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History, fortified villages, traditions, feasts and festivals, churches and castles, museums, Merigar (the Tibetan Community), David Lazzaretti, Daniel Spoerri's sculpture Garden...
History, fortified villages, traditions, feasts and festivals, churches and castles, museums, Merigar (the Tibetan Community), David Lazzaretti, Daniel Spoerri’s sculpture garden.
Violent volcanic eruptions more than 180,000 years ago gave birth to Amiata.The first signs of life here go back to Palaeolithic times as the remains of paintings in the Grotta dell’Arciere near Abbadia San Salvatore show.Then came the Etruscans for whom Monte Amiata was sacred, and the Romans who exploited it particularly for its silver firs ,
from which they made their ships, and cinnabar which they used for painting or preparing cosmetics. They built various settlements near the hot springs.
A dark period followed until Rachis, a Lombard King founded the Abbey of San Salvatore and the monks colonized the surrounding land.They also controlled the Via Francigena which linked Rome with northern Europe. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, the Aldobrandeschi (a powerful feudal family who ruled theMaremma) started expanding their lands.In the thirteenth century Sienese penetration began and exercised a profound influence over history and art. In modern times the mining for cinnabar in order to extract mercury was developed and continued right up until 1970.
Beautiful fortified villages, perched on rocky outcrops, ring the mountain between 650 and 850 m. above sea level.
Numerous castles (The Aldobrandeschi castle in Arcidosso, the Rocca at Piancastagnaio, La Rocca di Ghino di Tacco at Radicofani, Rocca a Tentennano at Castiglion D’Orcia and the Castello di Potentino at Seggiano) and churches (the Abbey at San Salvatore, the Pieve church at Santa Fiora) are all worth visiting.
Monte Labbro is a singular place, once home toDavid Lazzaretti, the ‘prophet’ of Amiata.In the second half of the nineteenth century he founded a religious community which intended to apply the teachings of the Gospels.His followers numbered over 3,000.On Monte Labbro are the remains of their buildings.
A few years ago Merigar, a Centre for Tibetan studies, one of Europe’s most important, took root under the spiritual guidance of Namkhai Norbu.
The mountain is rich in legends and traditions which give rise to numerous feasts and festivals.A full calendar is evidence of just how rich and old is man’s history on our volcano.
The first of the year is the ‘befanate’,the night between January 5th and 6th when groups of transvestites (i befani) visit all the houses in the village singing a song and asking for alms.
Then the spring festivals: the Pine festival at the Pieve ad Lamulas, the Feast of the Holy Cross at Santa Fiora, le Maggiolate on the evening of April 30th at Castiglion D’Orcia.
The horse races, Pali, celebrated at Piancastagnaio on 18th August and at Castel del Piano on September 8th are important and exuberant occasions.
Autumn festivals include the Sagra del Marrone (chestnut Festival) at Campiglia d’Orcia, the Castratone, (The Chestnut Festival) at Piancastagnaio, the Festa del Fungo (mushrooms) at Bagnolo and the Festa della Castagna (chestnut) at Arcidosso.
On December 24th there is the “Fiaccole di Natale”(a torchlight processon) at Abbadia San Salvatore and on December 30th “le Carboniere, (huge bonfires) are lit at Santa Fiora.
Our patrimony of folklore has been well preserved too. Several groups perform popular music. The two most notable are ‘I Cardellini del Fontanino’ from Castel del Piano, which goes back fifty years, and the ‘Coro dei minatori (miners) from Santa Fiora.
There are several museums, most notably those at Abbadia San Salvatore and Santa Fiora which trace the history of the mining era, but also the museum of Vines and Wine at Montenero, of Cultura Contadina (farming culture) at Santa Caterina, and the “Casa” museum at Monticello Amiata which illustrates life in the country at the end of the nineteenth century.
Daniel Spoerri’s Garden at Seggiano is very different and unusual.It is a park with very varied modern sculptures.
The history of Amiata covers a vast period: the Etruscans, the early and late Middle Ages, modern and finally contemporary times.Churches and castles, picturesque villages, tombs thousands of years old, all cast their spells.
Arrive at the hotel and check in to your room. While you are enjoying an aperitif your tour leader will talk about the tour. Typical local dishes will be served at dinner together with specially selected wines from the surrounding area. After dinner Cesare Moroni will talk about Monte Amiata and illustrate his talk with slides.
