The rolling hills and perfectly preserved Medieval villages of Chianti are deservedly renowned for their beauty, attracting thousands every summer in search of la dolce vita. But venture a little further south and you’ll uncover a more peaceful, golden Tuscany, where time marches at a slightly slower pace. Red Savannah’s Tuscan villa expert, Charlie Stephenson, explores the Val d’Orcia.
Unlike the neighbouring region of Chianti, the lesser-known landscape of Val d’Orcia is wild and barely altered by tourist footfall, despite being less than two hours’ drive from Florence. Meandering through its golden wheat fields and lush vineyards down avenues of graceful cypress trees it feels as if you’ve stepped into a Renaissance painting, for indeed the masters were drawn here for the exceptional quality of the light. More recently filmmakers have drawn on the charm of its landscape in movies like Gladiator, and the Twilight Saga. As you climb switchback roads past Medieval castles and isolated hilltop towns it’s easy to see why the area was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004. Val d’Orcia is also home to some of Italy’s most venerated wines such as the Vino Nobile from the Renaissance hilltop town of Montepulciano, and the Brunello wines from the ancient walled city of Montalcino (don’t miss its 14th century fortress and stunning views of the valley).
One of the highlights of Val d’Orcia is the town of Pienza, a unique Renaissance monument designed by the humanist Pope Pius 2nd and long a papal summer residence. Stroll Pienza’s winding cobbled streets and explore a tasteful selection of ateliers - crafted leather belts, hand-stitched bags, ponchos, bound journals and unique shawls – between taking shade in a cool restaurant. Look no further than Osteria Perilla where its Michelin-starred chef creates unforgettable rustic dishes. In September as the surrounding countryside deepens a rich russet and harvest festivals light up the usually sleepy villages, keep an eye out for the ‘Pienzo Palio’, where locals compete to produce the finest ‘pecorino’ (indigenous cheese made from sheep’s milk).
Where to stay:
Making the most of the exquisite landscape is key and a Tuscan villa provides the opportunity to cherish the perfect valley views and appreciate the incredible sense of space. Il Cocceto is set amid a 500-acre, award winning wine estate in a restyled 18th century farmhouse , its six bedrooms infused with natural light, as well as a glorious pool to cool off in. Professional cooks provide classes for those interested in the region’s superb cuisine. Set on a hill dotted with olive trees, graceful cypress and enjoying huge sky views with the mountains etched against the horizon, Villa Pantanelli achieves a perfect fusion of contemporary and old world Tuscan. Finally, Muri Antichi, part of the Monteverdi Estate, is an exquisitely restored country house with old beams, natural wood and local stone, and lavish four-poster bedrooms.
Charlie Stephenson can be contacted at Red Savannah on +44 1242 787800, www.redsavannah.com
The go-to girl for luxury hotels, Lisa Corcoran knows how to travel in style. Join Lisa on her quest, with a little help from her friends, to seek out those special places which stand apart from the rest.