The road S 438 between Asciano and Taverne d'Arbia, on the way to Siena | The hidden secrets of southern Tuscany

Abbadia San Salvatore

Abbey of Sant'Antimo



Archipelago Toscano




Badia di Coltibuono

Bagno Vignoni

Barberino Val d'Elsa


Bolsena Lake


Brunello di Montalcino




Castel del Piano



Castellina in Chianti


Castelnuovo Bererdenga

Castiglioncello Bandini

Castiglione della Pescaia

Castiglione d'Orcia

Castiglion Fiorentino



Chinaciano Terme




Città di Castello

Cività di Bagnoregio

Colle Val d'Elsa


Crete Senesi

Diaccia Botrona

Isola d'Elba



Gaiole in Chianti



Greve in Chianti


Lago Trasimeno

La Foce



Massa Marittima

Montagnola Senese


Monte Amiata

Monte Argentario




Monte Oliveto Maggiore








Parco Naturale della Maremma







Punta Ala

Radda in Chianti



San Bruzio

San Casciano dei Bagni

San Galgano

San Gimignano

San Giovanni d'Asso

San Quirico d'Orcia


Santa Fiora














Tavernelle Val di Pesa

Torrita di Siena




Val d'Elsa

Val di Merse

Val d'Orcia

Valle d'Ombrone






The road S 438 between Asciano and Taverne d'Arbia, on the way to Siena (April)



Crete Senesi


The Crete Senesi refers to an area of the Italian region of Tuscany to the south of Siena. It consists of a range of hills and woods among villages and includes the comuni of Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d'Arbia, Rapolano Terme and San Giovanni d'Asso, all within the province of Siena.

The poet Mario Luzi described the suggestive lunar landscape of gullies and hills south of Siena “Le Crete Senesi” as an “open sea”. It’s the “Crete senesi” that occupies a vast area of the territories of Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d‘Arbia, Rapolano Terme and San Giovanni d‘Asso.
This barren area has almost remained intact conserving its original characteristics: still today it’s difficult to cultivate olive trees and grapevine although corn and sunflower are very common thanks to the work that has been done to enable the watering. The nudity of the landscape change colour each season: the grey clay, the yellow nuances of the sulphate, the mature corn and the intense green of the grass. A malleable earth where the herd paths are visible, like the antique road Via Cassia constructed by the Romans and renamed “via Francigena” by the emperors.

Thousands and thousands of pilgrims have walked across here during the centuries and therefore the road is lined by many parishes, abbeys and small fortresses. We would suggest a circular itinerary of about 75 kilometres long starting from Siena and then going south on the Via Cassia (S2).
You will go across the main municipalities and you can go through the mountain range, in the heart of the Crete, till you reach the abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore – surrounded by thick forest.
Going back you take the Lauretana (S438), you will pass by villages like Asciano where it’s worth to pause a bit and have a look around.
In Taverne d’Arbia, you go back taking the Statale 73, just outside Siena.

Perhaps the most notable edifice of this area is the monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore.

The region is known for its production of white truffles and hosts a festival and a museum dedicated to the rare tuber.

Art in Tuscany | Siena

Art in Tuscany | Le Crete Senesi


Crete Senesi (April)


Crete Senesi (August)


Crete senesi are literally ‘Siennese clays’ and the distinctive grey colouration of the soil gives the landscape an appearance often described as lunar. This characteristic clay, known as mattaione, represents the sediments of the Pliocene sea which covered the area between 2.5 and 4.5 million years ago. In the nearby is also the semi-arid area known as Accona Desert. The area suffered extreme depopulation due to plagues in the Middle Ages, and the attendant prolonged lack of cultivation facilitated an almost complete erosion of the topsoil. It was later settled by Sicilian farmers adept to cultivating cereals on less than optimal conditions, and who were able to establish sustainable cultivation of wheat on the Siennese clays.

Crete Senesi, Biancane hills in the badlands of Accona Desert
Crete Senesi, Biancane hills in the badlands of Accona Desert

Collegium Vocale Crete Senesi

Collegium Vocale Crete Senesi is an annual music festival under the artistic direction of Philippe Herreweghe in the Crete Senesi in Tuscany. 
2017 promises to be a special year: the year in which artistic director Philippe Herreweghe celebrates its 70 years and in which the world is celebrating the Monteverdi-year (Claudio Monteverdi was born 450 years ago). Special event will be the performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers by Collegium Vocale Gent and Philippe Herreweghe in the beautiful setting of the Sant’ Anna in Camprena monastery.

