Val di Chiana has always fascinated me for its small villages – some very little known – that sprout here and there like mushrooms, set among the hills like jewels of rare beauty.
Today’s itinerary has been designed to discover 3 enchanting towns that deserve to be visited in the province of Arezzo, in the Val di Chiana, plus an excellent natural wine cellar. For a journey where the prerogative is to slow down and savor the details, letting yourself be conquered by a landscape that fills the eyes and by medieval villages where history and culture are breathed in the air.
Monte San Savino
This ancient village, where various signs of the Etruscan civilization have been found, stands on the western side of the Val di Chiana. Surrounded by walls, the historic center is spread over a main street, Corso San Gallo which can be accessed from Porta Fiorentina, to the north and Porta Romana, to the south.
The Logge dei Mercanti, designed by the Florentine architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio, are worth a visit; the elegant Palazzo Comunale with its internal garden, which in summer hosts various cultural events and the ancient ghetto with its Synagogue. Among the noteworthy religious buildings of Monte San Savino: the churches of Santa Chiara, Sant’Agostino and San Giovanni and the sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Vertighe. To learn more about the virtues of local crafts, there is the Cassero Museum, dedicated to the ancient ceramic tradition of the town.
Take a pit-stop at Bar la Combriccola, along the main street, to sip a pumpkin rhubarb on the rocks and have a snack based on finocchiona, a typical Tuscan sausage, flavored with fennel seeds and soaked in red wine. Know that it would be a crime to visit the Val di Chiana without tasting one of its typical dishes – which by the way is vegetarian! -: pici all’aglione, a tasty and delicate first course, where garlic is not indigestible (seeing is believing). A good place to experience this experience is the Il Cassero restaurant, which also has a well-stocked cellar and, for omnivores, offers excellent grilled lamb chops and fried cod.
The Castle of Gargonza
Before leaving Monte San Savino, plan a visit to the fairytale Castle of Gargonza and its 13th century fortified village of medieval origin, surrounded by woods and suggestive views over the Val di Chiana. In 1304 the Castle also hosted Dante Alighieri.
Today it is a bed and breakfast, but you can come just to admire the village, the garden of the Limonaia and some rooms of the castle.
The definition of ‘minor villages’ does not do them justice: they are certainly small villages, but their charm is inversely proportional to their size and tourist notoriety. Civitella is an example of this, which does not reach 10 thousand inhabitants, but was also historically important. It stands on a hill and its position was strategic as a garrison of the road between Arezzo and Siena.
Civitella is a delightful stone village, where the balconies and doors are embellished with pots of plants and flowers. Unfortunately, in the past it was the subject of bombings and wars (sadly, the ‘Massacre of Civitella’ is known, a German reprisal that cost the lives of 244 civilians). Despite this, it still boasts a large part of its defensive walls of the twelfth century, the Sienese gate of access to the town and some parts of the medieval castle and its majestic keep.
In the main square, admire the medieval cistern with an octagonal base. Civitella also boasts two museums: one is the Sala della Memoria, dedicated to the many testimonies of the events that occurred in 1944 during the reprisal; the other is the Contemporary Art Gallery. For a glass of wine, with a view, sit at Enoteca Il Vicolo, which is also a restaurant (closed on Mondays).
Half an hour away from Civitella and 20 minutes from Monte San Savino, Castiglion Fiorentino is another ancient village in the Val di Chiana. It was first inhabited by the Etruscans and then in Roman times. The historic center has also received the Orange Flag of the Touring Club, a recognition of tourist-environmental quality, awarded to small towns in the Italian hinterland.
Enter the town from the Porta Fiorentina (it was the ancient entrance) and reach the airy Piazza San Francesco, where the 13th century church of the same name stands, in Romanesque style with some Gothic elements. Next to it, there is a beautiful cloister, whose walls host tombstones dating back to the 1800s, each of which with poetic writings – some truly original – in memory of the deceased. Next to the church there is an excellent restaurant, Da Muzzicone, where you can taste the Florentine; if you are a vegetarian, do not worry because there are delicious proposals too.
With a full stomach, continue the visit of the town up to the enchanting Piazza del Municipio, in Renaissance style, with the elegant Renaissance loggia by Vasari, a real architectural balcony overlooking the Val di Chiana, the Val di Chio and the Valtiberina . Here, in the Church of Sant’Angelo, the Municipal Art Gallery is housed with some important paintings. Also worth a visit is the Municipal Theater, which internally features nineteenth-century decorations, gilded stuccos and marbled plaster. Curiosity: in the streets of Castiglion Fiorentino I got lost admiring the vintage signs of the shops, from the typography to the butcher.
Bio-Dynamic Wine Estate: tour and tasting
Enjoy a visit of the biodynamic winery and taste Amerighi’s wines. Its vineyards are developed on two hills facing south-west, on about 9 hectares of land – mainly sandy-clayey, with a limestone part – which give rise to a production of 33 thousand bottles. Enjoy a wine tour and tasting, of his local bio-dynamic production.
Return to your retreat after the wine tasting.