The Val d’Orcia is one of Tuscany’s most well-known areas. Protected land and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has been the agricultural backbone of Siena for ages.
You should visit the Val d’Orcia if you enjoy wine, medieval history, impressive thermal hot springs, or just plain old Tuscan charm (winding alleyways of potted plants and cobblestone overlooking wheat fields and cypress trees, anyone?). Many of the towns in the Orcia river valley can be accessed on foot or bike, making it a particular draw to those who seek a vacation with more activity options.
From castles and fortresses, to cooking classes and spas, to bike routes and old pilgrimage trails, the Val d’Orcia has something for everyone headed to Tuscany!
Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Val d’Orcia – or the Valley of Orcia – is the lush river valley of the Orcia River, nestled between Siena and Grosseto. Here you can find parks, museums, castles, chapels, abbeys, and even thermal hot springs.
How to Get There
Traveling by rental car in the Val d’Orcia is advisable. It will allow you to travel easily between towns, roadside attractions, and natural areas. Many of the most famous towns in this area are not well connected by public transportation, and many don’t have a train station.
If you are looking to travel by train, your two options for landing points are the larger stations in Montepulciano and Buonconvento. Both are accessible on routes from Siena. You can also find more local buses, from those towns or from farther out, but some of the schedules are relatively infrequent.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous and up for physical activity, the region is quite accessible to hikers and bikers. It’s possible to walk or bike between most of the towns.
The Best 4 Towns in The Val d’Orcia
Pienza was the birthplace of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, or Pope Pius II, and the Pieve di Corsignano where he was baptized can still be seen just outside the city walls. At that time the town was called Corsignano, but in his fame, he decided to recreate – and rename – his hometown into an “ideal city” depicting the Renaissance’s standards.
Be sure to check out the most famous buildings set around the main historic Piazza Pio II, including the Cattedrale dell’Assunta, the Piccolomini Palace, and town hall. A visit in early September will align with the Fiera del Cacio, a town festival dedicated to their famous pecorino sheep’s cheese.
Famous for the production of Brunello, a red wine, Montalcino is a classic medieval hilltop town. Looking out from Montalcino, you will see a vast landscape of rolling hills, vineyards, and tree groves encapsulating Tuscan beauty. Venturing into the city, you will find a town frozen in time, with its protective fortress and castle, home to a Jazz & Wine Festival every July.
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With the Val d’Orcia on one side and the Val di Chiana on the other, Montepulciano guarantees incredible views. It also offers one of the only train stations in the Val d’Orcia, so works well as a departure point if you choose to travel by train and bus. If you find yourself at Montepulciano in August, check out the Bravìo delle Botti – a wine-barrel race held in the streets (direction: uphill!) as a competition between the 8 “contrade” or districts of the town.
4. Bagno Vignoni
Bagno Vignoni, or the “bath of Vignoni,” is a small village that has become well-known for its Renaissance-era main piazza built directly over a hot spring. The piazza itself contains a huge pool full of hot water sourced from the springs, with small canals running out from it. If you follow the canals, you can arrive at a smaller pool down a hill which can be accessed for free.
The springs were used by the ancient inhabitants of the Val d’Orcia – both Etruscans and Romans. They were also located on the medieval Via Francigena, a main pilgrimage route to Rome from Northern Europe.
Explore the Val d’Orcia
Hidden Gems in Val d’Orcia
Famed as the home of Ghino di Tacco, the “Italian Robin Hood,” Radicofani is a quaint medieval hilltop town in the Val d’Orcia. Ghino di Tacco was a nobleman who turned to highway robbery after his family was murdered. He was known for being well-mannered and for targeting wealthy travelers, thus his legacy as a “Robin Hood” figure. He is mentioned by two fathers of the Italian language, Boccaccio mentions him in the Decameron and Dante mentions him in the Divine Comedy.
In addition to the usual churches, quaint alleyways, and historic piazza, Radicofani also contains a special garden called “Bosco Isabella” or the forest of Isabella.
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Monticchiello is a small village on the routes to other larger and busier towns. So if you’re looking for a quiet stop on the way to (or, perhaps even instead of) the more famous locales, this is your place! In the summer it transforms into a host for “Teatro Povero,” a “poor theater” of open-air performances.
Bagni San Filippo
Bagni San Filippo offers hot springs nestled in a forest and completely free of charge. Access is easy along the riverside path. Be sure to check out the famous calcium-formation waterfall dubbed the White Whale. Below, the warm waters from the springs meet the cold water from the river which changes the colors of both. If you love a relaxing natural environment, make sure the baths of San Filippo are on your list!
San Quirico d’Orcia
San Quirico d’Orcia is located conveniently in a central position from some of the most famous points to visit in the Val d’Orcia – Pienza, Montalcino, and Montepulciano. The town was located on the Via Francigena pilgrimage route from Northern Europe, like other spots in the Val d’Orcia, so it has been welcoming visitors for ages. The center of the town is the Piazza della Libertà, from which you can easily access the unique Horti Leonini, which offer a stunning example of an Italian Renaissance garden.
A layout of Castiglione d’Orcia is dominated by its distinct castle and fortress, Rocca Aldobrandesca, which dates back to the 800s AD. The town is located high on a hill rising above the river valley. If you are a fan of art history, be sure to check out the Sala d’Arte San Giovanni which boasts a collection from masters of the Sienese school in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Tours and Activities in Val d’Orcia
Wine and Food-Tasting Tours
The Val d’Orcia boasts many delicious local food products and wines. Montepulciano and Montalcino are wine-tasting hot spots, as home to the famous Vino Nobile and Brunello, respectively. In and between the two towns you will find many options for both tastings and tours of vineyards. You can browse vineyards and tour options on the Viator website.
