Discovering the Val d'Orcia in Southern Tuscany and venturing into Umbria

The Val d’Orcia in Southern Tuscany probably depicts the essence of Tuscany everyone imagines with gorgeous landscapes of rolling hills and valleys, swaying wheat fields and leafy vineyards as far as the eye can see. The scenery is dotted with beautiful towns, and winding country roads lined with majestic centuries old cypress trees, needless to say, as well as spectacular views to enjoy there are endless interesting sights to be visited. San Quirico d’Orcia for example is a lovely little town surrounded by a series of walls. Its’ Collegiata dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta, with its magnificent Romanesque-Gothic portals is well worth a visit, as are the Misericordia, Palazzo Pretorio, Palazzo Chigi and Santa Maria di Vitaleta. Nature lovers will enjoy the ‘Horti Leonini’, Italian gardens created in 1540 by Diomede Leoni and currently also hosting contemporary sculpture. Taking the road towards Pienza a pretty little detour via the quaint little village of Monticchiello is a must. Pienza itself is a lovely town, mostly famous for its’ delicious Pecorino sheep’s cheese and Pope Pius II who declared it was an ‘ideal town’ based on the fact the town was transformed, on his commission, into a Renaissance city in the 15th century and built on a grid system rather than evolving around a main square or castle as most Tuscan towns are. It’s a wonderful place to explore, the Palazzo Piccolomini loggia and hanging garden has a fantastic view of the valley, the Palazzo Comunale and the Palazzo Vescovale with its adjoining museum are interesting to visit, and a pleasant walk to the austere Pieve di Corsignano is not to be missed. There are many smaller towns in the area to discover too, Sarteano is a charming medieval hamlet with some of the most well preserved Etruscan tombs in Tuscany and a host of Etruscan artifacts are housed in the towns museum. Near to Cetona is the Belverde park, both a nature park and archeological site with interesting guided tours, caves and the hermitage of S. Maria Belverde. As well as being famous for its scenery, wine and cheese the Val d’Orcia is also renowned for its spa towns. Some like Chianciano Terme have grown considerably and now have a more modern aspect to them whereas others like Bagno Vignone retain more ancient origins. This tiny spa village only comprises of a scattering of houses and few hotels. As you turn a corner expecting to find the main square, there is instead steaming hot water in an ancient walled basin the size of a small piazza, surrounded by lanes on three sides and a covered loggia on the fourth. Bagno Vignone of course offers spa facilities and various beauty treatments are also available at the few hotels there. Heading south leaving Tuscany and entering Umbria the landscape changes. Umbria is known as the green heart of Italy for a good reason, rolling hills and beautiful countryside make the drive to Orvieto a wonderful experience. The approach to Orvieto is also truly amazing, nothing prepares for the spectacular sight of this beautiful town posed majestically high on the hill. It’s best to park below the town and take the funicular railway or bus up to the historical centre to then leisurely explore all the main sights on foot. There is so much to see, the magnificent cathedral, with its’ wonderful façade and exquisite frescoes by Signorelli and the 16th Century St. Patricks well, 62 metres deep and a true masterpiece of architecture. As well as the many churches and interesting museums in the town, a tour through the ‘underground’ of Orvieto is not to be missed, visiting this maze of passageways, and grottos cut into the rock well beneath the town is a truly an extraordinary experience. See our website for a great selection of villa and apartment rentals in the area.