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Cypress Lined Roads

Pauline Kenny

Think of Tuscany and you think of roads lined with cypress trees. These roads are found mostly in central Tuscany, in the Montepulciano - Pienza - Montalcino belt south of Siena. This area is in the middle of the Crete Senese (pronounced KREH-teh seh-NEH-seh), an area of wide open fields interspersed with the Crete clay cliffs. The farmhouses and their cypress lined roads stand out against the plain backdrop of the open fields. Geographically this area is very different from Chianti to the north. Some areas are lush and wooded or full of olives and vines, like Chianti. Other areas are wide open with very few trees. It is a stunningly beautiful area.

Farmhouse near Pienza, photo by Janet Zinn, 2002

Villa outside of Pienza, Janet Zinn

There are two famous cypress lined roads in this area which you will see pictured on endless postcards and bookmarks in shops all over Tuscany. One is near La Foce, the other near Monticchiello. Both are south of Pienza.

The cypress is not a happy symbol in Tuscany. These trees were frequently planted along roads to commemorate the dead from wars.

La Foce Cypress Lined Road

If you haven't seen a picture of this road yet, you will see it constantly when you are in Italy. We happened to drive by it on one trip and were thrilled to finally find it! It is in southern Tuscany, just south of Pienza, near the La Foce estate. The trees on this road were planted by Iris Origo from La Foce to make a nice view from her house and gardens.

View from La Foce of the cypress road, 06/00

Cypress lined road near La Foce

How to Find La Foce

From the main road that goes from San Quirico d'Orcia to Pienza to Montepulciano, going east, turn right at Pienza (the main road jogs to the left at the town walls, and you make a right so you follow the town walls on your right). Follow this road around and then under Pienza. It then heads downhill, south from Pienza. (You will see a road to the left for Monticchiello, which has the other famous cypress lined road). At the first main intersection, turn left in the direction of Chianciano Terme (not towards Bagno Vignoni). Next you come to a more major road. Again go left in the direction of Chianciano Terme. In a few miles, you will see this Cypress lined road on your left just before you get to La Foce.

La Foce is easily missed; it is a large villa on your right at an intersection of the road you are on and a dirt road. The dirt road takes you into the La Foce estate. To get to the villa and gardens, go a bit further on the main road. On your right, you will see signs for the offices and a shop. There is a driveway up through gates and a parking lot.

Monticchiello Cypress Lined Road

The other famous road lined with cypress is just southeast of Monticchiello, a small town south of Pienza. As you approach Monticchiello on the main road from the south, the zigzagging cypress lined road is on your right just before Monticchiello. You do not get a view of this road from the town (which does, however, offer other beautiful views).

Cypress lined road near Monticchiello, Marcus Gnther

A Drive Through the Crete

You can do a beautiful drive through the Crete area south of Siena. From Siena, get onto the Siena - Bettolle highway that goes to the A1 autostrada. Exit just outside Siena on the road to Asciano (No. 438). The drive to Asciano is along a ridge top with beautiful views over the wide open fields of the Crete. On the tops of the hills, you will see farmhouses surrounded by cypress trees.

Just before Asciano, take a right turn in the direction of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. The road to Monte Oliveto is narrow, but paved, and is a beautiful drive. Stop at Monte Oliveto to see the Sodoma frescoes and shop in the store run by the monks.

From Monte Oliveto you can head out to Buonconvento and the main road (SS2) or continue with your scenic drive. To continue the drive, from Monte Oliveto head east in the direction of San Giovanni d'Asso. This is the town famous for its Truffle Festival in November. White truffles are found in this area. From San Giovanni d'Asso, head east in the direction of Montisi. Just before Montisi, turn right in the direction of Castelmuzio and Pienza.

At Castelmuzio, take a sharp right just past the town in the direction of Pienza. This is a beautiful drive. You pass the Sant'Anna in Campregna abbey, the location featured in the movie "The English Patient". There is an early Sodoma fresco in this abbey. When you reach the main road, turn left for Pienza. The picturesque farmhouse shown below is on your left before you get to Pienza.

On this drive, you will see the most beautiful part of the Crete. But the whole area here is beautiful - pick any road and drive. You can't go wrong (you can get lost, but you can't go wrong on having a nice drive). The area is also full of interesting towns.

Pienza Farmhouse

Pienza, Tuscany, farmhouse along main road. 10/01

On the main road from the SS2 to Pienza, on your left just before you get to Pienza, you will see this old farmhouse with its row of cypress trees. A van load of people had stopped and were painting pictures one day when we drove by.

A Walk on a Cypress Lined Road Near Pienza

Pienza, Tuscany, road from town. 10/01

This is the perfect walk on a white road lined with cypress. Park near Pienza. Find the main park-like piazza just outside the main entrance to the historical center of Pienza. The main road passes along the edge of this park. Facing the gates into Pienza our favorite caffe is the first caffe on the left. The magazine store a few stores down has an excellent selection of English language papers, magazines and books.

But back to facing the gates into Pienza for your walk. Turn away from Pienza so you are facing the park. Walk to your left. You go around the park. Do not go down under the town walls, but keep going until you come to a pathway that heads west from Pienza along the top of the walls. This is the white road that leads to a church and then the cemetery. Lots of cats live along this path.

Once you pass the church, the cypress lined road begins. Walk along this to the cemetery. If you walk into the parking lot past the cemetery, you will see the picturesque farmhouse on the main road. Now just retrace your steps to Pienza. This is a short walk - maybe 45 minutes out and back. Perfect to do before lunch.

Avenue of Cypress from San Guido to Bolgheri

This short road from San Guido, on the main road along the coast from Livorno to Grosseto, goes inland to the village of Bolgheri and is lined with cypress. It was made famous by a poet from Bolgheri, Giosue Carducci.

Thanks to Alice on the message board for telling me about this. We have driven by this road many times and never knew it was there. Next time we will stop.

Resources

www.slowtrav.com/italy/tuscany/: Slow Travel Tuscany for information about Monte Oliveto and La Foce

www.emmeti.it: Avenue of Cypress from San Guido to Bolgheri

www.costaetrusca.com: Avenue of Cypress from San Guido to Bolgheri

www.agriturismotorricellavolterra.pisa.it: Avenue of Cypress from San Guido to Bolgheri


Photo of Pienza villa Janet Zinn, 2003. www.jczinn.com
Photo of Monticchiello road Marcus Gnther, 2003. Marcus is a photographer and lives in Ireland. www.marcusgunther.com

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