by Francesca Soldani, ph Francesco Lo Cullo
When landscape becomes art and geology becomes its story teller
Think of hills and say Tuscany. Imagine paths zig-zagging downhill drawn by rows of cypress trees and cry out “Val d’Orcia”.
For the director Ridley Scott THIS is the true earthly transfer of paradise and the landscapes of the SP14 between San Quirico d’Orcia and Pienza are the best accomplices to perfectly construct the famous scene from “The Gladiator” where Massimo Decimo Meridio crosses wheat fields to reach his loved ones, making it work out perfectly
We are in the south of Tuscany, in that hilly area confined between Siena and Grosseto, to the North-East of Monte Amiata and on the border with Umbria.
Everything in Val d’Orcia seems to have found its own natural connection, every detail is planned for falling in love at first sight with it.
Part of the Unesco World Heritage in 2004, the whole natural area has been inserted in the World Heritage List for the excellent state of preservation of the landscape as a perfect bond between nature and man: Val d’Orcia is an exceptional example of how a natural landscape has been re-drawn during the Renaissance to reflect the ideals of good governance and create a pleasantly esthetic image. Its landscape has been celebrated by painters of the Sienese School and its representation where people are shown living in harmony with nature have become the icons of the Renaissance” IV and VI criteria of Unesco.
Clean and clear lines like soft patterns crisscross like balls of wool, colours which remain bright in all their tones even in the coldest season of the year, time seems to have stopped: Val d’Orcia was not made to be explored in a hurry.
So let time itself guide you amongst the pathways of the Via Francigena, the itineraries joining the most beautiful medieval hamlets in Italy, culinary stops to taste the pecorino cheese of Pienza, Sienese pici and tastings of Brunello di Montalcino.
If there is a way to enjoy the spectacle nature has to offer in total relaxation then stops at the natural spa of Bagno Vignoni and Bagni San Filippo are not to be missed.
First architectural-thermal jewel in the heart of the Natural Artistic Park of Val d’Orcia: Bagni Vignoni, the only district of San Quirico d’Orcia in the province of Siena, which during the Roman times, with its thermal waters, offered pleasant stops to the pilgrims who passed along the nearby Via Francigena.
Piazza delle Sorgenti in the centre of the hamlet is very famous with its 16th-century rectangular pool where a thermal spring bubbles to the surface from its volcanic rocks. The passage of the waters continues then towards the scarp of the Mulini Natural Park: here, amongst water rivulets and limestone concretions, we meet pools of crystal clear water and whirlpools dug in the rocks which, originally, worked the wheat even in summer thanks to the constant flow of the thermal spring.
Just twenty minutes by car from Bagni Vignoni, we encounter Bagni San Filippo, a nature pearl rather unique in its kind. Here, in the area of Fosso Bianco, the thermal waters have created a magical landscape, nearly lunar, because their flowing in the centuries has formed limestone rocks, small waterfalls and wells of various sizes where to swim in the middle of the wood.
Worthy of note is the Cascata della Balena Bianca, an enormous limestone block on which the warmest thermal water (about 45°C) mixed with rain water rich in minerals which, integrating their components, create various hues of colours ranging from green to brown on the rocks below.
Backpack on and we’re off, ready to dive into the past which seems suspended in time and where memories smell of honey and saffron.