The first trip will be to Sorano where we shall visit the Etruscan necropolis dating back to the fourth century B.C.Then we shall walk along the roads hewn out of the living rock to the village itself, where you will be able to see the fascinating architecture of the castle and the houses, fused into a unified setting. Next, Pitigliano, a small town with a unique history where past meets present; medieval architecture merges with Etruscan grottoes carved out of the living rock.We lunch in the old centre at the “Ceccottino” restaurant where we will also be able to taste the famous white Pitigliano DOC. In the afternoon a visit to Palazzo Orsini, principal seat of the Aldobrandeschi family in the Middle Ages.Events surrounding the great traveller, Nicolo III, an officer in the Venetian army are also of great interest. There is also a Jewish quarter in Pitigliano called “La Piccola Gerusalemme” (little Jerusalem), and it was the most important Jewish settlement in this area although there were others at Santa Fiora and Piancastagnaio.Many things remind us of them. In the late afternoon return to the hotel for dinner.
This morning our route will take us along the “anello dell’Amiata” starting in Abbadia San Salvatore, an extremely old village whose Abbey, founded in the eighth century by King Rachis, a Lombard, is particularly interesting.While he was advancing on Rome with his army he camped near the Via Francigena (which ran from France down to Rome)and went hunting on Monte Amiata where he had a vision of Our Saviour and so decided to build a monastery there in His honour.At the height of its greatest influence, at the end of the twelfth century, it owned a great deal of land and the community numbered over 300 monks.They developedknowledge of plants and foodstuffs.It was also Pope Pius II’s summer residence.He came originally from Pienza. There is a fantastic crypt under the church, the earliest part of it. There is something magical about the village which is undoubtedly of one Tuscany’s hidden treasures. The discovery of cinnabar, from which mercury is extracted, in the mid nineteenth century led to an industrial revolution that changed the village into one of the most important mining centres in the world.The museum illustrates this epoch. Lunch at the “Gatto e la Volpe” (The Cat and the Fox) restaurant with traditional dishes from Abbadia San Salvatore. Afternoon visit to Santa Fiora.The villages on Amiata are very different: some mystical, others exciting, but Santa Fiora is the most romantic and poetic of them all.Even Dante mentions it in Canto XI of Purgatory. The Aldobrandeschi, one of the most powerful Ghibelline families in the Middle Ages, is at the centre of Santa Fiora’s history.We shall visit the Pieve (Parish) church to see the glazed terra-cottas by Luca and Andrea della Robbia, commissioned while Bosio Sforza, Cecilia Aldobrandeschi’s husband was the governor.It was during this period that Santa Fiora even minted its own coinage.We shall stroll through the picturesque streets down to the Parco della Peschiera - the Count’s fish pond for breeding trout.And it is worth seeing the little church of the Madonna delle Nevi which is built over the spring of the river Fiora. After the demise of the Aldobrandeschis, Santa Fiora declined rapidly in importance, so much so that today we see it only as it was 500 years ago. Leave for the hotel in the late afternoon, followed by dinner.
This morning we visit Chiusi, one of the most important towns in Etruscan times.There is a rich and extensive archaeological zone and a particularly interesting museum.There will be plenty of free time for shopping. Dinner will be at the hotel after our return.
Castel del Piano is a fascinating place known not only as the capital of Montecucco DOC, but also for its amazing subterranean cellars. We start the day with a visit to the old part with its outstanding views over the valley.There are numerous frescoes and paintings by the Nasini brothers, a famous family of artists from Monte Amiata, in the church of La Madonna delle Carita (Our Lady of Charity).And we must certainly pay a visit to Casa Corsini with its beautiful cellar, and the town hall’s cellar, the most imposing of them all, used for exhibitions. After a short coach trip we shall reach the turning to the Castello di Potentino.To reach the castle itself we shall have to walk a short distance, but the effort will be amply rewarded.A visit to it, now owned by an English family called Greene, is extremely interesting.We shall lunch with Sally and Charlotte in the Castle’s magical atmosphere, and taste the wine they produce, “Il Sacromonte” (the sacred mountain), a Montecucco DOC.Then we shall go onto Daniel Spoerri’s garden nearby.Founded in 1992, to exhibit a series of contemporary sculptures by internationally famous artists, it covers eight hectares.A visit lasts about two hours. Return to the hotel in the late afternoon.
