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Towns of Val d'Orcia

Traveling along the via Cassia, on a journey deep into the heart of Tuscany

Towns of Val d'Orcia

A glass of Brunello di Montalcino before commencing and a slice of Pienza's Pecorino cheese with which to conclude our journey through Val D'Orcia. The Orcia valley is famous throughout the world as producer of some of Italy's most highly prized gastronomic specialties, but even more so for its marvelous rolling countryside, enchanting little villages, and beautifully conserved medieval hill top towns.

The valley is traversed by the river to which it owes its name and by the via Francigena, the medieval pilgrim route linking Rome with Canterbury. Our journey commences in Montalcino, town guarded over by an imposing 14th century fortress and encircled by a thick medieval perimeter wall. Montalcino has a number of attractive houses of worship including the 14th century churches of Sant Egidio and Sant Agostino and an impressive neoclassical cathedral. Just a few kilometers from Montalcino lies the Abbey of Sant Antimo, a superb example of Romanesque architecture which, according to the legend, was founded by none other than Charlemagne.

Enclosed within its medieval perimeter wall, the 14 towers of which announce its presence from afar, San Quirico d'Orcia is a meticulously conserved medieval town, thought to have been founded by the Etruscans. Built on the site of an existing house of worship, the Collegiate Church of Saints Quirico and Giulitta is another of Tuscany's finest Romanesque buildings. San Quirico d'Orcia is perhaps best known for the Horti Leonini, a delightful Italian garden constructed in 1581, on land donated to Diomede Leoni by Francesco I dei Medici.

Famous since the times of the ancient Romans for its thermal springs, Bagno Vignoni is an enchanting little town at the heart of which lies a 16th century fountain and an immense bath in to which the thermal waters of volcanic origin continuously flow. Opposite the baths there is a Sanctuary dedicated to Santa Caterina of Siena, who apparently frequently bathed in the waters of Bagno Vignoni.

The Rocca degli Aldobrandeschi is Castiglione d'Orcia's most impressive landmark. From the gardens of the castle a spectacular view over the entire valley can be admired. Life in the town gravitates around the piazza named after Lorenzo di Pietro, alias Vecchietta, the famous 15th century painter born in Castiglione d'Orcia. The piazza, paved in river stones, is embellished with a beautiful marble fountain dating back to the 17th century.

Our journey draws to a close in Pienza. The town, awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO, owes its unique appearance to Pienza-born Enea Silvio Piccolomini, better known as Pope Pius II. The Pope entrusted the realization of his Utopian city to the architect Bernardo Rossellino and in just three years (from 1459 to 1462), Rossellino transformed the Tuscan town from humble medieval hilltop settlement to splendid renaissance town, complete with central trapezoidal piazza, elegant palazzi and cathedral.

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