Our Campervan tour of Italy continues, as we leave the fabulous city of Florence behind. Heading a few miles to the South, we start our tour of Central Tuscany Chianti and Val D’Orcia.
Regions of lush vineyards, rich food produce, olive groves in abundance and those all too familar Tuscan cypress trees. Not forgetting, those hilltop towns and villages which dominate the landscapes.
We started the route at Greve in Chianti, where a really good Motorhome Sosta in the town provided us with a couple of free nights parking.
A lovely walking route took us through the town of Greve and up a winding country road. Vineyards and olive groves lined the route, leading us to the pretty village of Montefioralle. It’s here in the hilltop cemetery that Amerigo Vespucci was laid to rest. An explorer who’s name was used to name America!
After a couple of days exploring the lovely foodie town of Greve, we were ready to move on and continue this tour of Tuscany Chianti and Val D’Orcia.
Firstly, stopping for a look at Radda in Chianti, another historic, hilltop wine town and a great place to have a stroll. There is a Motorhome Sosta here but once we’d seen the town itself, we chose to drive to the next village on our list!
A drive through vineyards lead us to the hilltop village of Panzano and a free motorhome Sosta next to the vines. After a stroll around the village itself, taking in the views of the countryside, we decided to head on to another historic little village for the night.
Arriving just as darkness set in, the only sign of life in the village was from a fairy lit restaurant terrace.
The free motorhome Sosta parking was shared with cars from the restaurant and was set adjacent to the olive groves.
After a peaceful nights sleep, except for the inevitable wild boar roaming through the bushes, it was time to take a peak at the village.
Volpaia, is of course, another hilltop village! This one is beautiful and truly worth a visit. Although it’s small, with only vineyards and a few top quality eateries, the setting and the quaintness of the place is a delight.
Another hilltop town beckoned, there isn’t a town around that doesn’t sit on the top of a large mound! This time it was San Gimignano. We aimed for the motorhome Sosta but this was far from the centre and we only wanted to visit for a couple of hours.
Instead, we found free parking near a school and walked into the centre. This town was quite touristy, coach trips and souvenir shops lined the streets. We had now hit the mass Tuscan tourist trail!
With 14 towers rising up into the skyline, we could see why they call it the medieval Manhattan. As with many towns along our route, this one is part of the pilgrim walk that links Canterbury with Rome, the Via Francigena. We’ve come across it regularly on our tour, as we’ve driven a similar route.
A walk up to the old castle area took us away from the tourist hub. Lovely views across the countryside and more olive groves was a welcome break from the people below.
Before parking up for the night, we decided to drive over to another hilltop town, Volterra. Although there’s a motorhome Sosta parking here, we were able to park on the road.
More steps and walking up the usual paved pathways lead us to the start of the town. It’s medieval ramparts are just part of the attraction here. The main incentive for us, was the rather splendid ruins of the Roman Theatre.
This we could look down on from a pathway above, giving a perfect perspective of how this would have dominated the town with its 2000 spectators in situe.
Again, Volterra is a rather touristy town. The crowds were drawn to a vintage Ferrari tour, that had parked up for lunch in the main Piazza. Italy seems to bring in the vintage car fanatics, this being one of several we’ve seen on this trip.
Our parking spot for the night from Volterra came at the little hamlet of Abbadia a Isola.
Would you believe it, but this wasn’t actually a hilltop village! Being on the Via Francigena pilgrim route, the next morning we chose to walk the 8km return section to Monteriggioni.
It was so lovely to walk a part of the route, starting from the Abbey Isola, where many pilgrims stop for their overnight rest. It’s also a lovely building, no wonder so many pilgrims have passed thorough this spot over the centuries.
This is a rather low key hilltop town in comparison to many of the others here in Tuscany.
It’s a walled town, like many here, with paved walkways within and the inevitable Piazza or square. Not to forget, the church bells, another symbol of Tuscan life!
We rather liked Monteriggioni, after stopping for a coffee, we walked back to the van at Abbadia a Isola before heading off to the rather bustling city of Siena.
To be truthful, after several weeks of historic cites and Italian medieval towns, we were getting a little bit “citied out”.
However, Siena was one of those that we felt we had to see whilst we were more or less passing.
