The Tuscany Guide
Tuscany will overwhelm you. No matter whether you’ve lived here your whole life or you’re stepping foot in a hayfield for the first time: This region of Italy will leave you in awe, stammering, speechless. And if there is one part that will spoil you for all others, it is the Val d’Orcia. This valley of the Orcia river is Tuscany at its Tuscaniest. You know those calendars? The ones with the winding road lined with pointy green cypress trees? That road is in the Val d’Orcia. And the cylindrical hay bales that look like giant, flaxen spools of thread? Pure Val d’Orcia. Or the hills that roll like waves to the horizon? Yep, that, too. It’s no wonder that this valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
“What I love about the Val d’Orcia is that there is nothing to do here,” says John Voigtmann, an expat who moved here about fifteen years ago. Voigtmann is the co-owner, with his ex-wife Ondine Cohane, of two of the most perfect boutique hotels you’ll find here (or anywhere else, for that matter): La Bandita Countryhouse, ten minutes outside of Pienza, and La Bandita Townhouse, in the center of town. “Okay, specifically, there is nothing you HAVE to do. The area is for taking in the best of Italy—culture, beauty, history—all at your own pace, without having to tick any boxes.”
Of course, if you really wanted to tick boxes, they might look something like this: wine, cheese, pasta, 600-year-old town built by Pope Pius II as the perfect Renaissance town.
But this is Tuscany, and as with any popular tourist destination, if you don’t know where to look, you could wind up eating doughy, lukewarm pizza on a sidewalk next to a tour bus. So we went to the source and asked Voigtmann for his favorite places to eat, drink, and wander. In other words, his favorite places to be overwhelmed.
AracneVia Dogali 25, Pienza | +39.329.989.5547
Tuscany, like any tourist destination in the world, is full of trinket shops and fake authenticity. Aracne is the exception—and one that you’d walk right past if you didn’t know to look for it. “Beautiful blankets and wraps and other textiles handmade on an old loom right in the shop,” explains Voigtmann. It’s the reason you’ll want extra room in your suitcase.
Officine 90416 Via Dogali, Pienza | +39.0578.1900817
This whole area is known for spectacular leather, but so much of it is poor quality and not so nice. This store is what you think of when you think of a chic Italian leather store that no one has discovered yet: wallets, bags, clutches in the softest leather imaginable in brown, black, grey (if you’re feeling safe), and shades like silver, orange, Kelly green (if you’re not). “It also has a limited range of beautiful handmade clothing pieces,” adds Voigtmann.
Terme San FilippoVia S. Filippo 23, Bagni San Filippo | +39.0577.872982
Bagni San Filippo is a tiny town built on top of thermal waters. And jumping in these baths is an activity that transcends age, gender, or country of origin. They’re said to have incredibly healing properties. The best baths are in the woods—ask a local to point you in the right direction. “If you can find them, jump in these open-air, hot-water pools in the forest,” says Voigtmann. It’s as magical as it sounds.
Puscina FlowersPodere Puscina 65, Montepulciano | +39.320.682.4352
It’s not something you would expect to find in Tuscany and you certainly wouldn’t stumble upon it unless you knew it was there, but once you visit Puscina, you’ll start to plot your return. This flower farm was started by two sisters with impeccable taste—and is now one of the best open secrets in the valley. “Take a guided nature walk to a secret pond and learn about wildflower cultivation from these innovative sisters who have transformed their family farm into a sustainable flower-producing business,” suggests Voigtmann.
Vintage ToursPiazza dell'Amicizia 3, Montepulciano | +39.393.965.5122
Short of hauling hay bales out of a field with a tractor, a Vespa is probably the most local way to get around. “This outfitter will hook you up with a guide and bright-red Vespas,” says Voigtmann. “It’s the best way to explore the countryside.”