1 double bedroom and 1 bathroom
Location: Val d'Orcia and Amiata
Weekly stays beginning any day of the week
This is hidden Tuscany at its best, an apartment for two in a village high on the sides of Mont'Amiata, looking out over the val d'Orcia and surrounded by fantastic walks. In 2004 UNESCO added the Val d’Orcia and its marvellous landscape to its list of World Heritage Sites; a stay in Vivo d’Orcia will leave you to wonder what took them so long. Set at 900 m. on Tuscany’s only volcano, happily extinct, the village looks down upon the forests of Mount Amiata and the wide valley whose gentle cultivated hills one finds both in Renaissance paintings and modern photography alike. The charming Bellaria apartment, on part of the first floor of a restored watermill, provides a couple with a chance to slip into village life and savour a pace that has nothing to do with traffic congestion or a full agenda.
Taking its name from the Vivo River, whose pure waters once powered the six watermills that fostered ironworks, olive oil mills and paper production, the village still celebrates its woods and its waters. Guests in late March may happen upon the Water Festival held in honour of the springs that still provide Siena with water, while early October visitors can join in the feasts dedicated to locally harvested mushrooms and chestnuts. The beech woods hold both the Romanesque woodland church ‘Ermicciolo’ and an imposing papal castle, initially at the heart of a monastery and later the center of 16th century industry. Its industrial days may have past, but this area still is a wonderful base for exploration and an idyllic spot for quiet retreat.
The first floor accommodation is accessed by a stairway whose landing has a chair set in the ideal spot to enjoy the view. Entrance is into a spacious living room furnished with wide sofas and a corner fireplace that will be a delight for early Spring or late Autumn visitors. A brick-faced arch leads into an eat-in kitchen that provides a microwave oven in lieu of the traditional option. A short corridor off the kitchen leads to a tiled bathroom with a washing machine and, opposite, an attractive double bedroom whose window opens to a panorama of the Val d’Orcia.
A sweet flagstone patio is located on the ground floor, furnished for outdoor dining or simply enjoying the sun and sheltered on two sides by shrubbery high enough to offer a measure of privacy, yet low enough to still savour the landscape.
While a private parking spot within the apartment complex grounds guarantees that your car is always handy for an outing, the pleasure of staying at Bellaria is that so much is accessible on foot. You can fetch freshly baked bread, stop for a cappuccino in the nearby coffee bar or walk home from dinner at the pizzeria or the restaurant specializing in regional dishes. Be sure to tuck a pair of ‘sensible’ shoes in your bag, for hiking in this area is a delight. Well-signed pathways through the local chestnut woods take you past ancient monasteries, sparkling mountain springs, a medieval castle and even caves that sheltered partisans in WWII.
Yet Mount Amiata and the nearby hills are full of reasons to get in the car. For one thing the area is rich in hot springs, the closest being the natural pools of healing waters at Bagni San Filippo and the elegantly Medici-built Bagno Vignone, whose center is a pool rather than a piazza. On the mountain there is Daniel Spoerri’s wonderful outdoor sculpture garden near Seggiano, the striking columns in the crypt in the abbey of Abbadia San Salvatore, or, in the right season, even skiing near Arcidosso. In the nearby hills, for the wine-lover there is Montalcino, home to the famous Brunello, or Montepulciano, whose Rosso is highly esteemed. Pienza, the ‘ideal Renaissance city’ of Pope Pius II, is also famous for its pecorino, the sheep’s cheese available both fresh and aged. And the medieval cities of Siena and Orvieto, both a little over an hour away, have the art and architecture that inspires tour guides to poetry. And how nice to see all this and then return to a mountain retreat whose tranquil panorama adds its own perspective.