Cretaiole is perfectly located to enjoy all the best that Tuscany has to offer for sights, sounds, wellness, health, culture, history, adventure, shopping, cooking, food, and wine! Just take a little look at all that awaits you within a short drive from Cretaiole!
Hot springs, wellness centers
The Val d'Orcia and Le Crete areas are full of thermal activity from deep inside the earth, providing several excellent hot springs that are enjoyed by people of all ages! For those who wish to luxuriate in spas with personal services (massages, cold water plunges, hot mud masks, etc.), you will find these nearby in Bagno Vignoni, Terme Rapolano, Chianciano Terme, and San Casciano dei Bagni. Our personal favorite is an outdoor hot spring called Bagno San Filippo, where the "White Whale" (an enormous build-up of calcium created over eons by the minerals in the hot spring water) can be found by walking on a beautiful trail into the woods, and enjoying the warm pools–all free of charge.
Cretaiole could not be more wonderfully located to enjoy two world class wines–Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Only 20 minutes away there are many wineries in both of these very specific grape-growing, wine-making areas–from the very small to the very large wine producers. We will be happy to help you select wineries to visit that will suit your taste, your time frame, and your itinerary for the day!
In addition to the pasta cooking class that is included with week-long stays at Cretaiole that we conduct for our guests, there are more cooking classes within a short drive. We have colleagues that offer a variety of classes in a premier restaurant in Montepulciano, another with classes taught at an organic farm where all the ingredients have been produced on-site, and another cooking class taught out in the countryside in the middle of the Val d'Orcia. All of these classes include the meal afterwards so you can taste what you have made with wines that complement the meal! Let us know what kind of experience you are looking for, how many people (including children!) are in your party, and what price level suits you, and We will be able to connect you with a most enjoyable and delectable cooking experience!
Art and Italian language classes
Many people find that the beauty of Tuscany moves their emotions and inspires them to convey their feelings through art (painting, sketching, photography) and language–and what better place to learn some new art and/or Italian language skills than right here just around the corner from Cretaiole!
Elizabeth Cochrane has been exhibiting and selling her paintings for over 20 years and has her work in private collections worldwide. Elizabeth is primarily a landscape painter influenced by the French Impressionists, and she found that the combination of the light and rhythms of the landscape of Tuscany is the perfect environment for her work. You will, too!! Elizabeth lives in Montisi, just 10 km from Cretaiole. She is also an excellent teacher. See her work online: www.elizabethcochrane.com
You may wish to take a few hours of your week to learn Italian language and culture, and this is very possible to do just down the road from Cretaiole at the Scuola Camprena. Dr. Claudio Serafini is the owner and director of this school which is located in the countryside, just across the street from the monastery, Sant' Anna in Camprena where the movie “The English Patient” was filmed.
Monasteries, abbeys, churches
If you are enchanted by ancient, medieval, and Renaissance architectural structures–some still in use by monks, churches, governments, and families with centuries-old Tuscan lineages–this is the place to be! You must come and visit the abbeys and monasteries of the area, especially Sant'Antimo where the monks still sing their haunting Gregorian chants in the beautiful stone church built by Charlemagne, or walk the grounds and buildings of Monte Oliveto Maggiore and look upon the beautiful frescoes by Luca Signorelli (1497) and Antonio Bazzi - called "Sodoma" (1505). Also, within a 5-minute drive from Cretaiole is the evocative Sant'Anna in Camprena monastery where "The English Patient" was filmed.
For beautiful cathedrals and churches, you will want to see the Duomo built by Pope Pius II in his birthplace of Pienza, the Collegiata in San Quirico d'Orcia, the Church of San Pietro in Radicofani with its beautiful glazed terracotta altar pieces and statues by Della Robbia, and the parish churches just outside both Castelmuzio and Pienza, the Pieve di St. Stefano and the Pieve di Corsignano, where pagan and Christian carvings adorn the stone walls harmoniously, blending the profane with the sacred.
Fortresses and castles
Everyone dreams of castles, knights, queens, and kings–these are things that fascinate everyone, regardless of age! This area has some of the most evocative and best preserved citadels, towers, fortresses, and castles, which will take you back in time completely, especially if you are visiting during a festival when the townspeople dress in their medieval costumes, fly their banners, and hold their archery and colorful flag-throwing contests just as they did 1,000 years ago!
The marvelous fortresses of Montalcino and Radicofani, the palaces (palazzi) of the Piccolomini and Chigi families, and the citadel (rocca) of Castiglione d'Orcia are places you will not want to miss while you are here.
Gardens, woods, mountains, natural areas
Nothing soothes the soul and calms the mind as nature–and Tuscany is gloriously full of splendor almost too beautiful for the mind to conceive.
