Classic car itineraries in val d'Orcia Tuscany
In today's itinerary we are heading south of Siena, through the ancient Via Cassia, the roman paved way connecting Siena to the capital of the Roman Empire. Part of our trip will overlap the Via Francigena, the medieval route beaten by the pilgrims coming from Canterbury heading to Rome.
The Val d'Orcia (river Orcia Valley), this fascinating oasis of nature and culture, is set among acres of olive groves, oak forests and vineyards. The views in this part of Tuscany are striking and the roads seem to have been designed for classic car enthusiasts. The low hills fluctuate on the horizon and their edges are lined with cypresses.
If you are familiar with the icons of Tuscan panorama, this is it. The first leg of this itinerary will take you to Buonconvento through Monteroni and Lucignano. The via Cassia is flowing at the bottom of the valley and the hills around you look like dunes. Buonconvento is a walled town with important building dating back to the medieval ages, the most important being the Town Hall. After Buonconvento, the road is getting more winding, going uphill and giving a different perspective of the surrounding vineyards. Nothing is more enjoyable than driving a classic convertible on this setting!
Going further south among the hills of Pienza and Montalcino, the most beautiful stretch of via Francigena will take to Bagno Vignoni. Bagno Vignoni is described in a document dating back to 1334 as a "thermal spa arranged and surrounded by buildings and taverns with a chapel in the middle. It has a very beautiful square layout, with the spring divided in two parts and a roof for protecting the infirm." This pool is a massive tank of steamy water of volcanic origin, dating back to the XVI century, which forms the old piazza. Although the area is almost dry during summer months, thermal water is not a scarce resource. If you look west, you will see the reason. The Mount Amiata, the tallest non eruptive Italian volcano, with its forests has a different climate and it's a plentiful resource of thermal water, not only to Bagno Vignoni, but also to Bagni San Filippo and to San Casciano dei Bagni. The Mount Amiata has probably the most exhilarating roads for classic car driving, but this is another itinerary.....
We'll make a diversion from our route to reach Castiglione d'Orcia. In its main square, visitors will find a travertine well built in 1618 in front of the Town Hall. There are two noteworthy fortresses, Rocca Aldobrandesca and Rocca a Tentennano within the walled town.
Back on the Via Francigena we are heading toward the southernmost point of our itinerary: Radicofani. The main landmark of Radicofani is its Rocca (Castle), of Carolingian origin dating back to X century. It has two lines of walls: the external one has pentagonal shape, while the inner one is triangular. From its tower there is a striking view of the Val d'Orcia, The Mount Amiata, The Lake Trasimeno and Lake Bolsena.
We are now heading back north, going through two sleeping medieval villages of Contignano and Monticchiello, towards Pienza.
Pienza, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was rebuilt (1459-1462) from a village called Corsignano, which was the birthplace (1405) of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, a Renaissance humanist who later became Pope Pius II. Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. Its urban planning concepts were adopted in other Italian and European centers. The first building of the new city was the Cathedral dell'Assunta which hosts works of the most well-known artists from Siena of the time. Next, in the same piazza, the Palazzo Piccolomini, whose loggia offers striking views of the Valle d'Orcia, the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) and the Palazzo Vescovale (Bishop Palace) and its adjoining museum were built.
Next stop will be San Quirico d' Orcia a bautifully preserved village, with suggessted visit to Collegiata dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta, the Palazzo Pretorio (Praetorian Palace), the Palazzo Chigi, the Ospedale della Scala (Hospital), and the churches of Santa Maria Assunta and Santa Maria di Vitaleta .
Back on board of our classic car we are heading uphill on a steep ascent to Montalcino. Montalcino is known worldwide for its Brunello, one of the most famous aged red wines. Montalcino is also a magnificent city of arts and it dominates a hillside overlooking more than 3,000 hectares of vineyards. Worth viewing are the fortress. Built in 1361, this bold structure was built to guard the gate of Montalcino from Siena. Other main sights are the Town Hall Tower, built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, over a gothic lodge on the Piazza del Popolo. A 15 minute scenic drive will take us from Montalcino to the Sant'Antimo Abbey, one of the most notable examples of Romanic architecture.