A Val d’Orcia scenic drive to discover the wine region of Tuscany: what to do, where to stay, and what to eat. A four days road trip itinerary from my travel journal.

Val d'Orcia scenic drive

how to get to and where to stay in Val d’Orcia

Here we are: under the Tuscan, wintery, beautiful sun. With our Gambero Rosso Food & Drink Guide and facing an amazing valley called the Val d’Orcia region.

This is the Italian version of paradise.

We got here yesterday: getting to Val d’Orcia from Rome takes a two hours and forty minutes car drive, more or less.

Our base is in Montalcino, in a cute tiny hotel, surrounded by pines & cypresses and some of the best winemakers of the peninsula.

Val d'Orcia scenic drive: Montalcino castle by night
val d'orcia wines on a rack


Yesterday, upon our arrival at the Val d’Orcia valley, we had an aperitivo in Montalcino: a glass of the world-famous Brunello di Montalcino, bruschetta, and CROSTINO TOSCANO (chicken liver pate – sounds awful, tastes delicious).

wine aperitivo in Montalcino
liver crostini

Two hours of tasting and chatting, no one pressing us out to give the table to someone else, no one asking us to order more food to stay: surreal for us people from Rome.

After a fifteen minutes walk through the beautiful, Christmas-decorated Montalcino (I must admit decorations here are much more elegant than in big cosmopolitan Rome), we were already seated for dinner.

A glass of wine, bruschetta, and our Tuscan antipasto: salami, prosciutto, mushroom, onion, and chicken liver pate bruschetta.

Polenta, for me, and boar for Luca.

Back to the hotel, time to watch some tv – less than15 minutes of a cooking tv show, and we were asleep, dreaming of vineyards, good wine, and excellent food…

Tuscan Food FACT N. 1

Tuscan bread has no salt.

There is a historical explanation: the past high prices of salt. But I prefer the gastronomic answer: all the other flavors of Tuscan cuisine are so intense you must accompany them with a plain, simple flavor.

Day 2 of the Val d’Orcia scenic drive: Siena & Monticchiello

After a very nutritious breakfast (poor things, we’re eating so little these days…), we decided to drive to the beautiful, magical Siena.

There’s a SIMPOSIO issue about Siena, get your copy here!

Val d'Orcia scenic drive: Siena view from the Mangia tower

We were welcomed by the impressive PIAZZA DEL CAMPO, the one where the PALIO is raced – one of the most extraordinary places I’ve seen in my life.

Still more impressive when we decided to climb up Siena’s MANGIA Tower (400 steps are a lot, but we were motivated: we were burning the upcoming lunch calories – yeah, sure).

Siena's piazza del Campo fountain
hanging salami in Siena

Anyway… after the climb, we visited the “Antica Pizziccheria Miccoli,” a historic grocery store in Siena. Unfortunately, photos were forbidden, so I cannot show you the mustached showman behind the counter. While wrapping up boar salamipecorino cheese, and Tuscan crostini seasoning, he was talking, smiling, laughing, and slicing prosciuttocheese, and salami for us, so we had an aperitivo right there while he was packing our stuff.

hanging laundry in Siena
Antica Pizziccheria Miccoli entrance in Siena

Tuscan people are so elegant! I’m impressed. They have understatement and that calm only people used to beauty and charm have. The Christmas decorations are tasteful, details are impressive, the streets are spotless, people are so educated… 

Lately, being Italian didn’t feel like something to be proud of: derelict tv shows, disgusting politicians, embarrassing news… Rome, I must admit, is chaotic and seems unable to rescue herself from profiteers and thieves. 

These days, I realize that that is just Rome, that there’s more in Itay if you look closely.

I left the shop with mouth and hands full of cheese and local, delicious bread, ready for…

LUNCH, of course.

At the “Compagnia dei Vinattieri”, we savored Tuscan wine while waiting for our adventurous antipasto: tongue.

This was a first-taste-in-our-life… 

It wasn’t easy to get the first bite; it never is…

duck dish in Siena
tongue dish in Siena

But we had to: we are foodtrotters!

It was so hard not to think that a TONGUE was on my tongue…

However, it is just meat: it tastes like meat and looks like meat; you just need to chew it a little bit harder. The truth is: I don’t feel the urge to repeat the experience.

