If you close your eyes and picture Italy like it is often depicted in the movies, you might see a peaceful place with rolling hills, quaint farmhouses and charming villages dotting the landscape. All this and even more describes of our favorite areas of the country, the scenic and fertile Val di Chiana (Valdichiana) valley, located in the southern Tuscany. It is also quite well-known for its excellent food, wine and extremely charming towns that embrace a slower pace of life and is nestled in an area stretching from Arezzo to Siena and through parts of Umbria. The previous inhabitants of the area include the illustrious Etruscans and Romans who lived here when it was primarily unsettled marshlands. A few of the more well-known towns in this area include Cortona, Montepulciano, Cetona, Chianciano Terme, Chiusi, Castiglione del Lago and Trequanda. Some of which have been already mentioned in our previous article on small towns in Tuscany. The best time to visit is between the Spring and Autumn months, which is coincidentally also the busiest time. However there are also many festivals and events during this period that make it more than worth visiting.
Please enjoy our short guide to the Val di Chiana area of Tuscany
Where To Go
As far as where to visit, the graceful Renaissance hilltop town of Montepulciano is top on our list partly due to their famous red wine ‘Vino Nobile di Montepulciano’ that is best washed down with a plate of wild boar pasta. It doesn’t come as a surprise that it was constantly fought over by Siena and Florence during the Middle Ages. Many noble families made their home here and it was even under the control of a powerful banking family from Florence, the Medicis, in the 16th century. Walk up the windy ‘corso’ up to the ‘piazza grande’ where the Duomo is located to get some of the best views of the Val di Chiana and Val d’Orcia valleys. One of the best times to visit is in August when the annual ‘Bravìo delle Botti’ takes place, this ancient festival has the whole town involved, with stands along the main streets in town with the locals cheering on teams of men whose sole job is to roll heavy wine barrels up the main street.
One of the most famous towns in the area is Cortona, a tiny village (we prefer the upper part) made famous by the 2003 film Under The Tuscan Sun. Incredibly pleasant to visit any time of the year, the heart of the town is its Piazza della Repubblica, everything is very walkable, albeit a bit steep so remember to wear comfortable shoes (and of course if you need them, Tuscany is the best place in the world to buy shoes!!!). Make sure to stop by the Diocesan Museum to look at the treasures of Luca Signorelli, Fra Angelico and Lorenzetti – and you will also want to visit the MAEC, where you can view artifacts from the town’s Etruscan archaeological sites. Every Saturday there is a large open market where you can find anything from local handicrafts to everyday Brillo pads.
Where To Stay – Under The Tuscan Sun!
If you saw the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun‘ you might want to enjoy the splendor of the movie’s Villa Bramasole! The villa used for the movie is the stunning Villa Laura , a sensational ten bedroom villa which in addition to being one of the most famous villa in southern Tuscany is also one of the most beautiful! Villa Laura’s wine cellar is from the Etruscan era and was probably built somewhere around 600 A.D, and then throughout the centuries it was lavishly added on to and then recently completely restored. If you are talking plush, five star accommodations, better than any Four Seasons hotel, you are going to want to reserve Villa Laura. It’s perfect for family vacations, reunions and weddings! The location can’t be beat, it is right under the city of Cortona and comes complete with 10 bedrooms (all with in-suite bathroom), luxury-furnished with everything you might need and a stunning outdoor pool. After a stay here, you’ll never want to return to staying in hotels again.
Ninety kilometers south of Florence is the charming small village of Chianciano Terme, a town valued for its thermal springs which have made this a popular spa spot since the Etruscan times. You can visit the Terme Sensoriali di Chianciano for a full spa experience (thermal hot pools, hydro massage, multi-sensory showers) followed by lunch or dinner with their excellent menu of locally-sourced products.
- Terme Sensoriali di Chianciano, address: inside the Acquasanta park, Piazza Martiri Perugini, 53042 Chianciano Terme SI. website.
What And Where To Eat
This is a rich land with fertile soil and plenty of local Tuscan delights: some of the traditional products from the area include the famous Chianina beef, soups made with ‘farro’, rabbit, slow-cooked beans ‘fagioli al fiasco’, cantucci cookies, “castagnaccio” chestnut cake and excellent extra virgin olive oil. As mentioned previously the wine produced here is some of the best reds from Italy, try the Vin Santo di Montepulciano (a dessert wine that you drink with cantucci cookies), Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Valdichiana DOC.
- Visit La Cignozza in Chianciano Terme for a wine-tasting, address: via Cavine e Valli, 63, 53042 Chianciano Terme, Siena (SI), Tel. +39 0578 336262, www.lacignozza.com.
- One of our favorite restaurants in Montepulciano is Trattoria Diva & Maceo, address: Via di Gracciano nel Corso, 92, 53045 Montepulciano SI. (closed Tuesdays).
- One of the best gourmet restaurants is located near Cortona, Ristorante Il Falconiere, address: Localita San Martino a Bocena, 370, I-52044, Cortona, Italia. website