Val di Merse: touring through a wild landscape

Cycling in the Montagnola Senese, discovering medieval villages and old churches

A multi-faceted Tuscany at the gates of Siena, to be enjoyed cycling in a landscape that has always been a melting pot in the area.
A strip of green fields halfway between the wild Maremma area and the great harmonic spaces of the Crete Senesi and the wonderful Val d’Orcia. A natural bridge between Siena and the sea, where medieval villages have existed for centuries, perfectly integrated into the territory, with their wealth of stories and traditions.

Itinerary description:
The bike tour in the Merse Valley is a ring route (47 km long), with departure and arrival point in Sovicille.

From the village take SP 37 towards Siena, arriving at Ponte Spino and the parish church of San Giovanni Battista. Keeping left at the next intersections, take SP 101 in the direction of Florence up to Pian del Lago. Here, near the homonymous equestrian club, continue on road 101 on the left to reach Castle Celsa, through dry stone walls, olive groves, and fields.

Once at the Celsa Pass (573 m), a tortuous descent begins, winding through a beautiful landscape that includes the Tuscan Apennines and the Chianti area. After 5 km, just before Scorgiano, turn left towards Pievescola, following a beautiful winding road bordered by vineyards and typical red earth fields.

After a break, continue along SP 52 (Montagnola Senese) going up towards the small village of Simignano and the Incrociati Pass (505 m), then descend again through scenic hairpin bends towards Ancaiano and finally Sovicille.

Technical advice:
The route enters the heart of the Montagnola area, developing entirely on asphalt roads and using a traffic-free secondary road network. It is a winding path with two rather long but constant climbs.

Points of interest

SOVICILLE
SOVICILLE

This ancient village of Etruscan origin is located in the centre of the Merse Valley and it is the town in Tuscany that boasts the highest number of churches, abbeys, castles, and villas on its territory – historic buildings that have partly disappeared and partly reduced to farmhouses, but also of others that have been preserved without alterations, scattered in the many small villages in the area. The historic centre of Sovicille is located on a hill at the foot of the Montagnola Senese, and retains the size it had during the Middle Ages: in the 12th century it was home to a castle property of the bishop of Siena, and still today it is enclosed by the remains of a circle of 15th-century walls, once fortified. Overlooking the central square is the old parish church of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence), built around the mid-14th century while the 18th-century Palazzo Nuti-Palmieri, now Lechner, imposing with its elegant staircase that descends towards the park is also a town jewel.

PIEVESCOLA – The Parish Church of San Giovanni Battista
PIEVESCOLA – The Parish Church of San Giovanni Battista

Of Romanesque origin, this religious building is the historical symbol of the small Tuscan village. The church, whose presence was first recorded in 1032, is located on the slopes of the Montagnola Senese, in the centre of the town, and consists of a basilica with three naves ending with a three-apse tribune. Featuring a very simple architecture, without frills and with a façade surmounted by a bell gable, inside it houses a Gothic marble tabernacle from the 14th century.

CASTLE CELSA
CASTLE CELSA

The complex stands in the holm oak and chestnut trees forests of the Montagnola Senese, dominating the view from Siena to Mount Amiata. Built in the 1200s, the castle was enlarged and embellished over the centuries, becoming a charming period residence of the Aldobrandini family. The complex consists of the old castle (which cannot be visited), the lemon orchard (now used as a house for farm holidays), a restored barn, and a park which offers a very nice Italian-style garden and a fenced forest adorned by a 16th-century fountain. Noteworthy is also the small circular chapel built by Peruzzi in the 14th century at the foot of the castle.

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Technical data

City of departure: Sovicille

Departure: Sovicille

City of arrival: Sovicille

Arrival: Sovicille

Length (Km): 47

Difficulty: Average

Discipline: Racing bicycle

Type of Itinerary: Half Day

Difference in height (m): 800

Difference in downhill (m): 800

Highest point (m): 589

Lowest point (m): 200

Duration (h.): 4