Are you ready, to immerse yourself in the landscape from Italian postcards? Experience dolce vita viewed from the perspective of a bicycle? Let me invite you to cycle in the valley of the Orcia River (Val d'Orcia in Italian). This is where I come to live frequently, I return there cyclically at different times of the year (as I am housesitting). I got to know this region really well and fell in love with it just like everyone else. It's time to make others fall in love, too.
It is a perfect place for a longer holiday in the saddle, but also shorter bicycle trips. To enjoy the ride, views, Italian cuisine and sun. Or even lazing by the sea, to which you can descend from the hills at any time.
Val d'Orcia. Icon of Tuscany and Italy
Let's explain the name. Val d'Orcia is the valley of the river Orcia in the region of Tuscany, between the provinces of Siena and Grosseto in central Italy. It occupies only a fraction of the heavily mountainous region of Tuscany, some 200 kilometers north of Rome and 30 km south of Siena, but it is this area that is a showcase not only of the Tuscany region, but also throughout Italy.
This is where the icons of the Tuscan landscape are found - medieval stone towns on the hills, picturesque roads lined with cypress trees, winding gorges, vineyards and olive groves and all this creates a fantastic and harmonious landscape, truly fabulous landscapes. Monte Amiata reigns over the whole area (Mount Amiata) - is the highest elevation – Tuscany mountain with a height of over 1700 m altitude.
The main cities of the region are the medieval towns of Pienza, Montalcino, San Quirico d'Orcia, Castiglione d'Orcia, Rocca d'Orcia, Monticchello and Radicofani – but each, even the smallest surrounding town is a gem.
And now tadam! – the entire area is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site
For what exactly this extraordinary distinction was awarded? Supported by committee explanatory statement:
..”The Val d'Orcia is a rural agricultural landscape, which retains much of its Renaissance layout, character and aesthetics. The landscape of Val d'Orcia is full of evidence of human settlement over thousands of years. The area was important during the Etruscan period and developed during the era of the Roman Empire. The characteristic landscape of Val d'Orcia includes a network of farms, villages and towns reflecting Renaissance agricultural prosperity, the mercantile wealth of the city of Siena, defensive needs and utopian aesthetics. Field landscape, farms, trees and forests are interspersed with low, conical hills, on whose peaks lie towns and villages. Clusters and avenues of cypresses are characteristic here..”.
This alone and photos should be enough for encouragement, but let me add a handful of memories.
Bagno Vignoni hot springs
– Where are you going? Pienza? asked the woman of the two cyclists, with whom we passed each other in the hills for a good hour. This time at the intersection at the exit from San Quirico d'Orcia. Like me, they didn't stay in the city any longer, they just kept going - Look, we have the same bikes! She added. I looked - indeed! This is probably the first time, when I meet someone on the same bicycle - Koga World Traveler. And I already have it 9 years.
– where are you from? The Netherlands? Well yes, it's a Dutch bike - I nodded. And I'm going there, of Bagno Vignoni! And then to Pienza.
– my do Pienzy (everyone goes to Pienza).
– but almost on the way is Bagno Vignoni – I encouraged. It's a unique place, pity to leave. Hot Springs, a unique water-filled pool in the central square and you can even swim nearby.. It was the end of May, temperature 30 degrees was doing its job and I was going to get a little wet too.
– "very hilly" ... uphill everywhere here – replied her companion. Yes, we are going to Pienza – he added emphatically.
I gave up, bo.. here is a buried dog. Tuscany is "very hilly" - very hilly and gives the cyclist a cheer. Oj gives. Shortness of breath guaranteed, but these views!
They were not persuaded, but I saw, that they are tired. It was only noon, but here, in central Tuscany, in the valley of the river Orcia "there is no letko". Anyway, what hills is it on?
Do Bagno Vignoni (ps. czyt. Banio Winioni) było jeszcze ponad dwa kilometry podjazdu, and then an extremely steep descent 200 vertically after the local "strade bianchi" – white roads. The white ones, gravel roads in the middle of the day seemed to burn. Unfortunately, there were cars, Every time he came, I would, I pulled on my hat and turned around to get at least some protection from the white dust.. I pulled the sleeves over my arms, I don't need that much tan. And I still had a lot of miles to go.
W Bagno Vignoni, probably the only place I know, where water from hot springs fills the main square of the city, I looked for directions to the Parco dei Mulini settlement below. It's another blue water tank, where can you bathe. Nobody was there, no one tried - and I just wanted to get here outside of the weekend. I jumped into the costume and, exploring the muddy bottom, I submerged slowly. The water wasn't cold either, nor hot, nor smelly - just right!