For more information: Collegium Vocale Crete Senesi


Program 2017



Collegium Vocale Crete Senesi [1]

Castiglioncrello Bandini is about 18 km far from Montalcino and it is located in a spot overlooking the Orcia and Ombrone river valleys, a suggestive and varied area of Tuscany that should not be missed.

Tuscan farmhouses | Podere Santa Pia



Monte Oliveto Maggiore abbey

Abbey of Sant 'Antimo


Asciano preserves its historic center in the ancient medieval structure. It's located in the heart of Crete Senesi, close to Desert Accona.
Its origin follows the myth of Romulus and Remus: the legend told that the sons of Remus, Senio and Aschio fled from Rome to escape hatred uncle founder of Rome Romulus, Senio refuging on the banks of Tressa river and creating Siena, and Aschio on the banks of Ombrone river founding Asciano.
In reality Asciano was founded under Siena control to which it remained always faithful, like in the Montaperti historic battle in 1260, when thanks to Asciano, Siena won against Florence.
Merged first with Medici's possession and later to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, it followed the events of the other Tuscan territories.
Places of interest to visit in Asciano are: the Collegiate Church of St. Agatha, the Etruscan Museum, the San Lorenzo church, the Museum of Sacred Art (with works by Lorenzetti "San Michele Arcangelo" and "Madonna col Bambino").

Podere Ferranesi is located between Asciano and San Giovanni d’Asso, in the Crete Senesi, the 'clay hills' of Siena, that offer a remarkable landscape of rolling hills. The renovation of Podere Ferranesi, an old Tuscan farm was designed by Conix Architect, an office founded in 1979 by Christine Conix. Conix studied architecture at the Hoger Instituut voor Architectuurwetenschappen Henry van de Velde (Henry van de Helde Higher Institute of Architectural Sciences) in Antwerp. In 1979 she set up our own architectural practice, known today as Conix Architects, with offices in Antwerp and Brussels (2004).
The architectural office gained public attention with the renovation and extension of the Atomium in Brussels (2005)

The Abbey Monte Oliveto Maggiore was founded in 1313 by Bernardo Tolomei and played an important role during the Renaissance not only as a religious center but also as a place of economic and cultural exchange.
Today, it is still an active religious center run by the Benedictines, and it collects inside, valuable manuscripts and pergo restored by monks. It's the seat of the "Istituto di restauro del libro" (Book Restoration Institute).
On the road that leads to the Abbey you will find tall cypresses that, standing in the desert of the Crete Senesi, create a spectacular landscape.
Montaperti is renowned for the famous battle of 1260 between Florence and Siena, won by the latter, to which a memorial pyramid is dedicated. The battle is mentioned by Dante in the tenth chapter of the Divine Comedy's "Hell".

Buonconvento is a historical village that lies in the Ombrone valley. Its history is linked to the history of Siena until the fall of the latter and the annexation to the Medici Grand Duchy in 1554. It keeps intact the fourteenth century walls, as well as some features of the medieval village, as the "chiasso buio" (literally blind alley), a road paved with medieval arches tunnel.
Attractions are the Palace Podestarile with the 25 arms of the old mayors, the Town Hall and Taja Palace, Palazzo Borghese, Palazzo del Glorione, the Oratory of St. Sebastian and the Church of SS. Peter and Paul, the Sacred Art Museum of the Val d'Arbia housed in a 18th century Palazzo Ricci-Socini (which preserves important works, including those of Duccio di Boninsegna).

The ancient village Monteroni d'Arbian on the border of the Crete Senesi, was founded in the 13th century, and it was, until 1810, a Podestà of Buonconvento property. It has grown around the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala that built a fortified mill in '300 .
During the war between Florence and Siena, the village was attacked and, consequently, annexed to the Grand Duchy of Florence.
The name was inspired by nearby Mount "Roni", while Arbia is the torrent that flows through the town.

Rapolano Terme is located between Val di Chiana and Chianti and is famous for its spa waters of the San Giovanni and Ancient Queriolaia Baths. The thermal waters have been known since antiquity, as testified by the ruins of an Imperial Roman bath complex, and are famous for having hosted Giuseppe Garibaldi, who took refuge there to heal the wound in the Battle of Aspromonte.
The structure of the country is affected by the quarries of travertine and marble, which one time helped to increase local economy.
Rapolano waters, which have a temperature of about 39 ° C (37,4F), are sulphurous-bicarbonate-calcium waters.

