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Val D\'Orcia

11 In the heart of the Sienese countryside dwells an essential, yet perfect landscape. It is made up of hills, ravines, a winding riverbed and cypress trees that crown hilltops in perfect isolation or run along country roads with geometrical precision. Oak woods, olive groves and vineyards where Brunello di Montalcino and other great Tuscan wines are born watch over enchanting hillsides, villages and historical monuments. To the west the view takes in Monte Amiata, Italy’s highest extinct volcano. But it is the hills that impress you first. Val d’Orcia is now protected as an artistic, natural and cultural park. Trails, guides, brochures and museums all offer different means for exploring its treasures, although this most beautiful of Tuscany’s valleys is first and foremost an emotion in itself. You’ll feel it in Radicofani if arriving from Viterbo or Rome, while crossing the Foce pass if arriving from Chianciano or Chiusi or at the Rocca a Tentennano after passing through Monte Amiata’s dark forests. Wide-open, rolling and welcoming, Val d’Orcia unfurls for travellers like one great, embracing smile. If arriving from Siena or Florence to the north, the transition from the Crete area to Val d’Orcia is more sublte. The landscape remains arid as the hills rise and predominate and the wide Ombrone riverbed makes way for a narrower, winding valley. Clay outcroppings and ravines become fewer and farther between. The hamlets crowning the hilltops suddenly become splendid villages steeped with history and monuments. This is the most forbidding approach, described by poet Mario Luzi and by numerous other travellers. This is the route to Val d’Orcia taken in the past by pilgrims, Popes, mercenaries and merchants. Of these we may mention Charlemagne, the 11th-century Archbishop Sigeric and members of the Medici family on their way to the curative waters at Bagno Vignoni. Along the Cassia road, waystations, hostels and eventually hotels multiplied to accommodate travellers and the fortresses VALDORCIA_INT_ING 30-07-2009 18:48 Pagina 11

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