Tuscany for photographers - A photographer's guide to Val d'Orcia
Updated: Jan 19
Planning a photography trip to Tuscany? The following post will help you plan when to come, how to prepare and where to photograph in one of the most beautiful (and delicious) places in the world.
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Great views, ancient towns, delicious food and wine and a relaxed country atmosphere have made Val d'Orche region in Tuscany a popular destination among travelers and landscape photographers. The following post briefly summarizes a few days trip dedicated to photography and an in-depth acquaintance with the charming area. Things you should know and some recommended locations for photography.
How to get there
Val d'Orcia is a pastoral agricultural area located in the southern part of Tuscany. Wheat fields on rolling hills, Tuscan style farmhouses, cypress boulevards and narrow roads are the hallmarks of the beautiful area. It is easy and convenient to get here from the nearest airports - Florence (about two hours drive) and Rome (about two and a half hours drive).
The most convenient way to get around is with a rental car. Public transportation exists, but it is not a good option for photographers who plan to reach the various locations during sunrise and sunset. Note that the roads are narrow and the journey takes longer than usual. Use navigation apps to plan the times. On beautiful weekends you will share the roads with many cyclists and you must respect them and be careful. Keep in mind that the authorities in Italy love speed cameras, and in general it is better to get into the atmosphere and the relaxed pace of the place.
When to come and where to stay
The weather in Tuscany is comfortable and you can travel and photograph here all year round, but the most recommended seasons for photography are spring and autumn. Then you get the most beautiful colors and light, fewer tourists and the weather is perfect (although it can also rain). In spring the hills are colored in green while in autumn golden brown is the dominant color. Both seasons are great and perfect for photography. The distance from other areas in Tuscany can be long, so if you are here to take photos, it is highly recommended to stay in the area of the towns of Pienza and San Quirico d'Orcia, and there is no lack of options. From here you will be 15 to 25 minutes away from most locations. In the towns themselves you will find a variety of hotels at all price levels. Another option (my favorite) is one of the many farmhouses that offer country lodging.
What to bring
As with any landscape photography trip, the entire range of lenses will be useful here, however, chances are you will find the medium and long focal lengths very useful, even for those who are used to shoot with ultra-wide lenses. If I had to choose one lens then a range of 24-70, 24-135 or similar would do most of the job. A telephoto zoom lens (70-200mm or similar) will also be useful to isolate subjects such as single trees, distant houses, abstract, etc. Beyond that, the usual equipment for landscape photography: stable tripod, remote control, spare batteries, etc. etc. It is recommended to bring walking boots because since locations may be muddy after rains. In spring and autumn, a warm fleece will usually suffice even at sunrise, but a raincoat in the car and a woolen hat in it's pocket is a good idea to be on the safe side.
Photography tips and general information
Most of the locations are within a short walking distance from the car and without special physical difficulty (a list of recommended locations is below). Some of them are located right next to the road. In many places the number of parking spaces is very limited so it is recommended to arrive early. Please note that many of the side roads are in private areas, you must respect this and of course don't go into the fields and step on the crops in the spring, even if the composition from there looks perfect. At sunrise you have to take into account that it takes the sun some time to rise over the hills and illuminate the valleys, and at sunset the situation is the opposite when the sun disappears quite long before the "official" sunset hour. As always, the locations are more crowded with travelers at sunset, but outside of the peak tourist season, this is usually not a problem. It is recommended to arrive here for at least two nights to start getting a feel for the area, but four to five days will allow you to exhaust most of the locations and also leave an option for revisit a location in case of bad conditions or just to improve performance.
Beyond the hours of photography and the time you spend on scouting, there is absolutely no shortage of places to travel in the area. The beautiful landscapes and ancient towns provide plenty of options. Add to the equation the fine wines of the region and the excellent food and you will get a great experience. Pienza is a magical town that is pleasant to wander through its alleys even more than once. Here you will find many restaurants, cafes and shops that offer a variety of the region's delicacies. It is recommended to taste (and buy) sheeps Pecorino cheese which is a local specialty. Montalcino and Montepulciano are two charming ancient towns (about 30 minutes' drive from Pienza) that specialize in famous wines (Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobille di Montepulciano). And of course Siena (about an hour's drive) which is a must for anyone traveling in Tuscany.
