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Siena and surroundings

A Tuscan spring between art, history and nature.

Known since ancient times and used for its beneficial properties, the Antica Querciolaia spring is in the province of Siena, a land where art, history and nature magnificently merge. This location is ideal for regenerating body and mind. Close to Siena, the Spa makes well-being a style of life. In Rapolano, with the atmosphere of Siena that resonates, the beneficial virtues of the water unite with the knowledge of expert hands, the pleasure of a treatment, an authentic stay.

Capital of Tuscany, but before that capital of the new-born Kingdom of Italy, of the Medici Grand Duchy and then of Leopoldino, a proud independent republic in the Middle Ages, Roman city with a perfectly orthogonal layout. This thousand-year history has shaped a rich city, home to a concentration of true geniuses of art history, of which we can only mention a few: Giotto, Arnolfo di Cambio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Giorgio Vasari, Benvenuto Cellini. Birthplace of the Renaissance, this is where the first Museum was founded after those of the Greek cities. What has been left is visible in the beautiful churches, in the rich museums, in the sumptuous palaces, in well-known itineraries but all to be discovered.

San Gimignano
Known as the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages”, in its heyday it was crowned by more than 70 towers, of which only 14 remain. Despite the clearly tourist spirit that permeates the historical centre it is still possible to soak up the atmosphere of a small town which, following medieval and renaissance splendour supported by outstanding food and wine (Vernaccia and saffron were known since the 13th century in China) and since the passage of the Via Francigena within the town walls, has experienced deep decadence and isolation. It was rediscovered a little more than a century ago and since then, for many, it has been love at first sight. Who knows it might be the same for you.

“Monteriggion di torri si corona” (Monteriggion is crowned with towers) wrote Dante Aligheri in the 31st canto of Inferno. The turreted fortress, built from 1214 by the Republic of Siena to contrast the sights of the nearby Florence, had become immediately famous for the harmony of its circular wall and the dominating position over the marshland of Pian del Lago and on the via Francigena which arrived from the North. A visit to the tiny village is like a journey through time, and the possibility to walk on part of the medieval walls intensifies the feeling of living centuries ago.

A Gothic pearl next to Renaissance Florence, a treasure trove of gold funds and paintings of brilliant colours, a Ghibelline past which still marks the imagination of every citizen of Siena, more than 700 years after the victory of Montaperti. This is Siena, but it is much more: visiting it without trying to understand the Palio, the horse race which is held twice a year and the seventeen Contrade which this race organises, is like living only half of it, and for sure the least exciting one. Piazza del Campo with Palazzo Pubblico, the majestic Cathedral, the ancient and powerful Spedale of Santa Maria della Scala, the imposing churches, the narrow and winding roads, the brick buildings that give the name to a specific colour (the “earth of Siena”) should be walked, admired and visited with calm and engagement.

This small village in the heart of Valdorcia, which takes the name of “Mons Ilcinum” (mountain of holm-oaks) on which it was built, lived off bread and chestnuts, subsistence farming and little else until a short time ago. Then, in the second post-war period, a clone of Sangiovese (the grape of Chianti) was planted in its hilly terrain which, vinified in purity, has become the Brunello of Montalcino. If you don’t know what it is you have never read an article on wine, because we are talking about the best of the best, with millions of bottles sold and prices which are decidedly astronomical for certain vintages. Let’s not forget that the village, the museum and the churches deserve a visit, but nothing can compare to stopping to taste a glass of good Brunello in piazza...

Crossroads of four valleys, which are still part of its province, it was first a Municipality then independent republic until it was conquered by Florence in the late 1300s, shaping its layout, architecture and art. Its Piazza Grande, asymmetrical and gently sloping, became even more famous after Roberto Benigni shot the Oscar winning film “La Vita e’ bella” here, but it had already been for some time the crowded venue of the Giostra del saracino, a competition of medieval origin between the town’s districts. Since the 1960s, it has welcomed one of the best-known Antique Fairs of Italy every first Sunday of the month, where you can find everything from knick-knacks to a fine piece of furniture. A visit to its cathedral, the Pieve, or to the Church of San Francesco where Piero frescoed the beautiful Stories of the True Cross are worth the trip.