Several beautiful gardens are very close by, which demonstrate a harmonious work between man and nature–some are public gardens within the villages (Horti Leonini and Rose Garden in San Quirico d'Orcia, Palazzo Piccolomini's hanging garden overlooking the Val d'Orcia), some are woods that are almost hidden and certainly mystical in realization (Bosco della Ragnaia in San Giovanni d'Asso), and another is a magnificent Renaissance garden built by Iris Origo (author of War in Val d'Orcia) and designed by the famous English architect Cecil Pinsent, who had previously done extensive work on Bernard Berenson's Villa I Tatti in Florence.
For pure, unadulterated nature, however, you will want to explore the majestic Monte Amiata, Tuscany's tallest mountain (5,700 ft. /1738 mt.) which looms on the horizon, with ever-changing hues and cloud formations. A daytrip to the mountain can include hiking treks through spacious chestnut forests, mushroom hunting, views from the top, skiing in the winter, and abundant fresh air in the summertime. It is a hiker's and naturalist's paradise!
The most important art museums in the world, The Uffizi and the Accademia in Florence, are an easy daytrip from Cretaiole! The grandest collection of medieval and Renaissance art and The David by Michelangelo can be seen by either driving or, better yet, taking the bus or train directly into the heart of Florence. Advance reservations for these two museums are highly recommended, and can be made here.
There are several very interesting museums closer to home that focus on the people, the history, the religion, and the natural sciences of this area of Tuscany. We highly recommend our guests to visit, depending on their interests of course, The Interactive Terracotta Museum of Petroio, The Diocesan Museum in Pienza, the Etruscan Museum in Chiusi, the Museum of the Mezzadria Senese (Sharecroppers), the Aquatic Archeological Civic Museum in Chianciano Terme, the Mineral Museum Park in Abbadia San Salvatore, and Glass Museum at Castello Banfi near Montalcino.
Sports enthusiasts need not leave these pursuits behind when they come to stay at Cretaiole. Within the area are ample opportunities for swimming, tennis, horseback riding, mountain biking, golf, mountaineering, rock climbing, skiing, and more. Just let us know what you would like to do, and we will help you make reservations and find your way to enjoy these activities in beautiful Tuscany!
A very special activity–hot-air ballooning over Tuscany is just 10 km away from Cretaiole! To see a beautiful video of a trip in the balloon click here. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you will treasure–so, be sure to take your camera!
Vintage train rides through Tuscany
Everyone has a great time taking a vintage steam engine train through the Tuscan countryside on the Nature Train! If you are lucky enough to be here when this train is running with its thematic itineraries, we urge you to go. These special tourist trains use tracks that are no longer used for normal service–but are still maintained for special events using renovated steam locomotives and centoporte ("hundred doors") train cars. The tracks wend their way through the beautiful, pristine countryside–allowing passengers to see views not possible by car, including the grey sculptured "clayscapes" of Le Crete, the Orcia river valley near Monte Amiata, Brunello vineyards, and vistas too beautiful to describe.
For those who enjoy shopping wherever they go, or even for those who want something fun to do just in case it is raining outside, there is fabulous discount shopping close by at outlet malls with major Italian designers and brand names at incredible discounts! Italian factory outlets are like none you have seen before. These stores offer the real thing at ridiculous discounts along with a suitably designer environment and good service. Just 20 minutes away is the Valdichiana Outlet Village with over 200 stores for clothing, accessories, and more, and discounts up to 70%. It is open 7 days a week.
And if this isn't enough, or if you want to move up a notch or two on quality, just a little over an hour's drive from Cretaiole is The Mall, with famous designer stores such as Agnona, Alexander McQueen, Armani Jeans, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Emanuel Ungaro, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Hogan, I Pinco Pallino, La Perla, Loro Piana, Marni, Pucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Sergio Rossi, Stella McCartney, Tod's, Valentino, Yohji Yamamoto and Yves Saint Laurent. And in the same vicinity as The Mall are the outlet shops for Dolce & Gabbana and Prada. This is a destination shopping experience for top-quality, premium brands at the lowest possible prices.
Artisanal shops and finely hand–crafted items
The Italian sense of taste and style is famous for its simple elegance, fine design, uncompromising components and ingredients, and visual beauty. This area of Tuscany is a treasure trove for those looking for the finest in gastro-enological products and superbly hand-wrought items, such as pasta, extra virgin olive oil, wine, pecorino cheese, leather, ceramics, terra cotta, copperware, and so much more. These items are produced by artisans, in their small workshops, in villages both large and small. Many of them produce their goods using traditional techniques, taking great pains to ensure excellence and beauty, function and design, and taste and value. We will be delighted to tell you about the local artisans and show you where to find them. These are purchases you will cherish for many years after your Tuscan dream vacation is just a memory.