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SIENA Specials - Out of town - The Val d’Orcia and Its Main Towns

The fascinating area of Tuscany known as Val d’Orcia is a land rich in flavours and colours.

Frequently painted by artists of the Senese School during the Renaissance, the Val d’Orcia has been a favourite haunt for European travellers through the centuries and has been described in the works of many Italian and international writers.

The river Orcia, a tributary of the river Ombrone, has given its name to this region of Tuscany, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The surreal landscape is a popular location for adverts and films. Although inhabited since Etruscan times, the Val d’Orcia is rich in Medieval and Renaissance architecture.

Those who intend to explore this region should begin at San Quirico d’Orcia, an ancient town that stands along what was once the Via Francigena, the route pilgrims would take on their way from Siena to Rome.

The Medieval old town of San Quirico has survived untouched, with the magnificent Romanesque Collegiata of St Quirico and St Giuditta, erected between the 12th and 13th century. The nearby Medieval hamlet of Rocca d’Orcia is also well worth a visit and commands stunning views over the valley below. The 12th century Rocca di Tentennano fortress, also known as Rocca di Tintinnano, once belonged to the Tignosi family and today functions as an exhibition centre.

Not far from here is Pienza, a small town planning gem designed by Bernardo Rossellino for the Piccolomini Pope Pius II. The unusual, trapezoid-shaped main square is lined with fine palazzi such as Palazzo Borgia and Palazzo Piccolomini. The Cathedral also looks onto the main square.

Famed for its popular theatre, Monticchiello is still surrounded by its 13th century fortifications, while Bagno Vignoni is remarkable for its square that contains the thermal waters that have attracted so many illustrious visitors through the centuries, from St Catherine of Siena to Lorenzo Il Magnifico. Near Bagno Vignoni, the Parco dei Mulini tour of old mills is well worth a try.

Known internationally for its prized wine, Montalcino was originally built by the Senese. Its magnificent fortress is today open to the public, who can come here and sip Brunello and eat cheese as they walk along the ramparts.

Castiglion d’Orcia, which marks the boundary between the Val d’Orcia and the woodlands of Monte Amiata, has retained its original fortified citadel appearance and is dominated by the remains of the Rocca Aldobrandesca. It produces a particularly prized extra virgin olive oil.

From here, the Medieval village of Vivo d’Orcia, which stands by the river Vivo, is within easy reach. The landscape here is rich in water, which runs into a number of falls. The magnificent 16th century villa owned by the Counts Cervini was initially a Camaldolese monastery.

Campiglia d’Orcia is also worth visiting, along with the Visconti palazzo known as Campigliola. The 14th century castle of Ripa d’Orcia is still remarkably well preserved.

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