The Crete Senesi
The Crete Senesi are an area located south-east of Siena that develops on the municipal areas of Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d’Arbia, Rapolano Terme, Trequanda and Montalcino.
The name “Crete” derives from the clay that emerges from the ground, characterizing the landscape with its peculiar gray-blue color. It is a clay mixed with rock salt and chalk, the result of the sediments of an ancient sea that covered the entire area three million years ago. The Crete Senesi have a very particular shape with white hills, badlands and cliffs which has led many to define it a “lunar landscape”. Precisely for these characteristics, since the Middle Ages the area between Buoncovento, Asciano and Montalcino has been called “Accona desert” but this must absolutely not make you think of a desolate and lifeless place.
Do you know those typical postcard panoramas with undulating roads that run between two rows of cypresses, on the crest of a hill, to reach an isolated cottage? Well, many of those images come from the Crete Senesi. We could say that this area of Tuscany, perhaps less known than Chianti or Val d’Orcia, is acquiring more and more notoriety and more and more photographers from all over the world come here in search of the perfect shot.
What to do and what to see in the Crete Senesi
The Crete Senesi, however, are not only panoramas. There is much more to do and see: this is a land of art, culture, spirituality, spas and lots of good food.
- Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore
- Rapolano Terme
- Serre di Rapolano
- San Giovanni d’Asso
- Scenic spots
- Itineraries and “alternative” routes
Asciano is a must in any itinerary in the Crete. Pretty medieval village still with part of its defensive walls, Asciano has several points of interest that will make art lovers and not only fall in love. In particular, the Museo civico archeologico e d’arte sacra palazzo Corboli represents an authentic surprise for the quality and quantity of the art works on display. In addition to the museums of Palazzo Corboli in this hamlet you can admire the Basilica of Sant’Agata and the Museo Cassioli, dedicated to the painter Amos Cassioli and his son Giuseppe. Other monuments include the Torre della Mencia, the Chiesa di San Francesco and the beautiful fountain located in Piazza del Grano. Immediately outside the village, I suggest you also visit the cappella dei Santi Fabiano e Sebastiano where there is a beautiful fresco made by Girolamo di Benvenuto.
Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore
Well positioned on a hill and partially hidden by a dense forest, the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore is among the most important places of faith in all of Tuscany. Founded in the fourteenth century, the abbey preserves various works of art and a very rich library that has 40,000 volumes. The beauties that are preserved within the complex are truly remarkable, the cycle of frescoes that enriches the large cloister is nothing short of sensational!
Buonconvento is a beautiful village where brick is the master. Located on the route of the Via Francigena and well protected by its walls, the village of Buonconvento has well preserved its characteristics. It is no coincidence that Buonconvento is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy!
Here, walking along the main street, there are thechiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo, the Palazzo Podestarile with the clock tower, the Palazzo Comunale and the important Museo d’Arte Sacra della Val d’Arbia which houses several art works made between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries. Finally, for an in-depth look at the peasant tradition and culture of this region, I recommend a visit to the Museo etnografico della mezzadria (ethnographic museum of sharecropping).
If you are looking for relaxation, Rapolano Terme is just what you need. Rapolano has two spas: the Terme di San Giovanni and the Terme Antica Querciolaia. These spas are powered by sulphurous water sources that gush at a temperature of 39 degrees. Also used in various wellness programs, these waters are highly appreciated for their healing properties. But Rapolano is not just spas, wellness and relaxation (as if it were little!). Here are also some interesting monuments to visit such as the pieve di San Vittore and the chiesa di San Bartolomeo.
Serre di Rapolano
Serre di Rapolano is a small hill village located in the municipality of Rapolano Terme. It is a very pretty village with a long history behind it. Here once there was a Byzantine fortress and even today Serre di Rapolano has walls and fortifications. Among the most interesting monuments are the city gates, the Palazzo Gori Martini, the Chiesa dei Santi Lorenzo e Andrea and the ancient Grancia, inside which there is also a museum.
Trequanda is a tourist excellence, as certified by the Bandiera Arancione of the Italian Touring Club. Located on the border between the Crete Senesi and the Val di Chiana, this beautiful medieval village has in its fortress and in the Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Andrea the two main points of interest. In the municipal area of Trequanda, the Pieve di Santo Stefano in Cennano, a very valuable Romanesque monument, is also worth a visit.
San Giovanni d’Asso
San Giovanni d’Asso is located in the municipal area of Montalcino. Typical Tuscan hilltop medieval village, San Giovanni d’Asso is a real gem. City of the truffle, to which a museum is also dedicated, the village has a beautiful castle of medieval origin, some historical churches such as the Pieve di San Giovanni Battista and the Chiesa di San Pietro in Villore and also a beautiful forest-garden called Bosco della Ragnaia.
The Crete Senesi are full of scenic spots and perfect places to take photographs. Several of these panoramas are found along the Via Lauretana which goes from Taverne d’Arbia to San Giminianello via Asciano. Many of these points are well signposted and in some cases there are also places to park, thus avoiding blocking the road while taking photos.
Another “classic” place to photograph is Podere Baccoleno which is located just south of Asciano. Do you remember when I spoke at the beginning of “undulating roads that run between two rows of cypresses, on the crest of a hill, to reach an isolated cottage”? Here I was referring to this. I am sure that on Instagram you have already seen some photos of Baccoleno, now you just have to see it live!
I conclude the review of the panoramic points with a “magical and mysterious” place: the Site Transitorie. Located between Leonina and Mucigliani, the site was created by the artist Jean Paul Philippe who installed a series of elements in the middle of the Crete countryside. It is a very suggestive place, especially at sunset when the lights and colors become truly special.
Itineraries and “alternative” routes
The Crete Senesi, thanks to their conformation, offer various itineraries to be covered on foot, by bicycle and on horseback as well as beautiful scenic roads to do by motorbike. Among the various possible itineraries, I mention the one that from Asciano leads up to Monte Sante Marie (about 7 km).
Another way to discover the landscapes of Crete is to travel on the vintage trains of Treno Natura. A real journey into the past on board a steam train or a vintage littorina.
Finally, if you are a little “crazy” and really passionate about cycling, you could participate in the Eroica, the famous cycling event that fills the streets of the Tuscan countryside with “vintage” cyclists. Some of the main routes of the Eroica involve the Chianti, the Val d’Orcia and the Crete Senesi.
Where to eat in the crete senesi
Given that the traditional local cuisine is really of a high standard, among other things, the Crete Senesi are famous for the white truffle, I would like to recommend a couple of places where I have been and that have satisfied me fully. The first is La Botteghina, a small place ideal for a quick meal or a snack, located in Asciano. The second restaurant is called Da Mario in Buonconvento and is a classic Tuscan trattoria.