Itineraries in the Crete Senesi
Besides the highlights of the area, such as the towns (Asciano, San Giovanni d’Asso, Buonconvento, etc.) and the beautiful Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, the Crete Senesi are ideal for some thematic itineraries.
The best way to visit the Crete Senesi is to slowly drive around or walk in the countryside, stopping as often as one can. There are some very scenic routes:
- Strada del Pecorile: between Asciano, Trequanda, Chiusure and San Giovanni d’Asso.
- Strada Bianca di Medane: a country lane departing from Arbia and leading to Asciano along the path of the old Roman road Lauretana Antica and then continuing to Medane. It runs on the top of the hills, and the views over the Crete and Siena are incredible. From this road it is possible to continue on a similar country lane that leads from Monteroni to San Martino in Grancia and Vescona.
- Strada Bianca di Montauto: departing from the old Roman road Cassia just before it reaches Lucignano d’Arbia, it’s the perfect road to admire the impressive calanchi on the Ombrone Valley.
- Strada Bianca di Pieve a Salti: quite off-the-beaten-path, it leads from San Giovanni d’Asso to Buonconvento through the hills comprised between the rivers Ombrone and Asso. A beautiful rural area, and a lovely pieve.
- Cassia: It’s a larger road which connects Monteroni to Siena.
- Vecchia Strada della Riccia: the old road between Siena and the Val di Chiana running through the countryside of the Crete and the woods “Riccia”.
Other larger roads to drive on to enjoy beautiful views over the countryside of the Crete Senesi, in Tuscany, are the roads that link Asciano and San Giovanni d’Asso, San Giovanni and Trequanda, Monteroni and Asciano, San Giovanni and Montalcino, Asciano and Buonconvento to the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Asciano and Chiusure, and Asciano and Rapolano Terme.
The Hard-working People of the Crete
The Crete Senesi have always been home to hard-working people as is evidenced by the many historical buildings scattered throughout the area.
The Crete were not only inhabited by farmers and shepherds, but also by miners. One of the most impressive sites in the area is the travertine stone mine near Rapolano. In use since the 16th century, when the travertine was especially in demand for the construction of churches and noble residences, the mine was very active until the beginning of the last century.
Another interesting place is the Fornace dei Poggetti, an old brick-kiln on the road between Asciano and Rapolano. The building itself is not of any particular interest, except that it can give visitors an idea of the type of places where the bricks used in all the buildings of the neighbouring villages were produced. However, if one leaves behind the ruins of the old kiln and walks into countryside, the views over the Crete are stunning.
The area is also famous for its mills, like the Val d’Orcia. The most interesting mill is the fortified medieval mill in Monteroni d’Arbia. The valley of the Bestina, a stream that springs by the travertine mine in Serre di Rapolano, is also dotted with old mills.
Last but not least, the Museo della Mezzadria in Buonconvento tells the story of sharecropping in the Crete Senesi. Very interesting.
The Castles of the Crete Senesi
There are several interesting castles in the Crete Senesi. There are some castles that over the century have become small hamlets of private noble residences like Torre a Castello, Castel Rosi, Grancia di Montisi (check this article if you don’t know what a Grancia was) Leonina (not a luxury hotel), Castelnuovo Tancredi, San Gimignanello and Montelifré.
Others are well preserved state-of-the-art medieval castle in Tuscany, such as Bibbiano, dating as back as to 850 A.D., Castel Verdelli, an enormous castle for the time, Castello di Saltemnano, an imposing fortified hamlet now a complex of vacation rental apartment, Gallico, now private property, Grancia di Cuna and San Fabiano.
And then there are finer, picture perfect castles, often used as venues for weddings in Tuscany. The Castle of Grotti, La Torre, and the Castle of Modanella are three beautiful examples of fine Tuscan castles.
The area of the Crete Senesi was home to the Etruscans. If you are lovers of “old, dusty stones”, there are three sites you should not miss.
The tomb called Tumulo del Molinello was discovered by chance by a farmer who was trying to work the land to plant an olive tree. It is a very old, large tomb with several chambers and several important objects were found there. This tomb and the ones of the Necropolis of Poggio Pinci, also found by a farmer whose ox practically fell into one of the chambers, evidence the presence of a rooted Etruscan civilization in the area and the crucial role of the river Ombrone as a way to connect the sea and the inland areas. Finally, the ruins of the Roman thermal baths of Campo Muri show the presence of active settlements in the area also during the Roman era.
Art in the Crete Senesi
The Crete are certainly an inspiring place. Besides being a most visited area by photographers and painters, several artists have chosen this area of Southern Tuscany as their residence.
Interesting sites for art lovers are:
- Jean-Paul Philippe’s Site Transitoire with his permanent sculptural installations at Leonina.
- Il Bosco della Ragnaia (Ragnaia Wood): the permanently open site of Sheppard Craige, an American artist who lives in San Giovanni d’Asso.
- Fondazione Sergio Vacchi, at the Castle of Grotti. It manages a permanent comprehensive collection of around 80 works by Sergio Vacchi. Open from the 1st October to the 30th April, the collection can be visited by previous appointment.
The Flavours of the Crete Senesi
The culinary tradition of the Crete Senesi is excellent. Traditionally, the local diet was poor in meat and rich in farinaceous foods and seasonal vegetables. Bread too – made not only from wheat but also maize, oats and barley – was always present on the table. A popular dish in the area is the “panella” of Rapolano, a thinly rolled bread dough fried in olive-oil.
The Crete Senesi are also famous for their pecorino cheese, and its olive oil, but most of all for its “white gold”: truffles. The truffle capital of southern Tuscany is San Giovanni d’Asso. Over 40 hectares of truffle-ground are monitored and kept under control through a database controlled by the local council.
Every year in November, the village hosts a Truffle Festival, with experts’ workshops and truffle tasting. Truffles of various sizes whose price is fixed by a local “stock exchange” depending on the season’s harvest are exhibited and possibly auctioned. In the village, travelers can visit a museum dedicated to truffle. Moreover, we can recommend ways for truffle lovers to participate in a truffle hunt.
Hot Springs, Thermal Baths and Spas
The area is rich in hot springs and thermal areas with spas, perfect for a relaxing day in a beautiful setting. The most important spas are:
- Terme di San Giovanni in Rapolano Terme. The hot water flows naturally from the source at a temperature of 39 ° C.
- Terme Antica Querciaiola in Rapolano Terme.
It is possible to visit the Crete Senesi area arriving by one of the old steam engine trains of the Ferrovie Tursitiche. Check the event calendar for the next dates.