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A Drive Around Monte Amiata
Monte Amiata is the mountain that dominates southwestern Tuscany. In June 2000 we spent two weeks in a house on the edge of Celle sul Rigo where we had a stunning view that stretched from Monte Amiata in the west to Monte Cetona in the east. It was on that trip that we explored some of the delightful Monte Amiata towns.
View of Monte Amiata from Celle sul Rigo
A word about Monte Amiata: When we explored this region, we thought we would be able to do some good hiking on Monte Amiata. But we were wrong. The hiking trails are mostly in the ski areas, so you are hiking under the chair lifts. When we were there in June it was quite buggy. The few eating places at the top of the mountain were closed up. I think this is one of those areas that thrives in the ski season or in the height of summer, but is not worth visiting at other times.
But the towns around Monte Amiata, at the lower levels are fabulous. Here is a good driving route that takes you around the mountain and through some of the towns. Try to time the route so that you can buy things from Fungoamiata (closes 12:00 - 14:00) and the bakery in Castel del Piano (closes 13:00 - 17:00). We start on the main highway, No. 2, just south of San Quirico d'Orcia. A few miles south of San Quirico, turn right towards Castiglione d'Orcia.
Park outside the town walls in the parking lot and walk up into the town. It is a beautiful, old village with a wonderful small restaurant (probably best to save this for a dinner out).
Restaurant: Cantina Il Borgo, Rocca d'Orcia
We didn't get the chance to explore this town, but it looks beautiful.
On the drive from Seggiano to Castel del Piano, stop at the Fungoamiata food factory along the way.
Shop: Fungoamiata, on the east side of the main road between Castel del Piano and Seggiano (in a small town called Pian di Ballo which is not on most maps). There is only a small sign. Fungoamiata is a small food production factory. Their products are sold all over Tuscany. The sales office is up the stairs on top of the factory. The had all their products on display (all in jars and preserved in olive oil): porcini and other types of mushrooms, artichokes, olives, asparagus, dried tomatoes. They had some pts: olive, truffle. And sauces. We bought some to take home and some for the trip. Recommended in the Carla Capalbo book. Open 8-12, 14-18:30, closed Sunday.
Castel del Piano
This is a charming town perched on the edge of a cliff with a lovely view. There is a famous bakery right on the main square, on the edge of the older part of town. You could pick up snacks for lunch or plan to stop here or in one of the next towns. Or get snacks here, see the next towns, and get snacks again in Bagno Vignoni because the deli there does not close mid-day!
Bakery: Corsini Biscotti, Via Marconi, 2. On Piazza Garibaldi, the main piazza on the edge of the historical center. A fabulous bakery - very high quality. The bread is excellent. Also biscotti and other bakery things. You can sometimes find their biscotti in the AutoGrill stores (yes!). We also got big slices of pizza for lunch. Recommended in the Carla Capalbo book. Open 7:30-13, 17-19:30. Closed Tuesday, Sunday afternoon.
Route: Continue in the direction of Arcidosso.
Arcidosso and Santa Fiora
Pretty towns. We didn't stop, but they might be fun to explore, if you have the time.
A modern town at the highest level, then the old town goes down the hill, with a big factory of some type at the bottom. We parked in the modern area on top and walked down into the old part of town looking for a caffe, but we could not find anything. The only caffes were in the modern section.
Route: From here you can drive back down to the valley where the main highway takes you north or south or continue on to see Abbadia San Salvatore and get to the highway from there.
Abbadia San Salvatore
A larger, historic town. Very beautiful.
Route: From Abbadia San Salvatore you can take a road out to the main highway. Continue north in the direction of San Quirico and Siena. Bagni San Filippo is off a small road to your left (it is signed).
Bagni San Filippo
From here you can complete the day with a stop at the Bagni San Filippo hot springs, where you can swim in either the cold river or sit in the natural hot pools. Note Spring 2003: I heard that the natural hot springs here no longer have water.
Route: Or continue north on the main highway to Bagno Vignoni, just north of where you originally turned off for Castiglione d'Orcia.
This is a popular spa town with big parking lots at the edge of town. The town is small with a couple of caffes and restaurants. The hot springs are in big pools in the center of town, where they were used in ancient times, but you can't use them now. The water does run along a narrow channel to the cliff at southern edge of town and then over the cliff. You can stand in the channel to bath your feet or walk to the bottom of the cliff and bath in the water there. The official spa is just down from the channel where you bath your feet.
Restaurant: La Bottega di Cacio, open: 10:30-19:30, closed Thursday,
We did this route over a few days (because we are slow, slow travelers). One day we drove from the south and did the Monte Amiata towns backwards. We started with Piancastagnaio - stopped for coffee, explored the town - drove past Arcidosso and Santa Fiora and Castel del Piano to make it to Fungoamiata before they closed, bought jars of mushrooms and artichokes, then doubled back to Castel del Piano to explore the town, stop for coffee, pick up bread, cookies and slices of pizza at the bakery, then drove up to the top of Monte Amiata for lunch at a picnic table in the woods and did a hike for an hour or so, then drove over the mountain and down the other side to Abbadia San Salvatore, but by then it was the afternoon and everything was closed and it was hot, so we went back to our house in Celle sul Rigo and went for a swim.
From what I could see of the area, there are many more places to explore. You could drive from Castel del Piano to the main highway that runs from Siena to Grosseto. Part of this route takes you along the River Orcia. Or from Santa Fiora take the country roads south to Sorano, Sovana and Pitigliano.
Slow Travel Italy - Travel Notes - Pitigliano: Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana
Slow Travel Italy - Travel Notes - Hot Springs: Hot springs in Tuscany
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