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.
Giardino La FoceStrada della Vittoria 61, Val d'Orcia | +39.0578.69101
This was once the home of Iris Origo, author of War in the Val d’Orcia (required reading if you’re going to spend any real time in the valley). Today, the spectacular palazzos, olive groves, and gardens are run by her two daughters, Donata and Benedetta. If you don’t stay in the bed and breakfast at La Foce or rent one of the villas, make time to tour the gardens. It’s the Versailles of Tuscany. “The regular guided tours give you a chance to peek into this spectacular English garden and hear about its minor but fascinating role in World War II,” says Voigtmann. Images courtesy of Laura Arcelli.
La Bandita CountryhousePodere La Bandita, Pienza | +39.333.404.6704
When Voigtmann and Cohane opened their first hotel almost twelve years ago, they wanted it to feel less like a hotel and more like the house of a great friend with fantastic taste. To say they succeeded would be a gross understatement. La Bandita sits on a hilltop, the entirety of the Val d’Orcia unfurling at its feet—superlatives fail to describe these views. There’s an infinity pool, a bocce court, a poolside bar, an outdoor living room and fire pit: The list of beautiful amenities is too long to list. The chef, Dario Ferrari, is reason enough to come here, as are the beautiful service, the remarkably friendly staff, and the in-room bathtubs. Book the Pig Sty—a freestanding suite that makes it seem like all of Tuscany was just given to you.
La Bandita TownhouseCorso Il Rossellino 111, Pienza | +39.0578.749.005
This is Voigtmann’s second property, as lovely and welcoming as his first but located right in the center of Pienza. La Bandita Townhouse used to be the town’s convent—then Voigtmann bought it from the nuns, kept the original centuries-old structure intact, and converted the inside into a place with a state-of-the-art kitchen, high thread counts, and every modern luxury. Whether you stay there or not, make a point to have lunch in the garden. Zucchini carpaccio with parmigiano and taglioni al pesto taste better surrounded by rosemary and lavender bushes.