Tuscany requires a car when visiting or you'd miss out photo opportunities such as this one.

Two days driving in Montepulciano and the Val d’Orcia

Two days driving through the Val d’Orica, in Southern Tuscany.

As part of our time in Southern Tuscany, we stayed for a couple of days in the Val d’Orcia. In this area you’ll find the picturesque hill towns of Montepulciano, Montalcino and Pienza.

This area is much easier to explore with a car, so our plan was to pick up the car upon leaving Orvieto and drive the two or so hours to Montepulciano. Because I’d read about natural hot springs in the area, we made a stopover at the natural hot springs at Fosso Bianco. An agriturismo outside of Montepulciano would serve as our base for exploring the area.

Picking up the car in Orvieto

At noon we picked up our dirty car from Hertz in Orvieto’s ‘new’ town. The car I’d reserved was nice and clean but I asked if they had a smaller car which we came to find out had just been returned and still had rubbish in it. Giving it a once over clean up, we we were off on the autostrada heading north towards the Val d’Orcia. I find this area of Italy a breeze to drive in where most of the time is spent travelling on country roads. The more difficult part is keeping your eyes on the road and not on all the pretty that surrounds you!

Hot Springs at Fosso Bianco

After a couple wrong turns, we eventually made our way through the countryside arriving at Fosso Bianco, a series of hot spring pools in the middle of the woods. We knew we were getting close when the fairly vacant road was lined with cars (there’s no official parking lot). Since it was the end of summer, there wasn’t a lot of water but we managed to find a small pool to soak in (the water was nice and warm) and take in the eggy smells!

Fosso Bianco Hot springs
Enjoying a pool at the Fosso Bianco
Fosso Bianco Hot springs
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this wasn’t it!
Fosso Bianco and pools
More hot spring ‘pools’

After grabbing a drink at the town ‘bar’, we headed off towards Montepulciano.

Driving to Montepulciano

We ended up taking a rather large detour because the bridge we needed to cross was closed. Not to fear, we followed the detour signs and ended up travelling over a large hill / small mountain instead. After a lot of driving and not quite sure where we were going, the detour magically popped us out just on the other side of the bridge!

Next we passed by Pienza and then 15 minutes later arrived outside of Montepulciano and our agriturismo for the next two days called Agriturismo Pascaia.

Agriturismo Pascaia
Agriturismo Pascaia, located less than 5 minutes from Montepulciano on a quiet dirt road. Make sure you google the location first as it would be easy to miss.  
countryside outside of Montepulciano
More beautiful countryside outside of Montepulciano

By this time it was about 5pm so we headed into Montepulciano for a look around and some dinner. We were pretty hungry by this point since we didn’t really have lunch, so we had a glass of wine and some appetisers. Looking for a place to eat, we walked up the hill to Piazza Grande. Despite most piazzas in Italy being a focal point for bars and restaurants, this one was rather empty. Instead we found a restaurant along the fairly steep Grand Corso (they don’t call it a hill town for nothing!). We decided to go with a place that had outside  seating and had a lovely meal. Deane had her first risotto of the trip. Now full, we headed home for the night.

Day 2 – The big driving day around the val d’Orcia

Montepulciano skyline
Montepulciano in the morning

Since we had an apartment, we ate breakfast at ‘home’. Having bought groceries the day before, except bread, I thought I’d head into town early to go to the market to buy some fresh food. I was near the bus station (where the weekly market is held) at 7am. So happy with myself for finding a parking spot, I then realised it was Wednesday and the market was the next day! So I headed into the town instead.

I walked the length of the Corso but couldn’t find any fresh bread. There were three places selling fresh pastries but none had actual bread for sale. I’d love to know where to find bread in this town! So I gave up and went to Caffe Poliziano for a cappuccino at the bar along with the locals. It was fun watching the local people come in, say buongiorno, order their espresso, drink it quickly, have a quick chat with the barista and then leave. The cafe also has a beautiful terrace with amazing views, but for the pleasure of a table, the cost triples (or quadruples!)

Thinking Deane and Marce would be wondering where I was, I headed home to find Marce awake drinking a tea. Since the grocery store in town only opened at 8:30am and it was 8:00am when I left town, Marce and I headed back to town to buy some bread. Seeing as one of my favourite parts of travelling abroad is looking at the different foods in supermarkets (yes, I’m one of those people), we may have gone a bit overboard and ended up buying things for dinner as well.

