Looking for the perfect destination a spring weekend? Choose an itinerary through the Tuscan hills. Where all you have to decide is either taking a stroll inside medieval villages or sipping a glass of wine produced in world-renowned cellars. Welcome to Val d’Orcia.
If you are driving towards Siena on the via Cassia, about 10 miles after the border between Tuscany and Lazio, you are going to find yourself breathless for a moment. The surroundings will look unreal. As if the landscape had been replaced with giant oil-painted panels. Don’t worry, you are not dreaming: the gentle slopes with vineyards all over them are actually there, along with the neat lines of cypresses on the hills’ crests, those very hills scattered by wheat fields that will make you want to jump out of the car to touch the newborn greens in autumn and the fierce golden spikes in the summer.
You are in Val d’Orcia: the beating heart of a postcard-like Tuscany. One of those places that make you understand why so many foreigners cherish the myth of retiring in Italy to grow their own land.
A commercial turning point between Florence, Siena and Rome, the Val d’Orcia has witnessed the growth of its main cities during the Italian Renaissance. Because of this, city planning and architecture conjugate military strategy and the aesthetics of regularity, making the valley one of Unesco’s World Heritage sites.
MUST SEE PLACES IN VAL D’ORCIA
San Quirico D’Orcia
Scents are different here. The air carries the smell of wood from the vineyards. The morning dew seems saturated with essential oils from centenary olive and chestnut trees. And the flavours, too, feel like a feast.
You should start from the basics. And extra virgin olive oil is certainly one of them. It’s not unusual for the shops in San Quirico d’Orcia to open their doors and for various farms to welcome patrons with guided tastings, the fresh oil having been pressed just a few days before. Meanwhile, in colder seasons, iron braziers glow along the streets, reminding of meeting-places from another age.
The same scents of San Quirico can be found in Pienza: a town built following the coordinates of anatopian city by Pope Pio II and Rossellino (Bernardo di Matteo Gambardelli), a scholar of Leon Battista Alberti.
Here, flavors get stronger and food becomes a recreational activity. Two annual appointments see the city’s contrade confront each other: the “gioco del cacio al fuso” (throwing a cheese wheel towards a spindle) and the “lancio del panforte” (fruitcake throw). In the first case, the contenders make Pecorino cheese wheels roll towards a wooden spindle in the middle of the main square. While in the second one people slide the panforte, a traditional fruitcake made with honey, almonds and spices, as close as possible to the edge of a wooden table without making them fall. In the meantime, cheese slices are passed by on wooden plates with other dainties. And the contenders wear clothes in sixteen century style. Creating the feeling of a moment suspended in time.
However, no Tuscan tour can be completed without a thorough glass of wine. Heading west you will find what maybe is the most famous city in the Val d’Orcia: Montalcino. With its medieval fortress and its worldwide known red wine. Probably built by a population accustomed to great libations, the Etruscans (the place’s name could come from “lucus”, “sacred wood” in the etruscan language), this town offers a wide choice of wine cellars where to stop and sip the renown Brunello di Montalcino: a wine made of 100% Sangiovese grapes that emanates red fruits and geranium aromas. The same Brunello invented in the XIX century by Clemente Santi. Whose cellar and many other wonders are recounted here by Clio Biondi Santi. A visit is mandatory.
Natural Park of Val d’Orcia
If the season is warm there’s no better choice than a stroll in the artistic, natural and cultural park of Val d’Orcia. A walk between the reddish calanchi and the tachiti’s mottled grey, two igneous rocks from the ancient volcanoes of Amiata and Radicofani. Speaking of volcanic activity, here the subsoil is still lively: just look at the thermal baths of Bagno San Filippo e Bagno Vignoni. The same Bagno Vignoni, with a huge thermal water tank that covers the whole main square, has been hosting from July 2015 the festival “Un bagno di birra”, featuring artisanal brewers from allover Tuscany, along with delicious examples of street food (one above all: the cinta senese sausage) and live music.
And so our journey in the treasures of Val d’Orcia ends. A glass to toast. A smile from our companions. And the sun setting over the hills that run as far as the eye can see.
EVENTS IN VAL D’ORCIA
Spring in Val d’Orcia – April/May 2018
Walking treks organised by the Parco Naturale della Val d’Orcia. The perfect way to breathe in the most authentic perfumes and to take some snaps of a postcard-like Tuscany.
Orcia Wine Festival – April 21/25 2018
At Palazzo Chigi in San Quirico, this kermesse will celebrate the Orcia wine. The protagonists of this event will be the great cellars of the area, coming from 18 art Cities scattered around the Valley. An outstanding show of excellence and amazing taste.
Travel on a Steam Train from another era
Steam trains from another area will make you see this land from a different perspective. Each journey comes together with a special event that celebrates Val d’Orcia, such as the Festa del Barbarossa in San Quirico on June 17th and the Offerta dei Censi in Abbadia San Salvatore on July 8th.
Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte di Montepulciano – July 12/29 2018
Opera, theatre, ballet, performances of every kind: in Montepulciano art goes on stage under the artistic direction of Roland Böer with more than 50 events. Artists from all over the world will come together under the starry Tuscan sun to recount the universal themes of this edition of the festival: Vita Morte e Meraviglia, Life Death and Wonder.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN VAL D’ORCIA
Castiglion del Bosco
Loc. Castiglion del Bosco, Montalcino. +39 0577 1913001
Embedded inside a medieval village, this resort depicts the perfect union between luxury and tradition. 23 suites, 10 private villas and a garden of organic products, the best ingredients for La Canonica cooking school. And if that isn’t enough, here’s the buttonhole of Castiglion del Bosco: a 18 holes golf court dotted by cypresses and suitable for all kinds of players. Although the 19th hole, named Brunello, awaits only for the fearless.
WHERE TO EAT IN VAL D’ORCIA
Enoteca Osteria Osticcio
Via Matteotti, 23 53024 Montalcino. +39 0577 848271
From Marchese Antinori to Castello Banfi, from Fattoria di Felsina to Tenuta Frescobaldi, without missing labels from Friuli, Sicily, Piedmont, but also from France, Australia, California… Those are only a few of the superb wines that you will find at Enoteca Osteria Osticcio, all paired with culinary specialties such as mezzemaniche con zucca e pecorino di fossa or costoletta di vitello fritta. The view over Montalcino walls, then, is the best side dish ever.
Birrificio San Quirico
Via Dante Alighieri 93a, San Quirico D’Orcia. +39 0577 89 81 93
A micro brewery that wants to reunite the art of making beer with the most advanced scientific research, thanks also to the cooperation of the Universities of Siena and Perugia. A passion born while brewing at home that flows in the desire of increasing the value of local raw materials, autochthonous plants included, while producing a great quality of the beer. Giulietta (English Pale Ale) and Iris (Blond Ale) are the classics, helped by Catharina, the limited edition with panforte scents. Aren’t you a little bit thirsty yet?
HOW TO GET TO VAL D’ORCIA
From Rome: autostrada A1, exit Chiusi-Chianciano towards Montepulciano. As an alternative take via Cassia towards Viterbo and Bolsena.
From Florence: superstrada Firenze-Siena towards Rome and then via Cassia.