Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Visiting the Val d'Orcia from Borgo di Vagli

Many Fractional Owners at Borgo di Vagli, our restored Tuscan hamlet, comment to me that one of their favourite day excursions is visiting the Val d'Orcia from Borgo di Vagli. For those who haven't visited this fascinating area, I think I can safely say that the Val d'Orcia is one of the most popular areas of Tuscany for visitors to this part of Italy. The iconic wide-sky, sweeping landscapes, the beautiful hilltop towns, the italianate gardens, the art and the culinary specialities and wine all make the Val d'Orcia an area of inexhaustible interest. Depending on when you're here, there are also some great folkloric festivals to be enjoyed. Here I'll indicate just a few of the aspects of the Val d'Orcia that draw me back there again and again. From Borgo di Vagli to Pienza, which is well into the Val d'Orcia, takes just over an hour (43 miles). To Montepulciano, which is in the Val di Chiana but on the same route to Pienza, takes about 50 minutes (30 miles).

Iconic scene in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany, Italy
Iconic scene in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany, Italy
Towns and villages characterised by particularly beautiful architecture and a charming ambience:
  • Pienza - hometown of the Piccolomini Pope, Pius II, an amazing Renaissance man who created this exquisite Humanist town near his birthplace. Pienza is a perfect case study of what a powerful family can do for its own locality. Pius II brought the best architect – Rosselino, definitively inspired by Leon Battista Alberti  – and most the renowned artists of the time to work at Pienza. No one can miss the huge “gap” between the splendour of the main piazza, the church and the Piccolomini Palace itself and the rest of the very simple, humble village.
  • Montalcino and the nearby Abbey of Sant'Antimo where Mass is celebrated with Gregorian chant.
  • San Quirico and neaby Bagno Vignoni, a thermal bathing area enclosed in a beautiful Italian square and dating back at least to the Romans.
  • The large Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore located in the Crete Senesi and frescoed during the Renaissance by Sodoma and Fra’ Paolo Novelli.
  • Montepulciano, not in the Val d'Orcia but often included in an excursion to the valley.
Formal gardens in the Italian style
A pecorino shop in Pienza, Val d'Orcia, Tuscany
A pecorino shop in Pienza, Val d'Orcia, Tuscany
Gastronomy and wine:
Castles - because of its strategic position, the Val d'Orcia is the location of numerous picturesque castles, among them being Rocca d'Orcia, Castiglione d'Orcia and Ripa d'Orcia.

More about the sights of the Val d'Orcia.

Borgo di Vagli restored mediaeval hamlet in Tuscany
Borgo di Vagli has been authentically restored as a Tuscan vacation hamlet. The residences can be bought in the form of fractional ownerships, making a holiday home in Tuscany possible at modest cost.

Fulvio Di Rosa
All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Where is the best place to park in Cortona?

As many of you will know, Cortona looks deceptively flat on a map but in reality is spread over a steep hillside and has only a single horizontal street. The latter is via Nazionale which runs from Piazza Garibaldi to Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Signorelli. Together they form the centre of the town. You won't be able to park on Via Nazionale, since it's closed to traffic from 8 am until 9 pm every day.

In fact, the simplest solution to the question of where is the best place to park in Cortona is to use one of the parking areas provided outside the walls. These parking lots are spaced at equal intervals around the town and they are free. One of the best is just below Via Garibaldi because there is an escalator (marked "S" on the map) that carries you all the way up to the piazza and hence onto Via Nazionale. This definitely beats walking up the steep streets of Cortona! Note that there's a shop at the bottom of the escalator that offers a very good range of guide books not only about Cortona but many other areas of Tuscany and Umbria.

Inside the walls, there are often parking spots free on via San Marco or on via Moneti, the street immediately before via San Marco. However, if you park on the street, do remember that if you park where a "P" sign is in place, blue lines mean you pay by buying a ticket from one of the machines nearby, yellow lines mean parking is for local people with a special permit only, and a white line means free parking.

Where is it best to park in Cortona?
How not to park in Cortona, no matter how fancy your means of transport.
DO NOT park on the yellow cross or under the no parking sign (Passo Carrabile)!

Last but not least, be aware that Cortona, like many other Tuscan towns and cities, has limited traffic zones (ZTL) watched over by automated cameras. If you drive into one of these zones without a permit, sooner or later you'll receive a fine in the mail whether you were driving your own car or a rental car.

Don't let any of this put you off visiting Cortona. It's a wonderful place, readily accessible from Borgo di Vagli, that rewards multiple visits. In later posts, I'll be telling you a bit about some of the important sights there.

Click this link for a printable map of Cortona showing the official parking lots.

More about limited traffic zones in Italy.

More about Cortona.

More about Borgo di Vagli fractional ownership vacation village in Tuscany.

Fulvio Di Rosa

All content copyright © Fulvio Di Rosa 2013. All rights reserved.