The route of "Colline Senesi"
“The southern most northern classic in Europe” is how cycling lovers from all over the world define the race “Strade Bianche” that runs along these roads, loved both by the public and by the cyclists so much that it has already been awarded the title of sixth classic-Monument, a monument to epic cycling in modern times.
The route, which crosses many townships, starts from the Fortezza Medicea of Siena, the city where it feels as if time stopped in the 13th century. It has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1995, owing to its well-preserved medieval structure.
Lying at the southern slopes of the Montagnola Senese, Sovicille is the Tuscan town with the highest concentration of parish churches, abbeys, castles and villas.
Murlo is a small, well-preserved medieval village found in the heart of an unspoiled territory, and it is best known for being home to a unique Etruscan settlement, Poggio Civitate, that occupied the surrounding hills.
Montalcino is a magnificent medieval village known to wine enthusiasts worldwide for Brunello di Montalcino, an excellent red wine that improves with age.
Found near Monteroni d’Arbia is Lucignano d’Arbia with its parish church, standing since the year 913 A.D., and the famous Grancia di Cuna, a majestic, fortified farm built in 1314.
Rising up from the heart of the Crete Senesi and surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, Asciano is an ancient village of Etruscan origin, and its old town centre is a treasure trove of art and history.
The territory of Castelnuovo Berardenga is a musical tapestry of gentle slopes and uneven hills guarded by castles, churches and fortifications, following a prelude of ascending cypress-lined roads.
Many authors have written about Siena and its harmonious beauty throughout history, and it is difficult to invent new words to describe its charm, especially if you are not a poet. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
José Saramago, a Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner, fell in love with the city and dedicated words to the town, describing it with brushstrokes of deep emotion and passion:
‘And here is Siena, the beloved, the city where my heart is truly pleased’. ‘The three hills on which it is built make it a town where there are no two identical roads, all of them are bound to no geometry. ‘This wonderful colour, the colour of the burnished body, is also the colour of the cornbread crust, this wonderful colour goes from stones to the road and roofs, softens the sunlight and wipes away anxieties and fears from your face.
‘There is nothing more beautiful than this town’. Piazza del Campo ‘a sloping and curved square like a shell that the builders did not want to pave and it remained so, as if it were a lap’.
‘I look at the old palaces of Siena, ancient houses where I want to live one day, with a window of my own, overlooking the coloured clay roof tiles, over the green shutters of the windows, as if in an attempt to decipher where this secret that Siena murmurs and that I will continue to hear, although I do not understand it, until the end of my life.
The Val di Merse is the breath of the Terre di Siena, it is sap, it is rest, rest. It is Mediterranean and yellow scrub of brooms, bed of rivers, sometimes torrential at times placid, kingdom of wild and free animals.
In the woods, small villages that have stood still in time, that have not allowed modernity. In the green the treasures of water: remains of mills that in the Middle Ages made the economy of this land, thermal waters where centuries of generations and peoples have bathed, places where they have left traces, even in the DNA of the inhabitants, mysterious civilizations like the Etruscan one, small Romanesque churches, ruined castles. Surprising architectures at these latitudes: stately villas and Italian gardens, cloisters of monasteries with oriental charm as illustrations of “the thousand and one nights”, walls of powerful abbeys that, still, in silence, dominate the territory and radiate mysticism, hermitages where legendary knights laid down their weapons and changed their lives leaving traces that appear to us full of symbology.
Expanse of colors that rest the eyes, sounds of water and silence, smell of earth and smell of salt in the breeze that comes from the sea not far away, taste of fruits of the forest.
The Via Francigena runs through most of the territory of the Val d’Orcia Natural and Cultural Artistic Park, a landscape which is still almost identical to the one that was crossed by travellers in the Middle Ages. Fortresses, castles, parish churches, abbeys, farms, hills, cypresses, woods, waters: famous images all over the world and that the whole world recognizes as the greatest example of harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.
Val d’Orcia was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 2004 with an exemplary motivation to understand the value and beauty of this land: Val d’Orcia is an exceptional example of the landscape redesign that characterized the Renaissance, to reflect the ideals of good governance of the Italian city-state in the 14th and 15th centuries and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture.
Val d’Orcia, a perfect combination of art and landscape, geographical space and ecosystems, is the expression of a series of marvellous natural characteristics, but also the result and the testimony of the people who lived there. Between the harsh, rugged landscape of Crete Senesi and the soft hills where the Mediterranean vegetation, vineyards, olive groves, and diverse crops exchange and intersect perfectly like frescoes of rare beauty, it is clearly understood to what extent man’s awareness of depending on resources in the surrounding environment has weighed on his works and their use in a non-destructive way.
The Crete Senesi are a rural landscape. Rain and wind formed, with clay hills shaped like facial wrinkles showing the passing of time: harshness and sweetness, roundness and edges, deep ruts and light slopes, the signs of a very long life lived intensely.
The Crete Senesi are a sea landscape when the expanse of green grass hills, caressed by the wind, seems to move: waves, as far as the eye can see, up to the horizon. An illusion of infinity, a crystallized and static space that alienates your soul. Then, a stronger wind rises and the clouds run, changing the colours of the landscape. A herd moves, the sun is reflected in the window of an isolated farmhouse next to a cypress tree, and dirt roads open up like scars in a green belt.
Ideal places if you are looking to get away from the world, as did Giovanni Tolomei, of an important and wealthy Sienese family, who found his place in the ‘Accona desert’ in 1313, where he founded the Abbey of Oliveto Maggiore, not far from the Via Francigena that ran further downstream, where mills moved water, giving man the means to overcome nature.
The Chianti countryside has become an icon for an almost ideal landscape: alternating hills covered with dense woods, rows of vines and some silver brushstrokes of olive groves. In the replicated design, the ‘farmhouses’, cottages with lodge and dovecotes peek over the top of hills and meandering dirt tracks, bordered by low walls and towering cypress trees.
Imposing villas, castles, abbeys and parish churches, small villages inspired by centuries of people who lived in these places and made history.
From the Middle Ages to today this landscape, known and recognized throughout the world, has been shaped by humanity’s blood, sweat and tears, creating a place tailored to its needs, without squeezing or exploiting the earth, but indulging generosity and refining the production of its most precious fruits with skill and ingenuity: grapes and olives.
The resulting robust wines with a round and intense flavour, and a flavoured and sour oil that enhances the flavour of savoury dishes of a cuisine still rich in vegetable products, the courtyard and hunting dishes, as it has always taken place in the peasant tradition, being the creator of a still recognizable and unique culture rooted in this land.