Hiking and Biking
The gorgeous natural beauty of the Val d’Orcia offers a ton of excellent hiking and biking options! Most of the towns are well connected to each other, as well as to nearby sites via scenic roads. You can also follow the ancient pilgrimage trail, the Via Francigena. For instance, from Pienza, you can hike or bike to the Chapel of Madonna di Vitaleta or to the picturesque but private Capella di Vitaleta.
For an easy or intermediate bike ride, you can travel between Montalcino and Sant’Antimo, or Pienza and Montepulciano. More challenging rides can take scenic routes, or tour around towns through the hilly terrain.
Tuscany is full of popular and relaxing thermal hot springs, and the Val D’Orcia is no exception! These sites have been known since ancient times, so you can relax and take in history all at once! Your options include Bagno Vignoni, Bagni San Filippo, San Casciano dei Bagni, Petriolo, and perhaps the most famous, Saturnia.
See Val d’Orcia From The Sky: Hot Air Balloon Rides
A hot air balloon ride is an incredible way to take in the gorgeous views of the Val d’Orcia, riding slowly above the river valley. There are a number of hot air balloon operators including Ballooning in Tuscany and Montalcino Wine Tours.
With all these excellent products, artisans and farmers in the Val d’Orcia are well-versed in food preparation and the classic Tuscan dining table. Cooking classes are an excellent way to learn from locals, gain cultural experience, and make some delicious food! In some cases, you can pair a wine tour and a cooking class.
Photography Tips: The Best 5 Spots and Viewpoints
1. The Chapel of Madonna di Vitaleta
Was built on the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a shepherdess. The chapel is framed elegantly by rows of cypress trees.
2. The Cypresses of San Quirico D’Orcia
Might be the most famous cypress in all of Tuscany… and that’s saying a lot! Growing over a soft hill, they stand out beautifully against the surrounding landscape.
3. The Abbey of Sant’Antimo
Is an elegant 13th-century abbey. It is located in the countryside, surrounded by olive groves and wheat fields. If you attend a mass, you will get the treat of listening to the monks’ Gregorian chants.
4. The Cypress Avenue of Poggio Covili
Gives those of San Quirico D’Orci some tough competition for the most famous title. Aptly named an “avenue,” these line the roadway and set your photographic composition up for some excellent leading lines, catching the viewer’s eye right away.
5. Bagno Vignoni
The Piazza of Bagno Vignoni is a unique sight to see– it contains a huge pool of hot water from the thermal springs over which it is built. If the light is right, you might be able to catch a reflection of the buildings that surround the piazza in the light of the water. Molto artsy!
Best Accommodations in Val d’Orcia
There are so many wonderful places to stay across the Val d’Orcia!
Wellness-Centered, and by the Most Unique Piazza
The Hotel Le Terme in Bagno Vignoni overlooks the main piazza’s hot springs pool. The hotel offers a hydromassage bath, a Roman sauna with therapeutic pools, and a main thermal pool.
Working Agriturismo in the Countryside near Pienza
3 miles from Pienza, Agriturismo Palazzo Massaini “Cavarciano” is far enough in the countryside to get a bit of peace and quiet, but still close enough to Pienza to not be too isolated.
Hotel in the Historic Center of Montalcino
Full of old-world charm, Albergo Il Giglio is located in Montalcino, with views of both the city and the surrounding countryside.
Local Food and Wine
The Val d’Orcia boasts many delectable local food and beverage products to delight your senses! Here are a few you should be sure to try. They can be found in local restaurants and grocery stores, especially those dedicated to products from the region.
In Pienza, you will find the famed Pecorino di Pienza sheep cheese. It comes in a range of varieties depending on how long it has been aged and how it was seasoned – spices, herbs, truffles, and wine are among the local favorites. The valley is especially known for meat and salamis, the Cinta Senese pigs, special to the province of Siena, and Chianina cows whose meat is used to make bistecca alla fiorentina. You will also find an ancient type of pasta called Pici, which is thick and stringy like a type of spaghetti.
The Val D’Orcia boasts four local prized wines:
- Vino Nobile from Montepulciano;
- Brunello from Montalcino;
- Orcia DOC;
- Orcia DOC Vin Santo.
If you are visiting in April, you can attend the Orcia Wine Festival in San Quirico d’Orcia.
Where to Eat – Restaurants in Val d’Orcia
Ristorante Fonte alla Vena offers an elegant dining experience in San Quirico d’Orcia.
If you’re looking for something more informal and with an authentically and charmingly rustic feel, try Sette di Vino in Pienza.
Want to dine, and add a cooking class too? Locanda Demetra & Montalcino Cooking School in Montalcino is your spot, and has a beautiful view to boot! Cooking classes start at 10 am and run through lunch.
Travel Tips for the Val d’Orcia – Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Time to Visit the Val d’Orcia?
If there is a certain festival you want to catch – wine, music, food, folkloric – check that calendar first. For example, spring offers incredible greenery and flower blooms. In summer, things will dry out and you’ll catch the characteristic yellow of the dry wheat fields. But be warned that summer can also bring high temperatures and crowds. Winter will be a bit colder, but also a quiet time when the ambiance (and hot springs!) can be enjoyed more calmly privately.
How many Days do I need to Visit the Val d’Orcia?
It depends on how much you want to see! A quick dash around a few towns by car or a day trip to a favorite town that catches your eye can be done in a day. However, you won’t be able to really arrive into the rhythms of the valley. A week is enough time to travel slowly through a town or two each day, but more time can certainly be made use of when possible!