Close your eyes and imagine you’re in Tuscany: what do you see?
Maybe golden wheat fields and soft, green rolling hills dotted by hamlets and stone farmhouses; lush vineyards, vibrant green meadows, and countryside roads lined with cypress trees.
In short, your imagination took you to Val d’Orcia - which is, more or less, the Tuscany of popular imagination.
World Heritage Site
The Val d’Orcia is a valley that stretches in southern Tuscany, roughly from Siena to Monte Amiata. Its rare and almost untouched beauty made it a favorite of artists of all sorts, from Renaissance painters to modern photographers and directors, who immortalized it their works.
Not only is its landscape terrific, but it also carries a deeper and historical meaning whose cultural importance made the Val d’Orcia a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004:
“The Val d’Orcia is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing pictures.
The landscape of the Val d’Orcia was celebrated by painters from the Siennese School, which flourished during the Renaissance. Images of the Val d’Orcia, and particularly depictions of landscapes where people are depicted as living in harmony with nature, have come to be seen as icons of the Renaissance and have profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking.”
- source: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1026/
Iconic views: the chapel of Vitaleta
You may have already seen it, as it typically appears on many postcards from Tuscany: the chapel of Our Lady of Vitaleta is in Val d’Orcia. You can see it from a distance along the road from San Quirico d’Orcia to Pienza.
Between fields and roads lined with cypress trees, this tiny church once hosted a terracotta sculpture of by the famous Renaissance artist Andrea della Robbia, representing the Virgin Mary. Nowadays, you can admire it in San Quirico d’Orcia.
The ideal Renaissance town: Pienza
In Val d’Orcia there are five main towns, each one unmissable and exquisite in its own right: Montalcino, Castiglione d’Orcia, San Quirico d’Orcia, Radicofani, and Pienza.
Pienza is very well-known for its architectural and cultural value. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its original name was Corsignano. Afterwards, it was re-named after Pope Pius II, who had his birthplace transformed and rebuilt according to Renaissance and Humanist town-planning concepts.
Food and Wine
This region is very rich in high-quality local products that you should definitely taste.
Both Montalcino and Montepulciano are a stone’s throw away, so you’ll easily find Brunello and Vino Nobile - but keep in mind that the Val d’Orcia has its own DOC wines!
And how can we not mention Pecorino di Pienza?
We Tuscans sometimes call it ‘cacio’. It’s a cheese made from sheep’s (‘pecora’, in Italian) milk and it’s named after the above-mentioned town.
There’s not only one type of pecorino. Its aroma and flavor vary according to production and ageing methods, and the herbs and grasses of which the sheeps’ diet consists.