Sarteano is a tiny burg perched on a hill overlooked by a castle built around the year 1000. The town has recently been awarded with the bandiera arancione (orange flag) by the Italian Touring Club (quality burgs). The surrounding countryside is scattered with thermal springs and Etruscan necropolis, in a land that marks the border between two Tuscan valleys: the luxuriant Val di Chiana and the savage but charming Val d’Orcia. The local products are extra virgin olive oil, wine and wheat.
Sarteano is indeed a lovely village, and very lively too. Just think that they have 30 associations and the citizens are less than 5.000. You can tell they are different just looking at their tourist information website www.sarteanoliving.it. Probably the most original I’ve ever seen so far. They had in fact a brilliant idea: to show the faces of all the people working in the burg (hoteliers, restaurateurs, artisans, musicians, everyone). So I could see the face of my host, Bruno, before meeting him in person. And also the faces of the members of the Tourist Office as well. Very nice, bravi! So, when I met Guido, the Pro Loco president, it felt almost like I already knew him.
What to see in Sarteano:
The Castle is suggestive and peaceful. And definitely worth a visit. The walk up is not long, and plus is beautiful, at first through the picturesque streets of Sarteano and then through a garden (called Giardino della Pace, Peace garden). Moreover it offers a stunning view over the whole valley.
The first testimony dates back to 1038, but probably it is more ancient. What we see now (perfectly restored) is the 1400s fortification. In 1409 the castle was besieged by king of Naples Ladislao di Durazzo, called “guastagrano” (spoilgrains) for his raids on the crops of the countryside. He was trying to conquer Siena and Florence but luckily the people of Sarteano managed to ward him off. The castle was in fact never taken, due to the thickness of its walls, the ditch (where they poured also burning materials) and to the double water storage tanks. The tanks were first of all vital in times of siege (in order to survive inside the castle). But, in case the first one (outside) was taken, it could be poisoned from inside the castle (while the interior tank remained pure for the besieged).
We had a special guide that day, Simone, who is castle responsible… but I decided he is the Castellan 🙂 He explained everything to us, and therefore I hardly suggest you to join a guided tour. On our own, I don’t think we would have appreciated the castle so much. We entered through a small drawbridge. Up on the wall you can see the emblem of Siena (black and white) and the Senese wolf, similar to the Capitoline wolf. According to the legend, Siena was in fact founded by Ascanio and Senio (son of Remus). The first hall was the ancient storehouse. The other four floors were the prisons (the first two, with graffitti on the walls – but probably made by WW2 soldiers) and the offcers rooms (with fireplaces and private toilets).
The Castle is now used for art exhibitions. When we got there, Yoshie Nishikawa’s photographies were on display. The works of the Japanese artist (who lives in Milan) and the Castle, despite being very different in many ways, were a perfect match in my opinion. The photos made the rooms more suggestive. You have the chance to see the exhibit until October 30. The photos are also on sale if you’re interested.
Keep in mind that the castle has only staircases to go up. On the fourth floor you can access the walkway and enjoy the wonderful view. Then, to go down, you use (how thrilling!) the ancient escape way, a spiral staircase. All info about the Castle here.
The Civic Archaeological Museum
It is located in the renaissance Palazzo Gabrielli, displaying relics (mainly coming from the numerous Etruscan necropolis of the territory) from the IX to the I century before Christ. I liked very much the canopic jar (ie a jar with human traits, it was so cute – you can see in the first photo below) and the memorial stone. By the way, the stone used to create it has a very peculiar name: fetid stone, because it releases a (I guess not so pleasant) 😉 smell while working it.
Especially relevant here is the reproduction of the Tomba della Quadriga Infernale, what a name! It means Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga (quadriga is an ancient four-in-hand carriage). It was discovered only in 2003 (imagine the joy) in a necropolis of the area and it was one of the most significant Etruscan discoveries in decades. The actual tomb is visitable on Saturday. The painting on the tomb represent a red haired and red dressed demon riding a chariot pulled by two lions and two griffins. The chariot is wrapped in a black cloud, cause it has just reached the Hades. There two dead people great one another: they are a father and his son who meet again in the afterlife. Breathtaking. All info about the Museum here.
The Arrischianti Theatre, located inside the Town Hall Palace. We had the chance to visit it thanks to Guido’s kindness. The theatre dates back to 1680, but its present appearance is the result of a renovation in 1740 (and another one in the 80’s to reopen the theatre, now again used for shows, plays and conferences). It was built for the will of the noble families, who had desire for entertainment.Arrischianti is also a peculiar name, meaning those who take risks. Their motto, (visible on the theatre’s emblem – a ship in open sea) is in fact: “to return richer it courts danger”. The theatre’s corridors had aquite low ceiling, so that we had to walk a little bent to avoid to hit our heads 🙂 Of course, men were shorter back then, and we were all three quite tall!
