Val d'Orcia: rolling hills among vineyards and medieval villages
26 September 2022
What is Val d'Orcia and where is it located?
Val d'Orcia is a wide and beautiful countryside in southern Tuscany, close to the border with Umbria and on the slopes of Mount Amiata, stretching along the agricultural hinterland of Siena. It takes its name from the Orcia river that runs along and is a protected park where the absolute protagonist is stunning nature. It is no coincidence that one of the most photographed spots is the famous Val d'Orcia cypress trees near San Quirico d'Orcia.
Crete Senesi, the clay hills eroded by time that form the characteristic calanchi (gullies) and biancane, bare and rugged, low rounded reliefs with an unquestionable, almost lunar charm, also stand out in the Val d'Orcia. Its typical medieval Tuscan villages such as Pienza, Montalcino, Castiglione d'Orcia and San Quirico d'Orcia are perfect destinations to dive into the soul of the place, while savouring its well-known food and wine specialities.
History and information on the Val d'Orcia
The Val d'Orcia still preserves its system of settlements, the medieval villages of Tuscany, which still attract tourists from all over the world. Made up of mainly castles and fortresses, they developed in the year 1000-1100 around the Via Francigena, the great road connecting France and northern Italy with Rome.
Places such as Montalcino, San Quirico and Castiglione were crucial to the cultural and urban development of the valley, as was also Pienza, the birthplace of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, the future Pope Pius II. Pienza is considered the Ideal City of the Renaissance and it was Piccolomini who directed the town's urban planning choices in the 15th century.
Why the Val d'Orcia is a Unesco site
Since 2004, the incredible landscape of the Val d'Orcia has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A treasure to be protected and enhanced because of the excellent state of conservation of the landscape, thanks to the human interventions that have preserved it.
According to UNESCO, the Val d'Orcia Park is a perfect combination of art and landscape, geographical space and ecosystem, an expression of wonderful natural features and historical evidence.
A landscape that is at times hard and soft, characterised by the lava deposits of the extinct volcanoes of Radicofani and the Amiata, enhanced by the medieval villages, scenic roads and landscapes of the Val d'Orcia.
The UNESCO site also includes Pienza.
The most beautiful places to visit in the Val d'Orcia: 7 unmissable stops
A visit to the Val d'Orcia should begin in Montalcino, for the enchantment of its landscape, its 14th-century fortress dominating the surrounding area, and its world-class winemaking tradition: the legendary red wine Brunello di Montalcino was born here.
We go on to Montepulciano, another village closely linked to the delicious wine produced here. Perched atop a hill with views of the Val d'Orcia and Val di Chiana, Piazza Grande has its heart, the ideal starting point for wandering through the romantic alleyways.
The next stop is Castiglion d'Orcia, a natural terrace overlooking the Val d'Orcia to the springs of Monte Amiata. Its ancient towers and districts are rich in history and natural beauty, starting with the Bagni San Filippo spa resort. A tour of the Val d'Orcia must include a visit to Pienza, the village that Pope Pius II transformed into a town with a wonderful 15th-century appearance.
Finally, the Radicofani Fortress is also worth a visit: in addition to dominating the panorama rich in clays and gullies, it is now an interesting museum.
The typical products of the Val d'Orcia: 4 food and wine delights to savour
Fully experiencing the Val d'Orcia also means appreciating the delights of traditional Tuscan cuisine. The first thing to do is sip Brunello di Montalcino, the red wine that is the pride of the whole of Tuscany.
It is ideal to accompany Cinta Senese, a breed of pig bred in the Val d'Orcia, with its highly prized meat, the raw material for typical cured meats of the area.
Back to wines, Nobile di Montepulciano is one of the oldest in Italy: it is a deep red DOCG wine first mentioned in a document in 789 AD.
Finally, the seasoned Pecorino di Pienza will win over cheese lovers.