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Comune di Montecarlo in Tuscany Review –Wine, Opera and Charm

By Amy Munice with Photos by Peter Kachergis

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The Fortress that you see as you enter town is actually owned privately but is open for tours in the high season

 

Montecarlo takes its wine seriously and its mayor, Vittori Fantozzi, wants you to know this. 

 

 

So much so, in fact, that he’ll likely meet you at the town’s tourist office to pour you a sample from one of the town’s many vineyards.  This is one fun tourist office that has a built-in wine bar for wine tastings!  (We subsequently visited the Buonamica Estate in the hamlet of Cercatoia, southwest of the town center.)

 

 

 

 

In the few steps walk from where you’ve parked your car to that tourist office it’s likely that the charm of Montecarlo will have already snagged your heart.   First formalized as a Comune in 1333, this town has often been in the gun sights of rival Medici cities Lucca, Pisa and Florence, each wanting the strategic position that high elevation Montecarlo affords.  That explains the imposing fortress walls on the town’s castle that you see at the village entrance, a site that is opened to the public in the high tourist season starting in May.   It also explains the signs you still see above doors indicating that so and so had fought the Florentines in 1332. 

 

 

Your tour continues to the town’s cathedral, still a center of village life.  It has the symbol of the Madonna and Child, who was said to have appeared on the Fortress walls to protect the people of the town during a war between Pisa and Lucca. 

 

 

Not far from a plaza with a monument honoring Montecarlo’s fallen during World War I you’ll pass locals  (Pop. Approximately 4500) hanging out at Caffe Carlo. 

 

 

Though it is devoid of that tinsel town feel of many a tourist haven, Montecarlo is more a tourist town than anything else. 

 

 

It has 15+ charming bed and breakfast hotels and a good number of restaurants ,-35+ in the town proper plus surrounds - for the constant stream visitors.

 

 

The famed Montecarlo D.O.C. wine is the prime attraction for many to the area.  It was in Montecarlo, circa 1200, that the Benedictine monks from the San Martino Monastery of Colle perfected vine cultivation techniques that underlie the wine production. 

 

 

There are about 300 vineyards in this D.O.C., most small and with small yearly outputs.  Gina Carmignani (better known as Fuso), President of the Association of Montecarlo vineyards, says “Some of our farms are highly technological and others are very artisanal using only the most traditional methods of winemaking and growing the vines.  There are one million bottles of Montecarlo D.O.C. wine bottled every year from very different kinds of grapes that are mixed together. ..Every producer can create something original.  Most of the producers have a specialty and for this reason we also mix wine from different vineyards together.  You can’t find this in any other place in Italy.”

 

 

It’s interesting to note that only 15% of Montecarlo wines are exported to the U.S., in the context of reports that the US market for Italian wine as a whole exceeds the consumption of Italian wine in Italy itself.  The best way to sample Montecarlo wines is by going to Montecarlo, and no doubt this is a prime motivator for the approximately 2,000 visitors per year who come to this town and its hamlets.

 

 

Another top attraction of the town, in addition to access to the famed Montecarlo vineyards and wines, is its Teatro dei Rassicurati.  This is a miniaturized La Scala opera house.  If La Scala is a fancy 3-layer cake this is its adorable cupcake counterpart.  From Rossini to Puccini to Donizetti and more, this opera house stages real productions throughout the year.  Saved from the wrecking ball in the 1960’s, it boasts continued performances since its start in 1750.    

 

These opera performances continue in the winter. 

 

 

Then there’s the town’s wine, music and food festival in the fall.  The lush wine country surrounds that you can see from a balcony terrace in the town also make Montecarlo a good place to visit in the Spring and Summer.  The question is when to visit Montecarlo, not if.

 

For more information visit the Montecarlo website.

Published on May 07, 2015

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