San Giovanni d'Asso, inhabited since ancient times, completely surrounds the castle of San Giovanni and is crossed by the River Asso.
The origin of the village dates back to Etruscans, while the development of the city, like testified by the buildings style, was in the Middle Ages.
In the castle of St. John, the highest point of the country, the Museum of truffle was created .
Attractions in San Giovanni d'Asso are the Castle of St John, Castle Montisi (on Monte Ghisi), the castles Accarigi and Castelverdelli, the Parish of St. John the Baptist, the Church of San Pietro in Villore.
The main event is the carousel of Simon in August, when four horsemen (one for every districts of Montisi) try to hit a target with a spear, the festival of crackles on the first Sunday after Easter.

About 45 minutes southeast of Florence, Italy, near the town of Figline Valdarno, there’s a place called Sting’s Café. This establishment is known to only a handful of insiders; to visit, you must first snag an invitation to Sting’s Tuscan home, a 900-acre estate known as Il Palagio, where the yoga-toned musician, his producer/actor/philanthropist wife, Trudie Styler, and their family spend the end of every summer. When Trudie Styler and husband Sting discovered and fell in love with Il Palagio, a 16th century Tuscan estate, they re-instated the estate's tradition of bottling honey, olive oil and classic Tuscan foods.

Nature Train in the Siena region

The Asciano-Monte Antico railway

The Asciano-Monte Antico railway line was closed in September 1994 because it was considered a "dead branch". He had a too small traffic of passengers to justify a normal service.
Across the area of the Crete Senesi and the valley of the Orcia river at the foot of Mount Amiata, the line is, however, in an area of a special environmental and landscape value, where among other things, it is produced a very fine wine, the famous Brunello and where it was established the Artistic Natural and Cultural Park of Val d'Orcia.

Thanks to the Train Nature project, the Asciano-Monte Antico has been reopened during certain no working days as a "tourist train" following the many examples of this kind which exist in other European countries and North America.

Val d'Orcia Railway Association volunteers provide customer assistance and the improvement of existing attractions along the route. The Nature Train Project wants to show us how, with innovative forms of management, the reuse of secondary railways, which run in areas far away from the phenomena of urbanization and industrialization, cover for that reason a fundamental naturalistic role. The initiative aims also at contributing to the preservation of an important heritage of "industrial archeology".
In order to emphasize also the historical value of the "Tourist Railway", the service is provided by especially restored vintage locomotives and sometimes by steam locomotives and “a hundred doors” coaches.

For information and reservations:
FVO - Ferrovia Val d’Orcia
Ph: +39 0577 207413 - +39 338 8992577
Arcidosso, 58031 Arcidosso (GR)

Nature Train in the Siena region is an initiative of the Siena Province, State Railways, Club Alpino Italian and Orcia Rail Network.

Walking and trekking in Tuscany

The best way to visit the Crete Senesi is to walk in the countryside. There are some very scenic routes: The Strada del Pecorile, between Asciano, Trequanda, Chiusure and San Giovanni d’Asso, which starts from the Porta Massini and leads southwards, was really important in the past because it linked Asciano and Trequanda, Chiusure and San Giovanni d’ Asso. Its main characteristic is that, some kilometres from the village, it goes on a series of calcareous hills, which are the highest of the area and, for this reason, they offer splendid panoramic foreshortenings.

Strada Bianca di Medane: a country lane departing from Arbia and leading to Asciano along the path of the old Roman road Lauretana Antica and then continuing to Medane. It runs on the top of the hills, and the views over the Crete and Siena are incredible. From this road it is possible to continue on a similar country lane that leads from Monteroni to San Martino in Grancia and Vescona.

Strada Bianca di Montauto: departing from the old Roman road Cassia just before it reaches Lucignano d’Arbia, it’s the perfect road to admire the impressive calanchi on the Ombrone Valley.

Vecchia Strada della Riccia: the old road between Siena and the Val di Chiana running through the countryside of the Crete and the woods “Riccia”.

Strada Bianca di Pieve a Salti: quite off-the-beaten-path, it leads from San Giovanni d’Asso to Buonconvento through the hills comprised between the rivers Ombrone and Asso. A beautiful rural area, and a lovely pieve.


[1] Photo by Michiel Hendryckx. Source: