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Siena, Italy: Two Must-See Medieval Fortresses in the Val d' Orcia

Updated on April 3, 2017

Castle of Ghino di Taco (view from the ramparts)

Lovers of Tuscany and the Medici will enjoy this epic novel set in Renaissance Florence (available in print or Ebook)

Castle of Ghino di Taco (part of the lower wall)

Castle of Sarteano.

Tripolitania- handmade ricotta filled ravioli with decadent pecorino "gorganzola" sauce and sprinkled with poppy seeds

Caterina happily cooking wonderful food in her kitchen

A medieval tale of sibling rivalry, envious barons, squabbling nobles, deception, and the honor of a single knight.

The Val d'Orcia region is a giant postcard!

Magical Tuscany

Radicofani bar. Beer with a view

A mystical place.

One could say, in a nutshell, that the Val d' Orcia is to Siena what the Chianti is to Florence. Both regions produce exceptional wines, but it is in the Val d' Orcia where the towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano exist, and any wine lover will tell you that Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile di Montepulciano are among the world's best reds.

Not far from these two wine meccas is one of the best places in the world for cheese lovers: Pienza. Rolling green hills with pristine rows of cypress trees, stunning villas, fat sheep grazing peacefully, no one around for miles- it is pure heaven.

Unsurprisingly, Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Pienza attract many tourists during season. This article is for those who are already familiar with these places and want to see something new. Somewhere off the beaten track with less people, more authenticity.

The two places highlighted in this article are for lovers of history and medieval architecture. The following is a wonderful morning & afternoon itinerary for anyone wishing to explore the countryside. NOTE: you will need to rent a car. The roads are winding but the sweeping views are incredible. The Val d'Orcia is less populated than the Chianti, resulting in views that seem almost surreal. The entire region can honestly be described as one big postcard!

First stop- Radicofani: a medieval hilltop town offering 360 degree views from the Castle of Ghino di Taco. For a mere 4,00 euro, you can visit this fortress, which was first documented in the year 978. The massive structure sits at the hill's peak, which is 896 meters (2940 feet).

On a clear day, you can see the Mediterranean Sea from the ramparts. During season, there is a small cafe that serves reasonably priced drinks and lunches with a million dollar view.

In the center of town, inside the Sant' Agata church, there is an amazing altarpiece created by Andrea della Robbia in the 15th century (Madonna with Saints). Being a fan of della Robbia ceramics, I can attest that this is one of the best I've seen. The sheer size is impressive, but what is most striking is the attention to detail. The faces of the figures possess sensitivity and elegance.

Second stop-Sarteano: this sleepy little town is the birthplace of Pope Pious III, and the surrounding area has some of Tuscany's most significant Etruscan tombs.

The Castle of Sarteano dates back to the 11th century and is in relatively good shape. During the 16th century, this formidable fortress housed the military captains (and their families) who were paid to protect the Via Francegina (Frankish Road) from attacks. This pilgrim's road was highly valued and maintained because it brought religious devotees to the city, which boosted local businesses. Keeping the roads free of bandits was akin to providing good customer service to potential patrons.

The fortress was privately owned by a noble family until recently. It is now the property of the commune and can be visited for 4,00 euro.

The rooms are in decent condition, with medieval fireplaces, "toilets," a sink, and an incredibly old door with the various coats of arms from the families who occupied the fortress throughout the years. There is even historical graffiti dating back to 1504. From the ramparts, you can get great views and enter one of the defense towers where three soldiers could attack the enemy via crossbow. When you reach the top, you can retrace your steps via the normal stairwell, or you can descend with the original spiral staircase the soldiers used (which is narrow).

LUNCH: there is a local jewel called Tripolitania. Caterina Aggravi, the young woman who owns the establishment, also cooks all the meals. The trattoria is humble in appearance, but the food is impressive. Artisan pasta (made in house) with homemade sauces, excellent meats, yummy sides- and everything is fresh. We enjoyed ricotta filled ravioli with "pecorino gorgonzola" sprinkled with poppy seeds. The ravioli was delicate, flavorful, and the sauce was surprisingly light. If you are looking for authentic, rustic cuisine from the area, you will not be disappointed.

Reservations are recommended during season. Tel: +39 0578 26 53 11
Corso Garibaldi, 27
53047 Sarteano (SI) Italia

I suggest eating lunch first and visiting the fortress afterward to burn it off. You may also choose to aid digestion with a nice grappa (try the grappa di brunello).

If you are looking for a place to spend the night, Bagni di San Filippo is less than a half hour car ride away. This tiny town is quiet and peaceful, but the best thing about it are the hot thermal springs, which are free. After a long day of climbing hills and narrow steps of medieval towers, a soothing soak in the hot springs does a body good. The water is mineral rich, which is excellent for your skin. Warning: the tap water is potable and delicious, but has a diuretic effect (which is healthy so as long as you're prepared with a restroom).

I hope this article encourages you to explore during your stay in Tuscany. As always, thank you for reading.

C. De Melo

Fortress view from Radicofani bar


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