Nights suggested: 3
As you approach the Crete Senesi, the cypress trees and olive groves of Tuscany will thin out. The landscape will look lunar. White domes, crags and gullies will trace the boundary between earth and sky. Here and there, some village will appear as a small mirage.
Like in a movie, in fact. These scenarios, and those of the nearby Val d'Orcia, have inspired great directors: Anthony Minghella for The English Patient (1996) and Ridley Scott, for the sequence of the Elysian Fields in the blockbuster Gladiator ( 2000).
We are a few minutes' drive from Siena, in the south-east of the city, on the road leading to Pienza and Montalcino. Here we are in the Crete Senesi
If you are going to drive soon in the direction of Siena, browse our collection of mansions.
Asciano is a crossroads of ancient roads: the Lauretana, the Via di Rapolano and the white road of Monte Sante Marie. Besides its fourteenth century walls, here's the plot of streets and medieval houses, the church of San Francesco with the thirteenth century frescoes and the Tower of Mencia with its clock. At number 122 of Corso Matteotti, you can visit the Museum of Palazzo Corboli (tel. 0577 719 524), with its archaeological and religious art, quoted by the Daily Telegraph among the fifteen best small museums in Italy.
Must see the Basilica di Sant'Agata, containing works by Signorelli and Sodoma, and the Gothic church of San Bernardino, home to the Etruscan Museum.
Every second Sunday of the month, in the old town take place the market of Crete Senesi, a very good opportunity to discover the best crafts and local flavors - cheese, honey and olive oil.
Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey
In Chiusura Area, just outside Asciano, a dense forest of trees hugs the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. The complex was founded in the fourteenth century by three nobles from Siena, who left all goods to live according St. Benedict rules. What to see? The late-Gothic style abbey church, the large cloister and the central one, the library - with 40,000 in books, pamphlets and parchments - and the pharmacy - where monks still prepare honey and liqueurs.
Admission is free: every day, from 9 to 12 and from 15 to 18.
In warm weather, you can explore these lands on foot, by bike, mountain bike or horseback. But if you want a trip back in time, go up on the Nature Train. The puff of steam locomotive, the centoporte carriages, the romantic stations embedded in the lunar landscape of the Crete Senesi. In short, to excite you, nothing is missing.
The Nature Train departs and arrives from the station of Siena, along the old line Asciano-Monte Antico, until you reach the heart of the Val d'Orcia, at the foot of Mount Amiata. The timetable is available here.
That's right, if all this wandering you got you tired, you just need to reach Rapolano Terme. You have a double choice. Terme di San Giovanni (tel. 0577 724030) from their sources gushing hot water (39 ° C) and high in sulfur, perfect to treat the skin and respiratory system. If you want a massage, a beauty treatment or a relaxation program, this is the right place.
Terme Antica Querciolaia (tel. 724 091 0577). Here you can be pampered by the thermal cold, temperate or warm baths,or by the skilled hands of the massage staff: a good way to drive away the stress, at least for a few hours ...
Are you a trained cyclists? Prove it by taking the Eroica, a nearly 50 kilometers dirt road carved out from the Crete Senesi. Ups and downs are continuous - the dirt roads are practicable by bike only in the dry season. But all the effort will be rewarded by the landscape view. The route touches the most exciting scenic spots in the territory: some say it is the best area in the province of Siena for taking beautiful pictures.
From castle to castle
In Crete Senesi nothing is missing, not even castles. The gallico Castle is located on the plateau of Asciano, just outside the village, next to the village of Montecalvoli. It is easy to recognize: it has five towers of stone and red brick and its size is nothing but impressive.
In Serre di Rapolano village ofraction of Rapolano Terme, next to the San Lorenzo gate, is the Antica Grancia, fortress at first and then grain storing and environment for wineries and oil - Must visit the museum.
Just before Serre di Rapolano, between Val di Chiana and Val d'Ombrone, is the Castle of San Gimignanello, now private property used as farm.
Fields of wheat, sunflowers, corn, vineyards, oak forests, lakes and the waters of the rivers Arbia and Biena announce the San Fabiano castle, in the town of Monteroni d'Arbia, founded in the twelfth century by King Angioino.
Hunting for truffles
In the heart of the Crete Senesi is San Giovanni d'Asso, the oldest village of the area. In the woods around the country it grows one of the most prized and expensive truffles, white truffles of the Crete Senesi. If you are not an experienced tubers hunter, don’t worry, in the village you can visit the first Italian Truffle Museum, housed in a part of the local castle.
For a feast of truffles, or even just to breathe the scent, mark on your calendar the Exhibition of the Crete Seneso White Truffle, in the historic center of San Giovanni, the second and third weekend of November.