Saturday 15 December 2012

Sights and attractions of the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany, Italy

The Val d'Orcia, the valley of the River Orcia, sometimes written Valdorcia is located to the SE of Sienna and is one of the most famous areas of Tuscany. Indeed, it is a UNESCO world heritage site. So today, let me say a little bit about the sights and attractions of the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany, Italy. The attractiveness of the Val d'Orcia for many lies in what I've previously called its "big sky" panoramas. The hills are rolling on the grand scale, at least by Tuscan standards, and are virtually unforested, making the characteristic dark green silhouettes of umbrella pines and cypress trees on distant horizons all the more appealing. There are also areas of highly characteristic badlands where the whitish clays, known as the crete senesi, has been eroded by the rain into what are often referred to as "lunar landscapes". It is these clays that have made parts of the Val d'Orcia so very difficult to farm in the past. Many of the most famous views of the Val d'Orcia feature the volcanic cone of Monte Amiata rising up in the background.

Sights and attractions of the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany, Italy
Iconic casa colonica and cypresses in the Val d'Orcia.
However, the Val d'Orcia is by no means simply a collection of magnificent landscapes. It includes five of the most charming hill towns in Tuscany, namely Pienza, Montalcino, San Quirico D’Orcia, Castiglione D’Orcia and Radicofani - as well as numerous castles and villas. One of the most famous of the latter is La Foce, home of the late Iris Origo whose evocative books about life in the Val d'Orcia, especially during World War II, are a must read. The grounds of La Foce are open to the public from time to time and represent probably the most famous creation of Cecil Pinsent.

View of the Valdorcia
Misty morning in the Valdorcia.
If you base yourself in the area between Montepulciano and Pienza, in addition to those two "must sees", any and all of Montalcino, Montefollonico, Monticchiello and Bagno Vignoni are worth a visit. Those interested in religion, art and architecture won't want to miss the very picturesque abbeys of Monte Oliveto and Sant’Antimo, at both of which there is Gregorian chant by the monks. Montalcino is close by Sant'Antimo. Other unspoilt villages include Castelmuzio, Montisi, Petroio and Trequanda. Petroio in particular is the place that time forgot and few tourists go there even in August.

Beautiful motoring routes include Pienza to San Quirico. Montefollonico - Castelmuzio - San Giovanni d'Asso - Asciano - Sienna is another must-do road. Yet another is SS 153 (the Pienza to Radicofani road) that goes right through the heart of the Val d'Orcia, and then, possibly best of all, San Quirico - Castiglione d'Orcia - Castelnuovo d'Abate - Montalcino.

Even if you don't base yourselves there for part of your vacation in Tuscany, the Val d'Orcia should not be missed. It's easily accessible for a day excursion from Chianti, Sienna and also the areas around Arezzo and Cortona.

Castles of the Val d'Orcia include:
Rocca di Tentennano.
Rocca Aldobrandesca.
Ripa d'Orcia.

More about the Val d'Orcia.

Another great Val d'Orcia photo.

Today's top links: For everything you need to know about what to do and where to stay in Tuscany: The Chianti Travel Guide and The Greve in Chianti Tuscany Blog.

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