The Val D’Orcia is rural Tuscany at its best. Declared a UNESCO heritage site, this valley has retained its unspoiled beauty for centuries.

If any spot in Tuscany can lay claim to perfection, it’s the Val D’Orcia. Lying just south of Siena its picturesque views have inspired a whole school of painting, the Sienese School, and graced a thousand postcards.

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Vitaleta Chapel near Pienza, Val d’Orcia

For some it’s the most enduring and appealing image of Tuscany. Imagine a line of cypress trees standing atop a low rolling hill. Imagine a small church perched neatly at its summit. Now imagine the sun going down behind it turning the sky the colour of terracotta. This is Valdorcia. But that’s before you’ve even got to the broad expanses of vineyards, the yellow fields of corn dotted with cylindrical bales. And of course, the fields of bright precocious sunflowers.

What to see and do in the Val d’Orcia, Tuscany

This is where you’ll find Pienza, aka “The Ideal City”, now a UNESCO heritage site. This is one of the most visited, and most attractive towns in the area.

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Pienza’s Cathedral

Montalcino and Montepulciano are picturesque towns whose vineyards produce some of the most prestigious wines Tuscany has to offer.

These towns are ideal destinations for day trips from Siena.

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Montepulciano, the main square

For church spotters there are country churches (pievi) dotted all over the Valdorcia. Two religious buildings deserve your attention in particular, as much for the architecture as for the landscapes they’re set in. These are the Abbey of Sant Antimo and the beautifully frescoed Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey

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Sant’Antimo Abbey near Montalcino, Val d’Orcia

A place that’s worthwhile exploring is the peaceful San Quirico D’Orcia with its splendid Romanesque Collegiata Church. There’s the lovely spa town of Bagno Vignoni, where people have come to take advantage of the thermal waters since Roman times.

There are tastes to savour along the way, including local cured meat and the famous pecorino cheese from Pienza that is cured in underground “grotte” (grottos). It is paired with the excellent honey produced in the Val d’Orcia.

Bagno Vignoni

Bagno Vignoni

Val D’Orcia is a captivating place that appeals to every kind of traveller. A place that by rights should be flooded with tourists but mercifully is still just enough off the tourist highway to be reasonably peaceful even in summer. In fact driving along its sinuous country roads and taking in the scenery is a pleasure at any time of year. Check out our helpful driving itinerary for the Val d’Orcia, that has some of the most scenic drives in Tuscany.

Don’t miss: a perfect spot for a picture

The Val d’Orcia has one of the top sights in Tuscany. A late Renaissance small church, the Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta.

The Vitaleta Chapel, situated on a road between Pienza and San Quirico d’Orcia, must be one of the most photographed spots in Tuscany. It’s a solitary church set on a golden hill, fringed by cypress trees. It has been there since the late 16th century, and has been the subject of infinite portraits. The next one will probably be yours.

Driving from Siena to Val d’Orcia Tuscany

The most direct way is to take the SR2 to Buonconvento and San Quirico d’Orcia. If you drive via the towns of Asciano and San Giovanni d’Asso, your route will be a bit longer but will take you through the unique landscapes of the Crete Senesi. This is a clay rich area that has eroded into unusual formations and lunar-like scenery.

Crete Senesi

The lunar landscape of the Crete Senesi, near Asciano

The Val d’Orcia in films:

It is a land of views. Views so memorable they have been dramatised in films like “Gladiator” and “The English Patient” and immortalised in novels, by Iris Origo among others.

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Countryside near Asciano – photo credit: Aldo Leonini

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