In the morning, leave for Arcidosso.We shall walk through the old centre along the beautiful Via Talassese and on to the Aldobrandeschi castle where there is a superb view from the top of the tower.Next, Mirco will await us at the Camarri oil press.Here they use the traditional huge stone millwheels to press the oil.We shall sample two of their oils: ‘Gocce di Lunai’, made exclusively from “Olivastra Seggianese” olives and the other, ‘Armonia’, made from a mixture of several varieties of olive trees in the area. Our next visit is to the church “Pieve Ad La Mulas”.Legend has it that while a group of soldiers from Arcidosso were returning home driving mules and donkeys laden with their farm tools, one of the mules suddenly left the rest and knelt down on a stone while the shining figure of The Saviour appeared in front of it.And so it was decided that a church should be erected on the spot and today you can still see the imprint of the mule’s knees in the doorstep. Monticello Amiata, a small medieval village on top of a hill dominating the Val D’Orcia and the Maremma, is our next port of call.We lunch in a traditional restaurant, and in the afternoon visit the CasaMuseum which records what life was like in the nineteenth century. From here we shall wind down a wonderfully panoramic road to the Val D’Orcia and Montenero, where we shall visit Dario’s estate, “Il Trottolo” .He may be the smallest producer of Montecucco DOC, but his intuitive skill means that he produces a truly excellent wine. Return to the hotel in the late afternoon for dinner.
A morning visit to Montalcino, including a visit to the “Fortezza” (Fort) and free time to wander round the shops.This stunning medieval city is one of the world’s wine capitals.The countryside is very special:undulating hills covered with vines and cypress trees with beautiful stone houses on the summits. Then we shall head for Castel Nuovo dell’ Abate for lunch. In the afternoon a visit to the abbey, Sant’Antimo, partly built of glowing alabaster.This abbey is now home to Cistercian monks who sing all the Offices of the day.We head for the hotel in the late afternoon and dine there.
Numerous festivals are a characteristic of this area. In Spring they are mainly religious or linked to medieval times, but in the Autumn they usher in the best period for mushroomsand the wine, chestnut and olive harvests. Stalls for tasting local produce and evening dances are organized in every village to herald an auspicious beginning and end of the harvest. So we would like to introduce you to one of the best of these festivals, “Il Castratone“ at Piancastagnaio.
DAY 1 Arrival.
Guests will arrive at the hotel in the late afternoon. Having checked in to your room you will be welcomed by your tour leader for a cocktail during which he/she will talk about the programme. At dinner local wines and dishes will be served. After dinner Cesare Moroni will show photographs to introduce you to this area.
DAY 2 Il Castratone
In the morning after breakfast we set out for the medieval village, Abbadia San Salvatore. A walk past its old houses will bring us to the famous Abbey with its beautiful eighth century crypt. Then we visit the Pinzi Pinzuti estate, famous for its cheeses, wine and oil.Barbara will show us how pecorino cheeses are made. (Pecorino is a cheese made from sheep’s milk.) Lunch will be at the “Gatto e la Volpe” (the Cat and the Fox) restaurant. In the afternoon we go on to Piancastagnaia, and having visited the magnificent Aldobrandeschi bastion we shall wander along the village streets, full of stalls showing off chestnuts, or depicting historical events. The whole village is decorated in medieval style for the festival. Return to the hotel for dinner.
DAY 3 Chestnuts and ovens
After breakfast, a visit to an old “Seccatoio” (a stone building designed specifically to dry chestnuts before they are ground into flour) on the “Strada della Castagna” (The Chestnut Way).A visit to Castel del Piano follows with its cellars excavated during the Middle Ages which run under the village.The most interesting visit will be to the Corsini biscuit factory where we shall sample biscuits made of chestnut flour and “Polendina” (a cake made of chestnut flour and covered in powdered chocolate), both typical of Monte Amiata. Lunch will be in a restaurant that serves typical dishes, followed by final departure.
Surrounded by wonderful scenery discover your own artistic ability.
