Unknown Tuscany: Discover the wonderful Val di Merse
The Val di Merse is one of most captivating but lesser known corners of Tuscany, lying at the far end of the Terre di Siena, the beautiful lands of Siena. A verdant and uncontaminated nature rich in brooms, oak and chestnut trees, is the great protagonist of this wonderful part of Tuscany, located between the Crete Senesi, the Val d’Orcia, and the Maremma.
During the medieval period, plenty of beautiful churches, forts and abbeys were built all across its territory; the Cistercian Abbey of San Galgano is the most popular and most scenic example of all these.
This wild part of Tuscany is famous for the Abbey and the legendary Sword in the Stone, but there’s really much more to see and discover beyond it. Take a tour here, you’ll not be disappointed!
There’s a lot to discover in Val di Merse; from its appealing hill-top medieval villages, castles and fortifications, to the many thermal springs and spa with curative hot waters, to its stunning unspoilt nature reserves, authentic green oasis full of spectacular vegetation.
Main Sights to visit in Val di Merse
Chiusdino is a lovely town perched on top of a hill, having the appearance of a castle. While walking on its medieval walls you can enjoy fantastic panoramic views over the valley. Its rustic medieval houses are simply enchanting. Here you can visit the chapel of San Galgano, at the moment the only part of the birthplace of Galgano Guidotti that can be visited.
The village has perfectly preserved many of its medieval features, especially in the charming districts of Portino and Le Buche. In the district of Portino, the most ancient part of the town, you find the Propositura di San Michele, a church where is preserved the head of San Galgano, the famous knight and hermit of the sword in the stone. The district of Le Buche is very characteristic, with a curious intersection of narrow and picturesque alleys and lanes that still retain their ancient original paving! Chiusdino is definitely a place to visit in Tuscany.
Another beautiful hill town amid a luxuriant natural setting all surrounded by verdant woods. It is located on a hill overlooking the river Merse, a short distance from the Abbey of San Galgano, that you can reach with a magnificent walk.
It’s a small village but with many churches and monuments, like the Convent of Sant’Agostino, adorned with frescoes and with a fabulous cloister. At Monticiano you’ll also find one of the most excellent wine cellars of the area.
Sovicille is a charming medieval town all enclosed by woods, hills and fertile fields. Here are many Romanesque churches and abbeys, including San Giusto a Balli, the splendid Church of Ponte allo Spino, and the Monastery of Santa Mustiola, with its remarkable and scenic polychrome cloister.
Among the many villas in the area, the seventeenth-century Villa Cetinale, designed by the architect Carlo Fontana, is particularly interesting. The beautiful Montagnola area is famous for being a great destination for trekking and bicycle lovers, and offers great itineraries.
Murlo, with its enchanting medieval castle, is located atop a hill overlooking the valley of Ombrone. It is an extremely characteristic and suggestive medieval village and one of those lesser known parts of Tuscany that are extremely suggestive. Here you can see the notable Etruscan Museum and the castle, which dates back to the twelfth century.
Archeological Excavations at the Castle of Miranduolo
Near Chiusdino is the Castello di Miranduolo, ancient castle of the Val di Merse, dating from the 11th century. The importance of this settlement was due to the extraction and trade of metals. From 2001 the castle has been studied thoroughly by a group of archaeologists and experts.
Terme di Petriolo
All the area of the Val di Merse is rich in hot springs, like the one at Petriolo, with waters that flow at a temperature of 43 °C along the river Farma. The spa offers amenities such as the therapeutic thermal pools and the modern wellness center.
The River Merse
Merse is the name of the river with pure and crystalline waters flowing in this enchanting part of Tuscany. The river runs in a setting of rare beauty amid monuments, abbeys, forests, nature reserves, and ancient mills. The landscape here is unique! There are many wonderful itineraries running along the course of the river.
Il Mulino delle Pile
During the Middle Ages a system of mills was gradually built along the River Merse to supply water. The most famous is certainly il Mulino delle Pile, popular for being the testimonial of a famous brand of Italian cookies. But the mill was even more important during the medieval period, as it supplied water to the village. The mill is perfectly preserved, a real jewel! Today il Mulino delle Pile is a nice agriturismo with restaurant, few kilometers away from the Abbey of San Galgano.
Where to stay in Val di Merse:
I recommend staying at Podere di Santa Maria, charming farmhouse and agriturismo, immersed in a beautiful countryside, just a few kilometers from San Galgano Abbey and Chiusdino. The farmhouse offers comfortable apartments and a familiar atmosphere.
Here you can enjoy great Tuscan dishes, organic food from the garden, great wine, and fresh homemade Tuscan bread every morning! That’s the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing vacation while practicing a lot of activities like trekking, horseback riding, or whatever you prefer
Another good option is I Monti Agriturismo, lovely eco-friendly farmhouse immersed in the verdant countryside and offering rooms and apartments in typical Tuscan style.
I’d like to thank Gianna, owner of Podere Santa Maria for suggesting me to write an article on her amazing homeland! The Val di Merse is one of those lesser known corners of Tuscany, that are worth a visit!