Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Beautiful Tuscany: The Val d’Orcia

23

Flowers in Bagno Vignoli

A lot of people I know have felt a strange sense of familiarity when visiting the Tuscan countryside for the first time.  Was it from a movie, perhaps?  A friend’s photos?

More often than not, you’re probably recognizing Tuscany from iconic Renaissance paintings.

The Medici, who ruled Florence during the Renaissance, were among the greatest art patrons of all time. It’s because of their commissions that the Renaissance was such an explosive period for beautiful art. Their influence spread to other regions, and leaders decided to go beyond just commissioning paintings in curating the surrounding landscape.

From UNESCO, who have deemed it a World Heritage Site:

The landscape of Val d’Orcia is part of the agricultural hinterland of Siena, redrawn and developed when it was integrated in the territory of the city-state in the 14th and 15th centuries to reflect an idealized model of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture.

In other words, they decided, “Let’s make this landscape as beautiful as possible so people will be jealous when they see how beautiful the paintings are.”

And they did.

Val d'Orcia

And today, it looks almost exactly the same!  You can see the trees that were painstakingly planted in the perfect spots to ensure the maximum beauty.

I was visiting the region as part of G Adventures’ Local Living Southern Tuscany tour.  While we were based at our beautiful agriturismo in Chianciano Terme most of the time, this is one of the day trips that’s included in the tour.

Here are the highlights of this lovely day:

Val d'Orcia

Rural Landscapes

Looking for a money shot?  Every shot is a money shot in the Val d’Orcia.  You’ll be constantly stopping to take photos because each view is more beautiful than the last!

How about this one?

Val d'Orcia

Perfectly cultivated lands, tall cypress trees, and farmhouses — this is Italy at its best.

Bagno Vignoli

Bagno Vignoni

Bagno Vignoni is famous for its healing waters.  This was one of the hottest spa spots in Italy during Roman times, and today, there are still plenty of spa resorts.

We didn’t stay in Bagno Vignoni for very long, but it looked like a pretty and charming small town.

View of Montalcino

Montalcino

Next up was Montalcino, most famous for its ruby red Brunello di Montalcino wine.  I climbed the fortress (cost: €4 ($5) for adults, €2 ($2.50) for children) and had a beautiful view of the town, the church on the hill, and the countryside.

The town is built on a hill, then drops off into endless green fields.

View from Montalcino

Afterward, I wandered a market that felt like a real Italian market — they sold gorgeous fresh produce and local cheeses, but also everything from clothing to cleaning supplies.  I found a black t-shirt emblazoned with “<3 Your Blog” and had to buy it!  (Side note: I am still the worst bargainer ever.  The lady told me eight euros, I counteroffered five euros, she laughed, I fake-laughed, and then I still had no idea what to do, so I paid eight euros.)

I’d recommend allocating two hours to Montalcino, tops.  It’s absolutely lovely, but it’s a tiny place!

Sant'Antimo Abbey

Sant’Antimo Abbey

If you time your visit to the Val d’Orcia right, you can witness monks chanting at Sant’Antimo Abbey, right outside Montalcino.  This is an experience you’re unlikely to find open to the public elsewhere, so definitely take the time to witness it if you can fit it.

My take?  It was nice, and I recommend experiencing it…but it wasn’t what I expected.  I imagined several monks performing in the distance to cavernous echoes; this was more like a priest singing “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith” during Mass, only in Latin and stretched out for 12 minutes.

Chanting takes place on most days at 9:00 AM, 12:45 PM, and 2:45 PM.  A complete list of times is posted on the door at the Abbey.  Please resist the temptation to take photos or video during the chanting; the monks ask that you not record during their prayer.

Pienza Osteria

Pienza

Oh, PIENZA.  The best was saved for last because I fell absolutely in love with this beautiful Tuscan town! I had barely heard of it before, and I don’t know why it isn’t more famous than it is now.  (That’s not to say it’s undiscovered.  It has definitely been discovered by the masses — and it’s worth all the attention.)

Pienza is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s technically within the Val d’Orcia, making it a UNESCO within a UNESCO — a meta-UNESCO!  One of the advantages of visiting UNESCO sites is that they are beautifully preserved.  This is one of the best preserved Italian towns I’ve seen.

I loved the streets and the crumbling walls.

Pienza

I loved how flowers seemed to bloom everywhere.

Marigolds in Pienza

I loved the alleyways and hidden nooks.  As busy as Pienza was, it felt like there was always something beautiful to discover hidden around a corner.

