Pienza - Val d'Orcia - Siena - Tuscany

Gardens

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, La Foce, built by Iris Origo (author of War in Val d'Orcia) and designed by the famous English architect Cecil Pinsent.

A very unique garden that combines a park with artwork is the Daniel Spoerri Garden. There you will see 130 sculptures by 50 artists in a beautiful garden that is about 16 hectares in size. This park is found on the slopes of Monte Amiata (see the next entry), and is very close to one of the finest gourmet restaurants in the region. Combine a visit of this ethereal park with a trip to the top of Monte Amiata--it is a fantastic day trip you won't soon forget.

Mountains

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 day trip 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!

Seaside and islands

Often we have guests who arrive in Rome and want to come to our area by following the shore and staying somewhere for a night before they arrive. Try the charming seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia. There are beaches and swimming in the sea here--and you'll find many Italian families there enjoying the sun and surf. And if you have a little more time and want to take the ferry, you can visit the beautiful little island of Giglio (Isola di Giglio), departing from Porto S. Stefano, near Orbetello . The drive from this area of the coast to Cretaiole is approximately 2 hours.

Lake areas

There are several lakes of various sizes within very easy driving distance of Cretaiole. Closest are Lake Chiusi and Lake Montepulciano, and they are particularly enjoyed by birders. They are freshwater lakes, 15 km east of the village of Montepulciano. The lakes are surrounded by extensive reed beds, cultivated land and small broadleaved woodlands, and there are also some small artificial ponds called Vasche di Dolciano. Please note that lake water-levels fluctuate greatly during the year.

The Montepulciano Lake Natural Reserve has a visitor's center, and here you can go on walks, guided tours, trips on electric board, and bike rides. The center has information about the fauna, flora, and history of the area. There is a picnic area which is free of charge. The electric boat allows the visitor to admire the fauna that is hardly noticeable from land as well as the beautiful views of the rolling Tuscan hills from the center of the lake. The "Path of Reclamation" is near the Visitors Center. It is a beautiful walking and cycling route that takes you from the Chiusa dei Monaci near Arezzo to Chiusi Scalo, skirting along the Canale Maestro della Chiana, the various water projects of the land reclamation and the lakes of Chiusi and Montepulciano. The total distance is approximately 65 km. The boat tours and guided tours can be reserved at the Visitors Centre, while the walking and cycling route is open to all. Throughout the year, the organization also has indoor activities (environmental education, photography lessons, botany classes, and birdwatching classes) and outdoor activities (school trips, summer camps and solar fields, photography camps, birdwatching). For info and reservation: Reception open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10 am to 7 pm, 366-3243647 366-3243647

Nature preserve

The Monte Amiata del Parco Faunistico is part of Monte Labbro Nature Reserve. The park spreads over some 200 hectares and is dedicated to the study, protection and safeguard of a number of animal species semi-wildly living within large areas. It’s currently a landmark for investigations on environmental issues and also hosts many cultural events on various topics, from botany to contemporary arts. The park fauna includes Apennine wolfs (normally very difficult to see, but here can be spotted from the loggias along the footpaths provided), Egyptian vultures, wild boars, and ungulates such as fallow and roe-deers, chamois and mouflon. There are also some domesticated species such as the very rare Sorcino donkey. The park also hosts smaller animals living in the undergrowth such as foxes, badgers and porcupines. A large number of footpaths and natural trails are provided for didactic and educational itineraries. Expert environmental guides are also available to accompany visitors within the park. Open every day (except on Monday) from 07.15 to sunset. The park is a little over an hour's drive from Cretaiole, near Arcidosso.

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