A courses for artists of every ability, including complete beginners. All mediums are possible: watercolours, acrylics, oils. Find inspiration in this delightful countryside and enjoy the local cooking and wine. We arrange study trips for groups or individuals. During your stay there are visits to local artists and potters and sculptors. Here you can find inspiration, from olive trees, vines and the changing seasons. If you are an artist wanting to immerse yourself in our splendid surroundings amid vineyards, olive groves and medieval villages this really is tailor made for you.
Welcome you on arrival and during cocktails will talk about the places you will go to.
The first morning will be taken up with a walk .All our hotels are located in delightful surroundings, and so we have planned a lovely walk for the first morning. Lunch will be in a typical restaurant. Painting or drawing:weather permitting, outside. Dinner at the hotel.
Painting outside: the Val D’Orcia from the countryside near the Castle of Potentino. Lunch:a picnic in the country. In the afternoon we shall visit Daniel Spoerri’s sculpture garden. Dinner at the hotel
We shall go to Santa Fiora, a village with many links to the Aldobrandeschi family. After a short visit we shall all meet in the main village square and start painting. Lunch in a typical restaurant. During the afternoon there will be an exhibition of everything that has been done on the course. Farewell dinner at the hotel.
After breakfast, final departure.
The craftsmen who work on the mountain and their products (7 days)
This tour lasting seven days brings our guests into contact with a little known aspect of our world:the old skills - the art of those who still work using techniques that have been handed down for generations. Amiata’s forest, chestnuts and the largest beech wood in Europe, has always provided the highly prized wood needed in this important “attività artigianale”. Although today there is not much of a market for furniture made from heavy precious wood, our craftsmen distinguish themselves restoring antiques and creating unique new objects. Flowers are another important resource for the craftsman.A place like Amiata which has such abundant flora could hardly avoid distinction in this field.Wild orchids grow abundantly and our florists are known for their cultivation, drying and subsequent flower arrangements. Metalworking is another skill with a great tradition here.High quality tools have been produced here since the Middle Ages.Thanks to the enthusiasm of the last of a long line of blacksmiths we can still observe this skill and appreciate its worth. And again, weaving on original medieval looms still goes on.
Guests will arrive at the airport in the evening.An English speaking tour leader will be there to meet you. Immediate transfer to the hotel by coach. Dinner and a relaxing evening.
Breakfast at 9.00 followed by departure for Saragiolo, a small village on Monte Amiata, where we meetRaffaello who restores furniture found in the houses round here: old bread chests (with grain storage underneath and a space for the bread to rise above), tables and chairs - with their evocative smell, polished by years of use. Raffaello will entertain us with his expert knowledge and his delightful local dialect. A short distance away is Alderina’s shop.She is someone who combines a love of flowers with the delicate work of drying them and making wonderful arrangements.She has won numerous prizes – of which she is justly proud. Our next visit is to Santa Fiora, the pearl of Amiata, a fascinating medieval village.The Pieve (church) of Santa Fiora and Santa Lucilla with its splendid della Robbia terracotta, the church of the Madonna delle Nevi (the Madonna of the Snows), recently restored with a glass floor under which you can see the source of the river Fiora:54,000,000 litres of water a day go from here to the province of Grosseto. Lunch at “Il Ghiottone” (the glutton) restaurant with home made dishes and a warm welcome. In the afternoon we visit Merigar, a Tibetan Communityand one of the most important in the world which follows the teaching of Dzog Chen.We visit the “Gompa”.From there we go on to the WildlifePark, one of Tuscany’s most important.It is easy to see herds of roe deer, fallow deer, muflone and even wolves. There are numerous species of birds nesting here, including the splendid Egyptian vulture, an enormous bird ofprey.But the “Miccio Amiatino” is the park’s prize exhibit.One of the only two kinds of donkey found in Italy it almost became extinct, but thanks to the hard work by the park’s staff it is now doing well. The visit will last all afternoon and we return to the hotel around 6.30p.m. After a short rest, dinner, with typical local dishes.
Today we visit Siena, one of Tuscany’s most beautiful cities.A tour leader will accompany uson a walk through the old streets near the Cathedral and the Piazza del Campo (the city’s main square). Lunch at a characteristic restaurant. After lunch, time for shopping. Return to the hotel at about 18.00hrs. After a good dinner, a pause for relaxation.
