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Tuscany's San Gimignano, Montepulciano & Beyond

Here we focus on the many attractions in the province of Siena, beyond the city itself, such as Montepulciano, the Crete, San Gimignano, Val d'Elsa, Pienza and the Val d'Orcia, Monte Amiata and more. The Introduction, however, provides extensive information about all of Tuscany and Umbria as well. This is the countryside of a thousand postcards, and the images they depict - pole-straight cypress trees, olive groves, fields full of vibrant sunflowers and luscious vines, bottle-green rolling hills and medieval villages perched on rocky spurs - are as much an attraction as the artistic heritage of Florence, Siena and Pisa. But while these cities can be overrun in the busy summer season, the surrounding countryside has more than enough un-trampled wilderness to break your walking shoes in. For many, the province of Siena offers the enduring image of rural Tuscany with the medieval city of Siena at its heart, the rolling hills of Chianti to its north, the white clay hills of the Crete to its east, the abbeys and castles of the Val d'Orcia and the thermal springs of Val di Chiana on the border of Umbria to the south and the medieval hill-top villages of Val d'Elsa to the west. It contains some of Tuscany's most visited attractions: the towers of San Gimignano, the Renaissance city of Pienza, the wine-producing areas of Montepulciano, Montalcino and San Gimignano and the Etruscan city of Chiusi. The sunflower-filled Elsa Valley is an area of frontier fortress towns and military outposts that attest to the fierce territorial rivalry between Volterra and Florence, of Kodak-colored red-brick towers that jut up in a show of its medieval wealth, and an adventure-rich territory of forests, pleasing country walks, vineyards and farmhouses. The Val d'Orcia (comprising the towns of Castiglione d'Orcia, Montalcino, Pienza, Radicofani and San Quirico d'Orcia) offers an extraordinary landscape of country roads lined by cypress trees, sleepy vineyards and geometrically cultivated fields en route to its main attractions. These are the Renaissance town of Pienza, the mystical abbey of Sant'Antimo, the main square in Bagno Vignoni and the wine cellars of Montalcino. Sightseeing done, there are plenty of adventures to be had on the slopes of Monte Amiata. To the west of Pienza, you'll find Montepulciano towering from its hilltop position over the surrounding woods and vineyards. It introduces the Val di Chiana, a territory that has been a first-rate agricultural area since its land was fully reclaimed by Tuscan Grand Dukes, and is today famous not only for its Chianina cattle, which gives the region its T-bone steak, and also for its cheese, grain, olive oil and wine. Its main hubs of tourist interest, Montepulciano apart, are the spa town of Chianciano Terme and the Etruscan city of Chiusi, with its fascinating catacombs and mysterious underground Labirinto di Porsenna (Porsenna's labyrinth). Adventurers will find their terrain at Cetona and its mountain peaks, and at the lakes of Chiusi and Montepulciano (both important birding sites). That is just a start. All the details are here - what to see and do, walking, boat or bike trips, where to stay, where to eat, the history, the culture. Filled with color photos.

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