What are the Crete senesi
The term "Crete Senesi" refers to an area in the countryside of the Italian region of Tuscany to the south of Siena.
It consists of a range of hills and woods among villages and includes the comuni of Asciano, Buonconvento, Monteroni d'Arbia, San Quirico d’Orcia, Rapolano Terme and San Giovanni d'Asso, all within the province of Siena.
Crete senesi are literally ‘Senese clays’, and the distinctive grey colouration of the soil gives the landscape an appearance often described as lunar. This characteristic clay, known as mattaione, represents the sediments of the Pliocene sea which covered the area between 2.5 and 4.5 million years ago. Nearby is also the semi-arid area known as the Accona Desert.
How did they form?
The Crete Senesi represent one of the most interesting and characteristic landscape of Tuscany, the area is formed by a charming series of argillaceous hills made up of reliefs eroded over the centuries by meteor phenomena, bare of vegetation, where alternate “calanchi” (furrows products of water erosion in the clay) and “biancane” (outcrop sediments of the Pliocene - clay -, bare of vegetation, white of colour), that sometimes seem to form a lunar landscape. During the Middle Ages, this area was called the Desert of Accona for its magical lunar landscape. Other peculiarities of the landscape are cypress and pine trees planted along the streets and around the farms to protect against the wind.
The landscape of Crete Senesi varies with the season, in fact any time of year has a hint of color, which is enhanced by the bareness of the landscape, a nature made of very unusual colours such as gray of the clay and the yellow of sulfate, the green of the fields of wheat in spring, that change in yellow during the summer.
Medieval villages and historical sites surrounding the Crete Senesi
The area is not only absolutely charming because of its landscape, but also for the marvellous medieval villages and historical sites that can be found there.
Asciano has a very pleasant small historical center partly surrounded by medieval stone walls and it is the main village at the heart of the Crete area. Corso Giacomo Matteotti is the main street that crosses through the center. At the upper end of this street, you find the main church Sant'Agata, with a simple gray stone structure standing on the top of a staircase, preserving among other things two nice 16th century frescoes.
Still on the main street, you will find two excellent restaurants for a lunch break, one is Amor Divino next to the interesting city museum of sacred art and archaeology. This restaurant offers the famous Florentine steak cooked on an open fire in the middle of the dining room. The other is La Mencia in the middle of the village with a big dining room and an outside terrace in the summer, serving deliciously cooked traditional Tuscan dishes.
If you happen to visit Asciano in September, remember that the second Sunday of the month you can take part to a popular event called "Palio dei Ciuchi", a race where the seven contradas of the village compete with donkeys in the old city stadium. You can read about that and other September events here.
At the lower end of the main street you find the Etruscan and Sacred Art Museum in a recently restored Palazzo Corboli, one of the main attractions of the town, which hosts traces of Etruscan and medieval art.
From Asciano, it is easy to continue your itinerary in the Crete area for example in the direction of the fascinating Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, perhaps the most notable building of the area.
Head down to Buonconvento from the Abbey and make a stop to see the walls and small historical center and maybe enjoy dinner before heading back to Siena.
Buonconvento is an ancient settlement in the more gentle side of the province of Siena. Buonconvento is now an important rural centre, thanks to its particular and strategic position, where the rivers Arbia and Ombrone join together, along the Via Francigena.
Approaching Mount Amiata, the hills of the Crete Senesi give way to woods of chestnut trees and the towns of Radicofani, Santa Fiora, and Abbadia San Salvadore.
Continuing south, Monteroni d'Arbia is located on the right bank of the Arbia river. The 14th century fortified mill, whose great brick tower makes it easily visible, bears witness to the importance of this place in agricultural production. In the days of the ancient Sienese Republic, Monteroni d'Arbia was a very important farm.
In this romantic lunar landscape, tourist can also find wellness and spa resorts, such as Terme di Chianciano, where to get beauty and clay treatments and bathe in hot, thermal water.
In this unique landscape of the Val d’Orcia, the famous towns of Montepulciano, Montalcino, Pienza and the beautiful Volterra are located.
A holiday in the Crete senesi would be an unforgettable one. The territory offers amusement for the whole family: Chianti wine tasting for the adults, playgrounds and activities for the children; tourists can find accommodation in the typical farmhouses, relax and enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views.
The perfect blend of history, culture and the authentic soul of Italy in terms of restaurants, the Crete Senesi, together with the Maremma, val di Chiana and the rest of southern Tuscany should definitely be on the top five of your travel bucket list!