PEACE AND TRANQUILLITY:
Tuscany's Monte Amiata in the middle of summer: cool breezes
rustling the leaves of the trees along the trails, sun drenched meadows, pretty
mediaeval towns, and a host of festivals. Who could ask for more?
The easiest way to reach the mountain is to take the A1 toll road,
exit at Chiusi, and follow the signs for Abbadia San Salvatore. As one might
guess, the town grew up around an abbey, which was founded under King Rachis in
743. The abbey's 11th century Romanesque church is built over an
amazingly tranquil the 8th century church. Like the hearts of
Monte Amiata's other
towns, Abbadia San Salvatore's is mediaeval, a maze of winding streets and
huddled buildings with tiny windows, and you never know what you'll find when
you round a corner: a carved lintel, the façade of a tiny church, or
perhaps a spectacular view of the countryside.
The easiest way to see Monte Amiata is to circle it; follow the
signs for Piancastagnaiao, which is famed for the pretty views along its
twisting streets. The next large town is Santa Fiora, Seat of the
Aldobrandeschi Family. It's a delightful medieval village, and its
Pieve, Sante Flora e Lucilla, has several beautiful Della Robbia
terracottas that you would never expect to find this far out in the woods.
Santa Fiora also has a small lake with loud swans and enormous fish, surrounded
by a park that is also open evenings. Arcidosso, an Aldobrandeschi outpost, has
an imposing fortress, and if you take the road towards Paganico you will come
to the Pieve ad Lamulas, a tiny Romanesque church with knights slaying monsters
on the capitals of the columns that flank the altar. Continue towards Castel
del Piano, the prettiest of Monte Amiata's
towns, according to Pope Pius the
II Piccolomini, and then follow the road up towards the peak. On a clear day
you can see from Elba to Abruzzo, and the meadows, Prato della Contessa
and Prato delle Macinaie, are perfect spots to work on your tan. Or, you
can hike one of the mountain's many marked trails, which vary from easy (the
main ring around the mountain) to invigorating (to the peak).
In addition to being delightfully cool during the summer, Monte
Amiata is busy, with fashion shows, mediaeval pageants, fairs, and Palii
(similar to Siena's but on safer tracks) --
there's something going on almost every day, and you may well decide to stay
for a week (it's also a good base from which to explore the pretty mediaeval
towns of the Val d'Orcia, and Radicofani is just a half hour's drive). The
Associazione Promozione Turistica, Via Mentana 97, Abbadia S. Salvatore, Tel.
(Italy 577) 778-608 / Fax (Italy 577) 779-013 has information on hotels and
activities. Santa Fiora is the most romantic town on the mountain, and the
Albergo Fiora (Via Roma 6, Tel. (Italy 564) 977-292) is on the main square.
Should you rather the unusual pleasure of needing a blanket in the middle of
August, the Albergo Sella ((Italy 577) 789-747) is one of several hotels at the
peak. Monte Amiata is famous for its mushrooms and game; the Ristorante Al
Barilotto (Via Carolina 24, Santa Fiora, Tel. (Italy564) 977-089, closed Wed.)
serves mouthwatering food and is reasonably
priced (£ 40,000 / person).
With all there is to see and do at Monte Amiata, you may wish to
stay for several days. Santa Fiora is perhaps the most romantic town to stay
in, though Abbadia San Salvatore is also quite nice, and every town has hotels.
If you want to enjoy the sinful pleasure of pulling up a blanket in the middle
of August, stay at one of the meadows, or at the peak. As for what to eat,
Monte Amiata is famed for its chestnuts and chestnut honey (which you may wish
to buy to take home). It's also prime mushroom territory, and both the fish
from the local streams and the game are excellent.
© Kyle M. Phillips III, 1996