Touring Tuscany: The Val d'Orcia Valley

by Mario 21-Jun 2016

If you're planning a vacation to Italy, the region of Tuscany is a must-stop travel hot spot that you need to visit during your trip as it's known for its landscapes, traditions and rich history! While you search for Tuscany villas for rent to accommodate your stay, you might be wondering where to start your sight-seeing vacation once you get settled. While you could certainly traverse through the popular Tuscan cities of Florence or Pisa, you may want to take the road less traveled and start your adventure in the scenic valley area south of Montepulciano.

Most tourists know Montepulciano for its highly rated red wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, however, traveling through the beautiful hills of Montepulciano will truly take your Italian vacation to another level. This part of the Tuscan region, scattered with small, well-preserved medieval villages, enormous fortresses and ancient thermal springs, remains unaltered and mostly unaffected by mass tourism. On top of that, restaurant prices throughout the valley are consistently modest. With that said, it's worth spending the day in the area and Parker Villas has a great suggested itinerary you can follow starting in Montepulciano!

An Unforgettable Adventure

First, head toward the village of Pienza, which is the unforgettable pastoral setting for the film "The English Patient", by taking the SS146, known as one of the most scenic drives in Tuscany. The valley between Montepulciano and Pienza is scattered with herds of sheep and famed for its Pecorino cheese. For anyone visiting in the Fall, make sure to experience the Fiera del Cacio, a cheese festival, which takes place in Pienza on the first Sunday.

If you continue west to San Quirico d'Orcia you'll come across a lively pedestrian thoroughfare lined with restaurants, cafes, wine shops and boutiques. It's the perfect place to stop for lunch and pick up souvenirs of locally made herbal soaps and lotions. If you are there during the third weekend in June make sure to attend the Festa del Barbarossa, a festival with a medieval costume procession through the village ending at the Horti Leonini Italianate gardens, where neighborhoods compete in archery and flag throwing.

Arriving at the Thermal Spas & Hot Springs

A 10-minute drive south leads to the sleepy medieval gem of Bagno Vignoni and a Roman-era thermal bath occupying the main square that's bordered by a few small shops and restaurants. During the Renaissance, this became a popular resort thanks to Lorenzo il Magnifico who came here to bathe in the medicinal water as the thermal water rises up 3200 feet to reach the surface at a temperature of 125 degrees F. The parking area for the village, beside the ruins of a 12th century mill, has a phenomenal view across the entire valley. Be sure to stop and take pictures of the breathtaking scenery!

Our next recommended stop is a small village called Bagno San Filippo that features hot spring pools, waterfalls and calcified formations. This spot was frequented by the Etruscans and made into a resort area by the Romans. Visitors are able to swim under the waterfalls and in the natural spring pools, so bring your bathing suit if you want to take a dip. If you want get the most out of this little village, the "Terme San Filippo" is a hotel spa offering day passes, skincare treatments and products made from the springs' curative waters.

Continue the southern scenic loop across the valley toward the medieval village of Cetona, a perfect stop for a coffee or gelato at one of the cafes aligning the charming town square. Fun fact: Giorgio Armani has a summer residence in the area. When not searching for the elite, visit the Mount Cetona Archaeological Park (open July - September), home of the prehistoric Belvedere caves.

From Cetona, pick up the Chiusi exit on the A1 highway, which is a short 15-minute drive away, to head back home to your Tuscan villa in Montepulciano. If you don't get a chance to visit Tuscany this summer, you can still plan your trip for the fall because there's still plenty to see and do!

If you are traveling in late fall, don’t worry. There are plenty of the medieval festivals the area is known for:

  • The Sagra del Fungo e Castagna, is the feast of the mushroom and the chestnut, which takes place on the 2nd and 3rd weekends of October in Vivo d'Orcia. Food stands offer mushrooms dishes, roasted chestnuts and jams.
  • The Sagra del Marrone is the feast of the chestnut in Campligia d'Orcia, held on the last Sunday in October. The village's three neighborhoods compete against one another in decorating, performing arts and food. Visitors walk through each area to judge their favorites and cast a ballot to decide the winner, who is announced that evening.
  • The white truffle festival in San Giovanni d'Asso takes place on the 2nd and 3rd weekends in November, to highlight the truffle season, which runs from September through December. The town has an imposing castle that houses the Museo del Tartufo, which is open on weekends.

