Places of Interest
The following is a summary of some of the historic towns and places of interest near us at Belsentiero, both in the Val d’Orcia and a little further afield. Each are worth visiting in their own right or combining together as part of a day trip. Distances from us are as per Google Maps.
Places in the Val d’Orcia
Campiglia d’Orcia - Distance: 500 metres
This is our local village, dating back to the 900s, and is within walking distance of BelSentiero. It is very small, but despite this still has a cafe, a restaurant, three grocery stores, a bakery, a general dealer (tabaccherie) and an ATM. Its the perfect place to take a stroll through in the mornings if you are an early riser, or to unwind at the local cafe (bar) for an aperitivo after a day of sight-seeing and before moving on to dinner. For the more adventurous you can climb to the top of the rocca with its bell-tower and spectacular views of the Val d’Orcia. Campiglia is famous for its chestnuts and very last Sunday in October is worth visiting for the local chestnut festival.
Bagno Vignoni - Distance: 16 km
Bagno Vignoi is a small medieval spa town, famous since the Roman times for its curative waters. It’s a great place to go for a spa-day, but also has a good gelateria and herborista (pharmacy selling products made using local herbs).
La Foce - Distance: 17 km
The estate of La Foce is famous throughout the region for the role it played in bringing modern agriculture to the Val d’Orcia and the positive impact its original owners, Iris Origo together with her husband, had in the region. Her war diaries and other books have been widely acclaimed. Today La Foce is popular for its gardens which can be visited at specific times.
San Quirico d’Orcia - Distance: 19 km
San Quirico is a beautiful medieval village in the valley of the Val d’Orcia with the Collegiate church of San Quirico a popular attraction. It also has a number of very good restaurants. Every year in May the Mille Miglia vintage car rally passes through San Quirico.
Radicofani - Distance: 20 km
Radicofani, in the southern part of the valley, is a medieval village with a great fortress at the top of the hill where it is based. From the fortress you have some of the best 360 degree views in the whole of the Val d’Orcia. 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.
Pienza - Distance: 25 km
Pienza lies in the middle of the Val d’Orcia and 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. As such it is a beautiful town to visit with its travertine buildings and views of the val d’Orcia onto Monte Amiata. As you walk into the town you will also immediately smell the pecorino cheese from all the cheese shops. Best of all, it has one of Italy’s best gelaterias (Buon Gusto)!
Montepulciano - Distance: 28 km
Montepulciano is one of my favourite hill towns in the whole of Italy. It is truly beautiful but be prepared to walk up some fairly steep medieval streets due to the layout of the town. It has numerous enoteche (wine shops) selling wine from the region as well as further afield. In some of these it it possible to explore the underground cellars which the town is famed for. On the last Sunday in August Montepulciano hosts its annual Bravio delle Botti festival in which relay teams from different parts of the town compete to roll giant wine barrels from the bottom of the hill to the central piazza at the top. Quite a feat of stamina – fortunately for the participants the wine barrels are empty though!
Montalcino - Distance: 32 km
Montalcino is the centre of the Brunello wine region in the north-western corner of the Val d’Orcia valley. The town is dominated by the Fortezza (fortress) which also contains a very good enoteca at which you can taste some of the best wines from the Brunello. A good place to stop for lunch when doing wine tastings in the region.
Around Monte Amiata
Abbadia San Salvatore - Distance: 13 km
Abbadia is a historic town founded in the 800s by the Lombard king Ratchis when he passed through the area, as an abbey. In its day this abbey controlled a very large territory in the region and was quite powerful. The crypt of the monastic church in the town, which dates back to the period of its founding, is well worth visiting. At one point the church also housed one of the oldest surving bibles in the world, until this was moved to a museum in Florence.
The Summit (vetta) of Monte Amiata - Distance: 24 km
From Abbadia it is possible to drive to the top of Monte Amiata. This is the highest mountain in southern Tuscany (at 1,738 metres) and is an extinct volcano. It was considered to be a holy mountain by the Etruscans (much as the Greeks considered Mount Olympus to be sacred) and is located in what was the centre of the territory ruled over by the 12 cities of the Etruscan League. Today the summit consists of a bit of a faded ski resort (in winter snow is common at the summit), as well as the Croce del Monte Amiata, a big iron cross structure built at the behest of Pope Leone XIII. The drive up to the top of the summit alone is worth it, due to the beautiful beech forest (the largest in southern Europe) through which one passes.
A bit further afield
Siena - Distance: 65 km (1 hour)
Siena is the capital of the province of Siena in which we are located. It is a historic medieval hill town that was once a city state ruling over the area until it was defeated and absorded into the Duchy of Tuscany (Florence). It has a beautiful cathedral as well as many other historice buildings and is well worth exploring by foot. It is famous for its annual palio horse racing festival, which takes place twice a year on 2 July and 16 August in the central piazza. This can be watched for free in the piazza or otherwise at a fee from one of the private balconies overlooking the piazza, which should then be booked well in advance.
Orvieto - Distance: 79 km (1 hour)
Orvieto is yet another historic hill town dating back to the Etruscans. Today the white wine of Orvieto is highly prized and its earthenware ceramics are also popular. In the historic centre the monumental Cathedral of Orvieto is particularly imposing, built in a style similar to that of the cathedrals in Siena and Florence.
Cortona - Distance: 63 km (1 hour 15 minutes)
Cortona is famed as the setting for the movie that put Tuscany on the map, namely “Under the Tuscan Sun”, an adaptation of the book by Frances Mayes (and which to be fair is partly also responsible for me living in Tuscany today!). This is a beautiful hill town dating back to the Etruscan period that also has a very good museum of Etruscan and other antiquities.
Arezzo - Distance: 94 km (1 hour 15 minutes)
Arezzo like Cortona dates back to the Etruscan period and today is famed for its goldsmiths. Annually the Giostra del Saracino festival takes place twice a year in Arezzo in late July and early September. Virtually all the town’s people dress up in medieval costumes and participate in various competitions, so well worth attending for the spectacle if in the region.
Perugia - Distance: 115 km (1 hour 30 minutes)
Perugia is a beautiful university hill town that is the capital of Umbria. The views are spectacular and it also has many good restaurants. It is the home of the Perugina chocolate brand, famed for its Baci chocolates. The city hosts a chocolate festival every October.
Assisi - Distance: 135 km (1 hour 45 minutes)
Assisi is the birthplace of Saint Francis and the centre of the Franciscan order. Today it has a beautiful church (the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi), which together with its related buildings have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Florence - Distance: 147 km (2 hours)
Florence probably needs no introduction as the capital of Tuscany and the birth place of the Renaissance. It has many famous museums such as the Uffizi Gallery (with one of the largest collections of ancient statues), the Accademia (which houses Michelangelo’s David) and many others. The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is also strikingly beautiful with its different coloured marble and stone. If visiting from BelSentiero as a day trip, then the best is to head to Chiusi train station and take the train into Florence as driving within the historic city centre is not permitted except for residents.