September 21, 2018 - South of siena, Historical landmarks, Culture, Val d'Orcia and Amiata
Welcome to Southern Tuscany and the Southern Coast - Driving the eroded clay 'Crete' hills south of Siena means discovering beautiful frescoes adorning the heart of a majestic abbey, climbing to fortresses guarding the bold Brunello wine or understanding the proportions of the ideal Renaissance city. Yet at the water’s edge the long Maremma coastline bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea is one of the cleanest and most fascinating destinations in Italy.
1. Seek out the peace of St. Antimo
One of the most peaceful spots in southern Tuscany is the golden stone abbey of St Antimo just south of Montalcino. Built in the 12thcentury on foundations centuries older, the exterior bears whimsical bits of sculpture set into its Romanesque structure, but it is an interior of alabaster columns rising along an unadorned volume laced with light that brings one to quiet appreciation. The church is nearly always open, and though the beautifully haunting Gregorian chanting is no longer sung here (you can hear it at Monte Oliveto Maggiore near Buonconvento), the beauty of this spot continues untouched. For further history, click Abbazia di Sant'Antimo.
2. Soak in the hot springs of Saturnia or Bagno Vignoni
Tuscany is rich in natural hot springs and while not all noses will take to their eau de sulphur, their bubbling waters contribute to smoother skin, aching joint relief and the relaxing ‘aaah’ that a warm pool of water can bring. Two of the most impressive in southern Tuscany are Saturnia, whose cascading 37˚C. waters fill pools you can share or soak in singularly, and Bagno Vignoni, whose centrally located 16thcent. ‘Square of Sources’ was the spa of choice to popes, saints and Lorenzo the Magnificent.
3. Take your camera out on a drive over the Crete Senesi
Head out from Siena towards Asciano along the SS 428 and you will find yourself wanting to stop around every curve of this winding road, for this is quintessential Tuscany. Flocks of sheep on rolling clay hills, solitary farmhouses set high and cypresses that ride the receding skylines are part of what make this the most photographed stretch in Tuscany. Whether the summer sun has turned the landscape golden or occasional autumn rains transformed it to a verdant velvet, grabbing a mobile phone or fixing a lens to a more serious SLR may net you a shot you will frame.
4. Be a child at heart in the glittering Tarot Garden
The southern coast may entice you with its clean waters, but look inland around Pescia Fiorentina and you will think your eyes are playing tricks. Even from the highway, colours sparkle in the sunshine and strange figures seem to nestle in the low woodlands. This is Niki de Saint Phalle’s seriously playful collection of 22 Tarot card figures, all fashioned of mirrors and colorful ceramic mosaics. Twenty years in the making, it is guaranteed to bring out the child in visitors of all ages and open from April to October. For more information about visiting the Garden, check the 'Giardino dei Tarocchi', which is what the park is known as locally.
5. Lay a towel on a Southern beach
Even if your rental property has a pool, there is nothing like finding your spot on a sandy stretch of land and wading into the clear warm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. You have many options: long sandy beaches buffered by shady umbrella pines near the ancient seaside town of Castiglione dell a Pescaia, the wild empty shores of a regional nature park called ‘Parco dell’Uccellina’ where you might spot a wild boar or long horn cattle, or sandy isthmuses that connect Monte Argentario to the mainland - all have fresh seafood waiting for hunger to strike.
6. Walk the Vie Cave and hear Etruscan whispers
Long before the Romans there were the Etruscans, and Tuscany has several museums and burial sites that hint at this mysterious civilization – in this area Murlo, Vetulonia, and Populonia among them. But the Vie Cave, literally ‘hollowed roads’, a network of narrow paths cut into high tufa cliffs, is one of the most suggestive. As you walk between the towering walls, wonder at their function – channels to bear water, enemy-proof roads, ceremonial paths or transportation routes? And how ever did they manage the task? The Vie Cave are best accessed just outside of Sovana, following signs for Saturnia. Check this map to the Vie Cave for further details.