Are you ready to plan your vacation by finding the perfect Tuscany villa for rent so you can experience everything Italy has to offer? Search for villas or apartments in Tuscany with Parker Villas today!

Why May is a Great Time to Visit Italy

by Mario 06-Apr 2016

At Parker Villas, we've noticed an odd trend: not as many people seem to be visiting Italy in May. For the life of us, we can't figure out why that would be. Could it be that Americans just don't travel before Memorial Day? Or perhaps people aren't aware of how great a time it is to visit? Whatever the case, we're here to let people in on the secret and explain why May might actually be the best month to come to central Italy.

Beautiful Weather

If you are looking for comfortable temperatures, late spring is a great time to visit areas like Tuscany and Umbria. While May in the past was considered strictly a shoulder season, recently the temperatures have been heating up during this month, making it warm, but not blistering. Since outdoor activities are an essential part of any trip to Italy, this will make your time here much more enjoyable. Rent a villa in Tuscany and enjoy spending time on the terrace, or take advantage of the many cafes that will just be opening their outdoor seating.

Of course, it can still be a little cool out during this month and some rain is possible, so check the forecast right before you go to see what type of clothing you might need and bring a jacket for evenings in any case. For the most part, however, expect sunshine and blissfully mild weather.


Speaking of outdoor activities, May is one of the best times to catch all of the blooming flowers in the central Italian towns and countryside. The month actually sees the transition of the landscape from the vibrant green of spring to the dusky golds of summer. Bright red poppies and purple wildflowers dot the hills, and gardens fill with blooming roses, azaleas, and jasmine. You may even be able to smell some of these scents wafting across the fields.

More particularly, Florence's Giardino dell'Iris is a must-see for any flora lover. This garden almost exclusively features a fabulous array of Irises, and is only open from May 2nd-20th each year. This is a rare treat that many people who go in August will never get to experience!

Festivals & Holidays

When travelling to Italy, enjoying the unique culture is just part of the fun, and one of the best ways to do that is to attend one of the many festivals. Different towns hold events throughout the year, and May is no exception. You could attend one of the crossbow competitions (there are several, usually performed in late medieval garb), head to one of the many product-related festivals (often dedicated to wine, nuts, cheese, or other goods of the region), or enjoy one of the religious or historically-based affairs.

The Calendimaggio celebrations are held in Assisi, Umbria, on the first Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in May (not including the 1st of May). It portrays the drama between two separate groups who clashed with one another in the streets of the city during the 14th century with vibrant costumes, parades, contests, and ceremonies. You may need tickets for some parts of this festival, so get them ahead of time!

Worth noting also is the Italian Labour Day on the first of May. In many places, there are special events and concerts to commemorate the institution of workers' rights, and you can attend some of these if you so choose. One of the other ways that many locals celebrate is by taking short trips to the countryside to relax and picnic, which is never a bad way to spend time in Italy. There will be some businesses that close for the holiday, however, so plan accordingly.

The Giro d'Italia

If you've ever thought you would love to catch some of the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia is a great alternative. This is considered one of the top cycling races in the world, and is one of three European races that constitute the Grand Tours (these include the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, and the Vuelta a España).

The route for this year's race has already been determined, with one leg of the competition traversing the Chianti region vineyards for 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) in an individual time trial. This means that you won't have to go far out of your way to experience this exciting event firsthand. The Giro d'Italia would be an incredible thing to get some pictures of and tell people about at home, so check out the schedule and plan ahead.

On the other hand, if bike racing isn't your thing, keeping this event in mind will help you to avoid a major road delay while on your trip. 

Fewer Crowds

Did we mention how perplexed were that there weren't more people here in May? That's all to the good for you, if you decide to book during the month. Many people who are looking to avoid the mid-summer heat and the crowds come in September, which, though a beautiful month in central Italy, often ends up just as crowded as June or July. But, possibly because kids aren't off of school or people simply haven't accrued much vacation time, May is often neglected. This will make everything from taking a wine tour to visiting the Uffizi less chaotic, more personal, and more pleasant. You'll feel a bit less like a tourist, and more like you actually live here, which is always the goal of a great vacation!

While we think coming to central Italy is worth it at any time of year, May is a highly underappreciated month. Take advantage of it by booking a villa or apartment with us at Parker Villas today!

