Nestled in the heart of Tuscany, Val d’Orcia is a scenic region that seems to have leapt straight out of a Renaissance painting. No wonder it is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has caused strong feelings of infatuation to travellers worldwide, with the iconic cypress trees, rolling hills, olive groves, and vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see. But Val d’Orcia is more than just a pretty face, it is a destination steeped in history, culture, and, of course, some of the finest culinary experiences Italy has to offer. Whether you are a history buff, a foodie, or someone simply looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Val d’Orcia has something for everyone. This guide aims to help you make the most of your trip, from the must-see attractions to hidden gems that only locals know about!
This would be a far cry from a comprehensive section, given the countless items of such a list. We only highlight some key ones to give you a first taste of what awaits!
The Landscape and Scenery
The Italian region is a tapestry of natural beauty, characterised by its undulating hills and valleys, punctuated by solitary cypress trees that stand like beacons guarding this slice of paradise. As you drive through the winding roads snaking through the plains and mountains, you will be greeted by fields of sunflowers in the summer and vineyards that turn a fiery red in the autumn.
One of the most picturesque viewpoints is the Belvedere, near the town of San Quirico d’Orcia. This spot offers a panoramic view of the valley, complete with a rustic farmhouse and forests, making it a photographer’s dream. Another must-visit is Monticchiello, a charming village perched on a hill, offering sweeping vistas of the landscape below. Whether you are an amateur photographer or just someone who appreciates natural allure, these viewpoints are a feast for the eyes and the soul.
Val d’Orcia is a journey through time. Dotted with historical landmarks it can transport you back to the Renaissance era with gems like Pienza, a town designed by Pope Pius II as an “ideal city”. The town square, Piazza Pio II, is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, featuring the Pienza Cathedral and Palazzo Piccolomini.
Another site worth your time and energy is Montalcino, a hilltop town famous for its Brunello wine and the 14th-century fortress that offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Home to various churches and museums that showcase the rich history of the region, such places are fantastic escapes for both casual tourists and history aficionados, providing a glimpse into the past that is too captivating to miss!
Prepare your taste buds for a delicious gastronomic adventure considering how renowned Val d’Orcia is for its local produce, including Pecorino cheese, olive oil, and, of course, wine. A visit to a local vineyard is worthwhile, where you can indulge in wine tasting sessions featuring the famous Brunello and Vino Nobile wines.
For food lovers, a stop at a local trattoria, such as Trattoria Toscana in the heart of Pienza, is essential. These family-run eateries offer authentic Tuscan cuisine, from pappardelle with wild boar sauce and truffles to ribollita, a hearty veggie and bread soup. For fine dining, we suggest Michelin-starred Osteria Perilla restaurants, located in Rocca d’Orcia, offering a modern twist on local dishes (perfect for a romantic dinner).
A mid-range option is La Porta, in Monticchiello, with breath-cutting views of the valley and a variety of pasta flavours and regional wines. A more budget-friendly alternative is Il Leccio, a casual dining spot in Sant’Angelo in Colle, while Enoteca La Fortezza serves perhaps the most extensive selection of local Brunello wines (plus it is located inside Montalcino’s 14th-century fortress, which amplifies the wow factor).
Finally, vegans and vegetarians will find their heaven at places like Il Casale (situated in San Quirico d’Orcia).
Navigating Val d’Orcia is part of the adventure. The region is best explored by car, allowing you the freedom to stop at scenic viewpoints and quaint villages at your own pace. However, this is not the only option. Some alternative ways to explore the beautiful region are:
- Public Bus – Local bus services like Bustalia Sita Nord and Tiemme Spa operate within the region, connecting major towns. Nevertheless, services may be infrequent, so it is essential to check the schedule in advance.
- Taxis – Taxis are available but can be expensive for long distances. They are a practical and convenient option for short trips within towns or for a night out.
- Private Transfers – For a more luxurious experience, you can consider booking a private transfer. It offers the convenience of a personal driver and can be customised to fit your itinerary.
- Cycling – Cycling is a fabulous way to see the countryside. Bike rentals are available in many towns, and guided cycling tours are also an option.
- Guided tours – Various companies offer a curated experience via guided tours that include transportation, meals, and visits to key attractions. It is a hassle-free way to see the best of Val d’Orcia.
When it comes to accommodations, Val d’Orcia comes with a range of options to suit every traveller’s needs and budget. In general, the region is considered a costly area, but don’t let that deter you. With a bit of research, you can find something that won’t break the bank. From boutique hotels with cosy atmospheres and agriturismo stays, where you can experience life on a working farm, to luxury villas that offer the ultimate in comfort, top-notch amenities, including a private pool, spacious rooms, and a fully-equipped kitchen, such as Casa Di Lili, there is something for everyone to enjoy the finer things in life. The key here is to plan ahead and book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
Activities and Experiences
Beyond the picturesque drives and historical attractions, Val d’Orcia impresses with a plethora of activities to keep everybody engaged. For the thrill-seekers, hot air ballooning over the valley is a venture you will never forget. Companies like Ballooning in Tuscany have different packages to choose from. The bird’s eye view of the rolling hills and vineyards is simply jaw-dropping.
If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, hiking trails abound. The ancient pilgrimage route of Via Francigena passes through the region cascades through various trails suitable for all skill levels. For a more laid-back endeavour, consider visiting the local markets in towns like Montepulciano and Pienza. They are a treasure trove of local produce, handicrafts, and souvenirs.
Horseback riding is another fun way to discover the charms of Val d’Orcia. Stables like Il Peretaio provide guided horseback tours that take you through scenic trails, olive groves, and amazing landscapes.
Other exciting things to do in Val d’Orcia are wine tastings at famous vineyards like Tenuta di Trinoro and Poggio Antico, cooking classes, photography tours, and spa days at the region’s most popular thermal baths, including Bagno Vignoti and Bagni San Filippo.
While Val d’Orcia is beautiful year-round, the months of May to October have the best weather for outdoor ventures. However, these are also the busiest months, so book your accommodations and activities in advance. For more laid-back experiences and quieter escapes, the winter time (also early spring) is quite romantic!
At the end of the day, Val d’Orcia is a state of mind rather than just another travel destination. From its captivating scenery to its rich history and culinary delights, this pearl in Tuscany’s crown offers a holistic travel experience that bewilders the senses and nourishes the soul. Whether you are staying in an elegant villa or a quaint boutique hotel, whether you are into history, gastronomy, art, or culture, Val d’Orcia has an adventure cut just for you!