it and turn down to your left on the opposite side of the road, where you will find a large parking area (free). We had big bowls of a delicious zuppa al farro (a vegetable soup made with spelt, which is similar to wheat or barley, and thickened with chunks of Tuscan bread) water, coffee for both of us, and split a large bowl of tiramisu, all for €9.

Siena was the only place on the S2 where we got confused, rambled off in the wrong direction, and had to retrace our steps. From Siena we continued southwards (dir. Buenconvento>San Quirico d’Orcia). Depending on how early a start you made, this could be a good time, just as you are coming into Buonconvento, to get off on the #451 to visit the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Montalcino, just south of Buonconvento, probably merits rather more time than you might have to give it on this drive. At San Quirico d’Orcia we took the #146 (dir Pienza) over to Montepulciano. The #146 is an excellent and extremely scenic road.

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