Pienza Alley

While in Pienza, we stopped for lunch at Sette di Vino Osteria.  I highly recommend this lovely little restaurant, especially their bean soup and crostini with truffles.  They also serve fried cheese topped with bacon.  Just saying…

Insalata Caprese in Pienza

And if that isn’t enough food for you, Pienza is crammed with cheese shops.  Pick up some pecorino al tartufo for later!

Pecorino Tartufo

After a day on the road, we returned to our agriturismo in Chianciano Terme, just in time for a cooking lesson with Stefano.

Italy is a country that I love returning to again and again — between the beauty of the landscapes, the fantastic cuisine, and the wonderful people who call Italy their home, it’s a place that fills me with endless contentment.  Tuscany is a very special place in Italy, and I will reiterate again that every serious traveler should visit Tuscany at least once!

Essential Info: This day trip to the Val d’Orcia is included in G Adventures’ weeklong Local Living: Southern Tuscany tour, which costs £799/$1,299 per person. Also included are six nights at the agriturismo, six breakfasts and five dinners, cooking class, wine tasting, and G Adventures CEO throughout.  Departures are available this year for dates in May, June, July, and September.

Many thanks to G Adventures for hosting me on the Local Living: Southern Tuscany tour.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

Comments

23 Responses to “Beautiful Tuscany: The Val d’Orcia”
  1. Brittany says:

    I laughed out loud at your bargaining power… I am as well a “fantastic” bargainer! looks like an amazing trip!

  2. Absolutely gorgeous scenery. I hope to make it to Tuscany during my first European trip!

  3. jeanette says:

    hi , im due to go to wed next summer in tuscany, have u any tips on cheaper accomadtion as the bride to be has mention 300£ for self catering close the wedding venue, with guest s opting out and going to source their own place to stay i was wondering what u would reccomend .

  4. Montalcino looks beautiful, and I love the local wines! The cheese photos from Pienza are making me hungry! I’ll take some of that pecorino with truffles please :).

  5. Belinda says:

    I love all the beautiful pictures! Great post.

  6. Belinda says:

    I love all the beautiful pictures. Italy is beautiful! Great post.

  7. Emily says:

    So amazing! Haven’t been to Italy yet, but I feel there’s something welcoming about Tuscany whenever I look at photos or read about it.

  8. Beautiful photos. The food look so appetizing!

  9. I love Toscany! I think Italy is THE best country ever. The food, the culture, the scenery an the history. Where else do you get everything combined so nicely?

  10. Raj Sharma says:

    Really amazing places so beautiful like a dream world. Just look like heaven on earth.
    Great photography such a nice pictures so creative.

    Excellent Post !

  11. Hannah says:

    Stunning! I have travelled up and down Italy but haven’t set a foot in Tuscany yet. Yet!

  12. I’m Italian, but I’ve never been there. But it’s on my to visit list!

  13. Lovely! I adore Tuscany. I made my first trip there about six years ago and instantly fell in love. I want to live in Italy.

  14. Italy is my all time favorite and Tuscany looks great. Never been there but it look awesome especially the Pienza, definitely my kind of place.
    Great article BTW! 🙂

  15. Katie B. says:

    Hi Kate! I just wanted to send you a shout out. I love following your blog! Any tips for 2 weeks in Italy? My husband and I are traveling there in October. Flights from Rome. Looking for nice budget lodging (around $75 to $140 a night) with good value. Was thinking 3 nights in Rome, 2 nights in a town on the Almafi coast, ( then a cheap flight form Naples to Venice) 2 nights in Venice, 2 nights somewhere in or around Florence, and finishing with 2 nights in Tuscany. Also, laying over in 1 night in Amserdam on the way home. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks, Katie

  16. Raffaella says:

    Beautiful Tuscany… have you ever been in southern Tuscany, in the area called Maremma? If not, you should try it in your next Italian trip, you will love it!

  17. Hi Kate,
    you took realy beautiful pics of Tuscany! I especially enjoy the landscape of Val d’Orcia with that road that look so endless 🙂 Have fun with your travels.
    Regards.

  18. Deepa says:

    Hi Kate,
    Can you tell me the location from where you clicked those absolutely gorgeous pictures of Val D’Orcia? I just fell in love with the place after seeing your pics.

Trackbacks

Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] 2. Siena & the Val d’Orcia Siena is the ideal destination to base in Tuscany, with medieval streets, historic places and splendid squares, Siena is one of Tuscany’s and Italy’s most captivating and inspiring cities. The Val d’Orcia or Valdorcia, (Home to ‘the Brunello di Montalcino’, counted amongst the prestigious of Italian wines) is a region of Tuscany which extends from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata, surrounded by calm, cautiously cultivated hills. This particular landscape has become familiar through its interpretation in works of art from the Renaissance painting to the modern photograph. To find out more, click here. […]



Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!


eight − = three