What came next was much better: pumpkin soup with balsamic vinegar and caramelized leeks and pappardelle al ragù.

Finally, the typical Tuscan meal end: Cantucci & Vin Santo. Almond cookies dipped in sweet wine (in case you haven’t drunk enough).

cantucci & vin santo in Siena

Tuscan Food Fact n.2

The most famous traditional pasta shapes in Tuscany are Pici (or Pinci) and Papardelle.

But there are also tons of delicious, hot, tasty soups.


In the afternoon, a wonderful surprise: we drove from Siena to Monticchiello, the tiniest, cutest village I’ve ever seen.

Val d'Orcia scenic drive: Monticchiello

Monticchiello reminds me of Calcata (a little hippie jewel near Rome): perched, Christmas decorated, tidy, with a wonderful view… 80 people living there…

80 people living there!

At the tourist info point, we met Mr. Roberto, the most clever CICERONE ever. He took us around the village, showing us beautiful spots and telling us everything we needed to know about Monticchiello.

He even introduced us (and let us assist in the rehearsal) to a TEATRO POVERO (poor/pop theater) play: something this tiny cutie is world-famous for.

Monticchiello streets at sunset
bread crates in Monticchiello
TEATRO POVERO in Monticchiello

You know how theater makes people hungry, right?

So imagine how much we enjoyed our dinner back in Montalcino (Re di Macchia restaurant): a 1-kilo Fiorentina steakboar Pici and a Honey “Cacio e Pepe” (cheese & pepper) croutons

This time digestion was tough; I could hardly sleep, despite the wine… I started thinking of the DETOX plan for when back home.

Today we woke up swearing that we would eat lighter…

the last cookbooks


The city of Opulence.


The city of Renaissance.


The city of Sassi.

Day 3 of the Val d’Orcia scenic drive: Montepulciano & Pienza

val d'orcia

Nope, we didn’t comply with the lets-eat-light resolution…

But I am still counting on the detox plan.

This said, yesterday we had the best and the worst of Val d’Orcia, so far.

After our usual “nutritious” breakfast, we drove to Montepulciano, a very famous citadel, totally dedicated to, guess? WINE.

Montepulciano streets

Also known as the “Volterra” filming location to the Twilight saga fans (I might be one).

We climbed up the fortress, supposedly burning enough calories for some extra glasses of Montepulciano wine.

While running our turtle-style marathon, we discovered this village is not as touristic as we thought: many cute artisanal shops, small businesses, and wineries. Twilight is not exactly an indie production, but a few Bella & co. t-shirts were all it left behind.

When we got to the main piazza (Piazza Grande), we found a super cute Christmas market. We bought a never-seen-before cinnamon beer jam (for cheeses) and suddenly felt so hungry we ran to the first food stand we found.

Gourmand guys who own a brewery (L’Olmaia) were selling a super yummy burger: chianina meat, truffle cream, and mushrooms.

montepulciano Christmas market
Montepulciano's beer
Montepulciano burger

Afterward, we realized there were more food stands around the corner… dammit, we could have eaten less and tried more of Montepulciano specialties.

So to cheer up, we had a glass of delicious vin brulèmulled wine.

While sipping our sweet wine, we had a delightful conversation with the guys from the polenta stand. One of them, Luca, gave us the recipe to make the perfect polenta.

Our last adventure in Montepulciano was the visit of an ancient, impressive wine cellar (Cantina De Ricci). We walked through caves and oak casks, like in a movie (indeed, some Twilight scenes were shot here).

At the end of the free visit, we tasted a few wines and obviously ended up buying six bottles of Montepulciano.

montepulciano winery
Montepulciano's wine tour
Montepulciano wine tasting

Tuscan Food (Wine) Fact n.3

Some of the best Tuscan wines, called Super Tuscans, have no controlled designation of origin (Doc, Docg).

In this case, winemakers don’t have to strictly attend production protocols like they have to with the famous Montepulciano: they are free to explore new combinations and processing methods…

Manna from heaven for wine lovers!



Here’s comes the bad of this Val d’Orcia scenic drive

In the afternoon, we drove from Montepulciano to Pienza, to see the little village and to buy the famous Pecorino di Pienza.

