Itinerary in Val d’Orcia – places to see
The Val d’Orcia is famous for its breathtaking landscapes, which seem to have come straight out of a Renaissance artist’s painting. Rolling hills covered with vines and olive groves stretch as far as the eye can see. One of the best activities to do in the Val d’Orcia is a admire the hills of wheat fields that turn golden in the summer season, interspersed with rows of cypress trees. Among the many beauties of this area, an honourable mention goes to these distinctive trees. The most photogenic ones are:
– Cypresses of San Quirico d’Orcia: a circle of cypresses in the middle of the hills, just before arriving at the village of San Quirico – GPS: 43.0633910, 11.5589925
– Massaini Palace: the avenue leading to the Palazzo di Bottega Verde – GPS: 43.1033089, 11.6986846
– Agriturismo Poggio Covilli: by far the most photogenic spot, although it is at its best when viewed from the side – GPS: 43.0222601, 11.6369988
San Quirico d’Orcia
The gateway to the Val d’Orcia, San Quirico is a small village along the Via Francigena, probably of Etruscan origin. It was our first stop in the Val d’Orcia, as well as the base where we stayed overnight. To welcome us, we found the band for the May Day celebrations, parading through the ancient houses of the small village. Worth visiting, is the Horti Leonini, a 16th-century garden with free access, created by Diomede Leoni on land given to him by Francesco I de’ Medici. There are also several interesting churches, well harmonized with the medieval atmosphere of the village.
Our itinerary in the Val d’Orcia then continues to Pienza, on quiet roads through green hills, rows of cypress trees and the renowned Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta, which we decided to admire only from a distance due to lack of time.
We park at the beginning of the town of Pienza and after a short walk on the panoramic Belvedere (lookout) overlooking the beautiful Val d’Orcia, we arrive in what is in my opinion the most beautiful town in this area. The historical centre of Pienza was built according to the concept of the ideal Renaissance city and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Narrow streets with poetic names such as Vicolo del Bacio (Kiss Alley) and Via dell’Amore (Love Valleu), adorned with colourful flowers. There is no shortage of restaurants and shops selling typical products, including the cheese Pecorino di Pienza!
Take a leisurely stroll through the cobbled streets of the historic centre, visit the Duomo and walk around calmly looking around so as not to miss the details and particulars of this pretty Renaissance town. If you decide to visit Palazzo Piccolomini and Palazzo Borgia, you can purchase the combined ticket with audio guide.
Our first day in Val d’Orcia, ended with a visit to Montepulciano, a medieval town perched on a hill and surrounded by medieval walls, which has remained almost unchanged since the 16th century. We parked near the Temple of San Biagio, a temple with a Greek plan which we did not enter due to lack of time. Parking is free here and there is a pedestrian ascent that leads to the Piazza Grande of Montepulciano in about fifteen minutes. Here, too, there is a medieval atmosphere and small shops selling local products and splendid views of the vineyards and surrounding nature. For wine lovers, you can take part in a winery tour with a tasting of the renowned Rosso di Montepulciano and Nobile di Montepulciano wines.
A visit to Montepulciano requires a little extra time, both because of the continuous ups and downs and because it is larger than the other villages in the Val d’Orcia, and it might be an idea to stay until the end of the day and stop for dinner here: there are many restaurants and wine bars offering typical local dishes washed down with local wine.
Early the next morning we head to Bagno Vignoni, a town famous for its thermal baths and the very special 16th-century thermal pool in the centre of town. The water gushes out at 49°C from a volcanic spring, but nowadays you are not allowed to bathe in it. The thermal properties of the waters in this area were already known and appreciated in Roman times, and a short distance away, at the base of the Parco dei Mulini, you can still find the natural pools where the Romans and Etruscans bathed. The path through the Parco dei Mulini is well signposted and in some areas it is not possible to enter. The water in the thermal pools in the accessible areas is cold and it is therefore only possible to dive in summer.
