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WHAT TO DO AND VISIT

 

SAN FILIPPO BATHS

From the slopes of Mount Amiata come the five hot springs that feed the baths. The area is filled with steaming vapours, the air smells of sulphur, and there is even a natural pool surrounded by greenery. There is also a white rock waterfall, several millennial plane trees and the expanse of Val d’Orcia, which stretches beyond the horizon with its enchanted paths surrounded by water and greenery. On the road to Campiglia d’Orcia lies the hermitage of St Philip Benizi, which is a place that deserves a visit. The legends say he made the precious hot springs gush out of the earth. The waters of the San Filippo baths, which the Romans knew very well, are of interest to not only the study of medical hydrology but also the fields of science, art and technology. It is rich in calcium carbonate, which forms striking white concretions once it solidifies. Roman archaeological findings and historical evidence dating back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era (connected to famous figures such as Lorenzo the Magnificent) prove the ‘age’ of this spa.In particular, the hyperthermal sulfur-sulphate-calcium-magnesium water (high in hydrogen content) favours an effective mucolytic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and bacteriostatic action. Therefore, it is suitable for conditions that affect the skin, osteo-articular neuro system and the bronchi. The hotel has a private access to the spa, while the public uses another dedicated entrance. The spa has an agreement with the National Health Service. It can be used under doctor’s prescription indicating the condition.

 

FOOD AND WINE

As with the rest of Tuscany, the ‘eat well and be healthy’ tradition in Val d’Orcia has not changed. Restaurants still cook ‘in the manner of old housewives’, women who, back in the old days, saw cooking as a duty as well as a pleasure. Today, on special occasions such as local food festivals and other town celebrations, “they” are still the ones that make these simple and fresh dishes. They are simple and yet not so easy to make dishes: The famous Florentine steak, the tasty crostini with spleen and liver,, bruschetta (toasted on charcoal fire) topped with the latest season’s olive oil and rubbed with garlic, and panzanella (soaked stale bread topped with tomato, olive oil, onion, basil and other herbs). And then there is the unmissable Pecorino di Pienza, a true delight of the territory that is flavored only with the aromas and herbs of the Val d’Orcia. Pici are a must for the travelers. They are a kind of hand-made spaghetti, served in a tomato and meat sauce. Don’t forget to wash your meal down with a glass of Nobile di Montepulciano or Brunello di Montalcino. Otherwise you will only enjoy half of the experience!

 

THE BAGNO VIGNONI SPAS

The central square features a large medieval pool, into which water flows from the hot spring as steam gently shrouds the entire structure. Over time, this fairy-tale atmosphere has amazed famous travellers such as Pope Pius II, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Dickens and D’Annunzio. The pool is surrounded by Renaissance buildings built by Rossellino, and the beautiful Loggia of St. Catherine of Siena, giving the whole square a touch of true elegance. The water from the bath flows to the nearby cliff, which features ancient underground mills and storage tanks that were formerly used as a public spa. The other spas built in this small village are fed by other water flows. The whole area is surrounded by picturesque countryside that lends itself very well to a nice walk along the marked trails.

 

ART AND CULTURE

All five towns located in the valley (Castiglione d’Orcia, Montalcino, Pienza, Radicofani and San Quirico) feature urban structures and architectural elements dating back mainly to medieval times (11th – 14th century) and Renaissance (15th – 16th century). Among the architectural works worthy of particular interest are: the Collegiate, the Chigi Zondadari Palace and Horti Leonini of San Quirico, the Cathedral, the Church of S. Francis, the Corsignano’s Pieve, the Ammannati Palace, Pienza’s Piccolomini and Episcopal, the Fortress, the Town Hall, Montalcino’s Church of St. Augustine; Castiglione’s Aldobrandeschi fortress; Radicofani’s Medician fortress and walls. Besides the largest towns of Val d’Orcia, the area owes its uniqueness to countless villages. Some are fortified, while others are scattered settlements built for civil and/or religious purposes. They form a network of exceptional historical, artistic, architectural and environmental attractions. Oltre al pregio dei centri maggiori della Val d’Orcia, la singolarità di questo territorio è costituita dalla presenza di innumerevoli borghi, talvolta fortificati, e di insediamenti sparsi – sia civili sia di culto – che nel loro insieme formano un reticolo di riferimenti storici, artistici, architettonici ed ambientali di eccezionale valore.

 

THE AMIATA MOUNT AND SPA

Mount Amiata is located south of Siena. It is entirely crossed by the Via Cassia, which, in ancient times, was one of the major routes of the magnificent Roman road system. Mount Amiata features several rivers, wild animals, and thick beech and chestnut forests on lands where outspoken and genuine farmers and miners live. They tell strange stories and legends that are unknown to the people of the plains. Thousands of years ago, Mount Amiata was a huge volcano whose eruptions, over the centuries, covered the surrounding low hills with ash and lava, which turned into tuff: the emblem of the entire Etruscan civilization. Nowadays, the eruptions have stopped and Mount Amiata (1750 mt) has become one of the most famous ski resorts of Tuscany. With the spring thaw, the snow is first slowly absorbed by the ground and then returned to the surface through numerous hot springs scattered around the mount. The water is pleasantly hot, ranging from 37 to 45°C (98 to 113 °F), a sign that some residual volcanic activity still survives. If you are planning a trip to Tuscany, especially during the cold winter months, do not miss out on the charm of these places. The springs that are indicated along the roads are only accessible on foot. Sometimes, for example in the case of the San Filippo Baths, the walk will take you right through a long oak and chestnut forest.
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