The hill towns of the Val d’Orcia

Monday, December 10, 2018

Most people have heard of Tuscany. It is after all, together with its capital Florence, the birth place of the Renaissance, that great period in history that led to the revival of Western civilisation. However, not everyone has heard of the Val d’Orcia, its hill towns and the role they played.

The Val d’Orcia, which means the valley of the Orcia river, is located in southern Tuscany halfway between Rome and Florence. Due to its great beauty and contribution to the Renaissance, in 2004 the Val d’Orcia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage area. In justification of declaring the Val d’Orcia a World Heritage area UNESCO cites the following: “The Val d’Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create aesthetically pleasing pictures.”

A fundamental part of this landscape includes the beautiful hill towns that are dotted throughout the valley. Each of them is striking. The towns were built on hills for protection, often with strong fortifications and towers as vantage points. This was due to the frequent wars and banditary that took place, first in the middle ages, and then later as the city state of Siena tried to protect its landholdings in the region. This was especially from the Florentine Republic which was always looking to encroach. Today many of these towns are preserved in an era that seems to have been lost to us and each has their own story to tell.

One of the more famous examples is Montepulciano, whose Vino di Nobile (or noble wines) were praised by Renaissance poets. Another, Pienza, is a town that was re-built by Pope Pius II to celebrate his birth there. This re-build included the first application of Renaissance humanist urban planning principles, which later spread throughout Europe. Then a further well know hill town is Montalcino, the thriving heart of the Brunello wine region.

However, outside of these more well known hill towns, the Val d’Orcia also has many others. As an example there is Radicofani, in the southern part of the valley, with its great fortress and 360 degree views. It was built in a strategic position to guard one of the main roads to Rome, the Francigena, the pilgrim route of the middle ages. But it was also the home, for a period, of Ghino di Tacco, “The Robin Hood” of Italy who is even mentioned by Dante. Another example is Castiglione d’Orcia, very close to us here at BelSentiero. This hill town also has a very impressive fortress, the Rocca di Tentennano, at the foot of which in the old medieval town today you will find a Michelin starred restaurant.

So if you enjoy history and want to discover those hidden gems of Tuscany then just e-mail me on info@belsentiero.com and I will be happy to make recommendations and help you plan your next visit to the Val d’Orcia.

See you soon in the Val d’Orcia!

Jan ☺

The Fortress at Radicofani, statue of Ghino di Tacco and views from the fortress to Mont Amiata.

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