Recommended locations (in parentheses serial number on the map):
Cappella della Madonna di Vitaleta (1):
Suitable for sunrise + sunset (you can take pictures of the chapel from both directions) and if you have enough time you should come here for both sunrise and sunset. You can use an ultra wide lens here while finding an interesting foreground or a medium lens.
For those coming from Pienza, turn left on the dirt road and continue for about 1.5 km. Park before the last turn near the gate and the sign prohibiting entry with the car. Continue on foot for about 700 meters to the chapel.
Although the chapel is the main attraction here, it is highly recommended to look up and walk around because the place offers great views in all directions and many other photo opportunities.
Another option is to photograph the chapel from the main road with a telephoto lens (park in a small parking bay near Agroturismo Bonello). For this spot a 200mm lens and above is recommended.
Cipressi di San Quirico d'Orcia (5):
Probably the most photographed group of cypresses in the world and one of the best known locations in the area. Especially suitable for partly cloudy days when shadows are formed on the folds of the ground. Mostly a sunset location, although it is definitely possible at sunrise as well. You can shoot here with a variety of focal lengths, from ultra-wide lenses to telephoto lenses that will isolate the famous group of cypresses.
Located right on the main road about 5 km west of San Quirico d'Orcia. There is parking for a fairly limited number of vehicles on both sides of the road so you should arrive early (especially in the peak season) and drive very carefully when leaving the parking lot and crossing the road. Most vehicles park there for only a few minutes, so if there is no space, you can wait a few minutes until it becomes available.
Campi Elisi/Gladiators Path (3):
sunset + sunrise.
A lovely walking path that offers countless photo opportunities, the most famous is towards the south with the cypress trees along the path. Requires some walking, especially a rather steep climb on the way back to the car. Scenes from the movie Gladiator were filmed here, hence the name of the place. If you have enough time, it is recommended to take pictures here at both sunrise and sunset. Wide to medium lenses will be most useful here.
Park next to the main road coming down from Pienza right after the bend (no entry with the car on the way down to the church of Corsignano). The number of parking spaces is extremely limited, and if there is no space, you can park in the parking lot (for a fee) under the wall at the exit from Pienza towards the south and walk from there about 800 meters to the beginning of the trail.
Cypresses Avenue in Poggio Covili (4):
The cypress boulevard leading to Poggio Covili is one of the most beautiful and famous cypress boulevards in the area and one of the most photographed. In the spring, if you stand a little west of the boulevard down the road, the sun will rise right between the cypresses (in the fall it rises further south). The boulevard itself is a private road for guests of the place. Beyond the famous Cypress Avenue, it's worth taking a look in all directions since there are more beautiful photo opportunities. Medium focal length lenses would be useful here in my opinion.
To get here drive about 7 km south from San Quirico d'Orcia. The entrance to Puggio Covili is about 1 km after crossing the river.
Podere Belvedere (2):
Another quite popular location, and rightfully so. A great view of Podere Belvedere (a house with a autiful view in literal translation) and the surrounding Tuscan landscape. On the way here, hope for morning mists that add to the atmosphere (or check in advance on the weather forecasting apps). A medium or telephoto lens will do the job here.
Very easy access right on the side of the road. Those coming from Pienza park on the left side of the road just before reaching San Quirico d'Orcia. Walk a few meters between the olive trees and you are there.
Urban Photography and more:
If you are interested in the urban Photography the towns of Pienza, San Quirico d'Orcia and Montalcino will provide you with many magical spots (and also good places to eat, shop and hang out). From the promenade along the wall of Pienza (6) you can enjoy a wonderful Tuscan View, especially in its northern and less busy part. Definitely worth a photo at sunset. If you have a free afternoon go to Siena and photograph it from above during the blue hour. Near the towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano you can combine views with the famous vineyards around them. And there is always the option to simply drive around and look for locations to your liking, and there is no shortage of options.