Montespertoli & Certaldo, Italy

Just down the street from where we’re staying in Montespertoli is the Castello Sonnino (Castle of the Sonnino Family). The 350-acre estate produces its own wine and olive oil plus offers tours and tastings. Of course we signed up.

We descended into the damp cellars under the castle where the oak barrels imparted flavor to the aging wine. Then we ascended to upper floors where grapes dried in the Tuscan air on reed platforms stacked to the ceiling.

At the end of the tour, our guide seated us at an outdoor table shaded under a percola. We sampled four wines from the estate’s stock along with a small buffet of bruschetta, cheeses, meats, jellies and bread. We agreed the hearty and smooth Sonnino Merlot was our favorite.

The town of Montespertoli, strung out along the ridge of a hill, is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. You can see medieval towers dotting hills in the distance from just about every direction.

For us Americans, one of the peculiarities here is the Italian lunch hour. “Aperto” means “open” and, as you can see in the sign below, this store is open from 8 in the morning until 12:30 in the afternoon. Then, it closes until opening again at 4 p.m. (most of Europe uses the 24-hour clock). This particular store stays open until 11 p.m. but most close about 7.

It’s tradition for the Italians to take a long lunch break for a home-cooked meal with family. If you’re out after noon and think you’re going to run to the grocery store, think again. Everything’s closed and the town is quiet. You just have to adapt and plan around the long lunch hours.

In the afternoon, we drove south to the ancient town of Certaldo. As in Bergamo, you catch a funicular (incline train) in the lower, modern town and ride to the top of the hill where the old town still sits in a defensive position. On this afternoon, Certaldo was hosting a street festival and we sampled the cheeses, beer and roasted chestnuts.

The Palazzo Pretorio (palace of the Florentine governors) stood at the highest point in town. The facade and interior were decorated with a striking collection of family crests from a procession of Vicars dating from the 1200s to 1500s. As we walked through the lower floors of the palace, we inspected the court room, cells for the guilty and even a small chapel room to give comfort to the condemned during their final night on earth.

Inside the cells were markings representing crude calendars scratched into the walls as the prisoners counted their days. There was even text on the ceiling from a prisoner written with the smoke from a candle. The walls bore marks of misery from more than 500 years ago.

From atop the city wall in Certaldo you could see south to the town of San Gimignano perched on the next hill with its trademark collection of tower houses. We’ll plan on exploring that Tuscan hill town in the next few days.

Finally, as I was investigating an old church complex down the street, I came across this contraption in the yard. It looks like a mobile pizza oven for fairs and festivals to me. This church has it figured out!

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Thanks again for following along. If you have questions or suggestions, tweet @JasonRMatheson. Missed an entry? Click here.

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I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.

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Jason R. Matheson

I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.