Unveiling the Secrets of Rome's Past

by Mario 09-Aug 2013

With all the renewed attention Rome is enjoying with Pope Francis, James Papandrea's most recent outing "Rome  — A Pilgrim's Guide to the Eternal City" comes at a providentially opportune time. The guide is indispensable for unveiling many of Rome's ancient secrets — especially those that go unnoticed in plain sight. In an easy, colloquial style, yet packed with detail, Jim probes behind (and often beneath) the most famous and sometimes long forgotten facades and artworks on a journey of unique discovery. Those in need of a mere lodging & good eats guide should read no further.

While Jim uncovers tangible evidence of Rome's early church, the book reveals so much more. Regardless of one's belief system, this guide is a bag of pearls. Each find is a glimpse into a hidden Rome. Catholics and other ecumenical denominations will appreciate age-old invocations and devotions to a panoply of early saints. However, students of history be they peoples of the Book, followers of the Way, agnostics or adherents of any faith will be fascinated with how Babel's pantheism morfed into the Roman Catholic rite.

One interesting tidbit regarding Julius Caesar's coronation required his becoming Pontifex Maximus — the empire's chief priest. However, this was in BC (before Christ). The church Julius headed, with all the familiar trappings of today's pontiffs, originated long before Christ in ancient Mesopotamia. The question one begs is whether all this evidence points to Catholicism donning a pagan mask to survive or was it the other way around?

"Rome  — A Pilgrim's Guide to the Eternal City" opens a doorway into a hall of mirrors encompassing masterpieces of art and architecture, traditions and doctrines and reveals an origin far older than Rome. You needn't visit the city to enjoy this read or its photos, but the sheer number of insights and curiosities will likely make your eventual appearance inevitable and rewarding.

Eager forensic detectives may even choose to personally accompany Dr. Papandrea on future explorations of the Eternal City. For more information preview the book, read about the author and ckeck his 2014 travel schedule or just simply visit him at You may also purchase a copy directly from the publishers: Wipf and Stock Publishers or from Amazon in either print or e-version.

A final note — Jim is a Parker Villas client and I'm always thrilled to share our guests' deepening love affair with Italy. While I am neither a writer nor a critic, I do profess to know Italy very well. Having lived in Rome and visited the city countless times, Jim's book left me happily humbled by how little I knew and by how much more I look forward to returning to my favorite corner of Rome. This review was not prescreened by the author.

Help Bring Marilyn Monroe Home To The USA From Italy

by Mario 13-Mar 2013

This appeal is going to sound a bit odd from someone who is neither an avid museum goer, a fashion flower nor celebrity buff. Perhaps it's all the more interesting. A few months ago I was taken on an afternoon conference break, with a slew of other foreign travel buyers to see the Marilyn exhibit at the Ferragamo Shoe Museum in Florence. It was designed as an hour to kill after lunch.

Sixty minutes later, with tears running down my cheeks, I approached the woman who was acting as the guide — but who possesed far more passion than any ordinary guide — and in my abrupt American fashion blurted out: "Who are you? Are you the person who sells this dream?" The answer was: "Yes, but we are not done yet. Please, follow me." The grand finale was a jaw dropper. When everyone left, I lingered behind to ask the "guide", a director level official: "When is Marilyn coming to the United States?" She sadly replied: "She's not". The exhibit in Florence ends at the beginning of April and opens in Prague from May through August 2013. Then, that's it. After Prague, once all the pieces go back to their respective museums and private collections, it's a lot harder to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Let's back up. Aside from the shoes, clothes, pictures, sound, film and writings of Marilyn, masterfully presented in a Fellini dreamlike sequence, the genius is in how it's all done. Here's Marilyn in an all too familiar pose next to an even more famous painting or sculpture hundreds or thousands of years older in the exact same position. This is art, universal and timeless. A tragic American icon and an ephemeral Greek, Roman or Renaissance nymph, goddess and madonna become indistinguishable, nearly interchangeable! The presentation is nonetheless filled with drama and controversy. It's an emotional roller coaster. No matter the forewarning, jaws will drop aplenty.

The Ferragamo Museum is a true accredited museum and separate from the Ferragamo brand. Once a stateside museum does get involved, the brand may surely want to sponsor a great deal of things. But until then it does not get involved.

So, if you want to help:
Step 1. Get infected. Visit Marilyn in Florence this month (March 2013) or in Prague in May.
Step 2. Once you see it, you'll agree that wherever Marilyn lands in the USA there will be day-long lines for blocks.
Step 3. Six degrees of separation. What's needed are introductions between interested museums here and Marilyn's mentors there.