I planned to get there for the afternoon - what am I saying, climbing to Pienza. I was supposed to go the other way, but I thought, it will be fun to ride with the sun, the illuminated hills grow stronger with each shadow that falls over them.
Pienza and "Droga Gladiatora"
– droga Gladiatora? There are beautiful roads everywhere! I replied to one of the threads on FB, seeing someone repost photos of the same shot of a snake-like road lined with cypress trees.
But actually, I'm convinced, that "Gladiator's way" means a place, where a scene from Gladiator was filmed (which I haven't even seen) She is unique. A winding gravel road lined with cypress trees overlooking the hills. It is also very "instagrammable" – crowds come here, to take a selfie. Fortunately, cars are not allowed there – you can go on foot or drive a bicycle. I was pushing my bike up a steep hill, where Pienza is located. Ufff! And I haven't met anyone.
The city of Pienza is not to be missed. It is also a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Known as “the perfect city of the renaissance”. This is the work of the humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II. He had money and influence, to transform your home village into this, what he thought, that a utopian city should be a reflection of classical and Italian Renaissance principles and philosophies. In this way, Pienza became a dream come true! The view of Mount Amiata is unique from here.
The return from Pienza was not just a descent, but pedaling in the evening is definitely more pleasant, than in full sun. I drove through white roads and no less beautiful hills, które już na szczęście nie są sławne.
(Ps. Pienza czytamy jako Pienca)
Tuscan cycling routes and events - L'Eroica, Tuscany trail, Via Francigena
To tędy, przez kręte drogi Toskanii wiodą trasy kultowych tras rowerowych – oldskulowej L’Eroica, wyczynowej Tuscany Trail oraz starożytna trasa pielgrzymkowa z Anglii do Rzymu – Via Fracingena. To charakterystyczne „strade bianche” – czyli drogi z niemal białego – dodajmy kurzącego się – szutru. One thing is for sure - you won't be the only one riding a bike.
The Tuscan "Strade bianche" is white pebble. Known to me from the Suwałki Region, routes in Lithuania and Latvia. I don't like riding them - it's steep, easy to fall off, and when a car passes by, you are covered with white dust. But their charm is the surrounding hills. Up and down, up - down ... it's hard, but damn it is amazing!
– And you, which rally are you participating in?? asked a bikepacker passing me on a steep climb. He was already well dusted. Just like everybody.
– I in none. I came to cheer. You are awesome! And you? Tuscany Trail, yes?
Indeed it was. It was the last weekend of May, rally l'Eroica Montalcino and Tuscany trail.
– So so. Nice driveway! he replied panting.
– Well, the driveway is overwhelming! Never in my life would I have been able to climb this lower section, I always push here!
He took a sip of water and left.
After a while I stop somewhere in the shadows, to find a good place to take pictures. A young participant in the rally l'Eroica Montalcino - that he is one can be seen from the outfit vintage, but also after that, it's going in the opposite direction, than others – also stops on the other side of the cypress. From word to word Giancarlo speaks, that he and his friend took the wrong route, they kept their distance 96 km, now they are over it 70 and they don't know anymore, which to continue..
– and that has some meaning, is the classification?
– There isn't, we do it for ourselves! odpowiada. Though there are people, which depends on time, but that's not our case. we wanted to try.
Wow, what a day it was! An amazing bicycle celebration surrounded by the Tuscan landscape. On the last weekend of May, several thousand people on bicycles traveled the Tuscan roads – two extraordinary cycling events took place here simultaneously:
It's over over 470 km from the sea through the Tuscan hills to the sea again – note – from 2023 This year it will be a loop for the first time. This event is mainly for bikepackers, scheduled for 3 days. Places to edit 2023 the year is gone..
There are several editions – for example,. the Eroica Montalicino w maju, l'Eroica Nova in June. główny wyścig L’Eroica odbywa się w październiku i startuje z doliny Chianti.
There is a choice 5 distances (from 153 km, total elevation gain 2800m to 27 km, the so-called. a walk). I bow my head, it's not easy here! Sama L'Eroica to ponad 2200 rowerzystów z całego świata – uczestnicy z zagranicy stanowią 25%, women is over 12%- well done ladies! Joy, smile, tiredness, kurz, słońce, hills, cypress trees.. an Italian bicycle festival!
Someone will choose?
