Guide to visiting San Giovanni d’Asso in the province of Siena
San Giovanni d’Asso is a beautiful medieval village to be discovered. Located in the southernmost part of the Crete Senesi, almost on the border with the Val d’Orcia, San Giovanni d’Asso overlooks the wonderful Sienese countryside from the top of a gentle hill.
Until 2016 San Giovanni d’Asso was an autonomous municipality, but then it was merged with that of Montalcino.
We are in one of the most beautiful areas in all of Tuscany between rolling hills, isolated farmhouses, castles and historic villages to be discovered. Here the work of man and that of nature have given life to a harmonious whole that never ceases to amaze.
The area was inhabited both in the Etruscan and Roman times. The first centuries of the Middle Ages here as well as in other areas of Tuscany saw the birth of some parish churches around which worship was organized in rural areas. The first was the parish church of San Pietro a Pava which is mentioned in a document dated 715 relating to a dispute between the bishops of Siena and Arezzo. A second parish church, dedicated to the Madonna, replaced the first during the 9th century.
The birth of the town of San Giovanni d’Asso also dates back to the eighth century. Like the parish church, the castle was also disputed for a long time between the bishop of Siena and that of Arezzo, until, in 1178, the Sienese bishop was able to prevail. In the following centuries the castle changed hands several times and was enlarged and renovated several times.
What to do in San Giovanni d’Asso
Today San Giovanni d’Asso bases its economy on the excellence of its territory, combining the products of the earth (oil, wine, cheeses and white truffles) with a tourist offer that is constantly growing. In San Giovanni d’Asso there are some churches to visit, the castle and even a museum dedicated to truffles.
Pieve di San Giovanni Battista
The Pieve di San Giovanni Battista is the most important church in San Giovanni d’Asso. Among other things, the name “San Giovanni d’Asso” comes from the union of two names: that of San Giovanni Battista, to whom this church is dedicated, and that of the Asso stream.
The church was built in the first half of the fourteenth century and in 1539 obtained the status of a parish. Over the centuries it has been renovated several times.
The façade has a simple brick facing interspersed with some stone rows inserted for decorative purposes. The interior, with one nave, preserves a Madonna del Rosario attributed to Ventura Salimbeni and a Baptism of Jesus from the school of Rutilio Manetti as well as the relics of some saints.
Chiesa di San Pietro in Villore
Like the lost Pieve di San Pietro a Pava, the Church of San Pietro in Villore is also mentioned in the dispute between the bishop of Arezzo and that of Siena in 715. This makes us understand how ancient the foundation of this church is even if the current building dates from the twelfth century.
Observing the church with a minimum of attention, one can realize how many interventions it has undergone over the centuries. Its wall face has stone and brick sections. The very pretty façade is characterized by a series of four blind arches that flank the one relating to the entrance portal. The interior, with one nave, is divided into two bays covered by cross vaults. The church is completed by a small apse, located behind the altar. Under the second span of the church there is also a crypt which can be reached by a steep staircase. At one time this church housed two works of great value: a 12th century crucifix now housed in the museum of sacred art in Pienza and the Triptych of the Madonna and Child with Saints Peter and Paul by Ugolino di Nerio which today is located in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Built in several phases between 1100 and 1450, the Castle of San Giovanni d’Asso is located in the oldest part of the village. It is also called Castello Pannilini from the name of the family that owned it between 1539 and the beginning of the twentieth century. The complex consists of 3 different buildings connected to each other. It is quite impressive and occupies almost the entire western slope of the historic center of San Giovanni d’Asso. Today the castle is publicly owned and inside there are the municipal offices and the Truffle Museum.
San Giovanni d’Asso is the first Truffle Museum in Italy. The presence of a museum completely dedicated to truffles should not surprise: San Giovanni d’Asso is famous for its white truffle. The Museum and Educational Center of Truffles and wild herbs is spread over an area of 25 square meters in the basement of the castle. The museum itinerary deals with various themes related to the truffle starting from the legends connected to it. Some rooms are instead dedicated to sensory experiences. The last part is dedicated to the techniques of harvesting, conservation and use of truffles in the cuisine.
Chiesa della Misericordia
The Church of the Misericordia is located right next to the castle of San Giovanni d’Asso. Built in 1854 and dedicated to Sant’Antonio Abate, the church is in neoclassical style. The church has a beautiful facade, characterized by the two-tone effect that derives from the alternation between the red of the bricks and the white of the plaster.
What to see in the surroundings of San Giovanni d’Asso
San Giovanni d’Asso is part of the municipality of Montalcino and therefore I can only recommend you to visit this beautiful village. Among other things, Montalcino is famous for its wine which is among the best and most renowned in all of Tuscany. Nearby is also the small medieval village of Montisi which is part of the same municipality. We are in the Crete Senesi, one of the most beautiful areas in the whole region. Among the villages to visit I point out Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d’Arbia, Serre di Rapolano and Trequanda. Absolutely not to be missed is the magnificent Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Finally, if you are looking for a little relaxation, I recommend the Terme di Rapolano spas.
How to get to San Giovanni d’Asso
San Giovanni d’Asso is located about 40 kilometers away from Siena. It does not have its own train station and it is not at all comfortable to go there by public transport. Even starting from Siena there are no direct solutions by bus but it is always necessary to take more than one.
By car San Giovanni d’Asso can be reached in about 45 minutes from Siena by taking the Via Cassia SR2 to Torrenieri and then the SP14 to its destination. If you come from Florence, Milan or Rome you can take the A1 motorway to the Valdichiana exit and then continue on the provincial road in the direction of Trequanda and then San Giovanni d’Asso.
An alternative road is the one that goes from Siena towards Asciano and then reaches San Giovanni d’Asso. This will not be the fastest route but it is certainly the most beautiful and panoramic one.