I have returned to Florence three times in as many months, with more trips to come, on Parker business. Each time, I try to move the dream along. We have already established some contacts on Marilyn's behalf from ambassadorial levels on down. With your added help we maybe can get her home soon. If you are serious and have the right contacts, I'm quite easy to reach and can open the doors there.

Venice Carnevale—Life’s A Masquerade!

by Admin 15-Jan 2013

It’s the week before Lent and the calendar says “Party!” And while Rio dances in the street 24/7 and New Orleans jazzes the blues right out of winter, Venice puts on a show that rivals the rest. If you’ve never experienced Carnevale, then be sure to bump it to the top of your bucket list ... The breathtaking, exuberant pageantry of masks, festooned boats, and centuries-old rituals draw participants and revelers from across the globe for reasons you have to see to believe.

There are so many events going on, so many traditional celebrations and pageants, that it’s impossible to describe them all — much less their origins. So, here’s our short list of what not to miss and what to look for “behind-the-mask.” Carnevale runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 12, 2013.

The 2013 Theme: LIVE IN COLOR!
The kaleidoscopic image relates to the amazing colors that Venice emanates, from its pastel buildings to the nuanced reflections in the waters. It’s a tribute to the painters who first captured the light and colors of the city: Canaletto, Guardi, Titian, Bellini, Veronese. And it will be present in every aspect of this year’s feast, from the foods to the colorful regalia on buildings and boats everywhere.

• Saturday, January 26
The Grand Parade of Masks in Piazza San Marco. This opening ceremony is dedicated to the citizens of the city of Venice, many of whom arrive in traditional Venetian costume and a spectacular array of painted masks.

• Sunday, January 27
Parade of Boats. Thousands of watercraft, small and big, sail the Grand Canal to the fabled Canareggio district where countless food and wine stalls serve forth traditional Venetian specialty foods and beverages late into the evening.

• Twice daily
The Best Mask Contest: 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in Piazza San Marco. Originally made of glass, today’s finest masks are made of leather, porcelain, or carta pesta (papier maché), elaborately painted and often themed with the traditional motifs: Bauta — full-faced and often worn with a black cloak; Columbina — the half-mask, usually highly decorated with gold and feathers; Medico del Peste — the bird-beak mask; and the Volto — the popular all-white mask, often worn with a tri-corner hat and cloak.

• Sunday, February 3
Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel). A tradition since the early Renaissance, an anonymous Venetian “guest” flies along a rope from the bell tower of San Marco and lands in the middle of the Piazza, greeted by throngs of masked festival-goers.

• Three times daily on weekends
The Secrets of Venice – Walking Theater Show. Beginning in the 15th century, nobles and wealthy Venetians were escorted in the evenings by a codega, a story-telling servant who lit the way home down the alleyways with lanterns. Today, theatrical actors play the part of the codega, leading the “audience” through the streets of Venice, stopping at secret places and watching other actors appear in the dark to tell tales tall and true.

• Tuesday, February 12 (Mardi Gras)
The Silent Water Parade & Closing Ceremony. Starting at the Rialto and ending at the Punta della Dogana in the Grand Canal, this moving and dazzling ceremony features a huge flotilla of gondolas and traditional rowboats, all lit with candles and bringing to life the Venice of another era.

For more information and tickets, visit the comprehensive Italian site, which translates into English.

Experience Carnevale up-close ...
... from one of Parker’s Gondole Apartments. Rented on a nightly basis, with plenty of living space, cooking facilities, and drop-dead views, each apartment makes a perfect home in the serene Giudecca neighborhood, just a 10-minute vaporetto ride to St. Mark’s Square. Take a moment to check out views from Tortuga and Gandalf

Orvieto Underground: The city beneath the city

by Admin 12-Dec 2012

When you’re standing in one of the arched stone caverns deep inside the Parco delle Grotte (park of caves), consider that there’s a cathedral right atop your head.

Orvieto’s history reaches deep into Etruscan times. Built high atop a tufa “mountain,” the town’s soft porous stone was easily cut and carved into a warren of labyrinthine passageways sometime around the 5th century B.C. When the Romans arrived in 264 B.C., they nearly demolished Orvieto, but the town rose from the proverbial ashes in the 14th century when approximately 30,000 people settled here and rebuilt the glorious little city that still rises above the broad valley below. The noblemen, who brought their business to town and who built churches and the mighty cathedral, dug and expanded the passageways beneath their homes, creating escape routes in case the city came under siege. As time went by, other citizens altered and conformed the subterranean halls and passages for their own industrious purposes, creating wells, cisterns, pigeon-breeding centers, a cement quarry, kilns for their ceramics, and storage for olive oil.