On the way back to the farmhouse, we stopped for some pictures of the San Biagio Church, which looked absolutely stunning in the early(ish) morning sun. Arriving home after 9am, we had breakfast and left for a day of driving around 11am.

San Biagio Church
San Biagio Church located a few minutes outside of Montepulciano
Dog at the B&B
Deane making friends with the farm dogs

Prior to heading off for a day of driving, we returned to Caffe Poliziano (I was becoming a regular) for a round of coffees.

Fancy coffees at Caffe Polizano
Fancy coffees at Caffe Polizano … molto Italiano!

Lunch in Montechiello

We had a 2pm booking at Osteria La Porta in Montechiello, which was the restaurant we’d seen the previous year and wanted to go but it was packed. I’d booked many weeks in advance so this year we were able to get a table and sit outside on the patio.

After spending some time exploring the town, we went to the restaurant and were seated outside. The view was amazing! We weren’t very hungry after a late breakfast, so we only managed to have one course each and I had a coffee. When I went to pay, the lady made a comment about how little we ate but that she understood that sometimes eating three meals a day was a lot. I found the comments weird and then she didn’t charge me for the coffee. She was nice but the comments I thought were strange. In saying that, several of the tables around us were having four course meals, so maybe that’s the thing to do when eating there, but we just weren’t that hungry!

Val d'Orcia farmhouse
The quintessential Val d’Orcia photo.

A quick stop in Montalcino

We were originally going to go to Pienza to have a gelato but we were too full, so we drove past it and continued all the way to Montalcino for some beautiful views and lots of pictures. We then turned back to Montepulciano to do some shopping before dinner.

Dinner in the argiturismo

Dinner was home cooked pork schnitzels, potatoes and carrots and no oil or butter to cook them in since we hadn’t bought anything to cook the food in and there were limited supplies at the apartment. Not my best meal, but it was a nice change from pasta.

Montepulciano Markets

In the morning it was time to say goodbye to Montepulciano and onwards to Chianti. We all got up early to head into town for the market which I thought started at 7am. We arrived around 7:30 and there were hardly any stalls open and everything was being set up (my inability to time this market has not shown my usual high level of preparation!). So we walked into town and had drinks again at Caffe Poliziano. Deane had a ‘real’ tea in a wrought iron tea pot and Marce and I had cappuccinos. I saw a small coffee that looked good and found out it was called a ‘Caffe Macchiato con cacao in velluto’. It’s served in a small glass and has cocoa. The waiter at the cafe was very cute. (I love the accent!).

Thinking the market would be in full swing, we left the old town and Deane wasn’t feeling well at all. I went to get the car and then she was ok (or at least a bit better), so we went to the market. It wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be but at least now I know. There were a lot of vendors selling knick-knacks and clothing and a few selling produce, meat and fish. It would have been much better if we needed a lot of groceries and were staying in the area for a few days.

Quick stop in Pienza

Packing up the car, we headed to the welcomly flat town of Pienza for a short stop for a gelato. We parked the car a bit outside the centre and walked along the pathway that follows the town wall. I highly recommend this stroll with amazing its views over the countryside.

There are a few things to do in Pienza: browse in ceramic shops, smell lots of cheese and buy ceramics or cheese. Deane found a honey pot which is super cute and the same one that was in the cafe in the morning.

We ate gelato from Buon Gusto which was featured in a video by Rick Steves I’d seen on Facebook. Due to its location off the main street, you might not stumble upon it if you weren’t looking for it. Best. Gelato. Of the. Trip. Yum! The guy who owns the shop was super nice and chatted with us for a bit about all good things gelato. He mentioned that there was no coffee flavour that day because the cafe next door wasn’t open. Talk about only using fresh ingredients!

Pienza Doors
The only indicator that this used to be the medieval version of public housing (in Pienza)
Buon Gusto Gelato
Best gelato of the trip. They only use fresh ingrediants. The owner was telling us that there was no coffee flavour that day because the cafe next door was closed.

Pienza is one of my favourite towns in Italy. It’s flat (huge plus for a hill town), and its compact centre is clean and almost too pretty. And if you like cheese, you’re spoilt for choice!

Onwards to Chianti

To continue to our next destination, Chianti, click here.

Our 10 day trip to Italy included: two days in Rome, an overnight in Orvieto, two days driving around the Val d’Orcia based in Montepulciano, two days in Chianti based outside of Greve in Chianti, 3 days and 2 nights in Cinque Terre, a stopover in Pisa and two days and nights in Venice. This blog post details our two days in the Val d’Orcia.

We travelled through Italy in mid-September 2015. 

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