If you’re driving from Montalcino to Pienza, an easy side trip takes you to the rippling golden hills of the Val d’Orcia. First stop is San Quirico d'Orcia, about 15km (9 miles) east of Montalcino on SR2, where the honey-colored Collegiata dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta assaults you with a wealth of carved stone: capitals composed of animal heads, friezes of dueling fantasy creatures, and columns rising from the backs of stone lions. The church was once a popular stop for pilgrims on the Francigena road from Canterbury to Rome. Its namesake saints were a mother and son: 3-year-old Quirico, who inadvertently scratched the face of the pagan governor of Taurus and was thrown down a flight of stairs, and his mother Giulitta, whose calm acceptance of her son’s martyrdom so angered the governor, he had her ripped apart with hooks and beheaded. Just down the block in the main square, Piazza della Libertà, you’ll find Horti Leonini, a Renaissance Italianate garden (1580) with geometric box-hedge designs and shady holm oaks, originally a resting spot for pilgrims, open daily from sunrise to sunset. The town's tourist office is inside the Palazzo Chigi, Via Dante Alighieri (tel. 0577/897211, open Apr–Oct Thurs–Tues 10am–1pm and 3:30–6:30pm).

Five kilometers (3 miles) south and well signposted off the SS2 is Bagno Vignoni, little more than a group of houses surrounding one of the most memorable piazze in Tuscany. Instead of paving stones you’ll find a steaming pool of mineral water, created when the Medici harnessed the hot sulfur springs percolating from the ground. Even St. Catherine of Siena relaxed here with a sulfur cure. To see the springs in their more natural state, as Roman legionnaires did, take the second turnoff on the curving road into town and pull over after about a km (half a mile), where on your right you see a tiny sulfurous mountain where the waters bubble up in dozens of tiny rivulets. You can also look down on the spectacle from the Parco di Mulino at the edge of town. From both vantage points, there's a fairy-tale view of the Rocca d'Orcia, the 11th- to 14th-century stronghold and watchtower of the Aldobrandeschi clan, formidable toll collectors along the Francigena pilgrim road.

Should you wish to partake of the waters in tamer surroundings, head to Antiche Terme di Bagno Vignoni, Piazza del Moretto 12 (www.termedibagnovignoni.it; tel. 0577–887635), or Piscina Val di Sole, at the Hotel Posta Marcucci (https://www.postamarcucci.it/en/; tel. 0577/887112), to soak away your cares.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.