For a different side of Tuscany, head for the mountains, or one mountain in particular: Monte Amiata, in the south of the region. Time your family visit to coincide with the local festivals when the area comes alive: in Seggiano, the cherry festival (mid June), pici pasta festival (second week in August) and oil festival (late November), while the Palio delle Contrade changes the face of Castel del Piano every year on September 8 and the Vulcano di Birra beer festival brings revelry to Arcidosso in late July.
Population 955, Seggiano is a pretty hilltop medieval town and the perfect base for exploring the Monte Amiata area. First stop is at the Olive Oil Museum, an original way of understanding of oil is made, especially since the town lends its name to its very own local variety, the Olivastra seggianese. The visit begins with an unusual sight: an olive tree sinks its roots down into a tank in the town centre—it’s the largest tree in the world to be fed using aeroponic technology (grown in a mist environment without the use of soil!). Children will be wowed by the artistic use of a “typewriter” than traces the plant’s electrical activity as well as by the 19th-century mill, San Rocco oratory with its frescoes dating to 1490 and the impressive new “oleoteca” (oil shop and archive) in the main square, offering oil tastings.
A five-minute drive southeast of Seggiano, Daniel Spoerri’s Garden is where the Swiss artist chose to live and carry out his research back in the 1990s. Dotted with 112 works by 55 different artists, the garden offers a thought-provoking route that winds its way through art and nature from April to October. Next up is Potentino Castle, a striking castle dating to 1042, which is now a fine wine estate and cultural hub offering yoga and literary retreats owned by the Greene family.
“Castel del Piano...for the beauty of the place, for the convenience of the agreeable position, is undoubtedly the most important among the village on that slope.” Pope Pius II wrote these words in the 15th century about the town we are visiting next. Stroll around the historic centre’s picturesque narrow, cobbled streets with its three gates: Porta Pianese, now topped with the clock tower, and Porta Amiata (or Castiglionese) and the small Porta Spennaziana, which connects the old town with the newer village beneath the walls.
Next to the clock tower stands Palazzo Nerucci a sublime specimen of 16th-century architecture that houses a diverse art collection ranging from paintings to archaeological finds and antiques. Outside the town breathe in the freshest of air in some of Europe’s largest oak and chestnut woods. A five-minute drive and we are welcomed to Arcidosso by the impressive Aldobrandesca Fortress. The 1,000-year-old stronghold includes the Davide Lazzaretti study centre, medieval history museum, a tour of the tower and the museum of oriental art and culture. If you’re feeling thirsty, pause for a refreshing local craft beer flavoured with chestnuts, saffron or mountain honey at central tap room Birra Amiata.
It’s time to get active on day 3 around Monte Amiata with a walk to the picturesque Acqua d’Alto waterfall near the village of Bagnoli. (Check opening times with the local tourist information centre: www.prolocoarcidosso.it.) Our next stop is the Monte Labbro Nature Reserve, 650 hectares of wilderness and wildlife.
Depending on the season it’s not uncommon to see eagles and falcons soaring high among the mountain peaks as well as deer and – if you’re very lucky – Apennine wolves. For adventure experiences take the family to IndianaPark Amiata. An adventure park located high up on the mountain, zip wire slides, rope bridges and tree climbing are among the kid-oriented activities on offer. Having worked up an appetite, fill up on carbs at one of the area’s rustic restaurants where local specialities include wild boar pasta, chestnut-centred dishes and plenty of porcini mushrooms.