Thematic Itineraries in Val d'Orcia
Val d’Orcia is a perfect destination for those who chose to travel following thematic itineraries.
The path of faith
An option is to visit Val d’Orcia following an itinerary dedicated to faith and religious sites. This area has a deep relationship with Christianity, given that the Castle of Corsignano was the birth place of Enea Piccolomini, Pope Pius II.
Pienza is not the only interesting place for those who want to follow a spiritual itinerary in Val d’Orcia. Another destination which cannot be missed is the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. There is something **magical about it: it’s location in the middle of the unspoilt countryside, the alone-standing cypress-tree proudly standing next to the bell tower, the sound of the Gregorian Chants coming from the inside make this abbey a very special place. Simply sitting in a field near the abbey and look at it from afar is enough to make a traveler feel at peace with himself/herself.
The Abbey is on the Via Francigena and it seems that its founder was Charlemagne. The story goes that, between 774 and 781, he received the relics of St. Sebastian and Sant’Antimo from pope Hadrian and founded in their honour one of the most important monasteries in Tuscany.
The Abbey can be visited. The friars offer guided tours of Sant’Antimo abbey, showing the church and taking people up to the top of the bell tower. Visitors can eat with the friars in the refectory of the monastery. The visit is free of charge.
Self-guided tours are possible. All the itineraries are colour-coded. The full guided tour is the orange tour. The green tour is shorter and it’s the historical tour which takes visitor to see only historically-relevant parts of the monastery. The blue tour is the art tour, in which visitors learn all about the artistic features of the abbey. Finally, the yellow tour is the spiritual tour, through which visitors get to learn about life at the monastery.
The friars accept voluntary workers for the field works and have courses of Gregorian chanting and polyphonic singing. There are some interesting courses such as the course called « canta e cammina« , « walk and sing« ”, participants learn to sing while walking through the beautiful countryside paths of the Val d’Orcia.
There is a great festival dedicated to Sant’Antimo which takes place on the 10th and 11th of May. On the 10th, in the evening, there is a procession and on the 11th there is a lovely festival at the abbey.
To know more about the visits and the Gregorian Chants: http://www.antimo.it/
The third sight for people looking for spiritual places is the Collegiata in San Quirico d’Orcia.
Another thematic itinerary is that devoted to nature. Nature lovers should not miss the Val d’Orcia Nature Park.
The territory of the Val d’Orcia is mainly covered of gently rolling hills. The river Orcia springs from a gorge and winds its way across the valley. The Val d’Orcia has a long geographical history: it’s 5 million years old. The two volcanoes of Southern Tuscany, Radicofani and Monte Amiata, are partly responsible for its appearance: they covered the surface with lava, which then became a type of rock known as trachyte.
Erosion processes played a major role in the formation of the landscape with the clay soil laid bare and forming craggy badlands known as calanchi and clay knolls otherwise called biancane, which can be seen in the areas of Casa a Tuoma (Pienza), Ripalta (San Quirico), Lucciolabella, Beccatello, and Torre Tarugi (Pienza), Contignano, Pietre Bianche and the Poggio Leano (Radicofani).
North west of Bagno Vignoni the Val d’Orcia has a less typical landscape, with woodlands and Mediterranean maquis that alternates with the vineyards of Montalcino and then continues towards the sea. On the slopes of Monte Amiata there are forests of beech and chestnut trees. Other tree species found in the area are the oak and obviously the tree which has become the symbol of the Val d’Orcia: the cypress.
The Val d’Orcia is also home to a large variety of wildlife. There are several interesting itineraries, available on the Park site. A perfect way to discover the park is by Treno Natura, an old steam-engine train running through amazing landscapes.
A third thematic itinerary in Val d’Orcia is the Parco dei Mulini or Mill Park. The Mill Park was created with the intention of safeguarding and making the most of one of the main milling centres on the Siena territory. With four mills it had an enormous potential in an area like Val d’Orcia, particularly dedicated to growing cereals but with little water available. Exploitation of the spa source, with its constant delivery, meant that milling could be carried on also in summer when most mills were out of commission.
People interested in this topic should also visit Vivo d’Orcia and participate in the Water Festival, held in Ermicciolo on March 22, and visit the source of the Vivo which gushes out of the rocks.
The walk from Ermicciolo to Eremo, along the river, is absolutely one of the finest in the Amiata trails: you can stop at the little waterfalls and the dam in the middle of the woods, or the caves where partisans hid during the last war, or the archaeological sites that have brought to light finds dating to Mesolithic and Etruscan civilisations. You may even see one of the rare green woodpeckers whose sound is sometimes heard echoing among the centuries-old trees.
And for those who like hot springs, the baths of Bagno Vignoni and Bagni San Filippo are a must-see.