text and photos by Machi di Pace ©
We are in the heart of Tuscany, the classic, iconic image of Tuscany, yet also a surprising one: the Val d’Orcia, a Unesco World Heritage site. Its postcard landscape continues to attract countless tourists all year round; and not only because of its surrounding nature, but also thanks to the sense of calm that this reflects. Crossed by the ancient via Francigena, travelled by Medieval pilgrims on their way to Rome, today it is a destination for luxury holidays, thanks also to the proliferation of gourmet restaurants and wine & walking holidays among the gentle rolling hills.
Calanchi and cypresses of the Val d’Orcia
The area includes the celebrated towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano, the little villages of Pienza, Radicofani and Bagno Vignoni, a stone hamlet where you can still breathe in authentic history alongside the bouquet of wine and the inviting aromas creeping out from the local restaurants and taverns.
It is precisely here that our unusual and fascinating tour of the thermal springs of the Val d’Orcia begins. Bagno Vignoni is the headquarters: ‘Piazza delle Sorgenti’ is the centre of the village, and where still today the steaming hot thermal water is gathered in a huge stone basin, around which the rest of the village spreads out – with its bars, dwellings, typical shops and tiny church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
These waters, of volcanic origin, contain precious minerals that cure arthrosis, rheumatism and varicose veins.
Not far from here are the calcium deposits of Bagni San FiIippo, hidden among the woods of Monte Amiata, where monumental trees and healing water were already celebrated in Etruscan times. Another gem set in stone not to be missed is the little town of Pienza, constructed in the mid-15th century and, as the writer Giovanni Pascoli famously noted “born from a loving thought and a dream of beauty”. Pienza was intensely desired as the crown jewel of the Italian Renaissance by Pope Pious II, who considered it “the Ideal City”. Strolling among its narrow lanes, losing yourself and then finding its magical panoramic viewpoint makes you feel like the protagonist of a Renaissance painting.
The distance from Siena, whose magnificence and celebrity make it the natural headquarters of the entire area, is only a 1-hour drive; while the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, with the beaches of Marina di Grosseto, is 90 minutes away.
TOP 9 VILLAS for enjoying your stay in this splendid territory:
– Villa dell’Architetto – Pienza. Up 14 guests, typical Tuscan-style farmhouse, tucked away in the gentle hills of the surrounding countryside.
– Dolci Colline – Pienza. Up to 16 guests, huge Tuscan farmhouse, in a mixture of styles, like a trip back in time come. The property includes a vegetable garden and farmyard with animals.
– Calanchi – Pienza. Up to 12 guests, and an area committed to yoga and relaxation, to get in harmony with the surrounding nature.
– Villa le Spighe – San Giovanni D’Asso. Up to 10 guests. Close to the characteristic Museum of Truffles.
– Villa Lavanda – Contignano Val d’Orcia. Up to 19 guests, boasting a very long and fabulous pool that cuts into the lush, verdant lawn like a river. A corner of paradise.
– Villa Marcellino – Contignano Val d’Orcia. A stone’s throw from the previous property, up to 18 guests.
– Villa La Capanna – San Giovanni d’Asso. Up to 5 guests.
– Villa La Macina – San Giovanni d’Asso. Up to 15 guests
– Villa Duchessa – Chiusi. Located near the motorway, and therefore convenient for its position, and yet hidden away in the tranquillity of its own park. Up to 16 guests.
Surroundings of Pienza
Experiences to do
– Taste the ‘Pecorino di Pienza’ cheese: an incredible experience for your palate; to be enjoyed ideally with a goblet of Brunello di Montalcino or Montepulciano red wine. This product is seasoned in oak barrels for at least 90 days, and comes in many varieties according to the seasoning, such as that seasoned in caves under walnut leaves.
– Excursion to Monte Amiata. To visit on foot or by bicycle, this mountain offers fairy tale scenery, woodland, thermal waters, and from the summit you can enjoy the view of the Northern and Central Apennines.
– Obviously, a relaxing dip in the thermal springs: at your disposal there is the Adler Thermae Resort, where you can take advantage of both high technology and traditional diagnostic methods, or, if you prefer, a more adventurous experience in the above-mentioned waters of the springs of Bagni San Filippo, adored by Lorenzo the Magnificent. The water from the springs is at a temperature of 52°C and is enriched with natural mud.
– For enthusiasts, amateurs and professional cyclists, the Val d’Orcia is an ideal location: the Dirt Road race – recently included in the World cycling calendar – takes place every year in March; whilst the more famous ‘Eroica’, an event open to all, usually takes place on the first Sunday of October among the splendid rolling hills of Tuscany.
– Visiting the village of San Giovanni D’Asso, home of the famous truffle. The ancient castle is located in the heart of the historical center, but definitely the best points of attraction are the museum and the truffle exhibitions in November and March.