Leaving behind the Maremma and heading toward Monte Amiata is a journey that will feed your eyes. The small towns of Montenero and Montegiovi show the first indications of this area’s far-reaching history: stony villages that look traditionally medieval, and natural terraces that look out over the landscape, from the Val d’Orcia to the Amiata. Olive groves and vineyards play off one another out in the open space; in each season, nature’s new shades “re-style” the area, punctuated by the bright colours of the fruit orchards, from cherry red to fig black. Then, as if by magic, after a series of twists and turns, you suddenly stumble on Monte Amiata, Tuscany’s ancient volcano, in all its grandeur. At the foot of the volcano, the town of Castel del Piano draws you in. This area is an inevitable consequence of being on the border between the “man’s land” and the natural habitat of varied wildlife: the “Biancone” (a short-toed eagle), the “capo vaccaio” (Egyptian vulture), the “falco laniero” (a sub-type of hawk), in addition to traditional birds of prey, and the variety of large and small mammals of the forest. Castel del Piano is an attentive guardian of this great natural wealth, which extends about 1738 meters from the summit.
More than anything, this area’s natural wealth is made up of olive trees. Olive trees have found an ideal environment here: as a reward, the land provided an indigenous cultivar, the Olivastra Seggianese. It has a natural pollinator known as the “giogliaio,” which has no counterpart anywhere else. But within 500 meters, the olive trees give way to vineyards in a balanced interplay. Small plots and pieces of land make up some major estates. The area’s major vine variety is the Sangiovese grape, which has distinctive characteristics that can be traced back to the volcano; they lend the wines a mineral quality, richness of flavour and elegance.
Finally, in this community, chestnuts have been an important economic staple and a vital food for centuries. The chestnut tree area is a natural wonder that visitors can walk through for up to 1000 metres. Such a stroll can be quite captivating for travellers, due to the majestic quality of enormous lava stones you’ll see here and there, along with the “seccatoi” or drying rooms. These are small cottage-like structures that served as farmers’ homes during certain periods of the year. The structures, built in sasso peperino (a type of volcanic tuff rock) found in the area around the chestnut trees, now form part of the landscape, as if they naturally rose up from the ground.
Here, life is still very much connected to the rhythms of the earth; there’s a joining of the Sacred and Profane, marked by various celebrations in September, culminating with the Palio. Since 1431, on September 8, donkeys or horses have run to honour Our Lady of Graces. Four “contrade” or historic neighborhoods face off: the Borgo, the Monumento, the Poggio and the Storte. You might be surprised, but the fact that this tradition continues has nothing to do with tourists’ interests, though many are drawn in by it: the Palio is an important ritual for the locals—the casteldelpianesi—more than anyone else. They have an almost religious connection to this event, in which they recognize their identity. But that’s perhaps exactly what makes it so special.