Val d’Orcia Will Hit All Your Senses
There are so many beautiful places in Tuscany, but when it comes to stunningly beautiful landscapes, Val d’Orcia is the place to be. Set in a valley that extends from the hills of Siena to the dormant volcano Monte Amiata, it is full of rolling hills of cypress trees, country villas, natural hot springs, hilltop towns and castles. Within the valley are also the DOCG zones of two of our favorite wines, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Unsurprisingly, the region inspired a vast amount of Renaissance art. Nowadays, it’s a photographer’s dream.
In 2004, the Val d’Orcia was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites for its natural landscape and its historical contribution to the ideals of good governance in the Italian City-State. Throughout the valley, there are magnificent spots that will take you on a trip through its evocative past. It’s hard to imagine a place more full of beautiful nature, better walks and even better food.
To enjoy Val d’Orcia in its entirety, we highly recommend renting a car. As you drive through the winding roads, be prepared to see new sites and gorgeous vistas at every bend. The list of things to do in Val d’Orcia is endless, so take your time and enjoy it, as it will hit all your senses.
Traveling along the Via Francigena in Tuscany allows you to experience nature, culture and history. It was the trail that Sigerico, the Archbishop of Canterbury, used to reach Rome from England and became a famous pilgrimage. Whether you decide to take it on foot, by horse, by bike or by car, you’ll feel connected to treasures and traditions along the way. These trails offer a unique and special way to admire the ever changing landscape and the antique houses, churches, and towns left behind. You can make this experience as long or short as you’d like.
Located along the Via Francigena, pilgrims used to go to the town of Bagno Vignoni for healing, rest and refreshments. It is remarkable for its 160 ft long natural pool in the center, instead of the usual piazza. You can’t actually bathe in this pool, but you can take a dip at the pool in the nearby Parco dei Mulini. Or you can relax at one of two hotels: the Hotel Posta Marcucci, which is popular with the locals, or the Hotel Adler Thermae, which is newer and has magnificent views.
Pienza is a hilltop town surrounded by sheep farms. As such, they take their cheese very seriously. One of our favorite things to do while in Pienza is wander throughout its street while tasting Pecorino cheese. Their sample fares are often slathered with various toppings, such as fig-infused balsamic vinegar. It’s amazing!
The town is also breathtakingly beautiful, set high on a hill with the most stunning views of the valley below. It was home of Renaissance humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who became Pope Pius II. With his money and influence, he transformed his birthplace into an architectural utopia, building a cathedral, papal palace and town hall surrounded by a beautiful central piazza.
The medieval town of San Quirico was another important stop located along the Via Francigena. From the anicent fortified walls of the town, you can enjoy gorgeous views of all of Val d’Orcia, including Pienza, Montalcino and Monte Amiata. Inside the town is the 8th century collegiate church of San Quirico, the gardens of Leoni, and the most photographed trees in the world, the cypresses of Tuscany.
Brunellos are a world famous Tuscan wine found in the town of Montalcino. It is considered by many to be Italy’s best wine. You do not have to be a wine snob to understand it. It is the only Tuscan wine that is made of 100% Sangiovese grapes. it also has a longer distillation process than any other grape. Vinters are also not allowed to irrigate their vineyards at all and are therefore dependant on the weather. This is not easy to do, but they do it well! Enjoying a Brunello wine during its fall harvest is hands down one of the best experiences you can have in Tuscany.
One of the reasons the Val d’Orcia is so stunning is because Monte Amiata is a dormant volcano rising to 5695 ft., offering stunning views at every corner. Its volcanic activity contributed to Val d’Orcia’s rich fertile grounds and natural hot springs. Now that it’s dormant, it is a wonderful place to explore trails, rocks, springs and rivers. There is also the Mining Museum of Monte Amiata that explores the history of mining in Tuscany. Sometimes old miners are there to speak to you about the hard lifestyle of mining.
This is just a taste of the incredible Val d’Orcia. You’ll have to go visit to experience its true glory for yourself.