VIA FRANCIGENA - the pilgrim route from England to Rome (and even further)
However, before all these rallies were created, she was. Via Francigena. It's an ancient road, which since the Middle Ages has been one of the most famous routes to Rome - although in fact also further - leads to the very end of the Italian shoe to Puglia, where am i now. In May, I cycled quite a long distance from Lecce to the very end of Italy, or Cape Santa Maria del Leuca. It was crossed by pilgrims, but also merchants, żołnierze. A teraz także rowerzyści 🙂
Via Francigena is a walking and cycling route, and it is true - pedestrian sections are often not suitable for cycling (narrow, old tracts paved with stones). Episodes, that I explored in Tuscany near Montalcino were perfect.
Crete Senesi - Sienese clays
It's very close to me because that's where I live. I cycle f (i.e. Sienese clays) is a very interesting geologically area of Tuscany. Jagged hills, white gorges and cypress trees, which not only for decoration, but they serve to strengthen the hills. There is also the only desert in Italy nearby! The usual shopping route (several kilometers one way and several hundred meters of elevation gain) it takes me hours, because where not to turn, where not to look – it's insanely beautiful.
The beauty of Crete Senesi is undeniable, but these jagged and cracked hills called "calanche" are nothing but clay.. Cycling is bad after rain.
Okolica słynie z trufli – w marcu są białe, jesienią czarne. W trakcie festiwalu trufli zorganizowano pokaz zbierania.
When to go? Best in the spring, from the end of March to the end of May – then it gets dry. And in the fall, only the days are much shorter then. I advise against July and especially August – not enough, it's so hot there's a lot of people everywhere. Yep, I made that mistake once because it was the only time I could take a vacation. The campsites were so clogged, that there was a tent next to the tent.
Wild camping? – I warn you, it might be a problem. Unfortunately. Everywhere you will see the inscriptions PROPRIETA PRIVATA – private property. I know some places, where would it work, but in general Tuscany is so popular and “posh” A place with a huge number of tourists, that people have them up to their noses and pay attention to illegal campers. When I was cycling through Tuscany in 2011 year, when I hadn't camped in the wild twice, I asked for the possibility of putting up a tent in someone's yard, but in both cases the owners agreed very reluctantly. There is even a gallery on the blog Italia 2011.from Lago di Garda to Rome – you can preview.
In March 2019 year, when no campsite was open yet, I set up late in the evening in an olive grove far from the city – morning (Sunday) the owner came and well, He wasn't jumping for joy. well , He even pointed it out to me, it's private land (sorry, I did not know, it's private land; – does it have to be written - he replied? ).
But, not to be – I've also succeeded several times.
We are looking for campsites, e.g. they come. “agricampeggio” – search on google map – these are quite intimate campsites somewhere in the countryside. I advise against camping in the summer on the coast. The lives of Italian families move there.
I recommend camping in Siena (chyba jedyny – Siena Colleverde) – close to the center, cicho, nice view. (Cena za osobę i namiot w 2023 – 18,50 EUR). True, it's ok. 30 km from Val d'Orcia, but you can take a train, e.g. do Buonconvento lub Asciano. I wrote about cycling on trains in Italy here. Siena is a beautiful city and a great starting point – I stayed there once 4 nights and did loops lightly.
Zaccommodation – there are plenty of options, unfortunately, they are usually expensive or very expensive. I pay attention, that Italian agritourism, that is “agritourism” has little to do with the Polish equivalent – is accommodation in beautiful houses and natural surroundings, often with a swimming pool etc. Expensive.
Warmshowers or Coachsurfing in Italy it works really poorly – nothing unusual, is one of the most touristic places on earth, hosts are inundated with requests.
How to get? All in all, it's close :). You can by plane (here's mine airplane guide) to Bologna or Rome, you can by car, you can also take a Flixbus from Krakow to Padua and then by train ( here's mine train guide). That's how I went too, albeit the other way around (a bus marked as taking bicycles, purchased ticket, the bike as a whole, no bag).
Shops – is the standard, that the shops are open until 12.30 – 13.00 and they open again 16.30-17.00. You can stay on the ice, if you don't stock up. Between these hours, life dies down – you shouldn't be cycling in the summer anyway. The pubs are also closing 14.30-15.00 and open approx. 19.00. These are sacred Italian rules and only in larger cities can it be more relaxed.
Water – In many places there are drinking water intakes.
Dogs – generally in Tuscany are not visible, so there are none around. I know one place, where they go outside the fence, but overall it's quiet. By comparison, there are quite a lot of free-roaming dogs in the south of Italy – having owners and stray ones.
Summary – is not needed. Someone got to the end and even benefit? If so:, great!
So, you fly? I hope first of all, that my post will be helpful. Here it is? pass it on, buy me a coffee!
Interested in Italy? Here are my entries – from the Tuscan region Mugello in the Apennines , Itria's valleys in Puglia and Apulia – Salento peninsula.
Yep, can be widened, ask and comment!