Today is Abbadia San Salvatore’s turn.After a brief walk throughthe old town we visit the Abbey.It is to the Benedictine monks of the Abbey that Monte Amiata owes its development which began about the middle of the eighth century.The Abbey thus represents a vital moment in our history: Most of today’s towns and villages on the mountain owe their origins to the monks.In the Abbey there are paintings by Francesco Nasini, a famous painter from Monte Amiata, and a beautiful eighth century crypt. Immediately afterwards we go to see Fabio.He comes from a family of blacksmiths which goes back to medieval times, and he uses the old ways to make objects of rare beauty.Watching the bellows fan the flames and a sword being forged is an unforgettable experience. Next we visit the MinesMuseum.From the end of the nineteenth century for about one hundred years, Monte Amiata was an important mining centre. Thousands worked in the mines around which revolved the social, political and economic life of the area.A miner recounts the tale of this splendid era, but also that of suffering and grief, which is such an important moment in our history, recalling what it was like to work in the mines’ tunnels. After visiting the museum, lunch in a typical restaurant. In the afternoon we go to some hot springs:the extinct volcano gives us many thermal springs of which San Filippo is one of the most interesting. It was known to the Romans and now has a sulphurous hot water pool fed by a waterfall.When the water comes out of the ground it is 52 degrees and it is left in pools to cool before being fed into the bathing pool, so that it is normally about 40 degrees there.In the heart of the countryside the place will certainly impress itself on your memory. - a thousand little streamsof steaming water trickle down the steep slope till they reach the Fosso Bianco river. Dinner follows our return to the hotel.
Today we devote to the Etruscans who were perhaps the earliest inhabitants of Italy. We leave for Selvena.Here we see one of the most spectacular medieval buildings in the area, “Rocca Silvana” which was the centre for the Aldobrandeschis’ grain harvest. Next we go to Sorano “La citta del Tufo” (city of tuff stone) and the Orsini family and Masso Leopoldino. Pitigliano follows, famous for its white wine as well as for its Etruscan past, where we shall visit the Orsini palace. After lunch our last stop will be Sovana, a lovely village of Etruscan origin, where we meet a craftsman who will show us how to weave using a medieval loom, and how he manages to produce extremely fine material on it. Return to the hotel for dinner.
We start with a visit to Seggiano, one of the oldest settlements on the mountain, perched on a rocky outcrop.Just outside the village we visit Daniela Nicoletti, who will show us her olive trees, her beautiful farm house, restored in typical Tuscan style, and letus taste her olive oil.She also makes soap based on olive oil and will explain how she does this. It is around here that a particular kind of olive tree, the Olivastra Seggianese is found. We continue to the Castle of Potentino which we reach after a walk of about 500 metres.The castle now belongs to the Greenes, and English family.Charlotte, a great niece of the famous English writer Graham Greene, will show us round.The castle founded in the thirteenth century has always been the seat of an important family and was visited by Saint Catherine of Siena.The current owners, who recently bought and restored it, produce high quality wines and olive oil. Not far off in Castel del Piano we meet Silvio, or the “maestro” as he is known.His skill at woodcarving is proverbial.The group will get the chance to give him the title of a carving and Silvio will make it before your eyes. Lunch will be in a restaurant that looks out over the old village square. A little farther on we reach Arcidosso to visit the Camarri oil press.It is one of the very few that still uses huge stone millwheels to press the olives cold.We shall try two different kinds, one made only from Olivastra olives, the other a blend of several varieties. There will just be time to visit Barbara and see her ceramics before returning to the hotel for dinner.
Today is dedicated to life in the country in the nineteenth century.Our first visit takes us to Monticello Amiata to the “Casa” Museum which tries to give a picture of what life was like then.The bedroom has big beds, a cradle, the hearth and a wealth of objects like pots, spindles, umbrellas and baskets. No one should come to Tuscany without discovering at least one of her great wines.Monte Amiata lies within the Montecucco DOC area.Its wines are beginning to receive a lot of attention.We visit the tiny Perazzeta estate with its huge fifteenth century cellar, and then the Wine Museum before going to lunch at a typical restaurant, “l’Antica Osteria del Grottaione”, with a fabulous terrace overlooking the Orcia valley. We return to the hotel earlier today in order to have time for packing. Dinner at the hotel.
Breakfast and then leave for the airport.