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lungo la strada delle crete senesi Start of a Le Crete Senesi route

This is the beginning of one of several alluring Le Crete Senesi drives. A region of Tuscany that's widely photographed for its unique landscapes, this northeastern area holds cypress lined roads of the kind typically seen in photographs and movies.

Tip: Drive these hills any time of the year as they color morph with the seasons. In winter the valleys are submerged in the early morning mist and the hilltops with cypress poke through like islands in a Tuscan sea. By spring the grassy hills have turned emerald, and as summer advances into fall a golden glaze spreads across the land.

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Near Asciano, Tuscany, Italy, 1999 End of a Le Crete Senesi route/Comune di Asciano

End of the "badlands" portion of this Le Crete Senesi drive. A popular extension route follows SR451 south through rolling hills and forests to Buenconvento. Along this drive are oportunities to explore the Monte Oliveto Maggiori monestary while passing through what Lonely Planet names the prettiest drive in Central Tuscany. Along this route you'll also find the junction for a side trip to San Giovanni d'Asso.

Tip: A stop within the 14th century walls of Asciano to visit the Corboli Palazzo is recommended, which today holds a Museum of Archaeology and Sacred Art. Also try to time your visit for the 2nd Sunday of any month - that's when a "Slow Food" outdoor market invades the center of town. The Mercatino delle Crete sells local biologico (Italian for organic) olive oil, truffles, wine, and cheese.

Corboli Palazzo
122 Corso Matteotti
Piazza Fratelli Bandiera I

+39 (0577) 719524

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20070823 040 Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiori Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Localita Chiusure 53041
+39 (0577) 707611

This quiet and reflective 13th century abbey was founded by a Benadictine order of monks. It's also home to frescoes by the 15th century Sienesse artists Luca Signorelli and Antonio Bazzi (aka "Sodoma").

Tip: Check out the self-portrait of Antonio Bazzi on the walls in the Great Cloister. This brilliant artist was also nicknamed Il Mattaccio (the maniac) for his often unorthodox behavior and work style.

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San Giovanni d'Asso

Athough many quaint villages are sprinkled throughout the region, one, San Giovanni, is known for truffles and sheep cheese.

Tip: A visit in November will coincide with the annual Truffle Festival. But if your schedule doesn't include the fall then visit chef Ernesto at:

La Locanda del Castello
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II 4
San Giovanni d'Asso

+39 (0577) 802939

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Buenconvento Buonconvento

End of the extension route for the Le Crete Senesi drive. This village contains the Val d'Arbia Museum of Sacred Art with many important artworks by the Sienesse painters Boninsegna, di Pietro, and di Tomme.

Tip: You can observe contempory landscape artists working in the plein air style at a local gallery owned and operated by Maddine Insalaco and Joe Vinson.

La Porta
Via Soccini 1 A

+39 (0577) 806351

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Junction of side trip to San Giovanni d'Asso.

This side trip follows well signed small roads through Tuscan backcountry into the Val d'Asso. Follow the signs through the commune of Chiusure and continue in the direction of Montefresco. Before reaching that town turn right towards Soli and then proceed stright until reaching San Giovanni d'Asso.

Tip: You'll know you're on the right track when you continually spot public bus stops along the route.

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montisi.jpg Montisi

Continue through San Giovanni d'Asso east on SP14 to the slender ridgetop village of Montisi. Here you'll find many activities from hikes in the surrounding hills to wine tasting to hot-air balloon adventures to an English cinema house.

Tip: Dine on local and organic Tuscan specialties at:

da Robertos

Via Umberto I 3

+39 (0577) 845159

A recommended hotel is:

La Locanda di Montisi

Via Umberto I 39

+39 (0577) 845906