I have a slightly more adventurous spirit than my husband, so nothing tickles me more than to take him to less-traveled places for a little shake-up. That's what happened a few years ago when we planned a visit to Montalcino (the beautiful hilltop town famous for its Brunello wines). Not wanting to spend the night in the more touristy areas of the region, I opted for a town that most tourists pass by, San Quirico d'Orcia. On the drive there, hubby smiled at me (with a little deer-in-the-headlight look) and said, "Where are you taking me this time?!" Little did we know (and not for the usual reasons), San Quirico d'Orcia would become one of our dearest Tuscan towns.
Five years ago, San Quirico d'Orcia was a sleepy little town. Our first visit consisted mostly of exploring its impressive architecture and practicing our Italian (we were the only English-speaking people around -- loads of fun in my book!). Today, a few shops and restaurants have opened attracting a few more tourists. San Quirico d'Orcia doesn't offer the wide appeal that draws the masses, but for those who enjoy slow travel, stepping back in time, and taking a closer look at local life in a small Tuscan town, this place is for you.
Palazzo del Capitano. Housed in a 15th-century building, this hotel is more like a small inn. Although the rooms have been modernized, they have an authentic and traditional Tuscan feel. I most enjoy the rooms that overlook the hotel's garden with lavender bushes, herb gardens and olive trees. However, with that beautiful view comes one drawback: church bells. They ring every hour, every half-hour, and every quarter-hour ... all night long! Apparently, the entire town is in an uproar over the church bells ringing through the night. They have approached the priest of the church with many pleas to silence them after midnight. His stubborn refusal is supported by his belief that it adds "authenticity" for the tourists. (Funny -- I love the Italian politics in these small little towns. It's what adds to their charm!) All that to say, if you are a light sleeper like me, you may want ask for a room on the quieter side of the hotel.
Al Vecchio Forno. Its literal meaning, The Old Oven. This lively restaurant is VERY popular with the locals. Only a few servers speak English, but don't let that scare you. They are friendly and eager to help. The food is traditional Tuscan and the quality is excellent. My personal favorites are the gnocchetti di patate con fiori di zucca e zafferano (potato dumplings with zucchini flowers and saffron) and controfilleto di chianina con funghi porcini (sliced beef with porcini mushrooms).
WHAT TO DO
A short walk from one end of the town to the other will uncover much of the town's medieval walls and towers that still exist today. Although most of the town's gates are no longer visible, the Eastern gate is preserved and quite impressive. Other sites worth a visit are La Collegiatia (take note of its magnificent doors), Horti Leonini with its fabulous Italian garden, Santa Maria Assunta Church, Giardino delle Rose (rose garden) and Ospedale della Scala, the 12th-century hospital.