Brand Tuscany is known the world over for its idyllic landscapes, extraordinary art, rustic cuisine, fine wines… the list of reasons to visit goes on and on. Which is why people do.
But like the Hamptons, Tuscany can sometimes suffer from its own success. Visitors come in the thousands in the summer months, and while the region is certainly spacious, finding spots where you aren’t likely to bump into other travelers selfie-ing their way through the piazzas, museums, and vineyards can be hard to do.
But unlike the Hamptons. Tuscany does have areas that are less visited, but just as beautiful as the main attractions, for example, the region called the Valdichiana, the rural countryside south of Siena. Movie directors love this part of Tuscany precisely because it’s not on everyone’s travel itinerary (with the exception of the town of Cortona, made famous by Under the Tuscan Sun). Ridley Scott filmed The Gladiator here, in the Val D’Orcia; Anthony Mingella came to Sant’Anna in Camprena to shoot The English Patient. New Moon, part of the Twilight Saga, and Medici: Masters of Florence, starring Dustin Hoffman, were also filmed in this glorious stretch of countryside. And no wonder—the views make cinematograhpers weep with joy.
So if you’re keen on gorgeous scenics and a glimpse of Italy where life has changed little in decades, or in some hamlets, hundreds of years, head to this photogenic spot, where the food and wines are also sublime.
TOWNS TO VISIT:
Montepulciano and its surrounding area is known for its extreme natural beauty and architectural heritage dating from Etruscan and ancient Roman times. The nearby hamlet of Sant’Albino draws visitors for its spa waters and oenologists for its excellent wines, particularly the celebrated Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the first Italian wine to obtain the prestigious DOCG denomination. Must see: The Duomo, the panoramic terrace of San Francesco Square, historical cellars like the Fattoria della Talosa; Cantina Contucci; Cantina Ercolani, and Cantina da Ricci; and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Wine Route. For more information: www.montepulcianoliving.it
The medieval hill town, located on the slopes of mount Cetona, has a long, rich history, and offers extraordinary views of the surrounding countryside. For a glimpse of authentic Italy, Cetona and its surrounding villages are hard to beat, as the the local way of life has changed little in hundreds of years. The town is laid out as a ring around Mount Cetona, leading up to a 10th century tower. From a large, open piazza, you’ll find a labyrinth of streets and alleys, which are great for exploring, and lead toward the heart of the town. Along these pathways you’ll find historical palazzos and churches, and a museum dedicated to prehistoric Mount Cetona with exhibits highlighting the area’s ancient origins. If you really want pre-historic, you can also explore a system of caves in the the woods, home to one of the first human settlements in the region dating back more than 40,000 years. Must see: Garibaldi Square and Rivellino; Church of SS. Trinità; Church of San Michele Arcangelo; Civic Museum of the Prehistory of Mount Cetona; La Rocca La Collegiata; Church of Santa Maria in Belverde; Belverde Archeological Natural Park and the Archeodrome, which features a reproduction of a prehistoric village. For more information: www.comune.cetona.si.it
SAN CASCIANO DEI BAGNI
The road to San Casciano dei Bagni from Sarteano offers movie-worthy views that take in great stretches of the Valdichiana. As you approach the old town with its towers and castles, you’ll think it is straight from a fresco by Giotto. Nature lovers will find much to do here: The town is surrounded by dense woodland with numerous paths to explore by foot, mountain bike, or on horseback. The woods are home to wild animals including hawks, falcons, wild boar, and deer. But San Casciano is best known for its thermal springs—there are 42 in the area. The waters feed the town’s spas, which Travel + Leisure once called among “the most beautiful spas in the world.” Must see: Piazza della Repubblica, the ancient bath of Bagno Grande and Bagno Bossolo, the church of Santa Maria ad Balnea, Il Gattineto, the medieval tower of Celle sul Rigo, Fighine Castle, Terme Fonteverde Spa. For more information: www.comune.sancascianodeibagni.si.it
Dining: You’ll find some of the best food in Tuscan, from the Chianina beef (used for the famous bistecca alla fiorentina); pici pasta (a thick spaghetti); pecorino cheese, and sweets like cantucci and ricciarelli. Of course, pair your pasta and entrees with a hearty Vino Nobile from the area.There are many terrific family-run trattorias in the Valdichiana where you’ll dine well whatever your budget, but don’t miss:
La Grotta in Montepulciano, which is known for its superb Tuscan classics. Try the ‘maltagliati,’ or irreguarly cut pasta, and the lamb or Florentine steak. San Biagio, 15. Tel.: +39-0578-57607
Ristorante Il Goccino in Lucignano: Order the gnocchi with mushrooms or the taglioni al tartufo nero (in season). There are many vegan dishes, too. Via Giacomo Matteotti, 90, Tel.:+39 0575 836707
Where to stay: The big hotel groups aren’t here, so your best bets are with historic boutique properties like Palazzo Nobile di San Donato, home to the counts of Altamura, overlooking the Val d’Orcia. The rooms are well appointed with fine antiques and the “La Vestale” suite offers up some beautiful frescoes.Via di S. Donato, 6, 53045 Montepulciano.Tel.: +39 0578 757663 Another option is the Tiglio di Piazza, a refurbished 17th-century palazzo with spacious rooms and Anglo-Italian decor. Piazza Garibaldi, n. 31/34 – 53040 Cetona. Tel.: +39 0578 239040