The Crete Senesi is a fascinating and unusual area that lies just south of Siena. Famous for its distinctive dry clay hills, and sparse lunar-like landscape it’s a place unlike any other in Tuscany. Its dramatic terrain and attractive towns like Asciano draw visitors back year after year.
What are the ‘Crete Senesi’?
Literally ‘Sienese clays‘, meaning that the soil in this area is rich in clay. Over the years erosion phenomena have formed the malleable landscape into unusual formations; the white dome-shapes or biancane, and the calanchi, steep-sided valleys. The whole effect is otherworldly and a far cry from the picturesque Tuscany found on some many postcards. Often described as ‘lunar’, as much for the odd shapes formed from the clay, as for its grey and off-white in colour.
The Accona Desert is part of the Crete Senesi. More semi-arid landscape than actual desert, this is Tuscany, but not as you know it.
What to see and do in the Crete Senesi Tuscany
Many people visit the Crete Senesi on the way to nearby Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO heritage site and one of Tuscany’s most idyllic landscapes. The dramatic changes in scenery make this a wonderful road trip and there is a great deal to see along the way.
Exploring the landscape
Asciano is the main centre of the Crete Senesi. Take the road SP438 from Siena to Asciano and then carry on along the SP451 to Chiusure and to Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey. Along this stretch of road you’ll see the biancane and calanchi, right in the heart of the Crete.
OUR TIP: While exploring this area, it’s better if you drive the smaller roads, the unpaved white roads also known as strade bianche. It’s the best way to experience this fascinating territory. Hiking or biking in the Crete Senesi is another great way to to see this unusual landscape up close and appreciate its peace and beauty.
Asciano is a small and relaxed town from which to start your exploration of the Crete. A couple of interesting churches and a small Etruscan Museum are the highlights here. See the Basilica of Sant’Agata, built in the 11th century and restructured in recent time to restore its original Romanesque appearance. There are some 16th century paintings, including one by Sodoma. Piazza del Grano, with its 15th century stone fountain, is one of the most picturesque corners of the town. Visit the Palazzo Corboli Museum in Piazza Matteotti for its Etruscan relics and Medieval paintings.
San Giovanni d’Asso
A small village with a fortress that hosts a Truffle Museum. Near the fortress, see the lovely Romanesque church of San Pietro a Villore. San Giovanni d’Asso is a perfect destination for autumn, when you can enjoy the Truffle Festival.
A Medieval hamlet with the Romanesque San Giovanni Battista Church.
This is the artistic highlight of the Crete Senesi. A Benedictine monastery, still active today, that hosts some fascinating Renaissance frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma in the cloister. A real treat. It is located 10 kilometres from Asciano, 40 kilometres south of Siena.
Delicacies of the Crete Senesi
The truffle is Tuscany’s most famous, and famously pricey, delicacy. To show how serious this business is, there’s even a museum dedicated to this prize fungus in San Giovanni d’Asso. A Truffle Festival is held every second and third weekend of November, that include tastings.
Pecorino cheese is another gastronomical favourite of the area. Try it matured or stagionato, for a more intense flavour, or fresco (creamy and mild). The local honey is a perfect accompaniment for this Tuscan traditional cheese.
TRUFFLE TOURS: If you want to uncover the secrets of the truffle, the local truffle tours are a must.
Around the Crete Senesi and nearby Val d’Orcia, you’ll find some of the most scenic drives in Tuscany.