Today, one of the richest and most powerful Etruscan city-states, perched on Valdichiana and very close to Lake Trasimeno, shows its face shaped by time, of refined provincial town, with Philodramatic and Etruscan study academies that have animated the life of the town since the 17th century. This is the birthplace of highly respected artists, such as Luca Signorelli, Pietro Berrettini and Gino Severini; others stayed there and worked like Beato Angelico, leaving some excellent works behind. These are joined by archaeological finds, like the Lampadario, found in the tumuli already excavated since the 18th century (and surely before that by the local grave diggers). If we add a recent production of excellent Syrah, and the fame created by the American film “Under the Tuscan Sun” it is easy to understand why Cortona has become such a popular destination for international tourism.

Etruscan town of some importance, enlarged and enriched by the Romans, in the early Middle Ages it becomes a free municipality, always at war or at least at loggerheads with Orvieto, or Siena, or Florence, or with the Church State. Inside it, the major families fight for power not only with weapons, but also with prestigious commissions, and this is how the town became embellished with sumptuous buildings and the churches with the lavish altars. The Baglioni bloodline will become the dominating one, but not for long: in 1531, after the Salt War, the entire area of Perugia is incorporated into the Heritage of the Church and follows its fate until Italian Unification. Served by a highly convenient Mini metro, the historical centre is travelled easily, and you can reach as far as the truly impressive lookout point over the valley. The National Gallery is also home to true masterpieces and several buildings, such as the Exchange, feature invaluable Renaissance frescoes.

Lake Trasimeno
It is the largest lake of tectonic origin in Italy. It does not originate from glaciers, like subalpine ones, or from volcano cones, like those of Lazio, but it is a great hollow filled with water thanks to the rain and contribution of several springs. It is not very deep, but the benefits on the climate of the area are significant: a light breeze gives relief from summer heat, all you need is a mosquito repellent and you can enjoy spectacular sunsets (did you know that you can see one of the 10 most beautiful sunsets in the world from San Feliciano?)  It is dotted by three islands, two can be visited, and you can also go for a swim starting from one of the many small beaches that surround it. If you like walking, there is a five-day trekking ring that runs all around the lake. If you love historical villages don’t miss out on Passignano, Tuoro and Castiglione del Lago, where you can also enjoy delicious freshwater fish.

Known until a few years ago as “Pearl of the Renaissance” among the many Medieval and Gothic cities of the province of Siena, today it is well-known (but it was already since the 1400s, throughout Italy) for the production of red wine, the Nobile, called that way because it was the favourite drink of kings and popes. The wealth of the families who stayed here, above all those of noble Florentines escaped the town heat, has undoubtedly left its mark, and along the Main route, which changes name depending on the district in which Montepulciano is divided, buildings rise, majestic and worthy of any Tuscan capital. In very late August, these districts challenge each other in the Bravio delle Botti, an uphill race in which two “pushers” carry a wooden barrel from the lowest door, up to Piazza Grande, at the top of the hill: a truly fascinating show and the same can be said for the historical processions organised on the days leading up to it: don’t miss it!

Can one man’s dream be fulfilled? It can in Valdorcia: the small and insignificant village of Corsignano becomes the perfect Renaissance city, cared for in every detail and rich in references to antiquity when its citizen Enea Silvio is elected Pope with the name of Pius II. This is how Pienza was born, opposite Monte Amiata, high up on a sandstone spur which barely supports a magnificent Cathedral that features windows worthy of a Germanic cathedral. The lanes, the panoramic views, the use of local stone, everything is arranged to immerse oneself in a perfectly organised space for the delight of the mind and body; not for nothing this is where the first hanging gardens of modern history were built.  And then, walking along the main street, the most solicited sense is smell and it is no wonder: the pecorino of Pienza is a guarantee, try it to believe it.

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