One fine day, the Architect looked out of the window to see the future; he saw a utopian landscape of pale green fields and pure skies, rolling into forever. Then he took a brush and four colors and started painting: pale yellowish green for the fields, dark green for the cypresses, blue azzuro for the skies and warm brown for the roads and the farms.
You think I’m being rather corny, poetic with a touch of mysticism. I can be all that, but today I’m merely factual. The Val d’Orcia, another world favorite of the happy few, is a region of perfect landscape south of Siena, included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its flawless aesthetics. Around 1400, here lived some visionary noblemen and architects who envisaged a landscape like no other on the face of this world, and actually set to re-design the entire region to fit their vision. We now call them landscape architects and even now we believe them, well, corny. As you can see, they’re not
And while you can begin to stomach the fact that all the wonders in Florence and Siena and just about everywhere in Italy have been dreamt of and built in the pre- Rennaissance and Rennaissance, you remain speechless at the thought of them re-inventing an entire agricultural region for the sake of pure aesthetics – over 500 years ago.
Land for art’s sake, I call it.
Having proven utopia exists, they also created the ideal town. Pienza is what they call the milestone of Rennaissnce urbanism and what I call the Piccolomini wondertown. It is a wonderful, peaceful, graceful, almost surreally perfect little town in the middle of Val d’Orcia, redesigned completely by Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) to prove urban perfection can be achived – and should be aspired to.
Just wander the streets, buy the best pecorino cheese and follow Via Amore or Via Fortuna for a perfect view of the perfect landscape on the perfect terrace :). Visit Palazzo Piccolomini. Have a coffee in Piazza Pio
Other perfect stops while in Val d’Orcia: Radicofani, Trequanda, Petroio, Castelmuzio, and any village with “bagni” – if you’re into the spa search. Montalcino and Montepulciano are also in the area, but tomorrow is another day
PS: I never for get the wine: you can safely abandon the Chianti for the Orcia DOC here. The region grows the same incredible Sangiovese, and the DOC wines are more than half Sangiovese; the rest is Trebbiano or Abrusco, but nevermind, gorgeous altogether. Yes I’m always talking red wine, but they also have a white here, and vin santo.