by Geri Bain
Nestled into the Tuscan hills, just a 40 minute drive from Siena and within walking and biking distance of many historic and picturesque towns, Hotel Adler Thermae Spa and Relax Resort, covered in a recent article makes a wonderful home base for enjoying Tuscany. The resort offers complimentary and nominally-priced daily guided excursions on foot, by bike and by van as well as suggested itineraries, hiking and biking apps and free use of bicycles and e-bikes. This made it easy for my husband, 21-year-old daughter and me to follow our own interests—both together and apart. After going off in different directions, we’d always meet up in the late afternoon to unwind in the warm thermal mineral waters of the hotel’s lagoon-like pool before dinner.
Hotel Adler Thermae is in the Val d’Orcia, a pastoral region whose ancient fortified towns, vineyards and farms have earned it a recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hiking trails await just outside the hotel entrance, including the Via Francigena, or pilgrimage trail, created in the Middle Ages for pilgrims heading from Canterbury to Rome. The routes are lovely, climbing to fortified hilltop towns and passing along olive tree groves, vineyards and fields of sunflowers. Several wineries and farms along the way offer tastings and meals, and Tanja, based in the recreation center, was a wealth of information. A network of unpaved “white roads” also criss-cross the region, but the dust kicked up by the occasional passing car led us to stick to the hiking trails.
Just a ten minute walk from the Hotel Adler Thermae, the tiny village of Bagno Vignoni offers a handful of restaurants and shops. The “town square” (no longer for bathers) is filled with the volcanic mineral waters that have drawn people here since Roman times and that feed the Adler Thermae’s pool. Famous visitors included Lorenzo the Magnificent and Pope Pius II, and there’s a small chapel dedicated to Saint Catherine of Siena. The thermal springs, whose alkaline water is rich in sulphur, bicarbonate and ferrous compounds, are said to have healing properties, especially for the skin, bones and respiratory systems. From here, it is about a 30 minute hike to a tiny 11th century fortified castle town, Vignoni Alto. We were glad we’d brought water; the town offers great views and a small church, but no shops or services.
The Via Francigena leads to the small walled town of San Quirico d’Orcia, an important rest stop for medieval pilgrims and about a two hour hilly hike from the hotel. We loved the sculpted creatures guarding the Collegiate Church of San Quirico, built on the site of an 8th century church and enlarged in the 13th century to welcome passing pilgrims. Nearby is Horti Leonini, a geometrically-pleasing Renaissance Italian garden, and the Birrificio (Brewery) San Quirico, a small, friendly brewery which uses only natural local ingredients. While my daughter and I hiked there, my husband took a guided van tour that also visited the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore and his description of listening Gregorian chants amid the medieval frescoes sounded magical.
The Hotel Adler Thermae’s guided tour to Pienza turned out to be one of our favorite shared experiences. Standing in the large town square, Tanja, our guide, pointed out the classical arches, columns and symmetry of the architecture. The town’s unified Renaissance beauty was no accident, she explained. In the 15th century, Pope Pius II commissioned architect Bernardo Rossellino to transform the town into an “ideal” Renaissance city to serve as his summer retreat—an early example of urban planning! We were lucky to visit in early September during the Fiera del Cacio, a festival devoted to local pecorino cheese that includes a cheese-rolling competition in Pienza’s main square and street vendors offering samples. We also visited the tiny fortified medieval hamlet of Monticchiello, now best known for its views and restaurants, and a nearby open-air art museum.
The hotel also offers guided tours to two other nearby mountain-capping medieval walled towns, Montalcino and Montepulciano. Montalcino, the smaller of the two towns, has a small but interesting art and history museum and great views from the castle battlements and the visit was capped off with a barbecue and tasting of the renowned dark red Brunello di Montalcino wines at a countryside vineyard. Montepulciano, one of the larger of the Tuscan hill towns, has a lower and upper town and is known for its Etruscan and Roman remains, Medieval and Renaissance architecture, and most importantly, its red Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Sadly, we didn’t make it there or to Siena, which is less than 45 minutes away, on this trip. But this was our second visit, and we’ll go back, for sure.