South of Siena, towards the province of Arezzo and Mount Amiata, stretches a vast area called Crete Sienese, or Sienese Clay Hills. The landscape here seems almost deserted with barren grey-coloured gentle hills extending into horizon, patches of woods, cultivated fields, solitary farmhouses and isolated towns. Millions of years ago, water covered this area with and what we see now is the result of slow sediment erosion.
For a taste of local culture head to the small medieval towns in the Crete Senesi. Located in the heart of the Crete area, Asciano has a beautifully preserved old centre partially surrounded by ancient walls. There is a beautiful Church of Sant'Agata with 16th century frescoes, an interesting museum of medieval art and archaeology as well as a couple of excellent restaurants. In September, the village hosts a traditional donkey race called Palio dei Ciuchi.
|Serre di Rapolano|
The town of Buonconvento is surrounded by well-preserved medieval walls with seven towers. Here you can enjoy a stroll along the old streets and a delightful meal in one of the traditional restaurants. Another place that is worth a visit is Serre di Rapolano, a town famous for its hot springs with two excellent spas where you can pamper yourself and relax by a swimming pool with a glass of bubbly prosecco. If you are a foodie, do not miss San Giovanni d'Asso, a stunning hamlet overlooked by a formidable castle, where an annual white truffle takes place in November. You can visit a truffle museum, taste mouth-watering delicacies made with the precious tuber and go truffle hunting with a local guide.
Follow the road cutting through the lunar landscape of the clay hills and you will arrive to the 14th century Benedictine Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Spend some time here admiring the spectacular frescoes depict the life of St. Benedict and listening to the monks’ Gregorian chants.
Between the villages Arbia and Leonina you will find the beautiful landscape art Site Transitoire by French artist Jean-Paul Philippe where you can sit and enjoy the silence and views of the clay hills.
Photos via Flickr by: Antonio Cinotti, Morgan Haye, Sampo Sikiö.