We found a free motorhome Sosta area on the edge of the city, where we parked up along with several other vans.
A 20 minute cycle ride along a very busy main road, took us into the centre. Approaching under a large archway through the city wall, brought us into the busy narrow streets.
We’d been told not to ride our bikes in the main square, the Piazza del Campo. Apparently, hefty fines are issued of 100 euro for those caught peddling the cobbles.
Eager to park up the bikes to avoid any unwelcome fines, we found a bike stand and locked up the bikes. We felt quite happy to just stroll the streets here in Siena. After so many museums, cathedrals and palaces on this tour, we felt we’d seen enough for a while!
Siena is a popular tourist destination, so the crowds were in full flow. The Piazza del Campo, the main large square was built on an old Roman market place. From here, narrow streets veer off towards the Duomo and museums and the shopping areas.
It’s a fairly large city but we felt it lacked the outstanding architecture of its other rivals here in Italy. Probably, it’s a more low key affair, certainly after a few hours, we felt ready to move on.
We started this route at Montalcino. We’d read that it’s one of the most beautiful of driving routes through Tuscany, covering peaceful rolling hills of cypress trees and vines.
Of course, this is another hill top town! After parking up at a motorhome Sosta for the night, we walked the 10 minutes downhill to the centre.
Plenty of steps and narrow cobbled streets flowed through the hillside buildings of the old town. All these villages cling to the hillsides where views stretch out across the countryside of vineyards and olive groves.
Our next stop proved a little more interesting! A walkway from our motorhome Sosta brought us to a gorgeous little village of natural stone buildings.
Thermal waters dominate this Roman village, where the water is the main focus of the village. A plush looking Terme and hotel complex offers luxury bathing and treatments, however, we were just here to look at the more interesting natural features.
Tumbling from channels in the village is a constant flow of thermal water. We stopped to bathe our feet in the hot stream, before taking a walk down the hillside.
From the top of the village, the hot water cascades down the silica lined hill. Forming a milky blue pool in the base of the hill, where some tourists took a dip, in the now cooled mineral waters.
Leaving the thermal water behind us for now, our next stop brought us to the hilltop town of Pienza.
The route to reach here was rather lovely, typically Tuscan in every way, although very parched.
As usual, parking was easy, at a free motorhome sosta. A walk to the centre along a terrace overlooking the beautiful open countryside was just gorgeous.
This was to be our favourite of the hill top villages, it’s no wonder that UNESCO have it as a listed town in its own right.
Finally, our last hill top town was the rather large and lengthy Montepulciano.
Perched on a rocky volcanic outcrop, this town is clustered into the ridge, with one very long shopping street through it’s centre.
Again, parking was easy, there’s a dedicated motorhome Sosta but we were able to park for free on the road.
Climbing more steps, our tired legs managed the tour through the hilly streets. Several view points enabled us to get a good look at the surrounding areas.
This popular tourist town, was very much similar to many of the others we’ve visited on this trip, although, we felt we still didn’t want to miss any if we could help it.
After a couple of hours we were ready to leave, thankfully, it was now all down hill as we walked back to the van!
The Chianti route is full of the lush vineyards that you’d expect, coupled with olive groves that seem to grow hand in hand with the vines.
At this time of year (September) the grapes are a gorgeous deep purple colour, along the backdrop of the stone buildings, it all looks rather picture postcard.
This region is found to the south of Florence and although beautiful, we have found it slightly monotonous!
Call us ungrateful, but right now we feel like we’ve seen enough hilltop towns and villages to last a lifetime!
It’s been a week of up’s and down’s….quite literally!! Both on foot and in the campervan, as we’ve followed the wine routes of Chianti and then the UNESCO valley of Val D’Orcia.
However, this is the Tuscany that people rave about. It’s where the tourists come for their week or fortnight getaway’s and despite it coming into late September, there’s still plenty of them doing the rounds here from across the globe.
For us, it’s been lovely to see it all, but it just hasn’t got the same return to feel as some of the French regions.
The local produce of cold meats, cheeses, truffles, suckling pig and of course, famous wines, is another level though. The food here is earthy, irresistible and has traditions that are still as active today as they were generations ago.
What’s not to love about that?!
Sonia has written articles on past tours and tips for Practical Motorhome Magazine.