While I’ve read the Twilight books more times than I’d care to admit, the movies have always left me feeling slightly irritated. After all, there are only so many times a person can watch an agonizing Kristen Stewart run her hands through her hair without wanting to smack her. Yet the idea of a New Moon trip intrigued me—after all, the best part of New Moon (the reunion scene between Bella and Edward) was filmed in Montepulciano, just a few hours outside of Florence. And so I packed my bag with a water bottle and my trusty camera and dragged myself to the train station by 8 am, hoping that a trip to the Italian countryside would allow me to renew my faith in teenage vampire literature.
By 10 am, our little blue bus had completed the climb through the Tuscan countryside to drop us at the base of Montepulciano. Francesco, our tour guide, explained a little history of the hillside city as we walked through a narrow archway and began our ascent along the Corso to Piazza Grande in the center of town. Even from the base of town, the incredible view of the green valley below us was enough to convince me to continue walking (at 1,950 miles above sea level, the townspeople must have larger thighs than Lance Armstrong.)
Once we reached Piazza Grande, Francesco pointed out the large tower of the Palazzo Comunale that loomed over the square, which seemed tiny in comparison to the scenes in the movie. He explained to us that the film’s directors actually created the fountain that Bella runs through to get to Edward, as they did for scenes in Under the Tuscan Sun. After wandering around and goggling at how many pictures of the Twilight stars hung in the shops and cafés, we headed down to the Cantina del Rede cellars to meet our wine expert and get a taste of two varieties of the local Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
When our tour of the winery was over, we stopped for a quick lunch at a restaurant that would have made Pavarotti proud. The place was crawling with Italian memorabilia, and the handmade Gorgonzola gnocchi was so good I would have licked my plate clean if the chef’s husband hadn’t come out and started chatting to us at our table. As it was, the only thing that made me leave was the promise of more cheese to come once we arrived in Pienza, our next stop on the tour.
Pienza is a town that you smell before you see. Famous for its classic Renaissance design and production of Pecorino cheese, we got a sample of three different types of cheese that melted in your mouth while perusing the shop’s diverse selection. After loading the bus with our purchases (the spicy Pecorino is a must), we headed off to Montalcino, our last destination.
The family that owns Cantina Abbadia Ardenga met us at the door with a smile and immediately began showing us around the winery. After a brief explanation of the process of wine making and a tour of the cellar, we sat down to fresh bruschetta and glasses that were filled again and again with some of the best and most expensive wine in Italy, the Brunello di Montalcino.
Mario Ciacci, the owner and patriarch of the winery, had us all laughing as he posed for our endless pictures, while his wife refilled the baskets of bread on our tables and brought out heaping plates of prosciutto and salame to accompany the wine. By the end of the wine tasting, I felt like a Sangiovese grape—fat and full of liquid, but nonetheless happy to soak up as much of the Tuscan sun as I could on the bus ride home.