We caught one of the beautiful days last week for a quick trip into southern Tuscany with a group of friends. Benano is very close to the point where the regions of Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio converge.  Italy, by the way, has 20 “regions,” as autonomous as U.S. states.  For reference, Lazio is the size of Rhode Island, Umbria is about twice that size, and Tuscany is the size of New Jersey (at least if you believe wikipedia). I sometimes describe Umbria as “the inland Tuscany” because our area’s landscape is very similar to the better-known southern Tuscan countryside that butts against it.

Our cast of characters emerging from the castle

It took us about a little over an hour to reach Montalcino, my personal wine mecca. Our first stop, Castello Banfi, the winery famous for its Brunello di Montalcino, is about 10 minutes outside the town in a picturesque valley. I love Brunello, but never realized Banfi and its American owners are generally credited with putting it on the wine lovers’ map. Good on them. Banfi is definitely worth the visit, if only to sample Brunello. The glass museum – bottles and stemware of all types and ages, including artsy designs by Picasso and Dali – is also worth a quick stroll-through.

Back on the road, we drove back through Montalcino and past Pienza to get to Montepulciano, without really spending any time exploring any of the town.  I know what you’re saying – “So far today, you’ve been in three of the most spectacular towns in Tuscany, but haven’t found time to look around any of them?!?” I’m going to have to ask you to suspend your disbelief until I explain, in a separate post, the mission we were on in Montepulciano.

Lest you think I’ve lost my marbles, Paul and I had enjoyed Montalcino, Pienza, Montepulciano and their larger neighbor to the north, Siena, on prior trips. All four are within two hours’ drive of our little burg, Benano, and any one of them makes a worthwhile day-trip on its own. Just be sure to designate a driver.