The classic landscape postcard pictures you see of rolling hills studded with cypress-lined roads were likely photographed in the Val d'Orcia. The area of Tuscany is south of Siena and really is picturesque (which is why it is so frequently featured on calendars, postcards, and advertisements!).

The Val d'Orcia was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 for its unique cultural landscape, for the excellent preservation and wise stewardship of the agricultural land; for the way man shaped and tended the landscape; and for the influence of the landscape on Renaissance (and later period) artists, making it an unusual and culturally significant place.

The Parco della Val d'Orcia takes in a swath of land that includes the towns of Castiglione d'Orcia, Montalcino, Pienza, Radicofani, and San Quirico d'Orcia. The Via Francigena passed through here, the so-called "pigrim's route" to Rome, as did the ancient Via Cassia. You'll find the beautiful Abbey of Sant'Antimo, considered the most beautiful Romanesque church in Italy, and lots of lovely stone villages. There are renowned hot springs spas at Bagno Vignoni and Bagni San Filippo. Well noted culinary delights like the cacio pecorino of Pienza and the lush Brunello of Montalcino are found here.

The Val d'Orcia was also put into the spotlight by writer Iris Origo, who chronicled the war years at her estate, where her family sheltered refugee children and escaped Allied prisoners of war. Her book, War in Val d'Orcia, is an interesting read.

There is the annual Festival of the Val d'Orcia, where the various villages host a variety of cultural events and concerts to pay homage to their UNESCO status and highlight their heritage and cultural contributions.

No trip to Tuscany is really complete without a visit to this striking landscape!

photo thanks to unesco sites page

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