In the heart of the Sienese countryside dwells an essential, yet perfect landscape. It is made up of hills, ravines, a winding riverbed and cypress trees that crown hilltops in perfect isolation or line country roads like sentinels. Oak woods, olive groves and vineyards where Brunello of Montalcino and other great Tuscan wines are born, watch over enchanting hillsides, villages and historical monuments. To the west the view takes in Monte Amiata, Italy’s highest extinct volcano. But it is the rolling hills that impress you first.
The valley of the river Orcia, or the Val d’Orcia, is now protected as an artistic, natural and cultural park. Trails, guides, brochures and museums all offer different means for exploring its treasures, although this most beautiful of Tuscany’s valleys is first and foremost an emotion in itself. The Val d’Orcia leaves its mark on all those who pass this way. Those born here are fiercely bound to their land, and can scarcely live anywhere else. The bishop Enea Silvio Piccolomini frequently returned to his home town, Pienza, even after becoming Pope Pius II, in search of the harmony he knew awaited him there.
Even today, travellers who spend just a few hours passing through are instantly struck and seduced; they quickly realise they must come back.
Val di Chiana
Easy to reach, the wide-open Val di Chiana straddles both Tuscany and Umbria, acting as a natural thoroughfare of well-being. From Chianciano to San Casciano dei Bagni, thermal waters mark out an itinerary with a number of landmarks in the area. For those in search of flavour, the only problem is whether to choose an itinerary favouring cheese, olive oil or wine. But here the true voyage is through time, as this territory offers vestiges from the prehistoric, Etruscan, Renaissance and even sharecropping eras. Centuries of history have left the intriguing signs of their passage and of progressive developments. Man’s handiwork is visible in the towns and artworks, but also in the landscape.
The drainage of the once swampy Chiana valley has endowed us with peaceful lake retreats in Chiusi and Montepulciano, just a short distance from Monte Cetona, a natural vantage point over the Sienese countryside.