The term Crete Senesi refers to a vast area of Tuscany on the border between the provinces of Arezzo and Siena, which extends almost up to the slopes of Mount Amiata.
Here is a unique picturesque scenery…a spectacular sea of undulating rolling hills like no other in Tuscany.
A Suggestive Lunar Landscape
That’s an incredibly suggestive and characteristic scenery, almost an unreal “lunar landscape”, with barren gentle hills and woods running across villages, solitary cypress and oak trees, abandoned farmhouses here and there, beautiful forests on the plains.
The word crete refers to the clay in the soil, which gives the land its distinctive blue-gray color. This particular clay, mixed with rock salt and gypsum, said mattaione in Italian, is what remains of the sediments of the sea that was swaying here millions and millions of years ago!
The landscape of the Desert of Accona, a semi-arid territory, is stunning, here, the particular clayish conformations of the area, like the biancane and the calanchi, occur with more frequency.
This wonderful characteristic territory is located south of Siena and north of the Val d’Orcia. The Crete are far from the usual tourist trail, I suggest you visit them 🙂
Here follows a list of the lovely hill towns of the Crete together with the main sights and attractions not to be missed in the area!
Crete Senesi Main Sights
Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey
One of the most impressive, imposing and beautiful abbeys in Italy, the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore is the main attraction of the Crete. The abbey stands isolated on a hill, all covered with cypress trees, in a picturesque location near Asciano, right in the middle of the Desert of Accona, and is surrounded by the rugged landscape of the Crete steep ravines.
The abbey is a great monastic complex and is still active; it contains many works of art and a library with many valuable ancient books and parchments. The great cloister houses a series of beautiful 16th century frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma, depicting the story of Saint Benedict; the works are considered one of the greatest examples of Italian Renaissance painting.
The abbey is so incredible that I will dedicate a full post to it very soon 🙂 I’ve visited it twice!
Asciano is a lovely medieval village, that can be approached from Siena through a wonderful scenic road. Domenico di Bartolo is the most famous personality of Asciano; great painter of the 15th century, Bartolo is the author of the beautiful fresco cycle that you can admire at the Museum of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena. The Museo Civico Archeologico e d’Arte Sacra of Asciano displays amazing Sienese paintings from Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Taddeo Bartolo, amongst others.
Buonconvento is a characteristic medieval walled village with bastions and a lovely town hall. Like in Siena, the red color of the brick is predominant. Its mighty walls are well preserved and you can still see the doors and the seven towers of its defensive structure. If you leave the main street of the village you’ll find yourself immersed in a network of characteristic alleys; it’s a pleasure to walk here.
The Museo della Mezzadria in Buonconvento, is an interesting museum devoted to the rural and social history of the territory.
San Giovanni d’Asso
Enchanting hill top town, San Giovanni d’Asso, has a lot of beautiful ancient churches, like San Pietro, lovely Romanesque church of the 11th century. The village is dominated by a beautiful imposing castle and fortress with frescoes, that houses the Museo del Tartufo, museum dedicated to the white truffle, famous precious tuber of Italy, also typical of this part of Tuscany.
Rapolano Terme is an important and appreciated thermal destination in Tuscany. Its thermal springs go very far back in time, they were used by the Etruscans and the Romans. West of Rapolano, in fact, there’s an archeological site from the third century BC, that covers an area larger than 8,000 square meters, which over the years has been the subject of some excavations that have allowed to reconstruct much of the layout of the ancient building.
Today you can enjoy these fantastic waters at the Terme di San Giovanni, beautiful thermal complex with a refined hotel and spa, enchanting thermal swimming pools and a lot of services.
On a hill facing Rapolano, raises the beautiful fortified castle of Modanella, today an agriturismo offering accommodation in apartments. Nearby you’ll find many beautiful little villages and other wonderful castles, like the castles of Poggio Santa Cecilia, San Gimignanello and Gallico.
The White Truffle of the Crete
The area is known also for the exquisite white truffle of the Crete, the so-called “diamond” of the Crete.
There’s a whole museum dedicated to the truffle in San Giovanni d’Asso, where, once a year in November, takes place the Mostra Mercato del Tartufo Bianco delle Crete Senesi, a festival focused on this rare and precious local product.
For a great stay in the heart of the Crete Senesi, I suggest Villa Armena, luxury relais and beauty farm in Buonconvento.
Just have a look at the photos of the Crete Senesi in the gallery to understand how special, uncommon and exceptional is this part of Tuscany! 🙂
I’ve quite enjoyed reading your posts about Tuscany! My husband and I will be staying in the Tuscan region this summer after I graduate with my bachelors from nursing school. We will be in Italy for a week and a half with a rental car (through a groupon deal); however, we would love some advice on how to plan out itinerary! We were thinking of taking the bus/train from Montecatini Terme (where our hotel is located) to Florence and other cities that don’t require a car. But we are interested in taking the car to the more remote areas of the Tuscan countryside. Let me know if you have any input. We will be flying in to Milan June 2nd and flying out June 25th. We will also be traveling to Barcelona, Paris and potentially Copenhagen–but the itinerary is relatively open!
Thanks for your message! I’m glad to help 🙂
How many days are you staying in Tuscany? How many nights in Montecatini? I’m asking as the best option to discover Tuscany most beautiful sights would be to split your Tuscan stay in 2 parts, one in Montecatini, and the rest maybe more south the region, in the countryside of Siena or in Chianti.
Using the train from Montecatini Terme you can take great day trips to Pisa, Lucca, Pistoia, and Florence. For the second part of your stay in Tuscany, probably the base base would be the scenic Chianti wine region between Siena and Florence. Thanks to its strategic location, this area of Tuscany is great to explore some of the best destinations in the region. From Chianti you can visit Siena, San Gimignano, Volterra, the Val d’Orcia and its amazing hill towns, but also Cortona and many other special places. In the blog post Chianti as a base in Tuscany you’ll find a complete list.
Which other parts of Italy are you going to visit? let me know if you need suggestions for that as well!
I remain at your disposal,
Have a nice day!
Elena from Florence
We will be staying in a villa for 10 days in the Cortona area. We will have a rental car to explore the Tuscany/Chianti/Umbria.
We are looking to do day trips. Do you have any recommendations for our itinerary.
The Cortona area is a great spot to visit really many interesting sights! There’s a full post on the blog with a list of the best day trips to take from Cortona, take a look! Among them, I particularly like Montepulciano and the other villages of the Val d’Orcia, San Gimignano, Siena, Anghiari, the Trasimeno Lake, Orvieto, Assisi, and Perugia.
In 10 days you will really have the time to get the best of Italy, let me know if you need any more suggestions,
Have a nice weekend,
I found these 2 website to learn more about Crete Senesi landscape, scenic route and photo ops. From all of them, can you suggest 2-3 car itinerary to see the most of the Crete ?
The Crete Senesi are all wonderful! And having a car to move around you can easily visit a lot. I would start by visiting the area’s main villages and then follow the suggested itineraries that are most inspiring for you. Don’t miss the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore.
Enjoy the Crete!