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Val d'Orcia: by bike in the UNESCO world heritage valley

White roads and climbs to the slopes of Mount Amiata

Maybe not everyone knows that Castiglion d’Orcia is the town that disputes with Siena the birth of Vecchietta, a painter, sculptor and goldsmith who was well known in the 15th century. Be that as it may, from Piazza del Vecchietta you can move on to visit the Romanesque stone church of Santa Maria Maddalena and that of Saints Stefano and Degna. Two churches and two prayers are enough to guarantee a blessing along a route that is as fascinating as it is challenging.

The road to Poggio alle Rose allows you to admire the most mountainous part of the journey with the Amiata in the background.

In Seggiano you arrive among thick forests and a sea of olive trees. The Seggiano olive is highly sought after and, along with the local cheese, is a strong point for the area. What is surprising is the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Carità, the only example in the Siena and Grosseto area of late 16th-century architecture.

From Seggiano to the village of Pescina to Vivo d'Orcia, one breathes mountain air, so much so that one climbs up very hard slopes of up to 917 meters above sea level: these slopes did not worry Primo Volpi, the well-known cyclist from Castiglione from the days of Coppi and Bartali.

Vivo d'Orcia, a village magically immersed in chestnut woods, is the highest place in the Amiatino and Val d'Orcia area and is embellished by a tiny hermitage located upstream from the village, at 1100 meters above sea level, named after St. Benedict. But the greatest attraction and merit is the springs of purest water that flow from Ermicciolo and which nourish Siena and much of the province of Siena and the Grosseto area.

From Vivo you head for Campiglia d’Orcia, a small and evocative village from which one overlooks the entire Val d'Orcia. The village is an important center of "brown worship," the prized chestnut of the Amiata.

Descending toward Bagni San Filippo, one of the most beautiful thermal resorts in Tuscany, is pleasant and you soon realize that the landscape has changed. The view of the spectacular chalky deposits of the "Balena Bianca" (White Whale) and the "Fosso Bianco" (White Ditch) below bear witness to this. From Bagni San Filippo you take the dirt road that forms a busy variant of the Francigena.

One you have reached the agricultural village of Gallina, located at the 43rd parallel, you return to the Cassia, where the hills to the right of the traveler anticipate the arrival at another famous spa resort, Bagno Vignoni. Known since the times of the ancient Romans, the spa has been frequented by famous personalities and the set of many films including Andrej Tarkovsky's famous Nostalghia.

Leaving the thermal baths we return to the road leading to Castiglion d'Orcia, not without making a stop close to Rocca d'Orcia, which offers visitors an authentic view of a medieval village with the majestic Rocca di Tentennato which, for many years, was the strategic control center of the Via Francigena. It was at the Rocca that St. Catherine of Siena, who arrived there illiterate, received the gift of writing. And right at the foot of the Rocca every year, on the night of May 1, the "Maggiaioli" end, singing their quatrains of octonaries, their questing tour.

Castiglion d'Orcia is a stone's throw away and rest is welcome, be it even with the bread and anchovy of the Maggiaioli.


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