Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, a land of wonders
Val d’Orcia is one of the most popular destinations for tourists who come from all over the world to enjoy its beauty. The main characteristics of this marvelous territory are the sinuous hills, the historic villages, the medieval castles, the cypresses and the cultivated fields. The whole valley is now part of a single natural, artistic and cultural park, the Parco della Val d’Orcia, and in 2004 it was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The territory of the Val d’Orcia basically coincides with that of its five municipal capitals: Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia, Pienza, Castiglione d’Orcia and Radicofani.
Well, now we just have to discover all the treasures of the Val d’Orcia!
What to see in Val d’Orcia
- Abbey of Sant’Antimo
- Castelnuovo dell’Abate
- San Quirico d’Orcia
- Bagno Vignoni
- Castiglione d’Orcia
- Rocca d’Orcia
- Bagni San Filippo
- The landscape
Famous all over the world for its wine, the highly prized Brunello, Montalcino is a beautiful medieval hamlet that boasts not only a very important food and wine heritage but also a respectable historical and artistic heritage. After the classic walk in the historic center and the unmissable wine tasting, I recommend you also to visit its monuments. Here you can indeed admire the Palazzo dei Priori, the Rocca and some interesting churches. Finally, the Musei riuniti of Montalcino are also very valid; born from the fusion of the Diocesan Museum and the Civic Museum, they preserve a truly remarkable art collection with the works of great Sienese artists such as Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
Abbey of Sant’Antimo
Let’s start by saying that the Abbey of Sant’Antimo is one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in all of Tuscany. This magnificent church has a centuries-old history that has its roots in myth. According to legend, in fact, the abbey was founded in 781 by Charlemagne himself! The current church dates back to the 12th century and is characterized by a three-nave plan with a large apsidal basin and a mighty bell tower 27 meters high. Inside, I advise you to pay particular attention to the capitals of the columns, in particular to the one that portrays Daniel in the lions’ pits that was made by the Master of Cabestany. In addition to its historicity and its beauty, I recommend you to visit Sant’Antimo also to attend the Gregorian chants that are still sung here by the monks carrying on a tradition that has continued since the Middle Ages.
Castelnuovo dell’Abate is a pretty medieval village located in a beautiful hillside location among olive trees and vineyards, a stone’s throw from the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. Ideal for a relaxing walk, immersed in absolute calm, the village has its main monument in the Pieve dei Santi Filippo e Giacomo. Inside this church you can admire some frescoes by the Sienese painter Ventura Salimbeni.
San Quirico d’Orcia
Located in the heart of the Val d’Orcia, the ancient walled village of San Quirico is among the most beautiful in the entire Sienese province. Things to see are not lacking: in particular there are some really interesting churches such as the Collegiata dei santi Quirico e Giulitta, the chiesa di San Francesco and the chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta and the beautiful Palazzo Chigi which today is the seat of the Municipality. Near the walls you can appreciate the Horti Leonini, a beautiful Italian garden created around the middle of the 16th century.
In the immediate vicinity of San Quirico, about 3 kilometers away, there is one of the most photographed monuments in all of Tuscany: the Cappella della Madonna di Vitaleta. Positioned in a picturesque way between two rows of cypresses, in recent years the chapel has become the absolute protagonist of one of the most beautiful and well-known panoramas in the region.
Are you looking for a thermal bath? Here you can find what you need: Bagno Vignoni is a renowned health resort since the time of the ancient Romans. This delightful village is characterized by a spectacular water square, called “Piazza delle sorgenti“, which was once the heart of the ancient spa. The thermal waters that come out of this large basin feed the waterfall of the Parco naturale dei Mulini.
Renovated at the behest of Pope Pius II with the intention of creating the “ideal city”, Pienza is a true masterpiece of Renaissance art. The main square, named after the pontiff, overlooks large monuments such as the magnificent Cathedral, Palazzo Borgia, which houses an important museum of sacred art, the great Palazzo Piccolomini with its beautiful garden, and the Palazzo Comunale. Immediately outside the town, the Romanesque Pieve dei Santi Vito e Modesto in Corsignano, a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture, is also absolutely worth a visit.
Located a short distance from Pienza, Monticchiello is the typical medieval village. The town is famous for the shows of its “Teatro Povero“, a theater in which the actors are the inhabitants of Monticchiello. Walking through the narrow streets of the village, you can admire the remains of the fortress and the medieval walls that were part of the fortifications that once protected Monticchiello, and the Pieve dei Santi Leonardo e Cristoforo which inside preserves some valuable frescoes of the Sienese school.
The characteristic hamlet of Castiglione d’Orcia is located in a beautiful hilly position from which it dominates the whole valley. Once the center was part of the numerous possessions of the powerful Aldobrandeschi family who had a castle here known as Rocca Aldobrandesca. In addition to the fortress you should also visit, the Pieve dei santi Stefano e Degna, where you can admire some fine frescoes, and the Sala d’Arte San Giovanni which houses works of great value created by some of the greatest masters of the Sienese school of the XIV and XV centuries.
Located on a hill not far from Castiglione, Rocca d’Orcia is a small medieval village dominated by the Rocca a Tentennano which in medieval times was an important control point of the Via Francigena. This fortress is very impressive and from its terrace you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of Monte Amiata and the whole Val d’Orcia. The heart of the village is represented by the Piazza della Cisterna, while the Chiesa di San Simeone represents another interesting monument to visit.
Bagni San Filippo
Val d’Orcia land of villages, castles, abbeys and … spas! After Bagno Vignoni, the time has come to also talk about Bagni San Filippo. This is a very small center, located in the municipality of Castiglione d’Orcia a short distance from Monte Amiata, famous for the free thermal baths of Fosso Bianco. Here nature has created a series of pools sprayed with thermal waters and an extraordinary limestone formation which has been renamed “White Whale” because of its resemblance to the mouth of a whale. In addition to the free spas, in Bagni San Filippo there is also a private spa equipped and complete with all comforts.
Located in the southernmost part of the Val d’Orcia, Radicofani represents the arrival point of the last stage of the Via Francigena in Tuscany. The main attraction of the village is certainly the Rocca which dominates the valley with its imposing tower. Documented since the tenth century, the fortress of Radicofani is famous for being the lair of the notorious Ghino di Tacco, a bandit who lived between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, who was approached to Robin Hood not because he stole from the rich to give to the poor as the famous colleague from overseas did, but simply because, apparently, he avoided robbing the poorest travelers. In addition to the fortress, the village is also worth a visit, here there are the Palazzo Pretorio and the churches dedicated to San Pietro and Sant’Agata.
Last but not the least, the landscape!
The landscape is one of the strengths of the Val d’Orcia, there are various panoramic points and suggestive views offered by this land. A landscape, as we said at the beginning, made of rolling hills, many vineyards, olive groves and golden wheat fields, do you remember the scene of the Gladiator’s wheat field? Well, it was filmed right here, to be precise in the surroundings of Pienza. This wonderful landscape that for centuries has inspired many artists, especially the Renaissance ones, still continues to amaze and inspire those who pass through these parts. It is no coincidence that it is one of the most photographed areas in all of Tuscany…