What to see in Val d’Orcia? Here are all the tips for a holiday of relaxation, taste, nature and enchanting villages.
The days are getting nicer and the possibility of travelling is increasing exponentially. The ideal thing would be to organise a nice holiday: a relaxing, culinary or cultural one? I have the solution for you. Today I am going to tell you about what to see in Val d’Orcia, a location suitable for holidays for all tastes!
The Val d’Orcia is a territory located in Tuscany, north-east of Mount Amiata and close to the border with Umbria. However, it must be said that it is not just a “simple territory“. It is an incomparable amenity in its entirety.
Adorned with rolling hills, ancient medieval villages, vineyards, cultivated fields, castles and abbeys, the Val d’Orcia is a place where nature, history and art come together.
The landscape is the absolute protagonist and today the entire area is a protected park. The Val d’Orcia Park (Artistic, Natural and Cultural Park of Val d’Orcia) was created to protect the natural and artistic heritage of the valley, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.
The area includes five municipalities: Castiglione d’Orcia, Montalcino, Pienza, Radicofani and San Quirico d’Orcia. However, there are also additional localities that contribute to the magnificence of the Tuscan Val d’Orcia.
You will also be curious to know that the Val d’Orcia is crossed by the Via Cassia. This is a great Roman road that, for much of its route, follows the historic Via Francigena, where the journey takes on the spirit of pilgrimage.
What to see in Val d’Orcia, a place full of beauty
The Val d’Orcia is the perfect destination for any traveller: nature, villages, art and culture, history and relaxation. And that’s not all! It is also a destination for food lovers, as food and wine production is another strong point of the Tuscan Val d’Orcia.
A production embellished by many “jewels” such as Pecorino cheese from Pienza, extra virgin olive oil from Castiglione d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and much more.
You might have guessed that the Val d’Orcia is a world waiting to be discovered. For this reason, I will take you with me to discover the greatest beauties of this Tuscan valley.
I will show you what to see in Val d’Orcia and its unmissable stops!
Montepulciano is located on a hilltop in Southern Tuscany, an ideal starting point for our journey. The medieval town has magnificent Renaissance palaces, ancient churches and beautiful squares. A symbol of this town is the famous Pulcinella Clock Tower, with the typical mask that strikes the hours.
Montepulciano is also famous for its Vino Nobile DOCG. Produced only in the hilly areas within the municipal boundaries, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made from Prugnolo Gentile grapes (70%) and other authorised Tuscan grape varieties. You can savour it thanks to Italia Delight! At the wine resort in Montepulciano, you can taste local wines in the wine cellar, but also have other interesting experiences and even stay overnight!
Close to Montepulciano, we find Pienza, the “capital of Val d’Orcia“. Its location is truly strategic: surrounded by rolling hills and perched on the top of a hill, the town enjoys a breathtaking view.
You should know that, during the Renaissance, people dreamt of a “utopian” city that would embody the principles and philosophy of the great Italian Renaissance. In this regard, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II, commissioned Leon Battista Alberti to draw up a project for an “ideal city“, giving rise to the town of Pienza. The symbols of the town are Pio II Square and Piccolomini Palace, which best represent the history and origin of the municipality.
However, as well as being an “ideal city”, Pienza is also a “city of cheese”! The Pecorino di Pienza is very famous: it is a tasty cheese, made from sheep’s milk. There are many varieties, more or less mature, to be combined with many other local foods. Delicious!
Next, we move on to Monticchiello, a hamlet in the municipality of Pienza. Monticchiello is a typical medieval village, marked by great antiquity. Surrounded by mighty walls and characterised by narrow alleyways, its beauty is authentic and off the beaten track.
Monticchiello is full of picturesque and fascinating views, perfect for the most romantic visitors. Yet, the “Head of the traitor oppressed by the cannon ball” is truly unmissable. This is a low relief, dating back to the 14th century, located on the façade of a house in the streets of the village, at a height of about 5 metres. It depicts a traitorous castellan, who opened the gates of the village to his Florentine enemies for two thousand florins.
San Quirico d’Orcia and the Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta
What to see in Val d’Orcia? A place not to be missed is certainly San Quirico d’Orcia. It is a village of very ancient origins, probably dating back to the Etruscan times. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in the province of Siena, San Quirico is rich in artistic, architectural and natural heritage. Worth visiting are the Horti Leonini, a splendid 16th-century garden leading to the village’s main square. Not to be forgotten is the Collegiate Church of Saints Quirico and Giuditta.
However, the characteristic element of San Quirico is the “landscape of the Crete Senesi“. This landscape is characterised by gentle hills, with solitary oaks, cypresses and isolated farms on top of the hills. Because of its majesty, the cypress grove of San Quirico d’Orcia is perhaps among the most iconic images, not only of the Val d’Orcia but of the whole of Tuscany.
