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10 Reasons to Visit Southern Tuscany and the Val D’Orcia

southern tuscany

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The Val D’orcia is located in central Italy, in the province of Siena. This part of southern Tuscany is characterized by long stretches of the most beautiful countryside with roads lined with cypress trees, olive groves and vineyards, as well as thermal baths, and medieval villages. Southern Tuscany is a jewel of natural beauty and iconic wine and hilltop towns. To find out more, here’s the rundown on the Val d’Orcia and reasons why this breathtaking escape is worth visiting.

You’ll find this valley of endless rolling hills, dotted with cypress trees stretching to the slopes of Mount Amiata and right to the border of Umbria. Aside from the abundance of hilltop towns and amazing views, this region is in a league of its own, thanks to its relaxing ambiance and endless sights to explore.

So, is Southern Tuscany worth taking a detour to visit? Yes, but you can decide this for yourself after reading the following list of reasons to go.

TIP: To learn more about the region, look at this Tuscany travel guide when planning a trip to Italy.

1. Uncover the Val D’Orcia UNESCO Site

val dorcia tucsany

The Val d’Orcia region is a nominated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and once you see it, you’ll understand why. It is an excellent example of Renaissance agriculture retained since the 14th century. The Val d’Orcia landscape is distinct and instantly recognizable to those who understand the quintessential elements of Tuscan natural beauty.

With cypress trees growing in lines atop the vast plains, accentuated with conical hills and scenic roads twisting and turning through the landscape, you’ll find it nestled near some of Tuscany’s other UNESCO sites: Siena and Pienza. The pastoral aesthetics have influenced Renaissance art and remain an impressive sight for visitors today.

Surrounding the area are sights of cultural and natural significance that earned its status as a UNESCO site in 2004.

Note: It’s advisable to rent a car when planning a trip to Val d’Orcia as the villages are a fair way from one another there.

2. Venture Forth to Val d’Orcia Picturesque Hilltop Towns

towns in southern tuscany

Tuscany’s southern region is home to medieval villages and small towns like Pienza, Montepulciano, and Montalcino, each with their own unique qualities warranting your visit.

Montepulciano

Vineyards surround this hilltop town that produces Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano. As for Montepulciano sights, the castle, Fortezza Medicea, has been around since 715 AD. Be sure to visit the clock tower that overlooks Palazzo Comunale as well.

Montalcino

Montalcino, west of Pienza,  is surrounded by olive orchards and vineyard. This town is known for its extraordinary Brunello red wine. See the Montalcino Cathedral, built in the 14th century and dedicated to San Salvatore and visit the Montalcino Fortress, constructed in 1361, which supported the town against the Medici conquest.

Pienza

Situated between Montepulciano and Montalcino, this town in the Val D’Orcia is dubbed “the touchstone of Renaissance urbanism” and was declared a UNESCO site in 1996. Formerly known as Corsignano and later renamed and redesigned by Pope Pius II in the 15th century, Pienza was designed as the “ideal city” of the Renaissance.

Up on a hill, Pienza offers panoramic views all over the Orcia Valley. The main sights here are the Palazzo Piccolomini and its garden, as well as its Duomo.

LISTEN: To our podcast on Perfect Pienza.

3. Drink and Discover Iconic Tuscan Wine

southern tuscany

When you visit Tuscany, there are stunning wines from the region that you must try. For decades, this region has produced excellent vintages made from local grapes that have garnered critical acclaim.

Brunello di Montalcino, Super Tuscans, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are three wines cultivated in the vineyards of the Tuscan countryside that will catch your attention during your trip.

  • Brunello di Montalcino — From the region of Montalcino, Brunello is one of Italy’s best-known and most coveted red wines. It is made with Sangiovese grapes that produce a bold flavor, high tannin, and high acidity, earning this wine the highest DOCG classification.
  • Super Tuscans —  Super Tuscan wines are a blend made with Sangiovese grapes and non-indigenous variants such as Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. As this wine is a blend, it cannot be approved by the DOCG wine classification system of Italy. But its name, “Super Tuscans,” emphasizes its high quality.
  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano — This red wine has also earned DOCG status from Montepulciano. It is made primarily from Sangiovese grapes blended with Canaiolo Nero and other local varieties. At a minimum, the wine is aged for two years in oak barrels and is fresh and fruity in its infancy. It evolves with earthy and plum tones as it ages to create a medium-bodied wine.

4. Try Delicious and Authentic Pecorino Cheese

southern tuscany and val dorcia

Most foodies enjoy pecorino, but enjoying this cheese in its native Tuscany should be added to your bucket list. Pecorino is a firm and crumbly aged sheep’s milk cheese that also comes in a younger, fresh, and soft iteration.

While three regions can be credited for the origins of pecorino, in Tuscany, you should try the local variety found in Pienza. Pecorino di Pienza, which simply means pecorino from Pienza, is a Tuscan highlight. This variety is creamy and salty but still a hard cheese, often grated over salads, pastas, and soups or eaten with honey, pears, and figs.

5. Explore the Tranquil Spa Towns of the Rustic South

spa towns in southern tuscany

Want to avoid mass tourism while still enjoying classic Tuscany in the lap of luxury? During your trip, spend time in the spa towns of Bagno Vignoni and Bagni San Filippo. Each town offers gorgeous scenery and a relaxing atmosphere to those looking to escape the typical cities.

Bagno Vignoni

The tiny medieval village is located in the heart of Tuscany in the Val d’Orcia Natural Park. Known for its substantial thermal pool in its central square of 16th-century origin, old town, and the Old Baths of St. Catherine, this town is undoubtedly a peaceful getaway.