As the centuries rolled by, the caves were abandoned, their storied past fading from public knowledge. It has only been since the late 19th and 20th centuries, when archaeologists began combing the Umbrian countryside for Etruscan artifacts, that this underground world resurfaced. In 1985, a huge well was discovered, and next to it, the remains of two ceramic kilns. One dates to the Renaissance when it was used in a process called the “third fire.” The result was a hard, shiny ceramic, whose iridescent gold and red finish remains unique in the world.

As you’re wandering about Orvieto, you can gain access to many of the caves through local shops and restaurants—some even advertise entry on their signs—and we recommend dining in one of the city’s grotto restaurants for the enchanting atmosphere. It’s also well worth the time to take the “Orvieto Underground Tour,” a guided adventure where you can climb up and down the winding stairways, photograph ancient olive presses, and marvel at those little symmetrical square holes in the walls. You’ll find out what those are, along with these other fascinating facts about this magical and mysterious world:

• Many caves are connected underground, perfect for chatting with the neighbors.
• The 57-degree F temperature is steady through the labyrinth, which is just right for processing the excellent olive oil famous throughout Umbria.
• “Ladders” for climbing into higher chambers were carved into the walls using a series of alternating foot and hand holds.
• That strange sequence of uniform niches in the larger galleries? Those are pigeon holes, where the birds nested and laid eggs, an important source of revenue for the locals.


Parker’s VILLA MIRABELLA offers your own perfect go-to grotto, its stone walls and terracotta floors a beautiful use of local materials. Whether for 8 guests, or up to 14, the very private villa features a pool and a bocce court. The covered portico with a wood-fired barbecue make al fresco dining a memorable experience. Orvieto, with its many restaurants, shops, fabled cathedral and underground caves, is just 15 minutes away. Click here for more information.

Saint Nicholas: A tale of two Italian cities

by Admin 06-Dec 2012

Long before Santa Claus and his toy business moved to the North Pole, the benevolent Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (Demre in today’s modern Turkey), delighted poor children with candies and small gifts.
Born in A.D. 270, and orphaned at a young age, Nicholas devoted his life to Christ and the poor. He was made Bishop and his reputation for generosity was celebrated far and wide; after his death in 343 his grave in the Myra Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage­. By popular demand, Nicholas was pronounced a Saint in the year 400, and December 6th
was established as his official Feast Day.

After Myra fell to Islam in 1081, the Christian faith was suppressed and churches, including the Cathedral of Myra, were shuttered. Ever opportunistic, yet keeping a penitent eye toward holy heaven, Italian merchants—from Bari and Venice in particular—vowed to bring the sacred relics of Saint Nicholas to their respective cities for safekeeping, aware that an influx of pilgrims would also significantly boost the local economy.

On May 9, 1087 the contingent of three ships from Bari returned home first with the remains of the good saint. The sailors pledged to build a magnificent church and, in 1089, Pope Urban II placed a hand-carved casket in its crypt. For the next three centuries the Basilica of San Nicola remained one of Europe’s main centers of pilgrimage and May 9 continues to be a day of celebration in Bari.
Meanwhile... The Venetians doubted that the sailors from Bari had recovered all of the relics.
In 1099, during the First Crusade, Venetian contingents stopped in Myra and, digging through the mostly abandoned church, discovered an ossuary engraved with the words: “Here lies the Great Bishop Nicholas, Glorious on Land and Sea.” They returned to Venice with the container in 1101 where it was laid to rest in the church already dedicated to the saint—San Nicolo al Lido. Of course, the origin of the relics was highly disputed in Bari and beyond, but the Venetians never once reconsidered their claim. It took 891 years to vindicate them.

In 1953,
Luigi Martino, anatomy professor from the University of Bari, took samples from both cities and measured, X-rayed, and compared the bone fragments, concluding that they were indeed the remains of the same man—the patron saint of children, mariners, merchants, bakers, and the early Christian church. Bless both Bari and Venice!

