Think the iconic picture of the one-stand cypress tree on top of a green hill stretching itself toward the blue sky, that postcard of Tuscany everybody on this planet can recognize. Think Russel Crowe’s Gladiator, that landscape of wheat gently shaking under the wind, like a field of gold. Think coloured hills and natural scenarios harmonious and placating: they all belong to the most sought after destinations in Tuscany: Val d’Orcia.
There are several reasons for this, not only the Unesco Heritage award in 2004 for its compelling scenery, the true motivation is that Val D’Orcia is heaven for our five senses, no matter what one’s age, sex or status is.

“Val D’Orcia is a region of Tuscany, which extends from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata. Its carefully combed rolling hills are occasionally topped by country farms and picturesque towns and villages such as Pienza, rebuilt as an “ideal town” in the 15th century and Montalcino, land of the world famous Brunello di Montalcino, among the most prestigious of Italian wines” I read on this english magazine, while waiting for my train in London. “One latest research assumes that the Val d’Orcia landscape helps recovering from mental stress and strains, thanks to the harmonious beauty of its land, the quite traffic-free atmosphere and the genuineness of its products”. The last paragraph strikes me: I actually do need a stopover before my nerves burn out, I have done nothing than work for the past weeks, months, years.

My travel agent in London puts me immediately in contact with Jo, a quick-talking, enthusiast anglo-italian, who manages some of the best villas and locations in Italy. Her above-business sixth sense makes her instantly understand my situation and address me to one of her properties in Pienza. In a week time I weke up in the morning cherished by Pienza bell tolls in the distance: every day this is a delight for my senses, born to new life, before I go back to the hectic London daily grind.

Day one is dedicated to sight: after walking around the romantic streets of Pienza, paying a kiss in Via del Bacio (Kiss’ Way) and a hug in Via dell’Amore (Love’s way), we drive our way to Monticchiello, a tiny turreted village on top of a hill overlooking Pienza, perfectly preserved in its historical architecture. We have been referred by Jo to make a reservation with Daria the owner at Osteria La Porta and ask for a special view table on its panoramic terrace. We’d have almost forgot eating, as we are totally stuck by the vision of nature and men’s work over it in front of us, if not for Daria’s ‘piatto del giorno’ with fresh porcini mushrooms and ‘pici all’aglione’ (pici fresh pasta with spicy tomato sauce and garlic) that bring us back to reality.

Day two is dedicated to smell: we take a ride on the Val d’Orcia hills to visit one of its famous Pienza pecorino cheese factory. We do not want to follow the stream of tourists, we’d rather search for a cosy small production. Ernello, the owner of the farm says “There is a good rule in the production of ‘Cacio di Pienza': the 'slowness', to preserve cheese in order to reach the good quality”. He carries on almost in a memento “Our family is engaged in this work, following the rhythms imposed by the seasons and the moon: cheese must be produced according to seasonality, with care for the breeding herd, aging must be organic and natural” The smell of cheese and fresh warm ricotta with a spread of Millefiori honey is stamped in my nostrils.

Day three is the turn for hearing: according to our travelogue we could not miss the Gregorian chants in Sant'Antimo abbey. They takes place 5 times a day, when the 7 monks living in the abbey offer their prayers, according to the canonic rule. We decide to get up early and drive to Sant’Antimo amid the morning mist, which hangs like a foggy cap over vineyards. We enter the church, when it is still sleeping in semidarkeness and silence, right before the first sun rays enters from the apse eastern windows and bounces from one side to the other, lighting up the onyx and alabaster stones hidden in pillars, steps and recesses. This fantastic show only happens from April to August and was meant by early VIIth century abbey masters to astonish pilgrims on God’s guiding light power. As the monks enter the church from the Matroneo lodge we are merged into harmonious chants, filling the misty air and our hearts for ever.

Day four: taste. We make it to Montalcino. The kids enjoy the walk around the soldiers’ pathway on the walls, where the view embraces the whole Val d’Orcia - spotting up to Siena and Montepulciano on clear days. After lunch we enjoy a typical treat of Montalcino at Mariuccia’s bakery shop: the ‘Cioccolatoni’ dessert, chocolate fudge in different flavors served chilled - that is a must! In the afternoon we booked ourselves a Brunello wine tasting at Palazzone winery. Laura, the English-Tuscan manager married to Italian wine maker Marco, original of Montalcino, give us her best welcome and tell us about the their wines. After sitting for a while in the dim of their brand new cellars, meditating over a row of empty wineglasses, Laura pops the question: “Which one did you like most?” and I have no reply as each Brunello glass seems to be the best one we’ve ever had.

The last day is finally about touch: we want to bring something back, a something to remind us of this memorable journey on a daily basis. Laura, at Il Palazzone, has invited us to adopt one olive tree to support the cultivation and preservation of this precious product. My last picture of the journey paints myself hugging my personal olive tree: I will be expecting our extra virgin olive oil bottles to come after next harvest in November.