Other things to see are: La Colleggiata di San Lorenzo (XII century), San Martino church, converted (it is a strange thing to say about a church, isn’t it?) in neoclassical style in 1841. It preserves a precious artwork, the Annunciation by Domenico Beccafumi. The Birthplace of Pope Pio III, Palazzo Goti-Fanelli (former seat of the Accademia degli Arrischianti) and finally the historic pharmacy (in the main piazza) are other interesting attractions.
In Sarteano there are also many artisan workshops. Due to the lack of time, I had the chance to visit only one of them. You can look for the others in the map (a very useful, clear and informative map).
A special shop
The one I visited is Ceramiche Il Volo (The Flight Ceramics), a shop where Fabrizio Rocchi creates marvellous ceramics objects: home décor, lamps, pitchers, jugs, cups, but most of all astonishing and women-luring ceramics jewels. I fell in love with the Rosso Nobile collection. I love burgundy colour. What can I do? I couldn’t buy anything :'( cause we were travelling on a super low budget. But I warmly suggest you to go and visit this shop if you can. They also have a website with e-shop. Therefore they provide a convenient shipping service. So you can travel safe home without carrying fragile ceramics purchase in the bag.Husbands, you’re warned: your wives will go crazy for this workshop!
Where to eat
As for dining, we chose a restaurant in the upper part of the burg: Ristorante Santa Chiara, which was once a convent. We passed by and, as soon as I saw it, I decided that we should have dinner there. A green garden with hydrangeas and roses, a stones wall with a staircase leading to a panoramic view, tables al fresco in a lovely, romantic and intimate atmosphere. How could I not remain there? The choice was right. Apart the beauty of the place, which is undeniable, the owners were super kind, the service attentive, the food was good and copious.
Bossa Nova in Tuscany
Plus the background music was one of my passions: bossa nova, I remember hearing precisely O Amor Em Paz, a song I often listen to at home. I love Joao Gilberto. Bossa Nova is very surprising. Cause the melody is always nice, sweet, pleasant and you would think the songs is talking about positive things… but often it is not. On the contrary, if you listen to the words (which I only partially understand), the songs are sad and gloomy. Saudade, as they call it. But this one, O Amor Em Paz, is actually “strangely” rather positive. The singer says the now he has found a peaceful love… but before that, he suffered a lot. So, see? Never completely happy. To be honest, I like very much this melancholic atmosphere. I find it very touching.
Where to sleep
For the night we stayed at Ai Lecci in Centro, a B&B located just in front of the ancient burg gate. It was a very convenient location, with pool and plus a delicious breakfast. I honestly hate to drive with the car through narrow streets or to park in inconvenient places. This way we could leave the car in the flat parking lot and then visit the village on foot. Everything was near: 1 minute to reach the piazza, 12-15 minutes to reach the castle.
The major event in Sarteano is the Giostra del Saracino (The Saracen Joust), taking place on August 15, Ferragosto. It is the reenactment of the fight against the invading enemy. Five knights are chosen, one for each Contrada: San Lorenzo, San Martino, San Bartolomeo, Santissima Trinità and Sant’Andrea. In the main piazza they have to embrace a pole and place a ring on the Saraceno, a revolving bust. Obviously the winner is the person who places the greatest number of rings.
In the surroundings of Sarteano you can find the so called Bagno Santo (Holy Bath), i.e. springs of thermal water. They say it cures eyes and skin infections. Another interesting area is Il Parco delle Piscine, a park with three pools fed by the waters of the natural springs. The Nature Reserve of Pietraporciana includes a beech forest and the hill in which it is located divides Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana. Nearby, Poggio Rotondo is home to numerous caves.
Castiglioncello del Trinoro
On our way towards the next mycorneroftuscany destination, Matteo and I made a detour to Castiglioncello del Trinoro, which is an hamlet of Sarteano. Someone calls it the Val d’Orcia balcony. To be honest, it is a bit hard to reach it, since the last 5 km of the road are winding and unpaved (with some holes). But I guess they have not paved it yet on purpose, in order to maintain its ancient aura, and not to be too touched by tourism. The burg is in factan example of widespread hospitality.
Restored by an American lawyer, the hamlet became a resort (the bar and the restaurant are open to the public). In the burg there are no attractions: one street, some houses, the restaurant, a church and a terrace with a breathtaking view (really wonderful). There is no pharmacy, no market, nothing of the sort. It is not a place to visit. It is a place to live, where you can relax and enjoy its bellezza. Nearby you can visit, as our host Bruno suggested us, a beautiful historical garden called La Foce. We didn’t go there because it was closed that day. But if you’re into gardens you can consider it for a further detour.
I really liked Sarteano, mostly thanks to the kindness of the people I met there. That’s why I wrote that it is three times charming: beautiful burg, interesting attractions and kind people. In conclusion I suggest you to visit it! What are you waiting for? Finally I have to say thanks:
Un grande grazie a Guido Norrito e Simone Tiezzi per averci accompagnato, e sempre col sorriso!
Pro Loco (Tourist Info) Corso Garibaldi, 9 – Sarteno (Siena)