I was excited: I had read there were different flavors and wanted to bring some back home. Well… I entered three different stores and bought… nothing. I entered the first one, captivated by the banner announcing at least twelve different flavors. But when I asked for them, they didn’t really have them.

I entered the second shop, fascinated by the beautiful shelves full of forms.

a shop in Pienza, Val D'Orcia
cheese shop in Pienza

I patienI patiently waited for my turn while a big family was tasting every flavor in the shop.
While looking around, I eyed a basil-pine nuts pecorino. So, when it was my turn, first thing, I asked to taste it.
The I-hate-the-world saleswoman rudely answered I couldn’t taste that one, and no, not even the second one I asked for. As I never pay for mistreating, I left the shop.
I entered the third shop a little desperate, nervous but still wanting my pecorino. When I asked if they could vacuum pack my stuff (no, I didn’t even want to taste them, at that point), again, I was rudely answered I would have to wait until they had served everybody in the shop.

So I ended up running away from these horrible people.

As I was a little depressed, my husband took care of dinner reservations…

Here comes the best part of the vacation.

I’ll tell you just one thing, to help you understand how amazing this place (Il Leccio) is: we left the restaurant booking a table for tomorrow night.

I never, never, never do that on the same trip: I’m always looking forward to eating in as many different places as possible. But this time, we had to come back!

Day 4: Val d’Orcia springs, Bagno Vignoni & a vineyard

Bagno Vignoni pools

Today was the best day of this Val d’Orcia itinerary.

Sadly the last one.

My breakfast was light (I swear) because I was going to wear my swimsuit (lucky me, I brought the black one).

Why? Hot springs!

We went to Bagno Vignoni. Thermal Spring Waters facing the beauty of the Val D’Orcia valley.

One word: RELAX.

Another few words? A perfect lunch.

polenta and boar at the restaurant in Bagno Vignoni
pici at the restaurant in Bagno Vignoni

At that point, I had taken the swimsuit off, and who cared for bellies and fat and calories… I’ll think of them next week.

The sun was high, the temperature was perfect, and the food, as usual, was delicious.

After lunch, we drove to our wine tasting experience.

The lovely, cheerful Alessandra from the Leccio restaurant had given us the name of a friend of hers: Marcello, a really passionate Val D’Orcia winemaker.

We were looking for the real thing, no touristic paths.

winery in Montalcino
wine tasting in Montalcino

So we called Marcello, and he welcomed us in the Collemattoni estate.

We talked for hours about:

  • Tuscany, boars, and roes.
  • What a perfect night out for locals looks like: a bath in hot springs (in the middle of nowhere, those places only locals know), followed, of course, by a sumptuous Tuscan dinner.
  • About Food Inc. and how much we believe in sustainability and organic farming.
  • About being demitarians.
  • About Nature and humankind.
  • About wine, food, and gaining weight (of course).

{Italians always talk about food. They talk about food at work, at home, even at the restaurant. Sometimes I notice that we are dining out with friends and, while eating, we are talking about that superb restaurant a friend told us about and that we must absolutely try.}

This was our most authentic Val d’Orcia afternoon, tasting wine and honey (also made by Marcello), promising to meet again (next year?).

Later in the day, we had our delicious dinner at Leccio

At the end of the meal, drunk of wine and grappa and hardly upright, Alessandra took us to the winery next door.

For two hours, we drank beer, we chatted with Marcello, Alessandra, Gianfranco (owner of the Leccio), and Fabian (winemaker, La Magia), we drank more beer, we laughed, we drank more (Val D’Orcia produced) beer.

It was one of those nights with new friends that feel like old friends.

Talking of everything from what’s wrong in this world, what’s right in this world, the places we’ve been, the places we want to go, and food, of course! 

val d'Orcia wines
beer tasting in Montalcino

This is the real magic of Val D’Orcia,

this is the secret of life,

this is what I like:

slow food, slow living, and mindful moments when you realize that paradise is probably here, exactly where we are…

If you are looking for the same nirvana, I heartily suggest you plan your Val d’Orcia trip ASAP!

Enjoy food, life, Italy, & people!