Saint Galgano and the Sword in the Stone

by Admin 06-Nov 2012

Who knew? The “original” Sword in the Stone just may be firmly stuck in bedrock near the ruins of a Cistercian abbey, about 20 miles from Siena.

At least that’s what some clergy, and a few medieval scholars, have believed for centuries. There’s not much to prove it except that the simple iron sword has been dated to those typically in use in the 12th century, and that it bears a very close resemblance to one found in England from 1173. Which seems to be enough fodder to argue that the King Arthur legend may have its roots deep in the Tuscan countryside...

The backstory here tells of a young noble knight, one Galgano Guidotti, who, like most of his adolescent peers lived life in pursuit of worldly pleasures. One day, out of the proverbial blue, the Archangel Michael appeared and demanded that Galgano renounce his creature comforts and accept salvation. On the way to tell his fiancée that he would be leaving their town of Chiusdano, Galgano’s horse reared and threw him to the ground. A spirit voice took it from there, lifting him up and guiding him to nearby Montesiepi where a vision of Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles beckoned him to the top of the hill. There, the voice appealed to the young lad to cease his wanton ways for good. Galgano replied that that would be about as easy as “splitting a rock with a sword.” He then pulled his sword and plunged it into the ground, where, to his astonishment, it slid into sheer bedrock and wouldn’t budge. Galgano too stayed put in the forests of Montesiepi, living out the rest of his life as a poor humble hermit until he died at age 33, in 1181.

The much-celebrated Galgano was canonized the following year and Cistercian monks constructed a chapel on the site of his hut near the top of Montesiepi. The round capella, built in concentric  “stripes” of Sienese brick and stone, was dedicated to the saint in 1183 ... San Galgano’s “Sword in the Stone” rests eternally inside, as the centerpiece. As to whether the original lies buried in the waters of Arthurian England, or was planted on this remote Tuscan hillside by a young knight, we’ll likely never know for sure. But there’s little doubt that it, and its young heroic owners, are the stuff legends are born of.

If you go:
Location: Between the towns of Chiusdino and Monticiano, 20 miles southwest of Siena, and about 40 miles north of Florence.
Hours (always subject to change): 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.; and 4:00 p.m. until 6-7 p.m.
Of note: Attached to the original Capella is a second chapel, added in 1340. Its walls are covered with paintings
(beautifully restored) by Lorenzetti, which depict the life and times of the young Galgano. The Herbalist shop here offers homemade jams, tonics, and medicinal botanicals. In addition, be sure to wander among the spectacular Gothic ruins of the Abbey, built in the 13th century just below the chapel.

Parker Villa’s "Cottage La Vita" – Create your own legend!

Enjoy the life enchanted at Parker’s charming  “Cottage La Vita” (sleeps 4), which includes a private pool and gardens that overlook the rolling Sienese hills. Head out of town and you’re surrounded by the lovely Chianti countryside. The San Galgano Abbey is a half-hour away and Florence is a just a 40-minute drive.

Positively Medieval: San Gimignano’s Museum of Torture

by Admin 31-Oct 2012

Enough with the enlightened art of the Renaissance already—at least for now! Kids want the dark and creepy world of medieval horrors. What better place to indulge them than at the Torture Museum, suitably situated in the dungeon of Devil’s Tower—one of the perfectly preserved 13th-century torri, (towers) of San Gimignano. Here a ghoulish (and highly imaginative) collection of more than 100 pain-inflicting instruments is certain to elicit more than one bravely whispered “that’s so cool!”

The well-executed (ahem) displays include the usual suspects: guillotine, thumbscrews, iron chastity belts... But the real wow factors come when you get to the – drumroll please – Maiden of Nurenburg. We’re talking ultimate nasty: a sarcophagus with 1,000 inwardly pointing spikes. But wait, there’s more! Your ticket also includes the Museum of the Death Penalty, located virtually next door. If your horror appetite hasn’t already been sated, you can witness a collection of instruments used for those “final touches” when the death sentence was handed down.

After you emerge into daylight, taking in that deep "I'm alive" breath of fresh air, we highly recommend a calming triple gelato in the nearby Piazza della Cisterna. Everyone’s happy, and you might even find there’s no resistance when you cannily suggest a visit to San Marco in Florence later in the week to view the blissful Fra Angelicos...


Location: The Torture Museum and Museum of the Death Penalty are located in San Gimignano’s historic center, on Via del Castello.
Hours: Daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Fees: Adults, 12€; Children and Students (to age 25 with ID), 7€. (Admission valid for both museums)
Forgive us for torturing you further, but click here for the (Italian-only) website.