Bagni San Filippo
As a hot spring lover, I couldn’t miss the chance to soak in the free, natural thermal baths of Bagni San Filippo. You read that right, free thermal baths! Along the course of the Fosso Bianco stream, there are some natural pools of warm thermal water (between 40°C and 49°C) where you can immerse yourself in nature, without paying any entrance fee. To get there, you have to walk a piece of dirt road that descends from the asphalt road towards the ‘White Whale’, the most famous and photogenic spot where the white limestone deposit resembles the mouth of a whale.
When you get to the little bridge at the end of the path, turn left to reach the White Whale area, which is often crowded, while turning right, you will find other natural pools that are much less crowded.
Bear in mind that the natural thermal pools are free of charge, but there are no toilets, changing rooms or showers and the terrain of the trails can also be muddy!
Other places to visit in Val d’Orcia
Unfortunately, we have run out of time to visit the Val d’Orcia and our on-the-road itinerary in Tuscany continues to Siena and the surrounding area, but if you have more time, I recommend you spend a few hours in Castiglione d’Orcia, which is actually the municipality where Bagni San Filippo is located, and stroll through its medieval centre and visit the nearby Rocca.
You can also include in your Val d’Orcia itinerary a stop at Montichiello, a tiny, little-visited village from where you can admire the sunset. The Quercia delle Checche is also nearby.
Wine lovers should also not miss a stop in Montalcino, home of Brunello wine, and the nearby Abbey of Sant’Antimo. The road to Montalcino appears to be very scenic and the town is preserved almost unaltered within its walls, offering a beautiful view of the Val d’Orcia.
Where to stay in Val d’Orcia
Farmhouses, cottages and Bed&Breakfasts abound in the Val d’Orcia, and the options are truly endless! This destination is perfect for a slow trip, where you can enjoy nature and relaxation surrounded by greenery. Since we didn’t have a lot of time and had a small budget, we opted for the Antica Sosta in San Quirico and had a wonderful time! A Bed&Breakfast with rustic, spacious and very comfortable rooms and a wonderful welcome! Amenities in the bathroom very rich, never found such attention in Italy in affordable accommodation! Bottles of natural and sparkling available free of charge (both fresh and at room temperature) and a sublime breakfast, with a huge choice of salty and sweet, including many homemade cakes prepared by the kind owner. A place I recommend wholeheartedly, there is also free parking across the street and the centre of San Quirico is within walking distance.
Another accommodation I had my eye on is La Locanda del Loggiato, overlooking the thermal pool of Bagno Vignoni…who knows if it is lit up at night…it would certainly be a beautiful image!
If, on the other hand, you are looking for accommodation immersed in nature, where you can calmly relax and perhaps even take a dip in the pool, I recommend the Agriturismo San Marcello in Castiglione d’Orcia, where you can have breakfast on the terrace while contemplating the wheat fields.
What to eat in Val d’Orcia
Let’s start by saying that in the Val d’Orcia, but in general throughout Tuscany, you eat very well! We tasted and stocked up on local specialities, buying them in the numerous village shops in all the villages.
In addition to the excellent wines already mentioned from Montepulciano and Montalcino, local cheeses and cured meats should definitely be sampled, without missing out on the Pecorino di Pienza cheese in its various versions and seasonings, and the truffle products, another speciality of the area. I, however, am a great lover of pasta and various meat sauces, so I absolutely recommend a nice plate of pici with wildboar sauce!
I was in Val d’Orcia at the beginning of May and I did not find it crowded at all, perhaps also due to the grey sky that, alas, somewhat spoiled the postcard views (the photos were taken by me, but edited to give a better idea of the beauty of Val d’Orcia, I hope you will understand), and I think late spring is a great time to visit Val d’Orcia, with the bright green splendour that envelops the hillsides. In summer, the cornfields are golden, just like in the film ‘Gladiator’ that was filmed here, but you will certainly find more people and uncomfortable temperatures in the stone villages…
Personally, I would recommend a weekend in Val d’Orcia to anyone: lovers of nature, good food, history, small villages… and I would love to go back again and visit the villages I didn’t manage to include this time. I invite you to leave your suggestions in the comments!
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