As soon as my husband and I decided to travel to Italy, experiencing the Italian countryside was on top of my list of things to do. I figured Tuscany was the perfect place for that. Within Tuscany, my choices were Chianti (the wine heaven) and Val d’Orcia. After weighing the pros and cons, Val d’Orcia won.
Val d’Orcia is a UNESCO world heritage site in the province of Siena and includes 5 municipalities – Pienza, Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia, Castiglione d’Orcia and Radicofani. All of the picture perfect postcards you see of Tuscany, are taken in this area – Old towns, rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves, cypress trees and farmhouses.
We decided to base ourselves at the town of Montepulciano which was right next to Val d’Orcia. We had booked our stay at a farmhouse called Agriturismo Nobile.
How to get to Montepulciano from Rome
After landing in Rome Fiumicino airport, we took a shuttle bus (Terravision) to the city center and stayed overnight at Stella’s house (more of which will be covered when we get back to Rome). The next morning we took a Trenitalia Regional Volce train from Roma termini to Chiusi. I had booked all long distance trains before reaching Italy using this guide – Italy train guide.
After reaching Chiusi station, we purchased our bus tickets (2 way) to Montepulciano from a shop on the right side just before exiting the station.
Italian bus tickets have to be purchased beforehand. Buy your return ticket at the same time, since there may not be too many places open that sell tickets. Tickets don’t expire until validated (stamped with the day’s date and time) on the day that you use the bus. No one really checks if you have validated it. So it works on an honor system. But I have read that if caught, you will be fined heavily and the “dumb tourist” act will not work.
After exiting the station, on your right you will find blue tiemmespa buses parked. Look for the one going to Montepulciano. Punch the ticket in the validation machine found near the driver’s seat.
After reaching Montepulciano bus station, we called the Agriturismo owner (Andrea) who came and picked us up. Agriturismo Nobile was a beautiful farmhouse with its own vineyards and olive groves. The rooms were beautifully decorated and the farmhouse was extremely well maintained.
We freshened up, ate food and decided to start exploring the area. Yippee!
It is easier to drive around Val d’Orcia by renting a car, but for the day, we decided to have Andrea drive us around.
Val d’Orcia – Pienza, San Quirico d’Orcia, Castiglione d’Orcia, Monticchiello
Our first stop was at Pienza. With its narrow winding streets, small Pecorino cheese shops, pici pasta and rough stone buildings, it charmed us within no time.
Then we proceeded to San Quirico d’Orcia. The drive was breathtaking – curvy roads, rolling hills, shades of green we had never seen before, yellow flowers spotting the landscape and valleys. Andrea would park the car in between and ask if we wanted to “make photo” :). All through the stay, he made sure we were taken care of in the best way possible.
San Quirico d’Orcia was also a charming little town like Pienza, probably a little more colorful. These towns are so small that you can cover them by foot in a matter of 5 to 10 minutes.
Then we went on to Bagno Vignoni famous for the thermal water from its hot springs and Castiglione d’Orcia.
After a 4 hour exploration, we got back to the farmhouse.
Our dinner for the day was a multicourse meal of meats & cheeses, bruschetta, pasta, meat, dessert and wine.
The zucchini bruschetta and the carrot-celery-mayonnaise bruschetta are the best I have ever had in my life! I tried replicating it back in India and I don’t wish to disclose anything further 😛 (Ya, it wasn’t 1% as good as this one).
The next morning we decided to take bicycles to explore the little town of Monticchiello.
The breakfast was a spread of cornetti, tarts, cakes, coffee.
A cornetto is not a croissant. A cornetto is not flaky and airy but is richer, softer and sweeter and most of them have a citrus hint.
I had read that one of the most photographed areas of Tuscany, a winding cypress road was near Monticchiello and I wanted to capture that. Andrea and his brother took out 2 bicycles from their garage. He kept warning us that the roads were bad and the terrain was tough. He repeatedly gestured “Up Down Up Down”. But off we went. To Monticchiello we took the shorter route (through Via di San Bartolomeo) on which motor vehicles had almost no access. The views were breathtaking.
But the terrain was really horrible. Too many steep ascents, rocky roads. We had to push the bikes. Of course the descents were a breeze. You just had to sit on the cycle, hehe. Finally we made it! We explored the little town of Monticchiello with cycles in our hand because we didn’t have locks with us.
For the ride back to Montepulciano after lunch, we chose the longer road through Strada Provinciale 88 (the one with the most photographed road in Tuscany). But pooh! It wasn’t so pretty. We had seen much prettier views elsewhere. Again we continued dragging our cycles through steep ascents and the sun shining on our backs for what felt like hours, before reaching a beautiful countryside which was so beautiful that we forgot our muscle aches.
From here we got back to Montepulciano in no time. The cycle ride took us about 1.5 hours for each direction.
The town of Montepulciano can be easily covered by foot. A map in hand is all you need. Or maybe not if you want to get lost in the streets and find yourself again 🙂
We visited the Talosa winery with underground cellars which is right next to Piazza Grande. First we walked through the cellars.
Wines are aged in these huge oak barrels.
Then we had a tasting of wines with some crackers drizzled with what was the BEST olive oil I have ever tasted in my life.
Then we visited the Talosa vineyards. There are no wines and grapes yet because the season is yet to begin but the views were spectacular.
1 train ticket from Rome – 10 €
1 bus ticket from Chiusi to Montepulciano – 3.4 €
Car drive around Val d’Orcia – 100 €
Stay – 90 € per night for a double bedroom (this was our most expensive stay in Italy)
These 2 days spent under the Tuscan sun was a beautiful experience of the Italian countryside and its warm people. The vivid scenes and colors are still fresh in my eyes! Next stop – Florence.
Here’s a general guide to visiting Italy on a budget (flights, visa etc.) + the other places I visited in Italy – Visiting Italy on a budget