In the municipality of San Quirino d’Orcia is the Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta, another unmissable stop. The small chapel is ancient and framed between two rows of cypresses. Today it represents one of the most beautiful and suggestive corners of this incredible area. It is also one of the Valdorcian views most frequently featured on postcards and in the most famous photographs.
Montalcino and the Abbey of Sant’Antimo
To the west of San Quirico is Montalcino, known throughout the world for its fine Brunello wine. The latter is a DOCG red wine considered, together with Barolo, to be the Italian red wine with the longest longevity.
📚 Now that you know where Brunello originates, read the article on Tuscan red wine
However, Montalcino does not owe its popularity to wine alone. It is also a town rich in art and history. The beautiful medieval village is designed by a military layout, characterised by narrow, steep streets.
Don’t miss the 14th-century fortress, which incorporates part of the walls and towers from the previous century. Piazza del Popolo is also worth a visit, as is the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, just a few kilometres from the town.
The Abbey of Sant’Antimo is one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Tuscany, if not one of the most beautiful in Italy. Inhabited over the centuries by Benedictine monks, according to legend it was founded by Emperor Charlemagne. Today it is considered one of the most beautiful masterpieces of medieval architecture.
Castiglione d’Orcia is located on the top of a ridge, a short distance from the Via Cassia. It is a small village gathered around the mighty 14th-century Rocca degli Aldobrandeschi. This fortress further emphasises the medieval aspect of the town, thanks to its picturesque and characteristic corners.
Opposite Castiglione, stands Rocca d’Orcia, where you can visit the Rocca di Tentennano, an 11th-century medieval tower. Climbing the tower, you will admire the Val d’Orcia from above: a spectacular view.
Not to be forgotten and extremely fascinating is the Eremo del Vivo, located near Vivo d’Orcia, a hamlet of the municipality of Castiglione.
It is a monumental ecclesiastical complex consisting of two distinct elements: the Pieve di San Marcello and the Eremo del Vivo, also known as Ermicciolo. The foundation of this complex is rather uncertain, probably dating back to the 11th century. However, the majesty of these two buildings is certain, representing part of the history and culture of the Val d’Orcia.
What to see in Val d’Orcia, if not the thermal baths? In this regard, we find Bagno Vignoni. It is undoubtedly considered one of the most evocative and romantic villages in the entire Val d’Orcia. Located along the Via Francigena, Bagno Vignoni has been famous since Roman times for its thermal waters, as popes and kings would stop to enjoy its properties.
The village has remained unchanged over time and its central square is entirely occupied by a large thermal pool. The latter, dating from the Renaissance period, was built exactly above the original spring.
San Filippo Baths
Another unmissable spa town is Bagni di San Filippo. This small town is located in the southern part of the Val d’Orcia and is home to one of the most beautiful spas in Italy. Characterised by waterfalls and small natural pools, the thermal waters of Bagni di San Filippo are completely free!
Framed by lush woods, they make up a truly evocative landscape. Definitely worth a visit is the Fosso Bianco, located near the village. Here the waters flow and create a landscape of white rocks, with the limestone deposits left by their passage.
📚 If you love spas, read also the article The best spas in Italy: relaxation not to be missed
We conclude our itinerary on what to see in Val d’Orcia with Radicofani, in the province of Siena. Radicofani is one of the most spectacular Tuscan fortresses. For centuries, it had been one of the most important strongholds in Italy.
The characteristic medieval village, situated opposite Mount Amiata, is also known as the “town of Ghino Tacco“. Nicknamed as the Robin Hood of the Val d’Orcia for his adventures, Ghino Tacco was the brigand who conquered the fortress and became lord of the town. But beware, Radicofani is not only the fortress, as it is surrounded by many historical beauties.
The romantic Church of San Pietro, the village’s most remarkable monument, is well worth a visit. Not to mention the interesting Palazzo della Posta, a Medici villa that has long since been transformed into a customs house and has hosted many travellers.
Finally, the Bosco di Isabella is worth a visit. This is an enchanting garden full of plants from all over the world, created by Odoardo Luchini, a great connoisseur of biological sciences.
Basically, the Val d’Orcia is so rich in fantastic and curious places that you should visit it at least once in your life. After all, if the Val d’Orcia represents the great beauty of Southern Tuscany, just imagine the rest of the region!
Taking your cue from what I have shown you about what to see in Val d’Orcia, you will be able to create your own tailor-made trip to Tuscany.
There are many experiences around Val d’Orcia. For example, in the north you can visit an ancient winery in Lucignano in the province of Arezzo in the DOC Chianti Colli Senesi Aretini wine region. Not to mention the food experiences in the south, in Seggiano, and at Saturnia hot springs.
Not only that! With Italia Delight, you also have the opportunity to create a longer travel itinerary, to be personalised with the local Expert.
You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding what to see in Val d’Orcia Tuscany! Choose the most suitable experience for you to discover Tuscany 😉