I almost hate to write an article about Monte Amiata in Tuscany because it is little known to foreign tourists. Should I reveal some of its secrets here? I guess it’s your lucky day as you’re about to learn about a few of the many incredible things to do in Monte Amiata.
Many know Tuscany through Florence and Siena, the Val d’Orcia, and iconic towns like Montepulciano, Pienza, and San Geminiano.
Even though I lived in Rome for eight years in the ’80s, I had only been to Florence. And after doing so, I assumed I had seen Tuscany. But a few years ago, my partner wanted to plan a more rural trip to explore Val d’Orcia. I had seen the photos of the rolling hills and cypress trees in the distance, which I thought were “pretty,” but I didn’t see the big deal.
Until we went there.
Why You Need To Visit the Val d’Orcia Area of Tuscany
It’s impossible to capture our experience of the Val d’Orcia area of Tuscany, but I will give one example.
One day, we got in our car and decided to explore without a goal; when we saw an unpaved road, we turned down it; when we saw a few Tuscan homes on a hilltop, we drove there; when we saw other cars, we found small roads where there were none.
At a certain point, we parked by the side of the road and hiked up and down a few hills. At the peak of one of those hilltops, we stopped, looked, and listened. All around us were the wheat-filled golden hills swaying in the wind; the gentle shifting breezes hummed around us, and the isolation of the spot beckoned us not to speak.
After a few minutes, my partner said, “This is so beautiful that I don’t have words.”
That is the Val d’Orcia area of Tuscany for me.
Exploring Monte Amiata in Tuscany
A friend from Rome has encouraged us to go to the Monte Amiata area for years. “Is it a town?” I asked. He shook his head. “No, it is a region!”
“Monte” means “mountain”, and at 1,738 meters, the mountain, with its incredible birch forests, hosts everything from winter sports, mountain biking, and trekking to family picnics and camping.
Beautiful towns in Monte Amiata:
- Abbadia San Salvatore
- Castel del Piano
- Santa Fiora
What we found:
Our local friend promised us: “If you go, I know you will LOVE it!” His words were prophetic.
As we made our way from town to town, we drove through dense birch forests that were so beautiful we seemed to be in a fairy tale. It was challenging to compare California’s pine and redwood forests to what we found on Mount Amiata; it is a different type of beauty—equally awe-inspiring but in another category.
During our forest drive, my partner exclaimed, “This is so beautiful it is ridiculous!” I responded, using an expression I’ve heard from my high school students: “This is sick!” Lol.
We were surprised at the different architecture and vibe that each town has. On paper, I liked Abbadia the most, because of its larger population and sports facilities. But in person, I fell in love with Arcidosso, where both the medieval center and modern town are beautiful.
One morning, we went to Seggiano and sat on the edge of the town overlooking the rolling Tuscan hills; it was so beautiful that it seemed unreal.
Go To The Top of Monte Amiata
“You have to go to the top of Monte Amiata on the ski lift; it operates all year round, and it is amazing,” a local friend told us. Since we had made Abadia our base, driving through the forested area took little time, passing beautiful picnic areas, campgrounds, and private cabins along the way.
We knew we were close to the area when we arrived at a meadow surrounded by a few cafes and a mountain hotel; many families were on the lawn. Some were having picnics, others playing soccer or other sports. We stopped to get a coffee and continued to the ski lift area.
We first noticed the large number of people bringing their mountain bikes up the ski lifts. We asked the guys standing in line what it was all about. “We take the lift to the top and then ride down the bike trail; then we go up and do it all over again!”
Once we hopped on the lift, we saw what he was referring to, since forty feet below us was an incredibly long and well-kept bike trail. Some parts looked challenging, others easy. “Do you want to try it?” my partner asked. I shook my head. “Not without a helmet and body armor,” I replied.
The bikers on the trail were having a great time.
When we reached the top, we spotted the ski run below since Monte Amiata is a popular ski area in the winter.
Jumping off the lift, we hiked briefly to a cross marking the peak. There were a few shops and a cafe/restaurant with great views, but we preferred the platform in front of the 19th-century cross, from which we could see the whole Val d’Orcia stretching out before us.
We chatted with a few locals who pointed out the distant towns. “Next time, you might want to hike up,” a friendly local lady said. “It’s easier than it looks; in fact, I hiked up today, and I’m walking back down with my friends,” she continued.
We thanked the kind people we met, jumped on the lift, and drove back to Abadia through the beech forest.
When the setting sun started to sparkle through the trees and the shadows grew longer, my partner exclaimed, “What a magical place!”
Exploring The Towns in Monte Amiata in Tuscany
There are many unique and beautiful towns in the Monte Amiata area, but I will share a few that we explored.
Santa Fiora is the perfect place to go for breakfast. It is a small historical stone town at the top of a hill with a view to die for. There is a cafe with outdoor tables right outside the historical area; we chose this place to start our day every morning. The cafe has a cool, welcoming vibe and makes excellent coffee.
Seggiano is another small but beautiful town where a friend of ours lives. When we explored the historical center one evening, we noted that, in the central piazza, there was a book discussion with an author taking place at one end, cafes with outdoor tables filled with patrons having a spritz at the other, and, in between, families with kids having fun. The town and piazza were very lively and beautiful.
Abadia San Salvatore
I wanted to go to Abadia San Salvatore because of the abbey, whose founding dates from 743. Though parking was challenging, it was worth it when we entered the abbey crypt. The abbey above was built in 1035 in Romanesque style with a high and narrow façade and two bell towers.
The crypt may date from the 7th century, and its thirty-two columns, decorated with animal and plant motifs, give the space a sense of permanence (the stone) and a sense of life (the plant and animal carvings).
Arcidosso is another town worth visiting because of its cute historical center, clean newer town area, cafes, shops, and bakeries. We returned to this town often to sit in one of its outdoor cafes, sip our coffees, and enjoy the beautiful moment.
The town also hosts the annual chestnut festival, usually in October. Locals flock to the area to participate in the traditional music, dancing, artisan stalls, the antiques market and the historical reenactments in the castle and in the historical center. There are also a plethora of chestnut dishes, from chestnut beer to pastries, and local chestnut farms host visitors on tours of the art of growing the incredible chestnuts that add to the flavor of this town.
When leaving Arcidosso to return to Abadia, we spotted movement on a hill with a monument on top. Never one to pass up a curiosity, we swerved, went down the side road, turned around, and looked up. “What the….????!!!” I said. We rolled down our windows to get a better look at the wild boar rummaging a few feet from our car. “Get out to take a picture!” my partner urged me.
I turned to him as if he was crazy. “I’m good,” I replied.
After a few minutes, we said goodbye to the boar and returned to our lodging.
Monte Amiata in Tuscany would have never been on our radar if we hadn’t listened to our local friends urging us to go there.
Our discovery of this incredible but little-known area showed us that the willingness to explore beyond the guidebooks often reaps the most significant travel rewards.