Bagni San Filippo

The thermal baths of Bagni San Filippo are distinguished by their white rock faces made from calcium deposits and open sulfur hot springs. Located between Valdorcia and Mount Amiata, travelers flock to the languid hot spring for its sparse population and free spa.

It would be ideal to stay nearby at accommodations like Agiturismo Selvella to keep you comfortable during your stay in the untouched nature of the area.

FIND: More charming towns in the Best towns in Tuscany to explore.

6. Wander Through South Tuscany’s Beautiful Gardens

la foce gardens

Southern Tuscany is also home to well-manicured and magnificent gardens. You should add La Foce and Parco di Villa Trecci to your itinerary.

La Foce is a revered estate that architect Cecil Pinsent restored. The result is one of the most breathtaking private gardens built atop a slope that overlooks the views of the valley and Mount Amiata. The formal Italian garden is divided by geometric box hedges, lemon trees, and terracotta pots.

There is a wide array of flowers and trees at La Foce, with a rose garden, lavender hedges, wisteria-covered pergola, and cherry, pine, and cypress trees growing amongst the immaculate garden.

Parco di Villa Trecci is a newer garden overlooking the hill of Montepulciano. The garden boasts 400 species of drought-resistant plants that do not need summer watering. See the century-old olive grove, the park, the grove, the rose garden, and much more when you visit.

7. Hike in the South Tuscan Countryside

hikes val dorcia

Visitors looking to explore the outdoors in Tuscany should go on a hike in the Val d’Orcia. There are various hiking trails you can embark on between San Quirico and Pienza including:

  • Via Francigena — This trail is quite challenging, preferably for avid hikers. You travel 20 miles (32.5km) from point to point, which takes an average of eight hours and 39 minutes to complete. This trail starts from San Quirico and ends at Radicofani. On your journey through the countryside, you’ll see many attractions, including Vignoni Alto Castle, Le Briccole (an abandoned ancient hospital), and Bagno Vignoni.
  • San Quirico d’Orcia to Pienza — This nine-mile (14.8km) out-and-back trail takes about four hours and 19 minutes to complete. Enjoyed by runners, backpackers, and hikers, this excursion allows you to walk among the green meadows and vineyards between the hilltop towns of Pienza and San Quirico.
  • San Quirico Loop Trail — This is by far a much easier trail than the previous two. It’s a simple loop trail of a mile (1.8km) near the village of San Quirico. It takes an average of 25 minutes to complete and is preferably for a quiet walk through the area’s breathtaking scenery. Enjoy a pleasant stroll through the historic center suitable for every level of hiker.

8. Immerse Yourself in the Special Spiritual Sights

abbey of sant antimo val dorcia

Another reason to visit South Tuscany that will appeal to history buffs and those who love spiritual places is to see the pastoral sights.  

  • Abbey of Sant’Antimo This fascinating Romanesque-style abbey was said to be founded by Charlemagne in the eighth century AD. Initially a Benedictine monastery, the abbey’s history suggests artifacts from the late classical period were found there.
  • Chapel of Vitaleta See the Madonna di Vitaleta Chapel a few miles outside San Quirico. Built during the late Renaissance and redesigned in 1884, this small yet sacred building is nestled between Tuscan fields and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
  • Monte Oliveto Maggiore – The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore is a large Benedictine monastery of mainly red brick. It was founded in 1314 by Bernardo Tomomei and has a stunning interior with a drawbridge, Romanesque-Gothic influences, a Gothic facade, and frescoes of the Life of St. Benedict.

DISCOVER: This beautiful area in the most amazing way on Untold Italy’s Wine and Wellness tours

9. Meander Through the Fields of San Quirico d’Orcia

san quirico southern tuscany

San Quirico d’Orcia is a medieval walled village seen in the movie Gladiator. Situated between Pienza and Montalcino, the town is known for its surrounding fields and views of its cypress trees and almost endless natural expanses.

Immerse yourself in the rustic sights of San Quirico, such as the collegiate church from the 8th century. This marvelous structure includes a baptismal font, decorations of sandstone sculptures, and intricate columns, as well as a bell tower, renovated between 1798 and 1806.

Also, wander through the Horti Leonini, a symmetrical Italian garden designed by Diomede Leoni in 1561. See the rose garden, the central axial path that links the entire garden network together, the Granduca Cosimo III de Medici statue, and more when you visit.

10. Drive the Scenic Routes Through South Tuscany

drive the val dorcia

Finally, with such exciting sights, it’s only fitting to drive through Valdorcia—specifically, the iconic drive from Pienza to Montepulciano, known for its outstanding views. The route length will be about 43 miles (70km) as this trip loops around the area, allowing you to see some of the sights already mentioned.

It’s a perfect way to spend the day getting to know the untouched landscapes of the south. And you can see sights like La Foce garden, the Quercia delle Checche’s 300-year-old oak tree, and the Contucci cellars of Montepulciano.

For the best Italian experience, this scenic drive is best done in a vintage Fiat 500. These excellent little vehicles do well with the narrow roads and winding pathways of rural Tuscany.

EXPERIENCE: Val d’Orcia in a Fiat 500 on the Untold Italy’s Wine and Wellness tours

Visiting Southern Tuscany and Val dOrcia – Wrapped Up

towns in southern tuscany and val dorcia

There you have it: 10 reasons you should go to Southern Tuscany. Whether you’re interested in the picture-perfect landscape, the wine, or you’re just interested in visiting the historical sights, there’s something for everyone on this side of central Italy.

For a different side of Tuscany, why not head to northern Tuscany and visit the capital of Florence with our Florence travel guide. Sip on Chianti wine like Morellino di Scansano, take in the art, and revel in the city on your next trip. 

DISCOVER: More amazing destinations in Where to stay in Tuscany.

 
 

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