In the collective imagination, Tuscany is seen as hectares of hilly countryside, gentle hills dotted with wheat, cypress and olive trees. Of course, there's much more to Tuscany than this, but there is a place where this perfect image of Tuscany is a fact: the Sienese Crete (Crete Senesi in Italian). The Sienese Crete area is situated south of Siena, corresponding to the municipalities of Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d'Arbia, Rapolano Terme and San Giovanni d'Asso. All these towns are in the province of Siena: for years their task was to supply grain to this city and entire families worked in the fields.
The literal meaning of “Crete Senesi” is Sienese clays. They are, in fact, very distinctive of this area and resemble a lunar landscape. The Crete Senesi are mainly made by “mattaione”, a sediment of marine origin with a high mineral content. All around human presence is limited: the sound of nature prevails over the handful of buildings, such as old brick farmhouses. You won't find any squares, castles or cathedrals here. During summer, a gentle wind shakes the golden wheat, giving the sensation of Heaven on Earth!
Nearby there is another peculiar landscape known as the Accona Desert (deserto di Accona). It is a semi-arid area located in the west and south part of the Asciano municipality. The semi aridity is due to the low rainfall, which is less than 600mm yearly and, as a consequence, the vegetation is scarce. The area is characterized by calanques and dome-shaped formations known locally as “biancane”, where the name derives from the Italian “bianco” (white) due to their light hue. The area has been known since the Middle Ages, as testified by the Accona Desert depicted in the frescoes of Buon Governo di Siena.
If you're looking for an observation point over the Crete Senesi, head for the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, built at the beginning of the 1400s and founded by Bernardo Tolomei in 1313. The Abbey’s structure reflects classic influences and has many of the characteristics of a typical Benedictine complex, including a large church and two cloisters. The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore also hosts a main classroom, a refectory and a large library. Inside, you find an important collection of paintings, statues and inlaid works. The monastery is open every day from 9:15am to 12pm and 3:15pm to 5pm (6pm in summer). You can reach the Abbey along the SS2 Cassia Highway. Take the Buonconvento exit and head up the provincial road towards Chiusure Asciano. If you come from Bettolle, take the Rapolano exit. If you come from Siena, exit at Asciano (Taverne d’Arbia) and head towards the ‘Chiusure’ following the signs.
For more information: official website.