Planning a Tuscany vacation? Parker Villas properties offer a great base for exploring San Gimignano and the surrounding Tuscan countryside:

• Our 9-bedroom Villa Salvucci is perfect for an all-ages family or friends reunion. Both comfortable and elegant, our guests always enjoy the hunting estate ambiance and the culinary delights of the surrounding community.

• Located adjacent to Villa Salvucci, the newly appointed Villa Santa Fina offers five bedrooms, private pool, and portico patio. Some of San Gimignano’s legendary signature wines have been produced locally since the 13th century.

• Imagine waking up in a medieval tower and looking out over San Gimignano’s sun-splashed Piazza della Cisterna below. Our 3-bedroom Villa Zafferano is perfect for a small group of friends (no children under 12, please) who love the lively, in-town experience.

Monte Oliveto Maggiore: 700 Years of Abbey Life

by Admin 24-Oct 2012

Perched on a cliff surrounded by thick woodlands, and overlooking the starkly beautiful landscapes of le Crete Senesi, the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore is one of southern Tuscany’s architectural jewels. Wander the breathtaking cloisters, and pause in the serenity of a Mass sung in sublime Gregorian chant.

A bit of history
The Olivetan Order traces its beginnings to 1313 and a blind philosophy professor from Siena, Giovanni Tolomei. After years of fervent prayer to the Virgin Mary, his eyesight was miraculously restored. Tolomei left his home and worldly possessions and, accompanied by two Sienese senator friends, traveled into the wilderness to live off land owned by Tolomei himself.  The three hermits devoted themselves to Mary, vowing to live a life of austerity and following the strict Rule of Saint Benedict. Giovanni changed his name to Bernardo, after the Benedictine Saint, and established the Olivetan Order of Benedictine Monks. Today, members of that Order—the Benedictine Monks of Saint Mary of Mount Oliveto—still live and work at the Abbey, their white robes a symbol of devotion to the Holy Mother.

A short distance from Asciano and a 20-mile drive from Siena will bring you to this ancient, tranquil beauty spot. An avenue of venerable cypress trees leads to the Abbey courtyard. When you enter the gate, be sure to look up—there’s a Mother and Child ceramic by Della Robbia at the top.

Three graceful cloisters surround flowers and medicinal botanicals used by the monks. Especially spectacular is the double-tiered 15th century Chiostro Grande; the portico is covered in 35 huge frescoes by Sodoma, completed in 1508. The Pharmacy, active until the 1860s, showcases a magnificent collection of ceramic pharmaceutical jars made from the pale clay of the Senesi region and fired in the famous furnaces of nearby San Quirico d’Orcia.

The Abbey Shop

Be sure to stop in at this veritable treasure chest. In addition to books, religious objects, and beautiful art prints, you can purchase lotions, potions, tinctures, and locally made liqueurs, infused with special, restorative herbs. While it could be coincidence that the local residents live longer than most of us, the Abbey and its immediate surroundings do sit on one of the earth’s ley lines, a positive energy vortex. Perhaps those ancient secret liqueur recipes really are palliatives—at the very least they make great gifts. Read more about this curious phenomenon.

Gregorian Chants

Dating back to the 6th century, this melodic journey into the mystery and magic of the liturgy is part of the conventional daily Mass at many Benedictine monasteries. If you can, plan your visit to Monte Oliveto during a Mass when the monks sing—it’s an unforgettable experience.

To Hear the Gregorian chants:
Weekdays: 7:00 a.m. (Lauds with Gregorian chant)
 Sundays: 11:00 a.m. (conventional Mass with Gregorian chant)

Click to visit the Abbey Website

Planning to explore beautiful southern Tuscany?
Parker Villas’ property, "l’Affresco," offers 6 apartments (each sleeps 4 guests) in a restored—and restorative!—olive oil estate surrounded by 300 stunning acres. Since it's just 10 minutes from the town of Asciano, 20 minutes from the Abbey, and an easy drive to Siena, Pienza, Arezzo, Montepulciano and Montalcino, all of central Italy awaits your discovery.

About this blog

Welcome to our Access Italy blog, a mosaic of eclectic, but practical, information; fascinating cultural insights; and unique commentary on a wonderful way of life only the Italians could have designed.  more....


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